Kaikoura: A marine life mecca where the mountains meet the sea

The charming coastal town of Kaikoura is bordered by the towering mountains to the west and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean to the east.

Located on the north-east coast of the South Island, Kaikoura is home to a unique marine environment. The rugged Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Ranges that border the town plunge into the Pacific Ocean, creating a deep continental shelf dotted with a number of deep underwater canyons. Just offshore, a warm current from the north meets a cool current coming up from the south, churning up nutrients from deep within the ocean. Seals, dolphins, whales and sea birds are sustained by the food chain fed by these rich nutrients. It’s one of the best places to get up close to majestic Sperm Whales, who frequent the waters off Kaikoura year-round.

As well as unique marine encounters, Kaikoura is home to delicious seafood and coastal walking tracks.

Here are our top picks for experiencing the best of this unique place.

The real meaning of Kaikoura

Kaikoura is the perfect place to devour delicious, fresh crayfish. You’ll find this delicacy in most of the restaurants around town as well as in road side stalls; and they don’t get better than this. Kaikoura’s crayfish thrive in the same nutrient-rich waters that sustain larger sea, and they’re always beautifully fresh. The Maori people settled in Kaikoura long before European colonisation, and paid homage to the local crayfish bounty in the Maori name for the area – ‘Kai’ means food, and ‘koura’ means crayfish.

Whales, dolphins, sea birds and more

Kaikoura is home to a mecca of marine life. It’s known as the Albatross capital of the world – these wandering sea birds with a wingspan of three metres are beautifully impressive to view up close. Sperm Whales can be spotted year-round but the majestic Humpback Whale passes through between the months of June and July. Kaikoura is also home to the Ohau Point Sanctuary, the country’s largest fur seal breeding colony; thousands of seals can be seen basking in the sun along the Kaikoura coastline. Dolphins are also a feature here – large pods of cheeky, acrobatic Dusky Dolphins call this area home.  

Exploring on foot

Work up an appetite for a plate of local crayfish when you explore the area on the Kaikoura Shoreline Walk. From the track, you’ll be able to see fur seals, wading birds and nesting colonies as well as towering limestone crops and sea caves. The track begins at Point Kean car park and takes about one hour return.

At MoaTrek, we’re passionate about showcasing the best of New Zealand in our small group tours. Kaikoura is a real highlight of many of our itineraries – the combination of the spectacular environment and unique marine life makes for a quintessential New Zealand experience.  Contact us now, or find out more on our website.