4 Reasons You Should Visit Kaikoura, New Zealand

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Ask people who have been to New Zealand to name the city with the best location in the country, and chances are a good number of them will say Queenstown. Located on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and with the Remarkables mountain range serving as a backdrop, there's no arguing that Queenstown is in a pretty stunning spot.

BUT, as much as I love Queenstown, it can get very congested with adventure-seeking tourists and backpackers.

I still definitely think you should visit, don't get me wrong. But if you're looking for a town with a similarly epic view without the tourist crowds, I would ask you to consider:

Kaikoura

Kaikoura, New Zealand
Seriously. Look how incredible Kaikoura is!

Located on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island a couple hours north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is one of those places that many NZ visitors just pass through – or skip entirely. But, just as I've told you that you shouldn't skip Wanaka, I'll also tell you that you shouldn't skip Kaikoura.

In fact, Kaikoura is one of my FAVORITE towns in New Zealand. And here's why:

The marine life

If a non-New Zealander has even heard of Kaikoura, chances are it's because they've heard of Kaikoura's fabulous whale watching. The most well-known whale watching operation in the area is Whale Watch Kaikoura, which has a 95 percent success rate for spotting whales on their tours.

But whales aren't the only marine life you'll find here. Lying just offshore, the deep Kaikoura Canyon and its currents draw all sorts of sea life to the area – you'll find whales, dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, albatross, and more year-round in Kaikoura.

Along with going whale watching, you can also swim with wild dolphins and get up close with fur seals.

Swimming with dusky dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand
A dusky dolphin – these guys call the waters around Kaikoura home year-round.

There's also a seal colony within walking distance of Kaikoura, meaning that it's not out of the ordinary to see seals sunning themselves all along the coast if you're there at the right time of year.

You can take a walk out to the Kaikoura Peninsula, where in the winter (generally between May and October), you’ll probably also see a good number of New Zealand Fur Seals lolling about.

Fur seal in Kaikoura, New Zealand
New Zealand Fur Seal

The landscape and views

Kaikoura is right on the ocean, with a long pebble beach stretching from the town all the way to the nearby seal colony. But Kaikoura is also right near the mountains – here the Kaikoura Ranges (an extension of the Southern Alps) extend nearly to the sea.

Beach in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Coastline in Kaikoura, New Zealand

So yes, you get the beach AND the mountains in Kaikoura, just like in Queenstown. It makes for some seriously epic views, no matter where you are in town.

Kaikoura, New Zealand
Head up to the water tower for this view

The relaxed vibe and small-town feel

Kaikoura is MUCH smaller than Queenstown. The town's population is less than 5,000, and “downtown” consists of just one main road. I kind of love this about Kaikoura, though. You don't feel like you have to rush (AND you can pretty much always find parking).

Coastline in Kaikoura, New Zealand

You won't find a ton of souvenir shops here, and the restaurant selection is also less than what you'll find in larger cities. But the variety is enough for a couple of days. Especially when you consider…

The fresh seafood

Since it's right on the ocean, you can get some amazing seafood in Kaikoura. Crayfish (basically lobster) is the specialty here, but if you can't shell out for that (haha, see what I did there?), there's plenty of fresh fish and shellfish, too.

There are a few fish n' chips takeaways in town (I got some delicious blue cod for just $8 at Coopers Catch), and most restaurants in town serve up fresh seafood chowder. Outside of town, you'll find roadside places like Nins Bin and the seafood BBQ that's near the seal colony.

Low tide in Kaikoura

If you're planning a trip to New Zealand, I highly recommend spending at least a couple of days chilling out by the sea in Kaikoura.

Note: Kaikoura did suffer a lot of damage in a 2016 earthquake. The roads leading to the city were severely damaged, and a 110km stretch of the Kaikoura Coast was uplifted during the 7.8 magnitude quake. The city is fully operational again now, though, and could definitely use your tourism dollars!

Kaikoura coast

IF YOU GO

Where to stay: I've been to Kaikoura twice now, and both times I stayed at the Brook House B&B. This bed and breakfast is located slightly away from the “downtown” area, so you probably need to have a rental car (or be willing to do a bit of walking) if you stay there. I LOVE this B&B, though. The owner, Judy, is a wealth of knowledge about Kaikoura (from its history to all the things you can do there), and she makes some delicious chocolate muffins. The B&B itself is light-filled, charming, and homey – and has mountain views from the back deck! (Read TripAdvisor reviews hereBook your stay here!)

How long to stay: If you want to book any of the amazing wildlife tours in Kaikoura (like whale watching, dolphin swimming, etc.), I would allow 2-3 days in Kaikoura — just in case you run into some bad weather and have tours canceled on you. All wildlife tours/encounters are very weather-dependent, so tour cancellations are not uncommon here.

Will Kaikoura make it onto your New Zealand itinerary?

 

Kaikoura

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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29 Comments on “4 Reasons You Should Visit Kaikoura, New Zealand

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  1. I’ll do anything for landscape views 🙂

      There’s no lack of them in Kaikoura!

    I love the landscape pics. It looks very tropical. Do you have more pics of the foods in Kaikoura?

    Noted down! Kaikoura will definitely be on my itinerary on my NZ trip (which I think should happen soon). 🙂 Thanks!

      Awesome! I don’t think you’ll regret visiting!

    Wow, it sounds like an amazing place. The marine life alone would be enough to draw me there, but I like the sound of good seafood, too!

      It definitely is pretty amazing. The first time I visited (years ago), I thought it was just about the whales. But it turns out that trench offshore brings in all kinds of cool marine life.

    Those views look amazing! If I ever get chance to visit New Zealand I will have to go here 🙂

      Please do! The views are great, but I think I like the vibe the best. It’s just such a cool, chilled-out little place.

    Kaikoura does look beautiful, and the lack of tourists is much more my speed. I’m really considering taking advantage of the work exchange visa next year, but something about NZ being an overly touristy hotspot has me leaning toward somewhere else. This, however, gives me something new to think about. Are you there on the visa? If so, are you working?

      Hey Jessica! No, I’m not working (or even living) in New Zealand. I just spent about a month there at the end of 2014 (and have been several times previously, too). The great thing about NZ is that there are TONS of little towns like Kaikoura that aren’t terribly touristy. If you don’t want to be around tourists, there are plenty of remote places in New Zealand!

    I loved Kaikoura too! I was initially disappointed because the dolphins went AWOL (and that was my reason for visiting), but then I discovered those amazing woodland seals and suddenly everything was right with the world again! Also, the Albatross Hostel is one of my all-time favourites!

      The first time I went to Kaikoura I tried to go whale watching, but the whales were really far out and a really bad storm was coming in, so we ended up not seeing any. So I completely feel your pain! My second visit there, I allowed myself 3 days since I wanted to do a couple things, just in case the weather or the animals didn’t cooperate!

    Great post & beautiful photos! Kaikoura is such a magical place! The beach could do with being sand instead of stones, but that is like my only complaint.

      Yes, no sandy beaches here. But I actually kind of like that! It adds yet another unique aspect to Kaikoura.

    Great wee blog and some choice images! Thanks for sharing and we are stoked you h love Kaikoura as much as we do! <3 🙂

      Thanks, guys! I LOVED my dolphin swimming tour with you!

    Those are some stunning landscape pictures – I now know what to map if I ever plan to trip to NZ, thanks! 🙂

      Thanks, Arti! Glad I was able to sell you on Kaikoura!

    […] in a spot where mountains meet the sea, Kaikoura also sits near a deep underwater trench that draws all sort of marine life to the area year-round. […]

    I’m so glad you love Kaikoura and advocate for it! Definitely is overlooked but so special to those who call it home. I had the unique opportunity to study and live there for 3.5 months, and reading this article makes me want to go back so bad!

      It’s definitely one of my favorite parts of New Zealand!

    […] Zealand: the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata; the capital city of Wellington; the coastal town of Kaikoura; Mount Cook and the surrounding lakes; the lakeside town of Wanaka; and Queenstown, New […]

    Is October a best time to visit? What are the chances my kids will see whale shark or sea lion?

      Any time of year is good to visit Kaikoura! You will be able to see fur seals year-round, and there may still be some seal pups around in October, too. You will not see whale sharks, though – those animals do not live in New Zealand. You CAN see regular whales and dolphins in Kaikoura, also all year.

    I didn’t think I needed any more reasons but these are great!

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