Kaikoura is a small town on New Zealand’s South Island. It is 3.5 hours north of Christchurch and is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Seaward Kaikoura mountain range. Visitors to the South Island usually skip Kaikoura in favour of more iconic destinations like Milford Sound, Wanaka and Mount Cook National Park. However, if you have a little more time on the island, I would highly recommend making a visit to this quaint town – you really only need 36 hours to get the most out of it. Here are a few wonderful things to do in Kaikoura.
Swim with Dolphins
This is my number one recommendation. I won’t go into too many details here because I’ve written an entire post about swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life and is reason enough to visit Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world for whale watching. Something about the geography of the ocean floor makes it the perfect place for both dolphins and whales to hangout. You can either take a 3 hour whale watching cruise or go on a 30 minute whale watching flight. My boyfriend and I were tight on time, so we did the flight. They have a 95% success rate with seeing whales, however we happened to be that 5%. It was actually quite disappointed, but also very unlikely to happen to you. Your odds are similar with the boat cruise, however if you are in the 5% that doesn’t see a whale, you get a big portion of your money back.
Kaikoura is an excellent destination for a sightseeing by air, as you have the opportunity to spot whales from above, see the peninsula from a distance and fly over a section of the southern alps. Had I been able to afford a full 1.5-hour Kaikoura Helicopter Tour (or even a 30-minute Kaikoura Helicopter Tour) I would have chosen this option. Instead, I opted for a 30 minute plane ride and even that was stunning.
Kaikoura peninsula is an absolutely beautiful walk right on the edge of town. You can easily access it by car and you can walk for as long or as little as you’d like. I’d highly, HIGHLY recommend starting the walk an hour before sunset. The mountains on one side, with the ocean on the other, all lit up with a pink sky – it’s magical.
Hike Mount Fyffe
Another activity you can do is the Mount Fyffe hike. The track is well maintained and can either be a 5 hour return trip or an 8 hour return trip. I didn’t have time to do this hike, so I can’t comment on the hike itself, however the Department of Conservation website details all you need to know about the hike should you choose to do it.
South Island Road Trip Itinerary
How does Kaikoura fit into a South Island road trip itinerary? I’ve included Kaikoura in my 3 Week South Island Itinerary. However, if you’re in the South Island for fewer than three weeks and still want to see Milford Sound, Wanaka and Mount Cook, it becomes a little trickier to schedule in Kaikoura. I included Kaikoura on my 2 Week South Island Itinerary, however it does make for a fast paced holiday. If you’d like some additional advice for planning your trip, please leave a comment and I’ll help you figure it out!