Kaikoura, a small coastal town just over a 2-hour drive from Christchurch, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand. That’s because Kaikoura is home to abundant wildlife including blue-eyed penguins, dusky dolphins, sperm whales, and fur seals.
If you’re a nature lover, this is the town for you, with some of the most popular activities in Kaikoura offering you the opportunity to get up close to the aforementioned 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?
For a small town, there really is so many things to do in Kaikoura! In this blog post, I list 25 of the very best activities available in Kaikoura.
- 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. Albatross spotting tour
- 7. Whale-watching scenic flight
- 8. Eat fresh seafood
- 9. Swim with NZ Fur Seals
- 10. Go kayaking
- 11. Lavender garden
- 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. Waipara (wine region)
- 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
As mentioned, Kaikoura is a wildlife haven and is easily the best place in New Zealand to go whale watching.
Spot sperm whales (and maybe even Orcas, if you’re lucky) from a catamaran as you speed through the Pacific Ocean off Kaikoura. This whale-watching tour is 3.5 hours in total, with 2.5 hours spent on the water searching for these majestic creatures.
You are also likely to spot dolphins, penguins, and seabirds from the boat. You will be treated to a full commentary from your knowledgeable guide on the way to the whales and you will learn so much about the whales and why they make their way to Kaikoura.
The whale-watching tours in Kaikoura operate from November to March and have four departure times daily (two in the morning and two in the afternoon) – so that you can easily fit another awesome Kaikoura activity into your itinerary for that day.
Important to note – if you don’t see a whale on this tour, the operators will give you 80% of your money back!
2. See New Zealand Fur Seals
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 Kaikoura Ranges mountains.
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. Think about it – Kaikoura is located on a stunning ocean bay and is surrounded by snow-covered mountains, it’s really a 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 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 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 very reasonable.
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. Kaikoura Beach is 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 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) in length. Kaikoura beach is famous for swimming in the summer. 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 swimming anywhere other than the Southern end. Kaikoura beach does not have lifeguards.
Fishing is another popular activity to do from the beach, and with Kaikoura known for its fresh and yummy seafood, you may catch a delicious dinner for yourself. Blue cod and butterfish are the most popular fish caught here, but rock lobster and crayfish are caught in abundance too.
If you don’t fancy swimming in the cold water (the average sea temperature at Kaikoura beach is 14 degrees Celsius/57 degrees Fahrenheit), then you can take a picnic and enjoy the fantastic scenery. You will be able to see the snow-capped Kaikoura Ranges in the distance. 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 photos!
6. Albatross spotting tour
Bird-spotting enthusiasts will love the Kaikoura region with lots of 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.
This tour is 2.5 hours in duration, and it’s a short 15-minute boat ride from the dock out to the birds. To get the birds to the boat, your guide will throw ethically sourced “chum” (bits of fish) into the ocean – now, 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. Your guide will give you a bird information pack at the beginning of the tour which will help you to identify and mark off the birds you have spotted during the tour.
This is a small group tour – a maximum of 12 people allowed, so it’s personalized and doesn’t feel crowded.
7. 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 will get to see giant sperm whales, dolphins, and the incredible Kaikoura scenery from the comfort of a luxurious helicopter or fixed-wing plane.
On this specific family-friendly tour is a 30-minute tour in a 7-seater fixed-wing plane. This tour takes you out over the Pacific Ocean in search of sperm whales. They will be hard to miss even from high above as they are a whopping 52 meters (170 feet) in length!
You will be given 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!
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 will see the famous sperm whale too. The great thing about being in a helicopter is that the pilot can get super close to the whale and even circle the whale’s entire length – just imagine the photos you could get!
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!
8. 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.
9. 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 all 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. Because as you know, if 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.
10. Go kayaking
One of my favorite things I’ve done in Kaikoura is a sunset kayaking tour to see the native dusky dolphins, seals, and blue penguins. The wildlife in Kaikoura is typically more active at sunset/dusk, so we saw lots of dolphins and whales. On this 3-hour 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!
There are also two other kayaking tour options available in Kaikoura – the first is a half-day tour out to see penguins, seals, and sea birds. 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.
The other kayak tour available is a family-friendly option and is 2.5 hours in duration and departs 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. This tour is suitable for children from the age of 3.
11. Lavender garden
Set amongst 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 tea room 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.
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!
12. Visit Kaikoura Marine Nesting Area
One of the best places to see fur seals (and lots of them) in New Zealand is at 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 rewarding. 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 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 parking lot. 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 $5 per person per night, payable to the honesty box outside the hut.
For hikers, this is one of the best things to do in Kaikoura.
14. Glenstrae Four Wheeler Adventures
Looking for the perfect activity in Kaikoura 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 per hour (28 mph)!
The tour also includes refreshments at a hidden wooden cabin (about halfway through your tour). It’s an incredibly scenic stop-off point!
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).
If that sounds like your cup of tea then I think you may like to know about this Four Wheel and Helicopter combo tour. You’ll get to experience the landscapes of Kaikoura from land and sky!
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.
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 tour allows you to swim with dusky dolphins, who are notoriously friendly.
Although a dolphin experience 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 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) in the winter. But don’t worry, you will be provided with all the necessary equipment.
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 20-40 minutes. However, the whole tour is 3 hours, so you will spend 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.
If you prefer to not go swimming, you can watch the dolphins from 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!
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 tell 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 action from Kaikoura’s most famous residents. You can see hundreds of fur seals here!
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. The walking track was closed for a while as they worked to make it safe after the earthquake, but it is now fully back open to the public.
18. Kaikoura Museum
The Kaikoura Museum is housed in perhaps the most famous building in town – known as the “cray pot” because it looks exactly like one. 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. It 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 – 4 pm.
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 formed this lake. Hapuku Lake was formed by a landslip that blocked the Hapuku River and led to the creation of a brand new natural alpine lake.
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 one of the nights.
To walk to the lake, you must park at the main Hapuku Ford off Parsons Road and start the journey from there. Walk along the riverbed until you reach the gorge, at which point you 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 mementoes 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.
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 famous 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 will 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, an activity that children and adults alike love. 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 been in their family for three generations.
Tours at Point Sheep Shearing Farm are at 1:30 pm and 4 pm daily. Tickets cost $15 per adult and $5 per child.
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 back of whaling.
You can visit the house for 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; it 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 it’s open from 10 am until 5 pm daily.
24. Trek with Llamas
Go trekking with llamas at Kaikoura Lllama Trekking. There’s a variety of tour options available, from the Taster Llama Trek 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) and then 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 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 beach. Included in this particular tour is a picnic with cake and beverages.
Kaikoura Llama Trekking is located at Kowhai Farm Road and is a popular activity in the region; HRH Prince 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 to 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 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit)! 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 cafes like Beach House Cafe or Food Company Kaikoura (both on Beach Rd) for their tips. You may 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 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.
Other great surf beaches within driving distance of Kaikoura include Kekerengu, Clarence Point, and Okiwi Bay.
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 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. 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 wine is 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), Waipara Hills, 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 4-5 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 is highly recommended and one of the best things to do in Christchurch.
Alternatively, 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.
If you’re wanting to make a night of it there are plenty of accommodation options in the Waipara region. From the luxurious Waipara River Estate to the very stylish Black Estate B&B, you’re sure to find a joyous and pleasant stay.
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.
If you’re on a budget there are some great choices. 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.
If you enjoy a little more comfort, then the Kaikoura Waterfront Apartments are 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.
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. If you’d prefer a stay nestled closer to the mountains the Manakau Lodge is one of the best-rated hotels in Kaikoura. Or, for a really unique stay, consider the Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses and sleep above the forest.
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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic. We also have a 5% discount code (QUEEN5) with Mad Campers, which you can use at checkout.
- 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. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! We are also partnered with Kiwi Motorhomes, which is well known as the top motorhome rental company in New Zealand. You can get 5% off using the code Queen5. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
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 purchase it as soon as we land in 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!