Where The Mountains Meet the Sea

Small but perfectly formed, Kaikōura is a transformational spot that instantly replenishes your soul as you’re reminded to stop and marvel at the beauty of our gorgeous country, writes Claire Smith.

New Zealand is dotted with tiny townships we often drive through on the way to our next adventure. But in doing so, we might just bypass some of our greatest treasures. Each month, MCD highlights one of Aotearoa’s smaller towns so you can plan a stop, show them your support, and discover their hidden gems. This month, we’re stopping in Kaikōura.

This tiny township on the upper east coast of the South Island is renowned for its abundance of ocean wildlife. If you’re planning a trip to Kaikōura, it’s almost compulsory to put a cruise on board a whale watch tour at the top of your to-do list. I’m fortunate enough to have done it twice, and both times were simply magical. With a 3km deep underwater canyon running up against the coastline, Kaikōura is one of the few places in the world where sperm whales can be seen year-round. With its nutrient-rich waters, the area is also frequented by humpback, blue and southern right whales as well as orca and dolphins.



Not only did we see humpback whales in all their majestic glory – including spectacular tail ‘waves’ and waterspouts, we were also graced by the presence of a huge pod of dusky dolphins. Tiny but ever so playful, the dolphins had the entire tour group snapping incredible photos as they performed acrobatic flips, jumps and somersaults.

You’re pretty much guaranteed to see dolphins and whales on your tour, and if not, you’ll be given another free trip. If you’re a bit inclined to seasickness, such as myself, I’d suggest taking an anti nausea tablet before you head out. They are available at the check-in desk and work very well. Find out more at whalewatch.co.nz

A Bolt From The Blue

Whale watching aside, there’s plenty more to see in do in this beautiful coastal town – much of it free or low-cost.


Look Back In Time At Fyffe House

The oldest surviving building in Kaikōura, Fyffe House is a fascinating time capsule. Originally a whaling station, many of its rooms remain just as they were in the mid-1800s when the house was built. The earliest part of the house sits on whale vertebrae foundations – believed to have insulated the building from much of the shock of the 2016 earthquake. Fyffe House is open to visitors (for a small fee) who can walk through and learn more about its history as a whaling station and the three families who lived there. The house is hard to miss – it’s an eye-catching shade of pink and is located on Avoca Street, the main road running between the town and Point Kean.


Fyffe House is the oldest surviving building in Kaikōura


Say Hello To A Seal

It’s almost impossible to visit Kaikōura without seeing a seal or two, or several hundred. There are numerous seal colonies around the coastline, but for a guaranteed sighting I’d suggest a visit to Point Kean. Plan your visit for low tide and take a walk around the peninsula to see the fur seal colony giving a great demonstration on how to relax and forget your troubles. If you fancy seeing them out on the water – along with blue penguins and dolphins – there are several kayaking tours operating that know all the best spots to encounter the local wildlife.


It’s almost impossible to visit Kaikōura without seeing a seal or two

Enjoy The Local Seafood

Whether you fancy fish ‘n chips on the beach or a feed of Kaikōura’s famous crayfish, you won’t be disappointed in the quality of offerings available. Coopers Catch (the big red fish ‘n chip shop on the main road), is my top pick for a family feast – you get plenty and their fish is delish. But for a true Kaikōura experience, you simply can’t beat Nins Bin for a crayfish dinner eaten alfresco as the sun goes down. This rustic roadside food caravan (on SH1, 20 minutes north of the township) was named by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top food experiences. Their crayfish is caught fresh and served daily – they do a decent whitebait fritter too. Visit ninsbin.co.nz to check out their mouthwatering menu.

Kea Platinum M721 Review


Shopping, Golfing and Ice Cream

From artisan beauty products to original works of art, Kaikōura’s main road is brimming with browse-worthy boutique shops, cafes, and galleries. Spend the morning perusing and perhaps gathering a few gifts before challenging the family to a game of mini golf or an escape room mission at The Emporium – which just happens to include a bar and brewery incase certain members of the family fancy a quiet cold one. Find out more at emporiumbrewing.co.nz

Top off your afternoon with a visit to Poppy’s Parlour. This popular spot is the local go-to for delicious gelato, homemade ice cream and plenty of sweet treats.


Kaikōura sits on the upper east coast of the South Island


Where to Stay

• Kaikōura Top 10 Holiday Park.  34 Beach Road / Kaikōuratop10.co.nz
• Donegal House Irish Hotel and Campervan Park. Powered and non-powered sites available. Free overnight parking for self-contained vehicles / donegalhouse.co.nz
• The Kaikōura NZMCA Park (members only) is on Kaikōura Flat (off Beach Road).
• Jimmy Armers Beach (Fyffe Quay) offers free overnight camping (one night only) for self-contained vehicles.


Upcoming Events

Plan your visit to Kaikōura around some of the awesome events coming up over the next few months, including:

Kaikōura Races. 30-31 October 2022  / kaikouraraces.co.nz

Kegkoura craft beer festival. 4 March 2023 / emporiumbrewing.co.nz/kegkoura





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