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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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
Deliciously fresh Kaikoura crayfish. Image: Destination Kaikoura