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The Top Things to do in Kaikoura

If you're looking for what to do in Kaikoura, NZ, then look no further - we've got a wide range of tours, activities and attractions in what is fast becoming one of New Zealand's most popular regions! Featuring a delightful blend of both land and marine activities, Kaikoura offers something for anyone who's got an appreciation for the outdoors; from outstanding whale and dolphin watching experiences just off the coast to various scuba diving hot spots to some amazing hiking and caving adventures, the world is your veritable oyster when looking to get out and explore.

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Top 10 Things to do in Kaikoura

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Experience Oz Staff
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A charming, small seaside town that more than punches above its weight in terms of both gorgeous views and enjoyable experiences, Kaikoura on NZ’s south island is a place where mountains meet the ocean, providing some spectacular scenery for visitors and residents alike.

A haven for marine life in particular, Kaikoura has a deserved reputation for its animal encounters and inquisitive aquatic locals. An essential stop on any New Zealand trip, ensure you get the best out of a visit to Kaikoura 10 top things to do around the region.

1. Whale Watching

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Location: Kaikoura, NZ

The appeal of its oceanfront location is one of the main drawcards to the lovely town of Kaikoura, yet it’s not just a pretty view – the region serves as New Zealand’s unofficial capital of whale watching as well as offering the chance to see plenty of other kinds of marine life as well.

There’s no better place in the country to experience an up-close encounter with these massive, majestic giants of the sea; and while Humpbacks and Southern Right Whales are the most common, Sperm Whales and even the titanic Blue Whale can be spotted here on occasion.

Formerly a hub for whaling in the distant past, Kaikoura is now widely regarded as one of the best Sperm Whale watching venues in the world – and one that remains far more accessible to the public than similar alternatives.

In addition to whales, the region is home to plenty of other species including dolphins (with the option to swim alongside), albatross and a resident colony of seals that can be seen both on rocks along the coast and in the water.

Those looking to embark on a whale experience can join Whale Watch Kaikoura for a whale tour that – unlike most other worldwide whale watching destinations – runs all year round, with even the winter season offering quality viewing opportunities.

2. Ohau Waterfalls

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Location: SH 1, Half Moon Bay, Kaikoura

Another living example of why the Kaikoura region is renowned as a premier NZ hotspot for wildlife, this popular – and free – attraction is a magical little animal encounter entirely bereft of any kind of cage or enclosure.

Consisting of a stream and waterfall mix in which fur seals who have made their way up from the ocean can often be found, visitors can observe the adorable animals enjoying playing in the water under the cascading fall – an endearingly cute sight.

Located just a short and easy walk from a carpark around 20 minutes drive from central Kaikoura, simply follow the trail alongside the Ohau Stream to reach the tumbling Ohau Waterfall and you’ll come across a wonderful spectacle.

Kids in particular will appreciate seeing the animals gleefully playing in their natural habitat; be sure to pack your camera!

This phenomena sits on private land that has been generously left open to the public, and while it’s free a collection box requesting donations is well worth the minimal investment of dropping some coins in for a “thank you.”

Lastly, visitors should be mindful and respectful of the pups, as they tend to get a little shy in the presence of large groups and loud noises.

3. Kaikoura Rock Sunset

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Location: Kaikoura Peninsula

Home to what is arguably one of the best sunrises and sunsets in all of New Zealand, the view as the sun rises and goes down over Kaikoura is amazing, with its colourful glow enhancing what is already a wonderfully scenic panorama.

With breathtaking hues of pink and orange, it’s a simple yet enchanting display of nature at work.

For a top vantage point, head to your choice of the Kaikoura Rocks, Kaikoura lookout on Scarborough Street, or the Point Kean viewpoint, for a spectacular scene as the sky’s light and shadow dapples over the rugged rocks and glistening water.

4. Dolphin Swims

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Location: Kaikoura

The waters off the coast of Kaikoura are flourishing with marine life of various kinds, including resident dolphins which live in pods of hundreds in the area.

Kaikoura is one of several parts of New Zealand in which visitors are able to get into the water and swim alongside these incredibly inquisitive and intelligent animals.

Long said to be one of life’s true “bucket list” items, the dolphins around Kaikoura are of the Dusky variety – a species renowned for the tendency towards some truly acrobatic displays.

Their playful and curious demeanour makes for an enjoyable day out on and in the water, and interested parties can join local operator Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura for one of their regular dolphin swim tours which operate all year round.

If you would prefer to stay dry while visiting the pods of dolphins, the option also exists to simply enjoy an observation cruise and watch both the people and creatures at play.

5. Kaikoura Seafest

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Location: Esplanade, Kaikoura

Held every year in October, Seafest is Kaikoura’s premier food and wine festival and aims to celebrate all of the bounty of the ocean upon which the town was built.

Visitors can browse a number of quality food stalls offering incredibly fresh foodstuffs, watch expert chefs prepare crayfish in a number of inventive ways, and treat the kids to some family-friendly entertainment such as face painting, juggling, balloon animals and more.

Showcasing the best local produce from around the region, the festival is accompanied by live entertainment throughout the day and has been a mainstay event since its inception back in 1995.

Held on the first Saturday of October every year Seafest is a great family friendly event with attendees dressing up in their best and funniest costumes.

t’s not just Seafest that’s a must see in the region around this time, either; the festival also brings with it various auxiliary events surrounding the Saturday such as the Big Top Bash which can be enjoyed on the Friday evening from 7:30pm until midnight.

6. Point Keal Seal Colony

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Location: Kaikoura Peninsula

One of the signature highlights along the aforementioned Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, the Point Kean Seal Colony is often home to dozens of these lovely critters.

With easy accessibility from the Point Keal car park you will be treated to incredible panoramic views of the Kaikoura coastline and township against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains; photographers will want to ensure they bring their camera along for the journey!

The vantage point from the cliff walkway will give you an aerial view over the seal colony, while there’s also the chance to get up close.

The seals are in the area entirely of their own volition – without any enclosures as they are wild animals – therefore visitors are asked to keep at least a 10 metre distance from the animals for both your safety and theirs.

This is truly an incredible experience with the opportunity for close encounters with seals in a natural setting.

7. Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

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Location: Peninsula Walkway, Kaikoura

A wonderful way to take in all the beauty of Kaikoura’s mountain-and-sea environment completely free of charge, this three-hour return journey will take you along the Kaikoura Peninsula via a well-maintained brick walkway.

With various stops along the way at the likes of wildlife clusters, lookouts and more, you’ll be able to experience the region’s variety firsthand.

The potential exists to catch a glimpse of migrating whales, sea birds, dolphins and seals, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled throughout!

This walk is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and can be explored at your own, comfortable pace, taking the time to read about the region’s environment and natural history on a number of curated plaques distributed throughout.

The main walk begins in the Kaikoura township and offers several potential offshoot walks to take as well, making it easy to create your own ideal walk.

8. Dine out at Nin's Bin

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Location: 7371, 2017 SH 1, Half Moon Bay, Kaikoura

If you’re a fan of seafood – as most are who put Kaikoura on their New Zealand travel itinerary – this little dining hub is an essential stop.

Located right on the waterfront around 20 minutes north of Kaikoura following a gorgeous drive.

Nin’s Bin has long been one of the most popular eateries in the region, and a favourite amongst locals and visitors dating back to the 1970s.

Serving up a delicious menu of only two items; mussels and crayfish (along with some quality chips as well), there are few better simple pleasures Kaikoura offers than ordering some fresh seafood, plopping down on a table in the sunshine, and watching wild seals lazing on the shoreline nearby. And it’s very reasonably-priced, too.

9. Go Fishing

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Location: Kaikoura, NZ

The bay surrounding Kaikoura is renowned as an incredible destination for fishing – both in terms of potential catches and a scenic backdrop to go with it – so throwing out a line is a must for avid anglers visiting the town.

The region’s waters are home to an array of fish species as well as its signature crayfish; no surprise given that “Kaikoura” means “eat crayfish or lobster” in the native Maori tongue.

You can choose to try your luck on your own with some shore-based fishing off one of the local beaches and jetties, or you can embark on one of several available organised charters including Fish Kaikoura, Kaikoura Fishing Charters, or Kaikoura Fishing Tours all run by experienced anglers who will take you out to their favourite (and fish-rich) spots.

10. Maori Leap Cave

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Location: Kaikoura, NZ

For a combined dose of natural beauty and historic insight, embark on a guided tour around this intriguing limestone sea cave to the south of Kaikoura proper.

First discovered in 1958, Maori Leap Cave has now become a top tourist attraction, with 45-minute guided tours through the cave run on the hour throughout the day.

The cave is made up of stalactites, stalagmites, straws, flowstone and cave coral, making for some interesting discovery and observing its various sea-wave-carved shapes and formations.

With the help of a tour guide you’ll learn all about this rare natural occurrence that ranks as only one of three of its kind in the known world.

Joining in the tour is mandatory due to safety reasons and self-exploration is not possible, however, the reasonable price makes for an enjoyable way to soak in millions of years of history in a single place.

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