Top 18 things to do in Kaikōura

Nin's Bin

Whale Watch Kaikōura

Dolphin Encounter Kaikōura

Kaikōura Kayaks

Emporium Brewing

Top 18 things to do in Kaikōura

Whales, dolphins, seals, crayfish, sea birds – it’s all about the marine wildlife at Kaikōura. This small town punches way above its weight when it comes to sightseeing and nature experiences, including spotting all these amazing animals from a boat, plane, or even with a snorkel and mask.

Get on a whale watching tour

This is what most people are here for: Kaikōura’s famous whale watching. Regular visitors to Kaikōura’s waters include sperm whales, humpbacks and blue whales. Whale Watch Kaikōura is the real deal, with modern catamarans specially designed for viewing these behemoths of the sea. The boats have warm enclosed passenger cabins and large decks perfect for spotting and snapping the magnificent creatures. Whales are so common here that Whale Watch Kaikōura promises a 95% chance of seeing a whale on your journey, and you’ll get an 80% refund if you don’t.

Go seal spotting along the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway

It’s a beautiful three-hour stroll around Kaikōura’s scenic peninsula, with views of the Kaikōura Ranges and the ocean stretching out to the horizon as well as historic pā and whaling sites. The cherry on top is the local fur seal colony you’ll find lazing on rocks, rolling in the water, and waving their flippers in the air at the end of the peninsula. These ocean doggos might look cuddly, but don’t be tempted to go in for a closer look – these are wild animals and can be territorial on land, so be sure to keep your distance.

Catch yourself the freshest of dinners

These waters are teeming with fish, and Kaikōura literally means ‘crayfish meal’. Get on a fishing charter and start swinging a rod out into the deep for your chance to catch blue and red cod, terakihi and sea perch as well as big game fish further out to sea. Kaikōura Fishing & Scenic Charters will take you out for a full day or half day of fishing, including a stop at some crayfish pots. The experienced team will teach you everything you need to know if you’re new to fishing, and fillet your catch for you ready to take home.

Swim with the dolphins

Get up close with everyone’s favourite ocean mammal on Kaikōura’s Dolphin Encounter, where you can choose to watch curious and often acrobatic dusky dolphins from the boat or get in the water and swim among them! Dolphin Encounter Kaikōura is dedicated to protecting the environment these beautiful creatures live in, and donates a portion of every fare to its Encounter Foundation.

See the Southern Hemisphere’s largest sea bird

Fizz up, twitchers – this is one of the best places in the world to see the magnificent royal albatross and a whole lot of other sea birds. Get on an excursion with Albatross Encounter Kaikōura and take a short boat ride out from the beautiful Kaikōura coast. You’ll soon be surrounded by birds, including several breeds of albatross, terns, shags, petrels, shearwaters, and sometimes even skua and blue penguins. The knowledgeable crew and on-board identification guides will help you learn about the birds you see on your trip.

Step back in time at Fyffe House

This charming pink seaside cottage is Kaikōura’s oldest building, the last remaining part of an 1842 whaling station. It’s now a tribute to the life people led here in the days of Kaikōura’s early settlement, with artefacts, dioramas and character furniture true to the time on display. You can also see the whale bones that form the building’s unusual foundations from the garden, which is also a great place to take in the fabulous ocean and mountain views.

Eat fresh-caught crayfish at Nins Bin

You’d be remiss not to partake in some of the beautiful kai moana on offer in Kaikōura, and one of the best places to do so is an unassuming caravan parked up right beside the ocean. Nins Bin is a favourite with locals and visitors, serving mouthwatering crayfish caught fresh and sustainably every day. In season you can also order the local delicacies of mussels and whitebait fritters, and the classic fish and chips is always a good option.

Peace among the purple

Tranquillity at its finest is on offer at Lavendyl Lavender Farm, where you can walk through waist-high fields of sweet-smelling lavender, stroll the scenic gardens with views from Mt Fyffe to the Kaikōura peninsula, and enjoy high tea or a hot drink in the tearoom. Between January and February, you can also watch the distilling process for extracting the lavender oil.

Eat local at Kaikōura farmers market

Get the true community feel at this weekend market, running fortnightly on Sunday mornings from November to April. Browse the stalls for fresh local food, produce and artisan creations, fish, ceramics and more while rubbing shoulders with friendly locals there to do their shopping.

Take the scenic train along the coast

Ride to Kaikōura in style on one of New Zealand’s beautiful long-distance train journeys – the Coastal Pacific train from either Christchurch or Picton. Enjoy the spectacular mountain, ocean and forest landscape from the scenic carriages or open-air viewing while you indulge in some local food and wine – no stopping for gas or back seat driving required!

Go whale watching in the sky

Take whale watching to new heights with a Wings Over Whales flight, offering a chance to appreciate the full scope of Kaikōura’s beauty and marine wildlife from above. Whale watching flights take from 30 to 45 minutes and provide the unforgettable opportunity to see giant sperm whales from tip to tail, as well as humpback whales, blue whales, dolphins, orca and seals. Also available are scenic flights showcasing unobstructed views of the Kaikōura Ranges and peninsula out to the Pacific Ocean.

Kayak among the seals

See New Zealand fur seals at their most graceful as they play in their natural habitat. Both Kaikōura Kayaks and Seal Kayak Kaikōura offer a 100% guarantee of seal sightings on your kayaking tour, so you can enjoy getting up close with photo opportunities abound as the seals weave and dive around your kayak!

Take yourself for a ride

An excellent way to make the most of the majestic Kaikōura landscape is by mountain bike. Explore from rugged coast to mountain range on a variety of tracks that cater to everyone from the family group to the adventure seeker. Information on cycle trails can be found from the Kaikōura i-Site, or on the Kaikōura cycling club website.

Test your skills at Emporium mini golf and escape rooms

For some quality dry-land entertainment, rock up to Emporium Brewery to try excellent local beers and brush up on your putting at the 18-hole mini golf course. Try your hand at one of Emporium’s escape rooms, where you’re challenged to find clues and solve puzzles to complete your assigned mission.

Walk the Kaikōura Coast Track

This is a walk of luxury – a two-day private hike where you can have your gear transported to your accommodation, and eat catered meals. It’s an uncrowded and exclusive exploration of lesser-known areas of Kaikōura’s stunning coastline, through farmland and gullies of native bush.

Get some local history on board at the Kaikōura Museum

The distinctive ‘Craypot’ building at the west end of Kaikōura houses impressive collections and exhibitions delving into the fascinating history of the region, from its fishing and whaling origins, early Māori and European settlement to its natural history and diverse wildlife. Check out some of the region’s unique stories here, such as the ghost of the two-roomed jail and Kaikōura’s own UFO sighting.

Go walking with llamas

Yep, your next walking buddy can be a llama who carries your supplies while you explore Kaikōura. Team up with Kaikoura Llama Trekking and take a tour of the area’s highlights including Fyffe House and the Kaikōura peninsula seal colony. Your guides will take time to introduce and familiarise you with the llamas, so you might just find you’ve made a woolly friend by the end of it.

Swim with the seals

A unique and totally unforgettable experience, Seal Swim Kaikōura gives you the chance to marvel at these playful and curious animals in their own environment. Listed as one of the world’s top marine encounters by Lonely Planet, the tours are licensed by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and do not disturb the natural behaviour of the seals, rather offering you the opportunity to observe them up close on this intimate and enchanting snorkelling adventure.


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