Kaikōura is the meeting point for the ocean and mountains with a picturesque fishing village reimagined as a tourist destination offering marine experiences from dolphin encounters to whale watching. All of this washed down with local wines and a plate of succulent freshly harvested crayfish. Kaikōura’s drawcard is marine mammal encounters – whales, fur seals and dolphins live permanently in the coastal waters. There are ocean going birds and local seals to observe on your foreshore walks. Whale watching trips leave the town several times a day.
Suffer from seasickness or motion nausea then be prepared for sometimes rough Southern Ocean swell.
6 must-do activities in Kaikoura
- Go whale-watching by boat or take to the air throughout the year.
- Swim with or simply watch dolphins on a dolphin encounter.
- Foreshore walks are either guided or self-guided to observe marine life. Point Kean Seal Colony is dotted with lazing fur seals on the rocks at the end of the peninsula. Remember to give the fur seals at least 20 m between yourself and the seal. Do not position yourself between the seal and the sea.
- Take a bird watching tour to view seabirds, albatross, molly-mawks, petrels and many more.
- Kaikōura Museum with interactive exhibits about fish and marine life, the town’s resilience after the 2016 earthquake that shook the town into temporary isolation. The Museum has an excellent gift shop focused on New Zealand memorabilia.
- Fyffe House, Kaikōura’s oldest surviving building and the last remaining part of the Waiopuka whaling station, Fyffe House’s whale-bone foundations were laid in 1844. Fyffe house has a recreated nineteenth century garden worth a detour.
The Kaikoura Ohau stream walkway and falls is closed due to earthquake damage; there is now a marked lookout for seals and their pups nearby.
Start in town or drive for 10 minutes to Point Kean car park.
During low tide the walk can be completed following the shoreline to Whalers Point, Whereby you ascend stairs.
Care is required not to approach seals and maintain safe DOC advised distance. There is a food truck parked up at Point Kean selling, you guessed it, seafood treats (crayfish), fresh fish, chips and hot drinks.
You can either follow the shoreline (low tide) or head up the hill to the lookout platform and the first information panel (there are several along the route). Follow the track along the cliff to Whalers Bay viewpoint, where you can take the track down to the shoreline for close up viewing of seals and wildlife. You will notice a predator proof fence protecting Hutton’s shearwater bird colony.
There is no shade and the walk is exposed to the elements, plan accordingly and check local weather conditions before departing.
Department of Conservation walk description
Whalers Bay side-trip
This track down a stairway follows a former whalers’ route down the cliff to the shoreline. A prominent feature in this area is known as ‘the Sugarloaf’. Don’t climb this landmark, to prevent further erosion.
View seabirds, seals, walkers, divers, crayfish floats and fishing boats. Out to sea, you may see scores of seabirds feeding frantically on small fish herded to the surface by bigger fish or dolphins.
Take care to avoid disturbing any wildlife along the shoreline as there are large colonies of birds in the area. These are particularly vulnerable to disturbance during the breeding season over summer.
Return back up via the same cliff track, as tides or seals along the shoreline may prevent you from returning to the carpark.
Interpretation on the cliff top overlooking ‘the Sugarloaf’ describes the point below as ‘Bird City’ – the largest red-billed gull colony in the South Island. From here, whalers kept a vigil over the sea, looking out for their quarry. Around the corner in Whalers Bay was the launching point for the whalers’ boats.
Whalers Bay viewpoint to South Bay viewpoint
- Time: 20 min
- Distance: 1.1 km
On the sea cliffs near this section of the walkway, is a new colony of Hutton’s shearwater behind a large predator-proof fence. In summer you may see large rafts of these birds sitting on the water.
At nightfall, after feeding at sea all day, they return to their breeding colonies high up in the Seaward Kaikōura Ranges. An interpretation panel explains the work being undertaken to establish a colony on the Kaikōura Peninsula.
South Bay viewpoint to South Bay car park
- Time: 15 min
- Distance: 600 m
From the South Bay viewpoint, the walkway descends to a fully accessible path that leads to an information shelter and toilets at South Bay. Before descending to South Bay, you can view the tidal platforms and the view south. The interpretation panel here has a landscape profile identifying the mountain peaks and Goose Bay. source: Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway: South Marlborough tracks and walks.
This walk is part of the New Zealand unforgettable day walks series.
For those interested in salt production you are passing Lake Grassmere, the largest producer of sea salt in New Zealand. It is an extraordinarily beautiful sight with large uniform shallow ponds deepening to a vivid pink as they evaporate the sea water. Then you view enormous mounds of triangular shaped salt. Dominion Salt is a pioneer in solar salt production. Leaders in the World’s Most Essential Mineral.
Currently there are no tours of the production facilities however take the signposted road to the salt works. If you email Dominion Salt about the possibility of a tour please keep us posted with your comments. Drive past the salt works to Marfells beach. You can walk to the beach and sea inlet to view lakes and salt pans. The view is beautiful. The glimmering salt pans with the mountains framing the background is a great photo opportunity.
Visit duration: 1 hour.
Where is Kaikoura located?
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