Kaikoura: Play more every day

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Combining soaring mountains, rare marine life, friendly locals and the mighty Pacific Ocean, a day in Kaikoura will not disappoint. Below are our suggestions for a truly epic Kaikoura day itinerary.

In Maori, the word ‘Kai’ means food and ‘Koura’ means crayfish – so it’s not hard to guess what Kaikoura is famous for! But Kaikoura’s delicious crayfish is not the only reason why you need to make a stop here. Kaikoura township is nestled snugly between the mountains and the sea, and its unique location means that it attracts all types of marine life. New Zealand fur seals, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, Killer Whales and dolphins all call these waters home during various times of the year, while Albatross and rare pelagic seabirds are yet another highlight. 

Combining delicious crayfish, unique creatures and a stunning location, Kaikoura is the ultimate natural playground. Check out our Kaikoura - Wildlife to Unwinding video clip, and then read through the itinerary suggestions below to bring the ultimate Kaikoura day to life.

9am - Take a boat cruise and go whale watching

Start the day by meeting Kaikoura’s locals – the local whales, that is. A Whale watching cruise with Whale Watch Kaikoura offers exciting close-up encounters with the Giant Sperm Whale, the world’s largest toothed predator. Year-round residents, the chance of seeing them is high. Sightings of other creatures vary throughout the year – you may also see Humpbacks, Blue Whales, Southern Right Whales, Hector’s Dolphins and rare sea birds.

Make it happen: Get in touch with Whale Watch Kaikoura before you arrive to reserve space on their morning cruise. 

12pm - Feast on fresh crayfish by the beach

Feast on fresh crayfish for an early lunch. ‘Seafood Caravans’ dot the highways surrounding Kaikoura selling crayfish and that day’s seafood catch – you can’t get fresher than that! Sitting on the beach devouring crayfish cooked with garlic and butter and looking out to the Pacific Ocean is a special kind of kiwi bliss. Enjoy.

Make it happen: Caravans dot the highways surrounding Kaikoura, so take your pick! The most famous is Nin’s Bin, a local family who have been selling crayfish here since 1977.

1pm - Visit baby fur seals at the Ohau Waterfall

We’re about to let you in on a local secret. Just North of Kaikoura is Ohau Point, home to one of the local New Zealand fur seal colonies. The secret lies a short 10 minute walk from the coast heading inland, following a rocky stream, where you’ll encounter a huge waterfall that plunges into a small pool. During the winter months, mother seals take their pups there as a sort of ‘seal daycare’ while they hunt for food. Watching baby seal pups frolic in the waterfall and on the surrounding rocks is a magic experience.

Make it happen: Ohau Point and waterfall is a 15 minute drive heading north on State Highway 1 out of Kaikoura. Follow the signs from Ohau Point. Access is free.

3pm - Explore backcountry New Zealand on horseback

New Zealand’s wilderness lends itself incredibly well to being explored on horseback. Fill your lungs with fresh air, journey across braided rivers, farmland and through lush forest, and enjoy the grandeur of New Zealand’s natural places. You’ll need to travel inland from Kaikoura, towards Hanmer Springs, to go horse riding.

Make it happen: Check out options for horse riding in the Canterbury region here. Booking in advance is recommended.

7pm - Relax in natural hot pools

After a day of exploring Kaikoura, a soak in natural hot pools is just what the doctor ordered. Journey to Hanmer Springs, a picturesque alpine mountain town, 1.5hours inland from Kaikoura itself. Home to the iconic Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, this charming settlement is the perfect place to end your day. With pools of varying heat, you can select the experience that’s right for you. End the night at one of Hanmer’s relaxed, kiwi restaurants.

Make it happen: Journey towards the mountains via Inland Kaikoura Road. Reach Hanmer Springs by turning right on to State Highway 7a. 

Wondering what else to pack in to your New Zealand adventure? Check out our Backpacking itineraries for more inspiration.

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