The Perfect Weekend in Kaikoura, New Zealand: Best Hotels, Things to Do, and Where to Eat

Kaikoura, a small town on the northeast of New Zealand‘s South Island, is known for its epic marine life, seafood, and beautiful mountain to ocean views. You can get to Kaikoura by driving from Christchurch (approximately 3 hours) or from Blenheim (approximately 2 hours). But do allow some extra time for stops to enjoy the coastal scenery and views! Here’s my guide on where to stay, what to do, and what to eat in stunning Kaikoura.

Kaikoura New Zealand Travel Guide and Things to Do - Panoramic View of Kaikoura Bay
Panoramic view of Kaikoura Bay. Image: Destination Kaikoura

Kaikoura Hotels & Where to Stay

Kaikoura features some of the best and most unique small hotels in New Zealand, offering up that famous Kiwi hospitality to a small number of guests. My favorite luxury lodge in Kaikoura is a property slightly outside of town called Hapuku Lodge + Treehouses. Run by the friendly Chris and Fiona, Hapuku Lodge is a true escape with a working farm and garden, pool, jacuzzi, and world-class dining. And the highlight? The opportunity to stay in one of their spacious treehouse units with views overlooking the mountains and the valley! Watching the sunset while soaking in your jacuzzi tub in the bedroom (New Zealand wine in hand, of course) is the perfect way to enjoy an evening in Kaikoura.

Where to Stay in Kaikoura New Zealand - Hapuku Lodge and Treehouses
The view from my room at Hapuku Lodge + Treehouses

Prefer something closer to town and/or more budget friendly? I highly recommend The Hamptons. Located on the main road, The Esplanade, you’re just a 2 min drive or 10 min walk from the shops, restaurants, and tour departure points. But with only 5 units, this property sells out fast!

Things to Do in Kaikoura – At Sea

A trip to Kaikoura wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the marine life: whales, orcas, dolphins, seals, and albatross. There are many species of whales you can see from Kaikoura, but the highlight would be year-round sightings of sperm whales. If you tend to get seasick and don’t want to go out on the water, no worries—you can take a small fixed-wing plane tour over the water and view the whales from the air!

Things to Do in Kaikoura New Zealand - Whale Watching Tours
Whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Image: Destination Kaikoura

If you feel comfortable swimming in open water, you will want to gear up and hop in with the common and dusky dolphins Kaikoura is known for. This is the experience of a lifetime, as occasionally you can get a whole pod of 500 dolphins swimming around you!

Things to Do in Kaikoura New Zealand - Swimming with Dolphins
Dolphins as seen from the boat before I jumped in for a swim!

You may be wondering why I have included a bird, the albatross, as marine life, but did you know albatross spend most of their lives at sea? (Hence the massive 9- to 11-foot wingspan!) They return to land only to breed and raise their young. You can view these beautiful creatures from a comfortable boat just a short ride from Kaikoura.

Things to Do in Kaikoura – On Land

Don’t be fooled, Kaikoura offers amazing land experiences in addition to water excursions. Have you ever been to a lavender farm? Lavendyl Lavender Farm just north of town features a quaint garden, beautiful grounds, a small farm, and shop with lavender extract. Grab a cup of tea or coffee, say hi to the shop dogs, and get the perfect photo among the blooms.

Things to Do in Kaikoura New Zealand - Lavendyl Lavender Farm
Lavendyl Lavender Farm in Kaikoura, New Zealand. Image: Destination Kaikoura

For the active traveler, there are several hikes in and around Kaikoura: Haumuri Bluff, Peninsula Walkway, Halfmoon Bay, and the Fyffe-Palmer Track.

And if the rain is rejuvenating those rolling green hills but not ideal for outdoor activities, hit the Escape Rooms for a fun day indoors!

Where to Eat in Kaikoura

Keep your eyes out for fresh crayfish, seafood, and warm meat pies (perfect after a cold swim)! Some of my favorite places to eat in Kaikoura are:

  • Green Dolphin Restaurant & Bar for regional cuisine
  • The Pier Hotel for lunch
  • Strawberry Tree Bar for great pizza
  • Poppy’s for ice cream

Things to Do in Kaikoura New Zealand - Kaikoura Crayfish and Seafood
Deliciously fresh Kaikoura crayfish. Image: Tourism New Zealand


If you want to explore Kaikoura and New Zealand travel packages, give me a call at (888) 229-0082 or email me at ltober@downunderendeavours.com and I’d love to help you plan your trip!