The quaint and quirky seaside town of Kaikoura is the perfect escape from the buzz of Christchurch. Located out on a rocky peninsula, the town is filled with cute shops, cafés and bars. We love nothing more than getting a fish and chip supper to take away, strolling down to the beach and settling ourselves against a piece of driftwood to watch the sunset. The real draw of the Kaikoura Peninsula is the rich marine life that thrives in its waters. Well-known for its eco-tourism, this is one of the best places in New Zealand to go if you want to see whales or swim with dolphins. This article is your one-stop guide on things to do in Kaikoura.
Fun facts about the Kaikoura Peninsula
- Some 900 years ago, moa hunters lived and hunted on the Kaikoura Peninsula.
- The name Kaikoura aptly means ‘meal of crayfish’. Kai is the Māori word for food and koura is crayfish.
- Captain Cook first set foot on the Kaikoura Peninsula in 1770.
- The first whaling station on the peninsula was erected in 1843. New Zealand finally stopped all whaling operations in 1964 but relics of some of the buildings remain today.
Best hikes to do along the Kaikoura Peninsula
Kaikoura might be better known for its water than its land, but if you are spending a day or two here, it’s well worth taking a stroll. These are some of our favourite walks and hikes along the peninsula.
For a full day’s hike, you can take on Mt Fyffe (1,602m). This hike will take roughly eight hours and the views overlooking the entire peninsula are incredible. For something a little shorter, you can turn around at Mt Fyffe Hut, which would knock three hours off your adventure.
For a much shorter stroll, there’s the Hinau Track. This loop walk will take just 45 minutes. It weaves through a diverse forest made up of hinau, mahoe and broadleaf trees.
Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
On this three hour walk, you’ll see New Zealand nature at its best. From the seal colony at the beginning of the walk to an abundance of seabirds, you’ll see ample incredible views and historic sites en route.
Things to do in Kaikoura
You can’t come all the way to Kaikoura and not experience its diverse marine life or try the local cuisine! Here’s what not to miss on your trip to this east coast peninsula.
Make the most of the marine life
The waters around Kaikoura are a haven for marine life, a place where you can see sperm whales, Dusky dolphins, seals and albatross year-round. Orca, humpback and blue whales are also known to frequent these waters. How you choose to experience them is completely up to you. There are options for fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and even a scenic flight overhead to try and spot some whales.
Do the Kaikoura dolphin swim
Tick off a once-in-a-lifetime experience by swimming with Dusky dolphins. These delightful creatures never fail to put on an acrobatic show! Coming in pods of several hundred, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear after this stunning experience. You will get to swim with these majestic mammals on our Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic tours. The tour is an educational experience that is designed not to interfere with the natural behaviour of the dolphins.
Explore on land
If the sea is not for you, there are plenty of exhilarating activities to enjoy on land. Hike to your heart’s content, hit the mountain bike trails, take iconic photographs in the local lavender farms or treat yourself with a spa day.
Dine – Kiwi style!
If you’re a fan of seafood, Kaikoura is the place to indulge. Local specials include grouper, cod, mussels, paua (or abalone) and crayfish! Dine out in one of the fine establishments along the main street or grab a takeaway and enjoy your fresh seafood feast by the water.
Best time to visit the Kaikoura Peninsula
Kaikoura is a year-round destination, however, we don’t run our trips in winter. We recommend coming any time from October through to April. This encompasses our spring, summer and autumn.
Visiting the Kaikoura Peninsula with New Zealand Trails
Both our Masterpiece and Kiwi Classic trips visit the Kaikoura Peninsula. You’ll spend a night in Kaikoura, allowing you to truly experience what it has to offer. We’ll have a fish and chip supper by the sea at sunset, then the next morning we’ll be up bright and early to swim with the Dusky dolphins. Many of our guests have told us this is one of the highlights of their New Zealand adventure tour.