November 21, 2022 • Tom Lanauze
12 min read
Kaikoura – Where the Mountains Meet the Sea
New Zealand has a plethora of iconic destinations for both local and international travelers to visit. Because of limitations on time and budget, often some destinations are missed or moved to “next time”. Let us tell you why the time to visit the awesome coastal region of Kaikoura is NOW!
Located on the east coast of the upper South Island, Kaikoura is where two stunning landscapes collide to make a unique and breathtaking location the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in Australasia. Few places in the world can provide both the contrasting marine and alpine landscapes, the natural wonders, along with an abundance of wildlife to watch, activities to enjoy and tastes to savor.
Have a whale of a time
Perhaps the most famous visitors to Kaikoura aren’t the ones posting most on Instagram, rather they ARE the posts on Instagram. Thanks to the Kaikoura canyon that passes just off the coast, Kaikoura is the whale watch capital of New Zealand. It is one of the few places in the world where you can see whales all year round, thanks to Kaikoura being home to resident sperm whales. Sperm whales are one of the deepest diving whales in the world, which means they can reach the bottom of the Kaikoura canyon – 3,000 meters below the waves! While down there, they will eat around 1.5 tonnes of food – per day!
Other species of whale are found in the region throughout the year, with orca in the area in summer and humpback whales in attendance throughout winter. Kaikoura also gets visits by the king of the ocean, the mighty blue whale!
A plethora of wildlife
Then there are the dolphins.
Kaikoura is lucky enough to be home to several dolphin species, including the dusky and common dolphin which can be found there in the warmer months and the endemic hectors dolphin that can turn up at any time!
Not all of Kaikoura's famous wildlife can be found under the sea – well not always. “Spot the Seal” is a favorite game to play as you make your way around the dramatic Kaikoura coast either on foot, in the car on the coastal road or out in a boat or Kayak. Incredibly, they were almost hunted to extinction around the 18th century but thanks to being a protected species, they have now flourished. New Zealand Fur Seals are abundant, but still account for only 5-10% of their pre-settler population of close to 2 million. They are often called ”puppies of the ocean” thanks to their playfulness in the water, but on land they are more of a grumpy old terrier!
With its close ties to both the land and ocean and conveniently being just 45 minutes' drive from the famed Waipara wine region, Kaikoura is a foodie heaven. Kaikoura literally translates to “eat crayfish”, so make sure you sample some local lobster fresh out of the ocean. Blue cod, paua, grouper and blue nose are all tasty local fish while the locally sourced wild venison is also a hot favorite. This all helps make Kaikoura a multi-season destination that is no one-trick-pony.
Walk off the meal
The coastal walks provide an awesome opportunity for wildlife spotting, with albatross, penguins and other sea birds also in the area, while the many walks through conservation land open up the more rugged, alpine landscape of the region. Here you have a chance to see red stag, chamois and of course native bird life through the forests.
The Alpine Pacific Touring Route
Kaikoura marks one point of the Alpine Pacific Touring Route triangle. This is one of New Zealand’s famed “themed highways” which showcases the best road trip routes. Christchurch marks the second point while Hanmer Springs, a thermal spa town and local adventure capital just over an hour way is the third. This means Kaikoura can be done as a trip of its own or as part of a longer road trip as you explore the South Island.
Best Places to stay in Kaikoura
CamperMate is loaded with awesome places to camp. It has both free and paid options for traveler convenience. Here are a few favorites of our more than 1.5 million users to give you some recommendations and ideas for some awesome places to stay while in Kaikoura.
Just click on the links below to be taken directly to the parks on the CamperMate App to unlock special deals, discounts and book your stay.
The team at Peketa Beach Holiday Park will make your stay a memorable Kiwi camping experience! Peketa Beach is the only beach side camp in all of Kaikoura, making it an ideal place to stay. Quiet, relaxed, away from the hustle and bustle, but close enough to all the local tour attractions and activities.
It has all the facilities on hand to make your stay easy and comfortable, has powered and non-powered sites, cabins and an onsite shop. It even has on-site fishing rod hire so you catch dinner in your backyard and a mini golf circuit for when the fish aren’t biting.
Your host Murray will ensure you are made welcome at Donegal House, an accommodation provider with a difference! Donegal House offers brand new facilities for both campers and motorhomes along with guest rooms to match any traveler requirements.
What’s more, they have an Irish pub and restaurant on site that offers equal drops of Guinness and hilarity to ensure your stay is a memorable one.
This is truly a unique experience, where the Boyd family will make sure you are comfortable, fed and entertained during your Kaikoura holiday.
Alpine Pacific Holiday Park offers an excellent range of accommodation styles with something to suit every kind of traveler.
You can relax in quiet park-like surroundings in your Motorhome, Caravan or Tent or get out and enjoy the sights and sounds at your convenience. They also offer a great range of quality self-contained accommodation and offer onsite assistance with booking tours. The Holiday Park offers extensive rural and mountain views to enjoy while park facilities are second to none, with a heated pool(summer) and hot tubs (all year) a favorite of guests.
Their friendly staff are happy to share their considerable local knowledge to make your stay and trip, one to remember.
Kaikoura TOP 10 will extend a warm welcome to you as you enter this maritime wonderland. While visiting Kaikoura, come and stay at their modern, award-winning holiday park. Relax and unwind in their extensively landscaped park with mountain vistas and onsite swimming pool. You'll enjoy pleasant, sheltered sites - both grass and gravel depending on your requirements, for campers, caravans and tents.
All sites are well located to amenities and they have powered, non-powered, cabins and other accommodation options available offering you all you need, as you would expect from New Zealand's largest and most loved campsite chain.
A1 offers a wide range of comfortable and affordable accommodation options in Kaikoura to suit your needs. From powered and non-powered sites, to cabins and motel accommodation, it allows you to holiday your way in whatever comfort you want.
Located right in the center of Kaikoura, it is walking distance to a lot of activities and local sites of interest.
Your host Peter welcomes you to 'The Point', a beautiful seaside farmlet offering stunning sea views, farm animals to get to know and of course, being close to the sea. All self-contained vehicles are welcome here including Motorhomes, Caravans and large vehicles / American style Rvs.
The Point offers both grass sites and shingle sites for all weather, all season camping options, making it a simple but affordable, true kiwi countryside camping experience.
5 Awesome Activities to do in Kaikoura
Kaikoura has some fantastic activities to enjoy. From the iconic marine based tours both on and below the water to new attractions like the alpine view Lavender farm. Here are our picks for some unforgettable experiences in the region including one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 marine tours in the world!
Just like accommodation, activities can be booked via the CamperMate App. Just click on the links below to be taken directly to the activities page to unlock special deals, discounts and book your adventure!
Photo credit: Kaikoura Fishing Tours
Kaikoura Fishing Tours skipper Tomo, has had years of experience at sea, taking fisher men and women on adventures in the beautiful Kaikoura area. The main trip he offers is a two-hour excursion with the opportunity to catch a variety of fish, including the infamous crayfish (New Zealand lobster) which are plentiful around the Kaikoura coastline. While on board you also have the chance to see a plethora of marine life including seals, dolphins, whales, penguins and albatross.
For the more serious anglers, upgrade your fishing adventure trip to a full day deep sea excursion and be in the running to catch grouper, blue nose and sharks. At a depth of 250 meters of water, giant grouper lurk and are readily caught on the fishing equipment and baited lures they provide you with.
This could be your opportunity to catch the biggest fish ever in your lifetime! Grouper can weigh up to 40 kgs and are a thrill to catch and are excellent eating.
This is one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 marine encounters in the entire world!
Join the team at Seal Swim Kaikoura for a totally unique experience, swimming with New Zealand fur seals in their own spectacular environment on Kaikoura's beautiful coast!
You will swim and snorkeling with the “puppies of the ocean”, wild New Zealand fur seals, in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula.
It's one of those simple nature experiences that opens your mind to the sheer magnificence of our natural environment and its amazing inhabitants. A breath-taking, award-winning nature activity, you won’t believe how curious, friendly and playful New Zealand Fur Seals can be in the water.
Kaikoura Whale Watch is New Zealand's only vessel-based whale watching company offering an exciting up-close encounter with the world’s largest toothed predator. You will get to see the giant sperm whale in their natural environment at all times of the year. Their 95% success rate means they guarantee an 80% refund if your tour does not see a whale, while you also have the chance to see other whale species, dolphins, seals and marine birds.
Whale Watch staff constantly monitor the weather and respond professionally to any changes. This may mean a tour is cancelled or safety restrictions placed on children or passengers with medical problems. Passenger comfort and safety are always the priority.
Kaikoura Lavender Farm and Dylan's Country Cottages are situated in scenic Kaikoura in the South Island of New Zealand.
Onsite they have a gift shop full of lavender products including lavender essential oil, massage cream, bath products, lavender honey, skin and hair care products, crafts, preserves, art and much more! On your next visit to Kaikoura enjoy their gardens, tea room and their products and/or stay in their lovely cottage for a different Kaikoura experience.
Photo credit: Kaikoura's Kayaks
Kaikoura's original kayak operator, celebrating over 20 years in service Est 1998.
Paddle with playful Fur Seals as they dive and maneuver around you while keeping warm and dry in your stable enclosed double sea kayak. Continue around the rugged coastline for chance encounters with dusky dolphins, blue penguins and albatross.
Their award winning 1/2 day guided "Seal Kayaking" tours offer a safe, enjoyable, interactive experience, with little effort and a whole lot of good fun!
All equipment provided including GORE-TEX dry pants in winter and dry bags for cameras. No experience necessary, suitable for all ages and abilities, families are most welcome.
Operating year round.
Free Walks in the Area
The CamperMate app shows thousands of points of interest ranging from accommodation and activities to public toilets, dump sites and wifi locations. What it also shows is the location of awesome free walks all across New Zealand, including in the Kaikoura region.
This is a dual landscape location for short walks or multi-day hikes. Bare in summer, or powdered white in winter, Mount Fyffe is located on the Seawards Kaikoura ranges where the “mountains meet the sea”. There are various wildlife viewing options here through forest and alpine type terrain offering walks of all lengths and difficulty levels.
This walkway can be done in part for a few hundred meters or you can take on the entire 11km coastal trail. Either way, you will be treated to numerous viewpoints of both stunning natural beauty and wildlife along with exploring an historic pa site (Māori fort).
You have an opportunity to see all kinds of marine life on, below and above the water with whales, dolphins, penguins and albatross all able to be viewed here.
There are helpful information panels as you go, telling you about the amazing history of the unique landscape you have found yourselves in and why the area is so special.
The walk is family friendly and takes 3 hours to complete. Kaikoura is a destination like no other. With so many different activity and accommodation options available, there is something for every type of traveler no matter their budget. Now is the time to see why even the whales travel thousands of kilometers just to visit this lovely seaside town.