Top things to do in Kaikoura

If you’re a fan of the ocean and its inhabitants, then Kaikoura is definitely going to be your paradise.

Fittingly called a ‘Maritime Serengeti’ for the abundance of sea animals that grace its waters, it’s a small settlement on lush pastures wedged between mountains and sea, midway between Christchurch and Picton.

A combination of the Hikorangi Trench, a deep underwater canyon, and unusual sea currents serving up nutrient-rich waters, attract luxuriant numbers of creatures both small, and rather large.

The biggest on show are the Giant Sperm Whales, which can be viewed all year round on tours with Whale Watch (03 319 6767). Situated on Station Road in town, they have a 95% success rate in viewings of the giants. Numerous other whales, dusky dolphins, fur seals and even enigmatic Killer Whales can be sighted depending on the season. Booking is imperative.

Prices are $140 for adults and $60 for children with no under 3’s allowed. An 80% refund is applied if nothing is sighted. Even in summer, remember to dress warmly and wear good shoes. Sea and wind conditions can result in cancellations so call ahead to confirm your tour’s going ahead.

There are numerous options available to get up close with some maritime characters. Two of the most playful and interactive are the fur seals and dusky dolphins. Kaikoura Kayaks (021 462 889) offer tours of the neighbouring seal colony. It’s a great way to stay reasonably dry and watch the seals at play. For those eager to swim with them, Seal Swim Kaikoura (03 319 6182), provide swimming tours within the colonies. They provide all the necessaries such as a full wetsuit and snorkel. Tour departure times vary so call ahead. Prices range from $70 to $80 for adults and $60 to $70 for children under 14. They are closed in the winter.

To swim with the dusky dolphins take a tour with Dolphin Encounters. They’ll take you to pods of the highly acrobatic and extremely social animal. A disposable waterproof camera would be a wise investment. Again supplied are full wetsuits with snorkel and masks. Those not wanting to swim can stay aboard and watch but costs $80 for adults & $35 for children aged 3 – 14. Swimming for adults is $150 and $140 for kids aged 8 – 14. Tours run year round.

Owned by the same company is Albatross Encounter offering tours of the great numbers of seabirds found in the area. Adults $80 and kids $40. Both are situated on 96 Kaikoura Esplanade (03 319 6777).

Chances are you’ll have built up quite an appetite after all the activity. Kaikoura, in Maori meaning ‘meal of crayfish’ is without a doubt the place for indulging in this delicacy. Within the town are numerous restaurants but why not head out to Waipapa Bay Lobsters 32km north of town on SH1, a roadside stall recognisable by the gigantic lobster atop its roof. It serves up fresh crayfish and has a few roadside tables. If you’d like to attempt to catch your own, Kaimoana Snorkelling Tours $80 (03 319 7911) will show you how, they’ll even cook it on the BBQ for you later.

If you’re in the mood for a bit of a climb take to the Mt Fyffe Track, which allows for amazing panoramic views of the peninsula, plains and Kowhai River. On a clear day, you can see the north island from its highest point. To get there take SH1 north out of town, turning left in Postman’s Road. Those wanting to spend the night on the mountain, there’s the DOC administered Mt Fyffe Hut that sleeps eight. It’s $5 per person and tickets can be purchased at the Kaikoura i-Site on the West End (03 319 5641). Families might like to try the Hinau Track, a 45 min loop walk through the Hinau Forest. It begins in the Mt Fyffe car park.

For some 4 wheeler fun, head out to Glenstrae Farm on SH1 south of Kaikoura. They offer off-road tours through native bush, farmland and creeks of the peninsula, affording great views back towards Kaikoura and mountains. All safety gear is provided but wear warm clothes and firm footwear. Tours are for ages 16 and up, but under 16’s can ride in the 8 wheeled Argo. Call them on 03 319 7021 to arrange.

Heading back into Kaikoura, stop at the nearby Caves Restaurant (03 319 5023). The owners operate tours of the nearby Maori Leap Cave, rich in deep orange stalactites and stalagmites. Tours last about 40 minutes and booking is advisable.

No other place affords such an opportunity for encounters with our unfamiliar ocean friends. And if the ocean isn’t your fancy, Kaikoura’s scenery is enough to warm the spirit with its peaks, plains and plentiful waters.