Honestly, we ended up in Kaikoura by a slight twist of fate. Sure, we would have eventually visited regardless but when we had the opportunity to stay for free, we took the chance. After volunteering at a hostel in Christchurch, we were invited to Kaikoura to stay at their hostel there to keep a friend company. We ended up getting a free room for almost a week! It’s a small town along the coast where the sea meets the mountains…literally. It’s the definition of a kick-ass coastal town with views for days. And a true New Zealand must-do.
Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to end up in a small coastal town that has great fish and chips, views, one of the largest seal colonies in the country and to top it all off perfect sunsets. Would we have stayed there a week in the winter normally? No probably not to be honest. In the summer, for sure! Kaikoura is known as one of New Zealand‘s best places to surf.
But it’s more widely known for the sea life and bird. Not just the seals, their whales, and albatrosses too. There are tons of tours that leave from Kaikoura and take you out to sea so you can see and experience these creatures. Like we said, probably not the best place to spend a week if you aren’t surfing, but it’s worth visiting for a few days to check out the area. While there isn’t a ton to do, the things you can do there are once-in-a-lifetime activities.
Where To Stay
We should start by telling you where we stayed and where we recommend you stay! Across all of New Zealand, there is a well-known chain of hostels called YHA. They are part of the Hostelling International chain and are required to meet certain health and safety standards and offer discounts to members. It’s a win-win situation! If you are going to stay in hostels the whole time you travel the country the price to buy a membership is well worth it. But if you plan on buying a van while you’re there and living in that, you can find a guide to buying one here and tips for living in one here.
YHA Kaikoura is located further from the town center, but don’t worry you aren’t missing out on anything. If anything it’s actually better because the view is EPIC. (This location may have changed since we have been here due to the recent earthquake in the area in 2016). The first few nights we were there it was quite cloudy and overcast and our friend assured us one day we would see the amazing view. Sure enough, we woke up one morning to see one of the most stunning views we could have asked for. The hostel has a great kitchen with mountain views for breakfast too! There is enough free parking if you do have a van or you rented a car.
If you are planning on going there and already own or rent and live in a van we recommend staying at their Top 10 campground (five minutes from town center but a bit more expensive) or Peketa Beach (which is 10 minutes south of Kaikoura but less expensive).
What To See and Do
Kaikoura is very well known for its marine life and surfing. Which is exactly why people flock to this seaside settlement. It has everything from kayaking to seal and whale watching, and hiking to helicopter rides. If you have been around our blog for a while, you know we can’t afford cool helicopter rides and expensive activities so we tend to find the free or ‘cheaper’ alternatives. In our case, we settled on seal watching and hiking. Two activities that were incredibly unforgettable.
There is a giant Seal Colony just south of the townsite at the Kaikoura Peninsula. We were honestly surprised at the sheer amount of seals hanging out on the shore. We thought maybe we would see a hand full and ended up having to be careful walking around so that we didn’t step on them! Which Andy almost did once. He was admiring the massive amount of seaweed that had washed ashore. The seaweed is not normal sized seaweed either, it’s MASSIVE. So he was walking around picking it up yelling at me with excitement to look at how big the pieces were.
Little did he know…seals match the colour of the coast exceptionally well.
As he reached for a piece of seaweed, a big fat seal was sleeping and felt like Andy got a little too close for comfort. Both were surprised that the other was right there. Luckily Andy was able to back away and the seal went right back to sleep as if nothing had happened. Seals are very territorial so you have to be careful when around them, and really watch out for where they’re laying!
The seals come to this area to rest before heading back to sea. So most of them are sleeping, therefore it’s important to leave them alone and respect their space. There are full families of seals from full adults to adorable babies! If you want to see more seals you can head just north of Kaikoura to Ohau Point (around 20km). There is an amazing lookout here! But just slightly up the road is where you’ll find the Ohau stream and waterfall.
Where, If you’re lucky you can watch as the seals splash and play in the flowing water.
You’ll have a better chance of seeing the Ohau Fur Seal Colony between the months of May to September. Especially the little seal pups because their mothers are out at sea collecting food. But make sure you give them their space!
If you want to see more marine life or see them up close, you can book tours to swim with the seals or boat rides to go whale and dolphin watching. Usually, on these boat rides you see some Albatrosses as well! We did not go on one of these so we can’t give you any reviews, but a few friends said it was absolutely spectacular.
Most companies will have a whale sighting guarantee too.
If you want to see more marine life or see them up close, you can book tours to swim with the seals or boat rides to go whale and dolphin watching. Usually, on these boat rides you see some Albatrosses as well! We did not go on one of these so we can’t give you any reviews, but a few friends said it was absolutely spectacular. Most companies will have a whale sighting guarantee too.
The Kaikoura Peninsula walkway starts from the edge of the seal colony. This three-hour round-trip walk is not very difficult but offers some of the best views. The walk takes you up along the cliff side with spectacular views of the sea and mountains. With such a unique coastline the walk is pure eye-candy the entire time. The rocks are incredibly unique and if you look closely you can continue to spot seals laying on the rocks below. There are an impressive amount of interpretive panels along the walk as well, so you can learn about the region as you take in the sights.
What To See
No one does sunsets better than Kaikoura does sunsets. The mountains blend into the sea and the ocean crashes against the rocky shore, it all makes for a very picturesque sunset. It’s everything you could ever want in one view. We got lucky and it was quite cloudy while we were there so the colours of the sunset filled the sky every night. No idea why this place seems to be such a perfect place for sunsets, but we certainly weren’t complaining.
If you’re looking for a unique view, there is an old fireplace from a long lost house that still stands on its own. A reminder of the pioneers of the area. It adds a cool element to your sunset photos and is along the coast with the mountains on one side and open ocean on the other. Located on your way to the seal colony, you can’t miss it!
Where/What To Eat
Next on the list, food (of course). Blue Cod to be specific. Cooper’s Catch is THE place for fish and chips in Kaikoura. Every single place you visit has fish and chips but Cooper’s Catch does it best.
They have a pretty small little building close to the beach with minimal seating inside but tons of outdoor seating. The seagulls that flock the area will steal your food if you’re not careful though. Leaving it unattended is not recommended if the seagulls don’t take it your friends will. The crispy fish served with a heaping amount of thick cut fries is the perfect meal no matter what the time is.
Their homemade garlic aioli for your fries is to die for.
After we ate here we craved it so much we even got it the next day for a little encore. If we ever had to drive past it again you better believe we would go and pick up some fish and chips from this little gem.
If you’re feeling like eating a little pizza, Black Rabbit Pizza should be your number one choice! While they aren’t open super late (usually only until around 9pm) they are worth ordering from. Their unique flavors, friendly service, and perfect crust make this a place worth stopping.
Lastly, if you’re looking for dessert why don’t you head over to Poppy’s Handmade Ice Cream and great a scoop. Anything with the words ‘handmade ice cream’ is something we can get behind.
Kaikoura is truly an amazing place to visit. The things we have listed here are just a small touch of everything Kaikoura has to offer. If you have ever visited Kaikoura we would love to know if you’ve tried anything on this list or if there is anything you would add!
Otherwise hopefully, this post adds something to your bucket list!