Kaikoura (pronounced: Kai-kou-ra) is a small coastal town on the east coast (Pacific Ocean) of the South Island of New Zealand, about 180 km north of Christchurch and 130 km south of Blenheim. It is famed for its marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) and other sea-life, all of which you can see, some of which you can swim with, and some you can eat. In Maori, kai means "eat" and koura is "crayfish' (rock lobster). So Kaikoura is a place to eat crayfish!


Kaikoura lies on a narrow coastal plain between high mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In places along this coast the mountains drop almost straight into the sea, with barely enough flat land for a single railway line, two lane road and rocky beach, and even then some short tunnels are needed on corners. The steepness of the mountains reflects the underwater geography as well. The deep-water Hikurangi Trench and the continental shelf edge lies just offshore here. This causes the ocean around Kaikoura to be rich in sea life and attracts seals, whales (and humans) to the area to partake in the bounty of the sea.

The town itself has a similar charm to an east coast USA beach town, with a hodgepodge of signs trying to grab tourists' attention. At the edges of the town, the more relaxed and nature-oriented activities again take precedence.

Kaikoura is the perfect place to enjoy both the wonders of the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the tall, majestic mountains. A great place to stay, it is also an ideal rest stop on a section of State Highway 1 (SH1) that passes through isolated country both north and south of the town.


The Maori settled in Kaikoura long before European colonisation of New Zealand and cultivated the coastal plain, planting kumara, a form of sweet potato. Maori legend has it that Maui placed his foot on the Kaikoura Peninsula to steady himself as he 'fished-up' the North Island.

In 1770, Captain Cook discovered the Kaikoura Peninsula, believing it to be an island at first. Early European settlers used Kaikoura as a whaling station from 1842 and the remains of pots used to render the whale blubber can be seen on the town foreshore.

Get in

By bus

A number of bus or shuttle services run between Picton and Christchurch. They all stop at Kaikoura.

By car

Kaikoura is on SH1, two hours drive north of Christchurch, and you will pass through it on that route.

Kaikoura is part of the Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route which links three popular recreational destinations, Hanmer Springs, Waipara Valley wine region and Kaikoura. The easy and pleasant drive around the entire touring route is 370km, beginning at its southern end just 45min drive from Christchurch International Airport or Christchurch City and finishing at its northern end in Kaikoura.

By train

The Coastal Pacific train runs through Kaikoura on its way between Picton and Christchurch each day from October through April. It departs Christchurch 07:00, then departs Kaikoura 09:54, arriving Picton 12:13. Departs Picton 13:00, then departs Kaikoura 15:28, arriving Christchurch 18:21. The train journey is fantastic, with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. The track follows the coast for the last part of the journey into Kaikoura and you can often see fur seals lazing on the rocks. The station is on Whaleway Station Road (presumably named because Whale Watch Kaikoura operate out of the station).

By plane

Kaikoura Airport is one of New Zealand's smaller airports. It's not just an airstrip, as the runway is sealed for a smoother landing. Don't expect to join crowds of other passengers filing aboard a widebodied jet, or even a narrowbodied one. You'll fly in a plane the size of a compact car, where every seat has a window, or two, and a door as well. You might even get to sit alongside the pilot, so don't play with the controls! Oh, and you will have to carry your own bags, so pack well and don't have too much luggage; excess baggage doesn't fly.

If you want to save a few dollars, fly into Christchurch and bus/train/drive the 180 km up the coast to Kaikoura.


Walking and hiking

A short information about these tracks is available online from the DOC.


Depending on the season you may also see migrating humpback whales, pilot whales, blue whales and southern right whales. Kaikoura often hosts the orca, the largest member of the dolphin family, and is home to the world's smallest and rarest dolphin, the Hector's. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand including 13 species of albatross, 14 varieties of petrels and 7 types of shearwater.





Go next

Routes through Kaikoura

Blenheim Ward  N  S  Waipara Christchurch

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