How to Plan a Family Trip to Kaikoura
Wildlife is something that never fails to impress. With Kaikoura being the mecca of marine wildlife on the South Island, the marine mammals are sure to be the main focus of your family visit to Kaikoura. From swimming with seals to watching whales, the activities in Kaikoura are not only extremely memorable but family-friendly. And it doesn’t even have to be all on the water, with sheep shearing shows and a kid-friendly museum also to enjoy. We’ll guide you through some of the top experiences, as well as comfortable accommodations for families and dining recommendations in Kaikoura, in this complete travel guide to Kaikoura for families.
The Top Family Activities in Kaikoura
- Kayak with cute fur seals with Seal Kayak Kaikoura and Kaikoura Kayaks
- Ride the Coastal Pacific train
- Visit the Kaikoura Museum
- Go on a whale watching tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura
- Watch a sheep shearing show at Point Sheep Shearing
- Look out for seals on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
- Play mini-golf or tackle an escape room at The Emporium
- Walk in Kaikoura with a difference with Kaikoura Llama Trekking
- Relax at Gooch’s Beach and its playground
- Step into another era at Bernie’s Diner and Harmons Classic Car Museum.
For more information on each activity, see our 10 Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids!
Outdoor Family Activities in Kaikoura
Most of the adventures in Kaikoura are in the great outdoors, or more specifically, out on the water. Here is some inspiration for things to do with the whole family.
One of the most interactive and family-friendly wildlife encounters is kayaking with seals. Both Seal Kayak Kaikoura and Kaikoura Kayaks (more info on Viator and Klook) offer kayaking tours for ages 3 years and up. These three-hour trips incorporate fun and easy kayaking for beginners while getting up close to seal colonies and potentially dolphins, penguins and more. We recommend a morning trip when the sea tends to be at its calmest. See similar experiences like this in the 5 Top Wildlife Activities in Kaikoura.
Of course, whale watching is one of the most popular things to do in Kaikoura, which is also great to do with kids. Join Whale Watch Kaikoura for their 3-4-hour boat tour taking you out to see the majestic sperm whales all year round. Along the way, there’s time to watch dolphins and large pelagic birds if the opportunity arises. Alternatively, whale watching can be enjoyed from above on the scenic flight with Wings Over Whales (more info on Viator and Klook) or Air Kaikoura.
Experience Kaikoura’s walks with a difference! Join Kaikoura Llama Trekking for either a half-day experience guiding your woolly llama along the Kaikoura coast to a seal colony or a shorter tour along the beautiful Kowhai River. Either way, you’ll have plenty of fun photo opportunities with the kids, as well as get to learn a lot about the local history and the 2016 earthquake, as well as some fun facts about llamas.
All-Weather Family Activities in Kaikoura
Like the rest of New Zealand, the weather in Kaikoura can be a little unpredictable. When the weather isn’t on your side, here are a few ideas for all-weather activities with kids!
An educational activity, that you can also rely on on a rainy day, the Kaikoura Museum offers a family-friendly attraction. Learn about the natural history, Maori treasures and Kaikoura’s fishing, whaling and earthquake history in this extremely informative museum. There are exhibitions to keep the little ones interested too, such as a treasure hunt, jigsaw puzzles, drawing competitions, museum quizzes and more. Find the museum opposite the i-SITE, open from 10 am to 4 pm daily. Affordable family passes are available.
Coastal Pacific Train
Riding the train is a fun experience for most kids! Meanwhile, Mum and Dad can enjoy watching the stunning coastal scenery go by and relax with a hot coffee or New Zealand wine from the onboard licensed cafe. The Coastal Pacific train runs between Christchurch and Picton, stopping by Kaikoura along the way. Onboard, see dramatic windblown seascapes on one side and towering bush-clad mountains on the other through the train’s panoramic windows or the open-air viewing carriage. Note that this is a seasonal train that runs from spring through to autumn. Learn more about taking the train in New Zealand with our guide to the Train Network in New Zealand.
Point Sheep Shearing
Learn more about the iconic New Zealand farm animal, the sheep! At Point Sheep Shearing, meet the farm’s Drysdale Ram who will eat out of the palm of your hand and watch an impressive sheep shearing demonstration. Between August and January, kids also get the opportunity to hold and feed one of the pet lambs.
Free Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids
We get it, whale watching and seal kayaking aren’t exactly small-ticket items. There are free things to do in Kaikoura with kids that will help you stick to your travel budget. By the way, if you need handy budgeting advice, take a look at The Travel Guide to Kaikoura on a Budget.
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
If you’re not too keen to get into the water or are travelling on a budget, you can still view seals from the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. While the entire walkway is 11 km (7 mi) long, it’s an easy grade and suitable for all ages. Your first encounter with seals is likely to be at the Point Kean car park where seals are known to take up some of the parking spaces here. Walk a little further, and you’ll get to lookouts over various seal colonies along the way. Find out more about this walk and others in the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura.
What kid doesn’t love the beach? While Kaikoura’s beaches aren’t exactly sandy oases – more pebbles, rock pools and driftwood to explore – they still make an idyllic place to relax after a day on the road, seal kayaking, whale watching or whatever. Gooch’s Beach along The Esplanade is a worthy choice for families thanks to its fantastic children’s playground. Bring along some fresh Kaikoura fish and chips from Coopers Catch or Cods & Crayfish on your way there.
For more free experiences, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Family-Friendly Dining in Kaikoura
If you’re not self-catering in Kaikoura by following the advice in the Food Shopping Guide to New Zealand and using recommendations from the 10 Best Self-Catering Accommodations in Kaikoura, then you’re going to need some dining recommendations. Luckily, there are several family-friendly options in “kai” meaning food and “koura” meaning crayfish!
Family-Friendly Cafes in Kaikoura
A homely environment with separate rooms, including a children’s room to keep kids entertained, find your own quiet corner at the Beach House Cafe (39 Beach Road) which boasts a diverse menu of seasonal food and both meat-lovers and vegans.
For something unforgettable, check out the American-style Bernie’s Diner (57a Beach Road), also the home of Harmons Classic Car Museum. Fun for all of the family, admire the sleek rides of this ever-increasing classic car and motor memorabilia collection and enhance the experience by dining in one of the colourful booths of this American diner with family-friendly meals to match the setting.
As recommended in our 10 Things to Do in Kaikoura with Kids, The Emporium (57a Beach Road) is not just a go-to for mini-golf and escape rooms, but for its casual cuisine and the opportunity to try the establishment’s very own craft beer – the latter option is meant for parents, of course. Order burgers and bites to match your brews.
Family-Friendly Restaurants in Kaikoura
For dinner, Black Rabbit Pizzas (17 Beach Road) never fails to impress with its gourmet offering of Italian dishes, including pizza, pasta and burgers. Either eat in its rustic dining room or takeaway. Otherwise, get that classic pub experience at The Whaler (49 – 51 West End) with a huge range of crowd-pleasers, from steak to Marlborough mussels, as well as a generous kids’ menu.
As seafood is king in Kaikoura, get your fix of Kiwi fish and chips, kumara chips or paua fritters at the likes of Cods & Crayfish (81 Beach Road), Coopers Catch (9 West End) or Kaikoura Seafood BBQ (55 Fyffe Quay). Alternatively, stop by Nin’s Bin (State Highway 1) on your way in or out of Kaikoura.
Ice Cream Parlours in Kaikoura
For a sweet treat, don’t miss the infamous Poppy’s Handmade Ice Cream Parlour & Cafe (18 West End). Of course, the ice cream in an array of flavours is the highlight here, but you can also indulge in frozen yoghurt, deli food and hot meals.
More About Kaikoura for Families
That’s it from the travel guide to Kaikoura for families. For more tips that don’t necessarily fall into the “family-friendly” category but may well still be appropriate for your tribe, take a look at the following:
- 20 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura
- 21 Best Hotels & Places to Stay in Kaikoura
- The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura
Discover even more family trip tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families, as well as more inspiration for your road trip in the South Island Family Itinerary: Two Weeks and South Island Family Itinerary: One Week.