How to Visit Kaikoura on a Budget
Nowhere else in New Zealand can get you closer to ocean life than Kaikoura. Famous for its marine wildlife encounters – particularly with sperm whales, dusky dolphins, albatross and New Zealand fur seals – Kaikoura is only around 800 m (2,600 ft) away from the vibrant ecosystem of the Kaikoura Canyon which attracts an abundance of life. Seeing the wildlife of Kaikoura is on the bucket list of many visiting the South Island but how can you achieve this on a budget? We give you our budget tips, free and cheap activities, as well as budget accommodation and dining, in this travel guide to Kaikoura on a budget!
5 Tips to Save Money When Visiting Kaikoura
- Visit in the low season (May to September) to find the best accommodation and activity rates
- Stay in budget accommodation or even hostels for the cheapest prices
- Stay in self-catering accommodation so you can cook your own meals and save money on food – there’s a New World supermarket in town
- Be choosy about the “big ticket” activities you want to do. Some of the best value options include Seal Kayak Kaikoura and Air Kaikoura – check out your options in 20 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Fill up most of your time with the free and cheap things to do in Kaikoura.
For more general budget tips, check out the 20 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Kaikoura
Kaikoura is renowned for its marine wildlife but it’s also renowned for requiring a good chunk of your travel budget, especially if you want to do various whale and dolphin encounters. Whether you want to save money for Kaikoura’s wildlife experiences by filling the rest of your time with free things to do or you simply want a wildlife experience for free, you’ll find suitable nature and cultural activities in Kaikoura free of charge!
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
To start experiencing nature, walk the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway. You can walk to the peninsula from town or start from Point Kean car park, where you might need to fight for car parking spaces with New Zealand fur seals! That’s right, the seals call this place home making the Point Kean car park an excellent place to see them, as long as you keep your distance (about 20 m / 65 ft away). Then take the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway – a one to two-hour one-way walk with amazing coastal views, seal colony lookouts and views of the Kaikoura Ranges. Find out more in the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura.
A free natural attraction to enjoy from town is Kaikoura’s beach! Feel the sea breeze and soak in the scenery from Kaikoura Beach, which spans in front of the town offering picture-perfect views of the Kaikoura mountains. If you’re feeling brave, the beach is safe to swim at the south end in summer.
For a full or half-day adventure with breathtaking views, hike the Mt Fyffe Track to the summit. The steep track starts crossing farmland on a 3-hour walk to the Mt Fyffe Hut (or 5 hours return). It’s another 1 hour to reach the summit (or 2 hours to return). Mountain bikers can also use this trail. Again, check out the 5 Best Walks in Kaikoura, all of which are free. Note that the track starts along Postmans Road, approximately 13 km (8 mi) northwest of Kaikoura.
Cultural Art Trail
If you’re up for a bit of a road trip, or for something to do on the way in and out of Kaikoura, stop by the numerous lookouts and picnic areas decorated with Maori sculptures along a 60 km (37 mi) stretch of Kaikoura coastline. Known as the Cultural Artwork Trail, there are more than 20 sites to admire – all in safe stopping areas so you can park your vehicle with ease and peace of mind. There are a couple of excellent sites to admire seal colonies too, including the Ohau Point Lookout and the Hikurangi Marine Reserve near Goose Bay. Sites start from Clarence in the north to Oaro in the south.
For more free activities, check out the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Cheap Activities in Kaikoura
Kaikoura also offers some activities that have a small fee but shouldn’t put too much of a dent in your travel budget.
The Kaikoura Museum is a good place to start, showcasing interesting exhibitions on Kaikoura’s wildlife and recent earthquakes. You’ll also see artefacts from Kaikoura’s whaling, fishing and Maori history. The attraction costs under NZ$15 per person.
Point Sheep Shearing
While the whales, dolphins and seals may steal all the limelight in Kaikoura, there’s also an opportunity to meet some of the other animals New Zealand has become famous for – sheep! Point Sheep Shearing at The Point B&B & Campsite offers daily sheep shearing shows for a very reasonable price. The show takes place in a traditional New Zealand woolshed where you’ll learn about the various wool types, sheep breeds and traditional techniques and tools – some still used to this day. The highlights, however, are hand-feeding the majestic Drysdale Ram and even bottle-feeding the lambs, the latter available between August and January.
Try the Local “Kai”
While we’ll talk more about the cheap eats in Kaikoura in the below section, an activity in itself is trying the local speciality: crayfish! However, with meals of half a crayfish starting from NZ$25 (and can definitely get more expensive), trying this local delicacy can be rather pricey but still an activity for the “cheap” category compared to other things to do in Kaikoura. Try crayfish or local seafood at Nin’s Bin, Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, Coopers Catch and Cods & Crayfish.
For more ideas, again, head to the 15 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Kaikoura.
Cheap Eats in Kaikoura
Finally, complete your visit to Kaikoura with a meal or takeaway at some of the town’s fabulous and affordable dining establishments.
The Cheapest Seafood in Kaikoura
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) or Coopers Catch (9 West End). Continental Seafoods (47 Beach Road) is also affordable but the excessive use of plastic packaging is a bit of a downer unless you dine in.
Cheap Cafes in Kaikoura
For that classic Kiwi cafe vibe with tons of cabinet goodies and hearty breakfasts, brunches and lunches, check out Why Not Cafe (66 West End) or pick up a Kiwi savoury pie from the Kaikoura Bakery (69a Beach Road). Need coffee? Bean Me Up (84 West End) is one of the locals’ favourite spots.
Fast Food in Kaikoura
For something family, Kaikoura is home to a Subway (1/78 Beach Road), while something local and more affordable than some of the town’s other establishments is The Jailhouse (14 West End) specialising in burgers and souvlaki.
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.
Kaikoura Farmers’ Market
For a more cultural yet affordable foodie experience in Kaikoura, check out the Kaikoura Farmers’ Market. Taking place every Sunday morning between October and April, the market is a great opportunity to experience a classic Kiwi community event. While the event is free to attend and often includes free tastings of artisan goods, the activity is only as cheap as the budget you’re willing to spend on local food and crafts! Find the market happening at the West End town centre.
More About Kaikoura on a Budget
That’s it from the travel guide to Kaikoura on a budget. For more experiences, both in and outside of the “budget” category, check these out:
- 20 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura
- Kaikoura – Guide for Backpackers
- The Complete Travel Guide to Kaikoura
Check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget.