The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura [2023]


How to Plan the Best Trip to Kaikoura, New Zealand

Nestled between the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Ranges and a deep underwater canyon in the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura harbours some of the best wildlife experiences in the country. The Kaikoura Canyon, just off-shore and accessible through boat and plane tours, attracts some of the world’s most majestic marine wildlife, from sperm whales to wandering albatross. New Zealand fur seals, large pods of dusky dolphins and little blue penguins also make up the wildlife scene here in Kaikoura’s waters and shores. There’s an experience to see all of these magnificent creatures that will suit most types of travellers.

We’ll guide you through the highlights, as well as other things to do and places to stay in this complete travel guide to Kaikoura.

Common Questions About Kaikoura

Let’s cut to the chase; what are the most common questions travellers have about visiting Kaikoura?

What is Special About Kaikoura?

It’s one of the rare places in the world where you can encounter sperm whales all year round, as well as dolphins, seals and albatross, all of which are permanently living just a short boat journey from shore.

Is it Worth Visiting Kaikoura?

Yes – if you have an interest in nature, particularly in seeing marine wildlife, then Kaikoura is a must-visit.

Where is Kaikoura Located?

On the east coast of the South Island in the Canterbury region, north of Christchurch.

What is the Weather Usually Like in Kaikoura?

The daily average temperature is 12.7°C/54.86°F, while the yearly average rainfall is 881mm/34.7″. Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?

How Do You Get to Kaikoura?

Kaikoura’s closest international airport is Christchurch Airport. Find out more about flights to New Zealand in A Beginner’s Guide to Getting to New Zealand. Kaikoura is also accessible by road, where it’s possible to rent a car from Christchurch. Kaikoura is also accessible by bus, see Bus Networks in New Zealand, and by train from Christchurch or Picton.

What Does Kaikoura Mean in Maori?

KaikĹŤura means “to eat crayfish” with “kai” meaning food and “kĹŤura” meaning crayfish. Find out more about the Maori language in A Traveller’s Guide to the Maori Language: te reo Maori.

Can You See Whales From Shore in Kaikoura?

You might be lucky to see whales from shore in Kaikoura but it’s best to join a whale watching tour to almost guarantee a sighting.

The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura©

What to Do in Kaikoura

Marine wildlife is the name of the game in Kaikoura. Whale watching cruises, whale watching flights, dolphins swimming, seal swimming, albatross cruises and spotting seals along the walking trails are the main items on the activity menu. Nevertheless, there are a few unforgettable experiences for hikers, surfers, mountain bikers, foodies, photographers and farm animal lovers, so it’s always worth digging deeper into the activity pool of Kaikoura.

The Top Experiences in Kaikoura

What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Kaikoura highlights:

… And the list continues over on our 15 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.

The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura©

Where to Stay in Kaikoura

Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Kaikoura (or at the bottom, if you’re on mobile), we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is compiled by real travel writers; not some algorithm.©

Kaikoura for Budget Travellers

Kaikoura might be famous for its “pricey” activities, like whale watching, swimming with dolphins, quad biking and much more. However, it’s easy to stick to your budget thanks to the free things to do, as well as a few cheap activities to fill up the rest of your time. What’s more, Kaikoura might be a small town, but it has a fantastic selection of budget accommodation, so you can concentrate your budget more on experiences. Find out more in our Kaikoura – Guide for Backpackers and The Guide to Kaikoura on a Budget.

Things to Do on a Budget

  • Watch the seals at the Point Kean car park
  • See Kaikoura’s oldest surviving building, Fyffe House
  • Walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
  • Visit the Kaikoura Museum
  • Get a photo on Kaikoura Beach.

For more ideas and information on the budget activities, check out the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Kaikoura.

Cheap Accommodation

From holiday parks to motels to backpacker hostels, there’s a range of budget accommodation in Kaikoura to suit all traveller types. Check out some of our top recommendations in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Kaikoura and 5 Best Backpacker Hostels in Kaikoura.

The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura© Miles Holden - Tourism New Zealand

Kaikoura for Luxury Travellers

Kaikoura is a small down-to-earth town with big adventures. While you won’t find an array of luxury hotels or fine dining here, you will, however, find a small selection of premium activities. Think: soaring over whales in a plane or helicopter, playing golf at one of the most scenic courses in the country, hiking a multi-day trail exclusively for up to 10 people at a time, and more! Learn more about how to make your stay a luxury stay in Kaikoura with The Luxury Guide to Kaikoura.

Luxury Experiences

  • Fly over the whales and dolphins on a scenic flight with Wings Over Whales (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
  • Land in the majestic Kaikoura Mountains via a helicopter tour (on Viator and Tripadvisor)
  • Sample fresh crayfish at one of the restaurants
  • Walk the private Kaikoura Coast Track
  • Play golf on the Kaikoura Golf Course.

For more information on these luxury activities, check out the 6 Best Luxury Experiences in Kaikoura.

Luxury Accommodation

While Kaikoura might not be home to five-star hotels, it does have a collection of boutique lodges, apartments and one international hotel that offers something special for the luxury traveller. Find out more about these places to stay in the 8 Best Luxury Accommodations in Kaikoura.

The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura©

Kaikoura for Families

If you’re touring New Zealand with kids, then a stop by Kaikoura is a no-brainer. The coastal town boasts some of the most awe-inspiring wildlife encounters that travellers of all ages are bound to appreciate. There’s also room to spend some downtime as a family, playing mini-golf or checking out the local museum. Either way, you can be rest assured that you’ll have comfortable accommodation to come back to in Kaikoura, with plenty of family accommodation available – just make sure you book in advance if you are travelling in summer! For more advice, see The Guide to Kaikoura for Families.

Things to Do with Kids

  • Swim with cute fur seals in their element (more info on Viator or Tripadvisor)
  • Enjoy a scenic journey on the Coastal Pacific train
  • Go on a whale-watching cruise (on Viator, Tripadvisor or Klook)
  • Watch a sheep shearing show and hold a lamb at The Point B&B & Campsite
  • Challenge everyone to a game of mini-golf or an escape room at The Emporium.

For more information, see our 7 Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids!

Family Accommodation

Family rooms aren’t too hard to come by in the town of Kaikoura. Motels and holiday parks make your most abundant option, while luxury apartments provide all the comforts of home and more. Check them out in the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Kaikoura.

The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura© ChristchurchNZ

Kaikoura for Couples

Kaikoura certainly strikes the balance of adventuring together and relaxing together. Head out on the water in a double kayak to see seals close-up and work as a team to explore the rugged coastline, watch the majestic giant albatrosses that are known to mate for life, and walk hand-in-hand through along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. Explore more ideas, as well as places to eat and places to stay, in The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Kaikoura.

Things to Do for Couples

  • Make your heart melt feeding the lambs at The Point B&B & Campsite
  • Learn a new skill with surf lessons
  • Test your relationship in a double kayak with Seal Kayak Kaikoura (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook)
  • Team up to solve an escape room and try some craft beer at The Emporium
  • Watch one of the world’s most romantic birds on a cruise with Albatross Encounter.

For more details on each activity, as well as ideas for a few others, see our 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in Kaikoura for Couples.

Romantic Accommodation

While Kaikoura offers a varied array of accommodation, from hostels to hotels, we find that the most romantic accommodation option is the boutique lodges, with almost all rooms being exclusively for couples. Find out more in the 8 Best Romantic Accommodations in Kaikoura.

More About Kaikoura

That’s it for our complete travel guide to Kaikoura but by no means the end of our Kaikoura travel tips! Check out the following guides for more advice on what to do nearby:

Finally, plan more of your South Island trip using the South Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary or South Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary. You’ll also find more advice for planning an epic NZ trip in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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