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Home to abundant wildlife, there’s a good reason why photographers and tourists flock to Kaikoura every year. This cute coastal town is a hotspot for blue-eyed penguins, dusky dolphins, sperm whales, and fur seals! Better yet, the drive from Christchurch to Kaikoura is also super scenic and full of awesome stops along the way.
If you’re a nature lover, this is one of the best places to visit on the South Island, with some of the most popular activities in Kaikoura offering you the opportunity to get up close to all of these unique creatures. While in town, why not swim with wild dolphins, go on a kayaking tour to see the native fur seals, or see the giant sperm whales from high up above on a luxurious helicopter tour?
And although Kaikoura’s wildlife is without a doubt the biggest draw, there are still lots of other fun activities to try too, such as climbing Mount Fyffe, going ATV riding, and visiting a lavender farm! For a small town, there really are so many things to do here.
In this blog post, I’ve listed 25 of the very best activities available in Kaikoura, providing all the info you’ll need to have an amazing time here, whether you decide to stop by for the day or for a week!
- Things to do in Kaikoura
- 1. Go whale watching
- 2. See New Zealand Fur Seals
- 3. Visit the Kaikoura Lookout
- 4. Bernie’s Diner and Car Museum
- 5. Relax at Kaikoura Beach
- 6. Whale-watching scenic flight
- 7. Eat fresh seafood
- 8. Try an albatross spotting tour
- 9. Go kayaking
- 10. Drop by the lavender garden
- 11. Waipara (wine region)
- 12. Visit Kaikoura Marine Nesting Area
- 13. Climb Mount Fyffe
- 14. Glenstrae Four Wheeler Adventures
- 15. Swim with dolphins
- 16. Peninsula Walkway and Kaikoura Recreation Reserve
- 17. Ohau Point Stream Walkway
- 18. Kaikoura Museum
- 19. Learn about Māori Culture
- 20. Hapuku Lake
- 21. Shop!
- 22. Point Sheep Shearing Farm
- 23. Fyffe House
- 24. Trek with Llamas
- 25. Go surfing
- 26. Taste delicious cheese at Kaikoura Cheese Shop
- 27. Try real fruit ice cream at Poppy’s Parlour
- 28. Swim with NZ fur seals
- Where to Stay in Kaikoura
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Things to do in Kaikoura
1. Go whale watching
I’d be doing an injustice to Kaikoura if I didn’t start off with one of the biggest draws to the town (literally!).
Kaikoura has a flourishing whale population, made up of resident whales like sperm whales which can be seen all year round, as well as seasonal visitors like orcas (seen from December to March), and humpback whales (seen in June and July).
By far the best way to go whale watching in Kaikoura is as part of an organized tour. Joining a team of local experts, you’ll have the highest chance of spotting whales, plus the different boats often work together to let each other know when whales are spotted.
This whale-watching tour is 3.5 hours in total, with over 2 hours spent on the water searching for these majestic creatures. Hopping aboard a spacious catamaran, you’ll head out to where the continental shelf drops off – the ideal conditions for whales!
You’re also likely to spot dolphins, penguins, and seabirds right from the boat. At the same time, you’ll be treated to a full commentary from your knowledgeable guide, learning all about the whales and why they make their way to Kaikoura. Tickets for this experience cost $165 NZD per person and can be booked online here with free cancellation, so no worries if you change your mind or dates.
Important to note: If you don’t see a whale on this tour, many of the whale watching tour operators will give you 80% of your money back!
2. See New Zealand Fur Seals
Aside from the incredible whales, one of the main reasons tourists visit Kaikoura is to see fur seals in the wild. In fact, I think there may be more fur seals than people in Kaikoura — there are just so many of them! One of the best places to see fur seals in Kaikoura is on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, a 2-hour return walk that starts at the South Bay Car Park and finishes at Kean Bay.
Another great spot to see fur seals in the wild is at Ohau Point Viewing Platform, a 20 km (12.4-mile) drive from Kaikoura town. From here, you will see loads of fur seals sunbathing on the rocks below.
Kaikoura Marine Resting Area is again another great seal-spotting viewpoint. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking, too, with the bright blue Pacific Ocean in stark contrast to the snow-capped mountains of the Kaikoura Ranges.
From this prime vantage point, you may even spot whales in the ocean between the months of October to March, so be sure to take a zoom lens for your camera to snap an awesome photo. Kaikoura Marine Resting Area is a 20-minute drive from Kaikoura town via State Highway 1 (SH1).
Related Read: Another popular place to see wildlife, including seals, is Milford Sound — one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand. On a Milford Sound tour from Queenstown, you’ll likely see seals from out on the boat!
3. Visit the Kaikoura Lookout
Kaikoura is one of the prettiest places on the South Island. Nestled in a stunning ocean bay and surrounded by snow-covered mountains, it’s a really beautiful place!
The way to get that “Insta-worthy” photo and enjoy the beauty of Kaikoura is from up at the Kaikoura Lookout. The best part is that you can drive to this lookout — that’s right, no hiking required!
The Kaikoura Lookout is located only a 5-minute drive from town on Scarborough Road. From this vantage point, you can see all of the Kaikoura Peninsula. On a clear day, you’ll also have some pretty sweet mountain views.
The last time I was in Kaikoura, I drove up to the lookout for sunset and it was stunning! I highly recommend making your way up here at least once during your time in Kaikoura.
4. Bernie’s Diner and Car Museum
I absolutely loved this old-school American-style diner. It’s got vinyl booths, checkered floors, and boom boxes that were playing music from Grease when we visited, so we really did feel transported back to the 1950s.
Bernie’s Diner is open daily from 7:30 am to 4 pm for breakfast and lunch. The milkshakes looked amazing, but I just went for the eggs bernie (aka eggs benedict) instead, and it was really good. Plus, the prices are pretty reasonable, with the eggs bernie costing $25 NZD for a big portion.
Breakfast is served until 11 am, so if you’re looking for somewhere to grab a delicious and filling breakfast, this is it!
There’s an old T-bird car in the diner that you can admire, or you can pay an extra $10 NZD and visit the classic car museum out the back. This really isn’t the kind of dining experience you can have every day in New Zealand, so definitely make a beeline for this place when you’re in town.
5. Relax at Kaikoura Beach
Conveniently located in Kaikoura town is Kaikoura Beach. Both beautiful and huge — it’s one of the best beaches in all of New Zealand! In fact, Kaikoura Beach runs most of the length of the town and is approximately 5 km (3.1 miles) long.
Kaikoura Beach is also famous for swimming in the summer. That said, most people tend to swim at the beach’s Southern end, as it has more sand and just a small incline. The rest of the beach is quite rocky and can have strong rip currents, so be careful if you’re planning to swim anywhere other than the southern end. As a side note, Kaikoura Beach does not have lifeguards, so swim with care!
Fishing is another popular activity to do from the beach, and with Kaikoura known for its fresh and yummy seafood, you might just catch a delicious dinner for yourself! Blue cod and butterfish are the most popular fish caught here, but rock lobster and crayfish are pretty common too.
If you don’t fancy swimming in the cold water (the average sea temperature at Kaikoura Beach is 14 °C/57 °F), then you can also simply take a picnic and enjoy the fantastic scenery. Kaikoura Beach is also a great spot to go for sunset. When the sun sinks behind the Kaikoura Ranges – be sure to have your camera ready to take some epic photos!
6. Whale-watching scenic flight
I bet you didn’t know that in Kaikoura you can go whale watching on a scenic flight! One of the coolest activities available in Kaikoura, you’ll get to see giant sperm whales, dolphins, and the incredible Kaikoura scenery from the comfort of a helicopter or fixed-wing plane.
From my own experience, I’ve also found it to be the fastest way to see whales – often you spend most of the time on a whale watching boat tour looking for the whales, whereas they’re pretty easy to see from up above.
This 30-minute family-friendly flight will have you boarding a 7-seater fixed-wing plane, ready to soar above the Pacific Ocean in search of sperm whales. They’ll be hard to miss even from high above as they are a whopping 52 meters (170 feet) in length! Depending on the time of year, you might also be in luck and get to see orcas or humpback whales too.
As you fly, you’ll have a headset to listen to the pilot’s commentary about the area and the sperm whales who live here. This tour departs from Kaikoura and is a year-round activity! Tickets cost $225 NZD per person, and you can check your dates online here.
Another unforgettable tour is this luxurious 1-hour helicopter tour that takes you high above Kaikoura Canyon and even includes an alpine landing. Of course, you’ve got the best chances of seeing the famous sperm whales too!
The great thing about being in a helicopter is that the pilot can get super close to the whales – just imagine the photos you could get! Tickets for this experience are a little pricier than the plane experience, but if you’re serious about getting super close to the whales, then this is the option for you. You can book onto this experience for $455 NZD per person.
This is a bucket-list-worthy activity in Kaikoura and is especially popular with couples. Be sure to book this one early! Return hotel transport is included as part of this tour.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
7. Eat fresh seafood
When you’re next to the ocean, it’s practically mandatory to eat seafood!
Kaikoura may just be the seafood capital of the South Island. With blue cod, lobster, and crayfish all caught daily in its waters, it’s hard to resist. So if seafood is your favorite cuisine, then you’ve come to the right town. Every restaurant in Kaikoura serves up some sort of seafood dish, but there are a few standout places to visit if you’re a seafood lover (like me!).
In my opinion, Kaikoura Seafood BBQ Kiosk is the best of the best. It’s locally famous and very popular with tourists and locals alike, so you know it’s the real deal. They serve fresh crayfish, amazing seafood platters, whitebait fritters, garlic scallops, and so much more.
This place is reasonably priced, and it’s right near Jimmy Armers Beach, so you can grab a table next to the ocean, which is the perfect way to eat seafood! Plus, there are a couple of other food trucks nearby and some of them are licensed, so you can grab a drink to enjoy with your meal, or just head to the ice cream truck for dessert.
The Pier Hotel Restaurant is located on Avoca Street. It’s a casual bar environment that serves up excellent fish & chips and a delicious huge seafood platter. If you’re not a seafood fan, then there’s a heap of other options available as well as some lighter bites.
Cods and Crayfish on 81 Beach Road is a more casual takeaway restaurant with limited outdoor seating. However, they serve up the freshest fish in Kaikoura, and you will see that when you visit with crayfish, crabs, paua, and mussels all to be seen in the tank inside!
And of course, no visit to Kaikoura is complete without visiting Nin’s Bin, a famous food truck that has been serving up the best and freshest crayfish since 1977. The blue and white food truck can be found on State Highway 1, just outside of town, on the drive towards Picton.
8. Try an albatross spotting tour
Bird-spotting enthusiasts will love the Kaikoura region, with lots of iconic birds native to the area, including albatross, petrel, penguins, and gulls. One of the best ways to see these birds in close proximity is on an albatross spotting tour.
Albatross Encounter Kaikoura offers specialized albatross tours year-round, with their albatross encounter tour lasting 2.5 hours in total. It’s just a short 15-minute boat ride from the dock out to the birds, and to get the birds to the boat, your guide will throw ethically sourced “chum” (bits of fish) into the ocean.
After this, simply sit back and watch in awe as lots of birds get very close. It’s a great way to see them up close and take some epic photos!
The most commonly spotted birds on this particular tour are the great albatross, shearwaters, petrels, shags, prions, and gulls. I also love that this is a small group tour – a maximum of 12 people allowed, so it’s personalized and doesn’t feel crowded. Tickets for this experience cost $175 NZD per person and can be booked online here.
9. Go kayaking
One of my favorite things I’ve done in Kaikoura is kayaking at sunset to see the native dusky dolphins, seals, and blue penguins. The wildlife in Kaikoura is typically more active at sunset and dusk, so we saw lots of dolphins and whales!
On this 3-hour sunset kayaking tour, we also learned a lot about the history of Kaikoura and the Maori culture here. We even got the chance to take some epic sunset photos that I’ll treasure for years to come. At $140 NZD per person, this is my go-to activity, especially if you don’t have much time in Kaikoura, for example if you’re on a road trip from Picton to Christchurch.
There are also two other kayaking tour options available in Kaikoura – the first is this half-day tour where you can get to see penguins, seals, and seabirds. This is a 3-hour tour that departs at either 9:30 am or 1 pm daily, and there’s a 100% guarantee of seeing a fur seal. If you’re confident in the water and relatively fit, this is the best kayaking tour for you. Tickets start at $280 NZD per person.
This hands-free kayak tour is ideal for families and lasts for around 2.5 hours, departing at 9:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 6 pm daily. This is an easy kayak around the Kaikoura peninsula to see the fur seals, and is suitable for children from the age of 3 upwards! You can book your spot on this tour for $120 NZD per person.
10. Drop by the lavender garden
Set against the backdrop of Mount Fyffe and growing more than 50 varieties of Lavender, Lavendyl Farm is pretty-as-a-picture. Being just a 5-minute drive from Kaikoura town (on the drive from Kaikoura to Picton), this is a very popular activity from November through to the end of January as this is when the lavender is in full bloom and looks (and smells) the nicest!
Let’s be honest, lavender smells fantastic – I just love it! You can take a lavender souvenir home from Lavendyl Farm with lavender oils, hair products, bath products, and even lavender-flavored honey, all for sale at the store on-site. There’s also a tearoom here, where you can sit with a nice hot beverage and enjoy the scenery.
If you visit in January and February, you can watch the oil distillation process in action. This is because the lavender plants are at their peak for oil production during this time. Pure lavender oil (and rosemary oil) is extracted during the distillation process to create the oils and other products sold at the on-site store.
Tickets for the farm cost just $5 NZD per person, making this one of the cheapest activities to try in Kaikoura. Depending on the time you visit, the opening times for Lavendyl Farm can be different, so make sure to double-check their website before you leave.
Related Read: Another popular lavender garden in New Zealand is located in Wanaka. Read about all of the other fun things to do in Wanaka!
11. Waipara (wine region)
Waipara is one of the best wine regions in New Zealand. The climate here is perfect for grape growing because it has the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any of the country’s wine regions. Some of my favorite New Zealand wines are from Waipara – with the best varieties grown here being Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
Waipara is considered to be the country’s “fastest-growing wine region.” Would you believe the first vines here were planted in 1975 and today, there are over 1300 hectares of vines – that’s impressive! What I love too is that most of the wineries here are family-run.
Of the 90 wineries in Waipara, most are smaller, family-run businesses. For wine lovers, a visit to this region is easily one of the best things to do in New Zealand.
My favorite wineries in Waipara include Waipara Springs (which also has an excellent on-site restaurant), and Terrace Edge Vineyard. If you want to taste the delicious wines, why not join a guided winery tour (so you don’t have to drive).
Most tours depart from Christchurch and are between 4 and 5 hours in duration. Of course, you can drive yourself to the wineries instead of doing a tour, but it is a bit of a hike. If you are doing a road trip from Kaikoura to Christchurch, this is a great middle stopping point, though!
If you do wait until you’re in Christchurch before doing a tour, know that these boutique wine tours typically include a light lunch to be enjoyed at one of the scenic wineries. This half-day tour from Christchurch combines everything that makes a wine tour here fantastic, with lunch, wine tastings, and transport included.
There’s also a maximum of 6 people per tour, so you’ll have a personalized tour from start to finish. Considering everything that’s included, I think that the $199 NZD price tag is pretty fair! You can check available dates and book your spot online here.
Alternatively, you can rent a bike from Action Bicycle Club and cycle the 10 km (6.2 mi) winery bike trail, stopping at several wineries along the way. The track is relatively easy, with only a few uphill sections.
Where to spend the night in the Waiapara Region
If you want to make a night of it, there are plenty of great accommodation options in the Waipara region.
The very stylish Black Estate B&B offers a very reasonably priced stay, nestled in the rolling Waipara hills. With free bike rental, the most gorgeous mountain views you can imagine, and incredibly comfortable rooms, you’ll spend your days exploring out in nature before coming home to snuggle up in the warm. A stay here starts at $295 NZD per night.
For a similar price point, the luxurious Waipara River Estate offers a spacious and peaceful stay just a 10-minute drive from town. Surrounded by gardens, the continental breakfast is the perfect start to a day full of wine tasting and adventure! One night here at the Waipara River Estate starts at around $310 NZD per night.
12. Visit Kaikoura Marine Nesting Area
If you thought I was finished talking about fur seals, you’d be wrong! One of the best places to see fur seals (and lots of them) in New Zealand is the Kaikoura Marine Resting Area. From this viewpoint, you get fabulous views. Think turquoise water in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background.
Take your binoculars with you to see whales or dusky dolphins in the ocean beyond. The best time to spot them is from October to March. The famed fur seals are much easier to spot, and you will likely see dozens of them resting on the rocks here.
Like I’ve mentioned, the Kaikoura region is known as a wildlife mecca in New Zealand. Wondering what attracts so much marine life to Kaikoura? Well, there’s a continental shelf in the ocean, around 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the shore. This shelf plunges 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) below the surface and provides the ideal deep water that marine life thrives in.
13. Climb Mount Fyffe
An awesome but challenging hike in Kaikoura is the 17 km (10.6-mile) return track up to the summit of Mount Fyffe. It’s a steep climb most of the way, so I only recommend this hike for those with a reasonable fitness level and who have experience hiking.
Although a tough feat to get to the top, the views along the way are nothing short of epic. You’ll see the Kaikoura Ranges and Peninsula, as well as the glistening Pacific Ocean, from the several viewpoints dotted along the way. These viewpoints are a great (and much-needed!) place to stop and catch your breath before continuing uphill.
During the spring and summer months, the track is especially pretty, with lots of colorful wildflowers in bloom.
The track starts at Mount Fyffe Car Park. Although steep, the track is well-formed and doesn’t tend to get slippery after wet weather. There is an option to spend the night at Mount Fyffe Hut, which is just 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the summit. No booking is required, and it costs $10 NZD per person per night, payable to the honesty box outside the hut.
For hikers, this really is one of the best things to do in Kaikoura!
14. Glenstrae Four Wheeler Adventures
Just 20 minutes outside Kaikoura is the perfect activity for adrenaline junkies. This 2.5-hour quad biking tour with Glenstrae Four Wheeler Adventures, explores farmland with stunning coastal views. You may even spot fur seals on the beaches below during your tour! It’s a fast-paced tour, with the quad bike reaching speeds of up to 45 km (28 miles) per hour.
The tour also includes refreshments at a hidden wooden cabin (about halfway through your tour). It’s an incredibly scenic stop-off point that deserves more than a couple of photos!
If you’ve never driven a quad bike before, fear not, you will be given a briefing and shown how to effectively operate the vehicle at the on-site training course before departing. If you’re still not confident, you can hop in their 8×8 vehicle driven by an experienced guide. This vehicle is used for younger family members (or those who can’t drive).
Worth noting – No driver’s license is required for this activity! However, I do recommend being comfortable behind the wheel as this is a high-powered vehicle, and a little experience does go a long way.
15. Swim with dolphins
Kaikoura was, in fact, the first place in New Zealand to offer tourists the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins! This 2.5-hour swim with dolphins experience allows you to get in the water with dusky dolphins, who are notoriously friendly!
Although seeing dolphins is not guaranteed, this particular tour has one of the highest success rates in New Zealand. That’s because the waters around Kaikoura are a wildlife haven – you may even spot penguins and whales from your boat, too.
Dusky and hector dolphins can be seen any time of the year, while common dolphins are typically only seen in the summer. You may even spot some Orcas (aka killer whales) if you choose to do this tour between the months of September to April.
The water temperature in Kaikoura averages 19 °C (66 °F) in the summer and 8 °C (46 °F) in the winter. But don’t worry, you’ll be provided with all the necessary equipment to keep you warm.
Worth noting is that you need to be confident in the water for this tour. You will likely get to swim with the dolphins for around 20 to 40 minutes. However, you’ll spend around 2.5 hours on the boat on the lookout for dolphins and taking in the stunning scenery.
This is one of the most popular things to do in Kaikoura, so you should book your tour online here in advance to secure your spot. It’s also the same company that runs the albatross encounter, so if you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can combine both for the ultimate experience!
If you prefer not to go swimming, Dolphin Encounter also offers a dolphin watching boat tour – they will often put on a show for you, leaping from the water while doing some impressive twists and turns!
16. Peninsula Walkway and Kaikoura Recreation Reserve
For a beautiful view of the ocean and some nice walking trails, head to the Kaikoura Recreation Reserve. This area is only a few minutes drive from the center of Kaikoura, and here you can go for a nice stroll and even spot fur seals! This area is home to the largest population of fur seals in Kaikoura (no surprises there!).
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is an 11.7 km (7.3-mile) easy walk that connects the parking lot at Kaikoura Recreation Reserve with the South Bay car park. It should take between 2.5 – 3 hours to complete the return track. With that said, you don’t have to walk the entire thing, just go as far as you want before turning back.
Along the walkway, you will find numerous information boards which will tell you all about the wildlife in Kaikoura.
Related Read: Enjoy hiking? Check out the very best hikes in New Zealand!
17. Ohau Point Stream Walkway
Ohau Point Viewing Platform is in prime position to watch the fur seals lazing on the rocks below. They typically don’t make too much movement; however, summer is mating season, so you’re likely to see a lot more of Kaikoura’s most famous residents. I’ve personally seen hundreds of fur seals here – it’s quite a sight!
About 1 km (0.6 miles) from the viewing platform is the start of the Ohau Point Stream Walkway. It’s a short and easy 300-meter (984 feet) (each way) track that leads to the waterfall. Ohau Point Waterfall is the only place in the world where you can watch little fur seal pups play in a waterfall.
This happens every winter in New Zealand, and you’ll likely see many baby fur seals swimming up the stream and into the waterfall to play. They are adorable and love to play fight with each other. However, make sure to keep your distance, as they can be very inquisitive.
The Kaikoura earthquake in 2006 did cause minor damage to the pool beneath the waterfall, which you will witness when you visit. For the latest information, make sure to double-check the DOC website.
18. Kaikoura Museum
The Kaikoura Museum is housed in perhaps the most famous building in town – known as the “cray pot” because that’s exactly what it looks like! If you don’t know, a cray pot is used for catching crayfish, a delicacy Kaikoura is famous for.
The museum was opened in November 2016, just a couple of days after the devastating earthquake which damaged most of the town. The long-term Kaikoura Earthquake Exhibition on display here is one of the most fascinating and informative parts of the museum and tells the story of the aftermath of the longest earthquake ever recorded in New Zealand.
This exhibit features over 30 smaller exhibitions that were all contributed by the local people, and it tells their stories of how they overcame this devastating part of their history.
Another long-term exhibition at Kaikoura Museum is an award-winning ‘under-the-sea type display that shows the town’s connection with sea and sea life.
Kaikoura Museum is located at 96 West End and is open every day from 10 am to 4 pm. Entry is $12 NZD per adult and $6 NZD per child.
19. Learn about Māori Culture
A truly unique tour on offer in Kaikoura is this Maori Cultural Tour, which offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the native Māori people and their way of life here in Kaikoura.
This half-day tour includes a bushwalk that shows the Māori’s use of plants for medicine and in their every day and the opportunity to learn about weaving (or raranga), which is the skill of plaiting harakeke (flax) to make bags, mats, and other items.
You are encouraged to ask questions along the tour, and you will also be treated to some interesting tales of your guide’s ancestors.
Māori Tours was founded in 2002 out of the need to offer a unique Māori experience in the Kaikoura region. This tour has been awarded the best cultural experience in New Zealand four times. It’s a small group tour, so be sure to book a space early.
20. Hapuku Lake
Would you believe that Hapuku Lake didn’t exist pre-November 2016? That’s because the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake actually formed this lake! Hapuku Lake was created by a landslip that blocked the Hapuku River and led to the creation of a brand-new natural alpine lake – how neat is that?!
Hapuku Lake is located high up in the Kaikoura Mountains and is reachable only by foot or on a private helicopter tour. The walk is a 3-day tramping track, so you will need to camp out along the track, but you can sleep at the 6-bunk Hapuku Hut for one of the nights.
To walk to the lake, you’ll need to park at the main Hapuku Ford off Parsons Road and start the journey from there. Walking along the riverbed until you reach the gorge, you’ll need to cross the river to get to the start of the marked track to Hapuku Lake.
The track is mostly uphill and is considered difficult. The trail is rocky in the beginning, but well-formed towards the end. But from the hut to the lake, there’s less known about it, and it’s not as well-traveled. Seeing as it was only formed in 2016, this makes sense. It’s a rocky scramble uphill for the last section to the lake.
Hapuku Lake sure is a challenging hike, but the sense of achievement you feel when you reach it is incredible. Plus, the fact this lake didn’t exist before November 2016 is pretty amazing!
There’s so much shopping in Kaikoura. In fact, it might be one of my favorite places in New Zealand to browse. You can find some real gems in the many trendy boutiques dotted around, or grab loads of quirky mementos of your trip from the big souvenir stores.
Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it’s still fun to look around (although I’ll be honest, you probably are going to come away with a somewhat lighter wallet).
Ocean Arts Kaikoura is my favorite store in town. It’s housed in a refurbished shipping container and is operated by two local female artists. You can buy their ocean-themed artwork, handmade candles, and pretty trinkets here – it’s the perfect place to buy a unique and tasteful Kaikoura souvenir.
Little Rock is another super cute souvenir shop that sells similar gifts! The last time I was here, I tried some of the aromatherapy candles, which smelled really good and also made a great gift for some of my friends.
22. Point Sheep Shearing Farm
It’s said that in New Zealand, there are more sheep than people. What better way to get up close to this iconic New Zealand resident than at Point Sheep Shearing Farm, where you can watch a sheep shearing show and learn all about the different sheep breeds and wool types on the farm!
You’ll also get to see all the farm equipment, as well as some historic farm tools used as far back as 50 years ago.
From August to January, you can feed a baby lamb, a fun activity for kids and adults alike! It’s so special to hold them in your arms and feed them a bottle of milk (like a baby!).
This is a very popular activity in Kaikoura with overseas visitors, especially those who have never stepped foot on a working farm. It’s an authentic Kiwi experience, and the family who runs it are so friendly and knowledgeable. The farm has actually been in their family for three generations!
Tours at Point Sheep Shearing Farm run at 1:30 pm daily. Tickets cost $15 NZD per adult and $5 NZD per child, and you can either make a booking in advance or simply turn up.
23. Fyffe House
Fyffe House in Kaikōura is a pink heritage building that’s built on vertebrae piles from a Southern right whale, so it was quite literally built on the backbone of whaling!
You can visit the house on a tour, during which you’ll learn all about New Zealand’s whaling industry and how those involved with it used to live. It’s not really a museum, but feels more like a snapshot of life in Kaikōura between the 1840s and 1980s.
Learning about the families who lived in the house was eye-opening, for sure, but I also really liked that you get to learn about the cultural history of the area on this tour, too. It’s a great way to discover more about the cultural heritage of Kaikōura. It’s 3.3 kilometers (2 miles) from the town center to Fyffe House, so it’s just a short 5-minute drive.
It costs $10 NZD per person to visit Fyffe House, and its opening hours do vary depending on the time of year, so don’t forget to check their website in advance.
24. Trek with Llamas
For a super unique experience in Kaikoura, why not go trekking with llamas at Kaikoura Llama Trekking? There’s a variety of tour options available, from the Taster Llama Trek through to the longer Llama Trek.
The Taster Trek is a 1-hour walk to the Kowhai River with the llamas on a lead and then along the river and even crossing the river itself (if the weather allows) into a native forest. On this short tour, not only are you getting to walk with these unique creatures, but you’re also getting to do it among some pretty incredible scenery.
If you wish to spend longer with the llamas, then consider the 3-hour llama trek, which takes you past an old whalers’ cottage, a native seal colony, and along a picturesque beach. You’ll also be treated to some delicious cake and beverages, a welcome treat!
Kaikoura Llama Trekking is located at Kowhai Farm Road and is a popular activity in the region; HRH King Charles even visited recently. So, it has the royal seal of approval!
25. Go surfing
People from all over New Zealand (and the world) come here to surf – it’s easily one of the best things to do in Kaikoura. This town is home to some of the best spots to go surfing in New Zealand! It has one of the longest breaks in the country and some huge swells.
But be warned, the sea temperature here is cold, averaging about 13 °C (55 °F)! So, make sure to pack a cold water wetsuit! Some of the best surf spots are only known to locals, so ask at popular local cafés like Beach House Cafe on Beach Rd for their tips. You may even come across a hidden surfing gem!
Mangamaunu, to the north of the town, is one of the best surf spots for intermediate to expert surfers. Not only is the beach here incredibly photogenic, but we’re told it has some of the longest breaks in New Zealand (after Raglan). Mangamaunu, above all other surf beaches in the area, is what attracts most non-local surfers to Kaikoura.
Ward Beach, which wasn’t a great surf spot before the 2016 earthquake, is now one of the best and most popular surf beaches in Kaikoura. So the earthquake, in a way, helped to put Kaikoura on the world surfing map! It’s perfect for intermediate surfers, and its main drawcard is the big swells and the opportunity to see dusky dolphins.
26. Taste delicious cheese at Kaikoura Cheese Shop
Located at 45 West End, Kaikoura Cheese is the place in town for cheese lovers or pretty much anyone who considers themselves a foodie. They make all their cheese on-site, so come in and try some of their most popular cheeses, including the 9-month-aged Te Morehu and the spicy labneh.
Many locals and out-of-towners flock here to buy their unique Tenera cheese, created using locally sourced goat’s milk and grapevine ash. The owner is so knowledgeable about cheese and the cheese-making process, so definitely ask him some questions!
You can watch the cheese-making process in action in the factory behind the store. The shop also stocks a range of other New Zealand cheeses, as well as deli meats and freshly baked bread.
27. Try real fruit ice cream at Poppy’s Parlour
Poppy’s Parlour is a small ice cream spot right in the middle of town that sells generous portions of real fruit ice cream. It’s so good, and it’s the perfect treat on a warm day.
It’s $6 NZD for one serving, and you get to choose three fruits which will then be mixed into plain ice cream to make a tasty soft serve cone. It’s SO good and a million times better than artificially flavored ice cream!
Related Read: For another great ice cream place, head to Raglan on the North Island!
28. Swim with NZ fur seals
Fur seals are in abundance in Kaikoura, but did you know that you can swim with them here?! This 2.5-hour seal swimming tour starts with a short boat ride out to the shallow waters the fur seals call home.
You will be provided with snorkel gear and a wetsuit before jumping in to swim with these friendly creatures. Although mostly friendly, your guide will tell you to keep a safe distance because they can sometimes be a little too playful!
Because the waters here are so shallow, no experience is necessary, so it’s suitable for just about anyone — although it isn’t recommended for those with back or heart problems.
It’s a small group tour, with a maximum of 10 people per boat — so, it’s a great way to escape the crowds. As you’ll know once you’ve visited Kaikoura, the other fur seal spotting locations like the Peninsula Walkway and Ohau Point can get very busy, especially during the summer.
Where to Stay in Kaikoura
Kaikoura really isn’t a large town, however, due to its popularity, there are actually a ton of great places to stay! The trick is that you need to book in advance to get the best places. Here are a few of my favorites:
Dolphin Lodge – $
If you’re traveling on a budget, there are some great choices here in Kaikoura. For me, I love staying at the Dolphin Lodge when I’m looking to save a few dollars. The cheapest private rooms here come with a shared bathroom, but I myself always get the slightly more expensive room, so I can get ready in private.
They also have dorm beds for solo travelers! What I love most about the hotel is the awesome location and ocean views. On top of that, they have a communal kitchen, which always saves me a lot of money. A bed in a dorm here starts at $35 NZD per night and can be booked online here.
Kaikoura Waterfront Apartments – $$
If you enjoy a little more comfort, then the Kaikoura Waterfront Apartments is a top choice. These gorgeous apartments are oceanfront and come with a modern design and furnishings.
The best part is they are located in the heart of Kaikoura, and you’re only steps from the beach. They have 1 bedroom and 2 apartments that can sleep up to 4 guests. The apartments here start at around $230 NZD per night, and I’ve found it’s best to book in advance as far as you can to secure the best prices here.
Sheerwater Apartments – $$$
For high-end travelers, there are a lot of great options in Kaikoura. The Shearwater Apartments really stands out if you want to be close to town. Imagine luxury apartments right on the water with ocean views!
This is the ideal spot if you’re traveling as a couple and looking for a romantic place to spend the night. Rooms here start at $450 NZD per night, and you can book your room here on Booking.com.
Related Read: Many people visit Kaikoura on a road trip from Picton to Christchurch. Read about all of the other amazing stops on this route!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
As you can see, there really are so many awesome things to do in Kaikoura. Choosing just a few will be incredibly difficult! I absolutely loved the time I spent exploring Kaikoura, and I’m certain you will too. Especially for my fellow animal lovers out there.
I hope that you enjoyed this post, and that it helped you narrow down your decision on what to do in Kaikoura a little bit. Be sure to check out some of my other New Zealand guides before you go!