All it took was 24 hours to fall in love.
The combination of rugged coastline, snow-capped mountains, abundance of sea-life and majestic sunrises and sunsets—all bottled up in a small town feel— made me want to set up a bach (kiwi lingo for holiday home) on the coast and never go anywhere else again.
This wasn’t the first time I had visited Kaikoura but this was the first time I had truly allowed myself to explore and experience all that this place offers.
Maybe I got lucky, as Mother Nature blessed the area with clear skies and a glistening sun during what is supposed to be one of he coldest months of the year. But I am confident that regardless the temperature outside, Kaikoura has got to be one of the most underrated places in all of New Zealand.
It seems to be that the average tourist makes it a priority to visit the hotspot destinations such as Queenstown, Milford Sounds, Abel Tasman and Tekapo, but Kaikora all too often gets overlooked.
So in the grand hope that your are reading this blog post because you plan on visiting New Zealand at some point in time (or if you are already in New Zealand, are searching for new places to explore), here are all the things you will want to know and prepare for to ensure that you can take advantage of all of the magic of Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is placed along the north eastern part of the South Island and is only a 2.5 hour drive from Christchurch. It is the perfect weekend trip (or even day trip) destination and also a good stop-over if you are on your way to Picton. The drive itself is gorgeous, as you will start through the Waipara vineyards and then transition to driving along the rugged coastline.
When you reach the halfway point in Cheviot, make sure to take a quick detour and follow the tourist drive to Gore Bay. It is there that you will be introduced to the cutuest collection of luxurious batches lined up along one of the best surf spots in Canterbury!
Kaikoura is not that big of a town, with a population of only 3,200 people. But luckily for you, this also means that the majority of accommodation is along the esplanade. One of the best parts about Kaikoura is the combination of magnificent mountains and the sparkling sea—so make sure that your accommodation gives you prime access to that!
Waking up to that mountain/sea view is part of why I fell so in love with Kaikoura. While there are a variety of places to choose from, beware that while it is located near the water, you might not get the view you want.
My suggestion is to stay at the Kaikoura Boutique Hotel. At $250 a night you get to enjoy a room with a balcony that overlooks the Kaikoura landscape and can lay in bed while watching the sunrise!
Not many places in the world would give you such incredible views for such a bargain—considering that in NYC you can pay $500 for a view of a brick wall!
The Kaikoura Boutique Hotel also offers a waterfront lounge and bar, as well as a delicious breakfast menu. And then it is just a short 10 second walk before you find yourself on the beach.
Kaikoura is in no shortage of seafood. And with the average person being allowed to catch up to six crayfish per day, you can expect everything you eat to be unbelievably fresh.
That is why your best bet for having a memorable dining experience would be to head to the Top Shop Fish and Chip shop on beach road. And right across the road is Poppy’s Real Home Made Ice Cream. It’s pretty much a meal made in heaven!
In Kaikoura, you will find yourself in an no shortage of wildlife! Because of the large continental shelf along the coast, there are almost always an abundance of sperm whales, orcas, dolphins, albatross and seals.
There are several ways to go about experience the wildlife. The most popular (and expensive) is to go on a whale watching tour. These often fill up really quickly and with only one licensed operator in the area, it is definitely overpriced. But you are also pretty much guaranteed to see a whale up close and personal.
You can also opt to view the wildlife in an airplane or helicopter, but that is also completely weather dependent.
During my trip to Kaikoura I opted for a sunset kayak tour with Levi’s Sunset Paddle Kayaks. The tour is literally as cool as it sounds. Levi planned the tour perfectly so that we would be in the water during the golden hours before sunset.
Not only were we treated to a group of playful seals preparing for their evening hunt, but also to a breathtaking sunset that made the sky glow with pink and gold.
There are also plenty of scenic walks to take along the Kaikoura Peninsula. While I haven’t managed to get around to doing the epic Mount Fyffe trek, I did manage to discover what must be second best.
Starting in South Bay, the Kaikoura Peninsula walk provides a stunning view of the coastline and the surrounding Seaward Kaikoura Range. It won’t be uncommon to see a whale breach from afar (I did, but my camera wasn’t fast enough to snap) and watch a pack of seals sunbathing on the limestone rocks below.
A majority of the walk is farmland and, with the mountain ranges in the distance, it is easy to have a Sound of Music moment. For a second, I felt as if I was back in Austria roaming through the alps!
As is my favourite part of New Zealand hikes, this walk also has benches located in the best—and most surprising—of spots. Make sure to enjoy this viewing bench and all the magnificent scenery you can see for miles.
Okay, so it’s not so secret anymore. But there is a waterfall full of baby seal pups twenty minutes north of Kaikoura.
Yes, you read this correctly—a waterfall full of baby seal pups! What more could you possible want in life?!
Part of the Ohau River Stream Walk lies this magical occurrence and a trip to Kaikoura is not complete without witnessing this for yourself.
During the winter months, seal pups make their way up the stream on their own and spend up to seven days at a time swimming under the waterfall and creating bonds with the other pups. They then make their way down to Ohau Point to find their mothers, drink their milk and repeat the process.
Be prepared to share the experience with an over-eager/photo-fanatic crowd and, more importantly, be prepared to become overwhelmed with cuteness!