Everything You Should Know about Visiting Kaikoura (+Photos)

Between majestic Mount Cook and the awe-inspiring Milford Sound, it’s safe to say New Zealand has natural beauty in droves. When I kicked off my South Island adventure, there was one place that really captured my heart: Kaikoura.

Although it’s a hotbed for wildlife spotting, this sleepy seaside town is relatively under-the-radar compared to other Kiwi vacation spots. If striking mountainous vistas, whale-watching, and delectable seafood are your thing, I know Kaikoura will sweep you off your feet!

Throughout this guide, I’ll break down all the must-know details for planning a visit to this charming corner of southern New Zealand.

Best Time to Visit

Kaikoura Best Time to Visit

One of the best things about Kaikoura is that it’s a year-round destination. You can plan your trip accordingly depending on how you hope to spend your days here.

New Zealand’s shoulder seasons are autumn, from March to May, and spring, from September to November. Visiting Kaikoura during these months allows you to soak up the scenery and surroundings without the peak-season crowds and prices. I arrived in October when the temperatures were mild, and the town was still rather quiet.

If you’d prefer to avoid potentially chilly weather, I suggest visiting from December to February instead. Because of the more favourable conditions, you’ll need to book your accommodation and activities a little earlier than usual.


Whale-watching excursions run throughout the year, but June to August is undoubtedly prime time for catching these remarkable creatures in action. Provided you’re happy to wrap up in your winter woollies, you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to marvel at the sperm and humpback whales.

Pro-tip: Sea temperatures rarely exceed 16°C in Kaikoura, so while swimming is possible, don’t expect warm water!

Getting to Kaikoura

Getting to Kaikoura

If you’re travelling around New Zealand, I’m willing to bet there’s a pretty good chance you’ve hired a car or campervan. In this case, you’ll likely be arriving from other South Island hotspots like Marlborough or Christchurch, which are just a few hours’ drive away.

Contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t the only way to get around New Zealand. InterCity NZ is an excellent bus company that provides services connecting Kaikoura to popular locations like Picton and Blenheim.

Anyone arriving by air will likely start their journey at Christchurch Airport. From here, you can catch a local bus to the city’s central bus station and switch to an InterCity coach to Kaikoura.

Pro-tip: Book your seat with InterCity NZ at least a few days in advance, as seats sell out quickly.

Getting Around Kaikoura

Getting Around Kaikoura

After spending a couple of days in Kaikoura, I quickly realised that all you need to get around are your two feet!

Even though I’d arrived by car, I didn’t use it a whole lot during my stay. Kaikoura is easily discovered on foot, and it’s also the best way to take in the mesmerising views of the snow-capped mountains, rugged coastline, and vivid blue waters.

You don’t need to be super-fit to make your way around Kaikoura on foot, as the terrain is pretty flat. If you fancy a rest, there are a bunch of kiosks and stands selling tasty snacks, coffees, and wines along the coastal walkways and roads. I even managed to get my hands on a mini cheese board from these stalls on one occasion.

Where to Stay

Main Street

An added bonus of Kaikoura being incredibly walkable is that where you stay doesn’t matter all that much.

In saying that, basing yourself in the town centre is the most convenient option. You’ll be just a stone’s throw from many of Kaikoura’s top restaurants, cafes, and shops while also being close to the bus stop and train station.

Just a 10-minute walk north or south of the town centre are slightly quieter areas. If you’re travelling with children or prefer somewhere a little more secluded, this might be a better alternative for you.

The town has a mix of accommodations, including hotels, motels, B&Bs, and apartments, most of which are perched along the seafront.

Spend a Morning or Afternoon Whale-Watching

Humpback Whale

Thousands of visitors arrive in Kaikoura each year hoping to spot the town’s resident sperm whales gliding through the ocean. Much like any wildlife expedition, there’s no guarantee you’ll see whales, but most outings are successful, as was mine.

Most tour operators run excursions every day of the week, though mine was postponed by a day as the seas were a little rough. We spent around two unforgettable hours out at sea and caught numerous whales breaching just a few hundred metres from the boat!

Depending on which company you book with, you can expect to spend two hours on the water and pay about €85 ($150 NZ Dollars) for a ticket.

Visit the Famous Seal Colony

Seal Colony

Thousands of adorable seals call Kaikoura home, and visiting them at Point Kean turned out to be the highlight of my trip. I’d never seen such a high concentration of seals like this before, and I was even lucky enough to spot a few pups.

It takes just over an hour to reach Point Kean from the town centre on foot, and the walk there is stunning. There’s also a car park just before the coastal walkway begins if you’d prefer to drive, and this journey takes less than 10 minutes.

Three different species of seal call this area home. Though I saw dozens of New Zealand fur seals and Southern elephant seals, I didn’t manage to find a Leopard seal!

Tuck into Some Crayfish

Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk

Crayfish is a source of pride for locals in Kaikoura and is the one food you must try while you’re here. In fact, the town’s name combines the Maori terms for ‘eat’ and ‘crayfish’!

If you’re a fan of lobster and shrimp, trying crayfish is a must. They’re similar to lobsters in appearance but are much smaller and only live in freshwater.

I ate crayfish almost every afternoon here, as it’s a staple in pretty much every restaurant in town. However, my favourite spots were Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk and Cooper’s Catch.

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