3 Lovely Things to Do in Kaikoura. 2 of Them Are Free!

My exact reaction when I saw this sight (you guys will have to excuse the profanity. I was truly overwhelmed): “Fcuk fcuk, NZ IS MAGIC.”)

Kaikoura is not the place that immediately springs to mind when it comes to New Zealand’s South Island. Many fellow travelers I met along the way skipped it, as they either did not know where it is or deemed it not special enough. I myself had not had any idea in the beginning, either. However, when I saw this beautiful seal photo, I quickly made a mental note. The seal is so adorable, and I had never, ever seen seals before. Upon further research, the town turned out to be conveniently located between Picton, where I would begin my South Island tour, and the next stop, Christchurch.

Kaikoura and me, it really was meant to be 😀

Initially, I planned to get there by taking the Coastal Pacific train with KiwiRail, which promises unparalleled views of the Pacific Ocean. But digging deeper into the reviews, I learned that the journey itself would not be as amazing as it is touted to be. Plus, it costs more than a hundred, so in the end I opted for the InterCity bus (only NZD 25).

Now, I did not take the train so I am not able to give you a final take-it-or-leave-it verdict, since just being on the train is an experience in and of itself. For me, however, I care about the views and the affordability more than the romance of traveling by train. If you are like me and on the fence about what to take, bus is your answer. Rest assured, what you see from the bus is still quite decent.

Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the east coast, about 2 hours and a half away from Christchurch by car. It is blessed with the most spectacular landscapes, high mountains on one side and the mighty Pacific Ocean on the other, and a diverse range of marine life. Most notable are whales, dolphins, seals, and crayfish (rock lobster). If you have always dreamed of coming into contact with those mammals, your dream will be realized here!

I had a slightly better time in Kaikoura than I did in Picton. Partly because Kaikoura is a little more vibrant and there are more things to do, and partly because the accommodation was better and I met some lovely characters. (Picton is really eerily quiet at night. It’s safe, but I can never feel wholly at peace walking around to find a place to eat at 7PM, and there already is no other human in sight.) I stayed at YHA, which boasted a beach front location. For two mornings, I woke up to the soothing sounds of waves crashing, the pungent salty smell of the ocean, and the dazzling colors of sunrise. In terms of views, it was unsurpassed; I did not have anything more wonderful during the rest of my time in the country. (The Mt. Cook YHA offers incredible views, too, but I’m more of an ocean person than a mountain one.)

I am not lying. This was the view from the window. If this were what I get to see every morning when I wake up, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as high-strung and restless as I usually am 😀

Unfortunately, one week after I left, it was permanently closed due to rockslide threat. After 50 years in operation. It was shocking and saddening, perhaps even more so for the staff there. YHA said it would build another one in town, but where and when remains to be seen.

Hopefully, it will still be beach-front like this. 


Kaikoura offers a fair share of cool activities, but they all come with a price. And since it was only the second stop of my trip around the island, I could not let myself partake in all of them. I had to pick and choose, and so two days was the perfect amount of time.

Now, allow me to share with you the three activities I enjoyed most.

1. The Peninsula Walkway

It was really, really hard for me to remain composed when I saw this.

This is, without any question, the most amazing thing I did in Kaikoura. I did the whole walkway, which takes about a little more than 3 hours to complete. You don’t have to walk the entire track, of course!

It is free, easy (compared to other walks I did), not crowded, and the views along the way are so violently eyegasmic. The formidable Pacific Ocean, the rugged cliff formations, the tidal platforms, the multi-colored grasses, and the forest…GLORIOUS!

The weather was quiet cooperative as well, with intermittent and timely sessions of sunshine and clouds. I am generally not a fan of cloudy weather, but the clouds ended up lending some of the sceneries a beautiful, foreboding vibe.

It couldn’t have been any better. Number 1 on your Kaikoura must-do list, if you ask me!

I, for the record, believe Mother Nature is the best artist.

This is what I consider a front-row view.

I do not know the technical terms to describe what I photograph here, but it is for sure million years old. I love the extraterrestrial feel of it. 

I had goosebumps. SOOOO GORGEOUS!!!

Pacific Ocean in its glory. 

There is nothing more formidable yet therapeutic and calming than oceans. Agree or disagree?

I had a very Into The Wild moment passing through this forest on the way back to town. 

2. Point Kean Seal Colony

The fur is so tactile, right?

I loved my visit to the seal colony for three reasons.

First, it was exciting to finally see in-person, for the very first time, the mammals that sparked my interest in Kaikoura. They look so heavy, slouchy, cumbersome, and nonchalant, but in the most adorable way. It was even more exciting and intimidating to learn that they can swim very quickly and gracefully and become aggressive and violent when disturbed. And their bites get nasty and infectious. Keep your distance!

Can you hear me Awww?

Their adorable appearance really belies their aggressive side, so again don’t invade their personal space. I used a telephoto zoom len to take this photo, meaning I did not get as close to them as it seems from the photo. Attacks do happen at the colony. 

Sunbathing, obviously.

Second, during my visit to the seal colony, I got to witness one of the most jaw-dropping sunsets I have ever seen in my entire life. And you guys already know how crazy I am about sunsets. They are part of my DNA.

I don’t understand this sunset at all. 

I don’t understand these clouds, either. But I think we can call this cloud orgy 😀

New Zealand sunsets do NOT phone it in, and I highly appreciate that. In Kaikoura, Point Kean is the best place to admire the magics of sunsets.

And third, Point Kean Seal Colony is the starting point of the Peninsula Walkway so…one stone two birds 🙂

There is also the bonus of cute houses on the way to the seal colony.

3. Whale Watching Flights

This is the best photo from my whale-watching trip, and it is not of whales. I am upset. 

Whale watching is an obligatory, quintessential Kaikoura activity; it is what Kaikoura is most famous for. I did not know anyone who visited and did not go whale watching.

You can whale watch from boat or from plane. I chose plane, as I had never been on a small four-seat aircraft before. I had also been forewarned by a couple of Germans that the seasickness could be quite awful. I was surprised when I learned that flying is actually slightly cheaper than going on a boat.

The flight was about 30 minutes, and I was good for the first half. The views of the Pacific and Kaikoura mountain rage were fantastic. However, for the second half of the flight, we flew in circles to see the whales, and I got quite dizzy at times. We also spotted dolphins, but at that point I was just kind of like, When will this be over? 🙁

Even though we did not see the whales and dolphins up close (boats do this better, I presume), it was overall a cool experience. Seeing things from an aerial perspective never ceases to impress.

Bottom line here is though whale watching is a cliché, touristy activity, it is still worth doing whether you do from a boat or a plane.

Now, a few sperm whale and its blowhole shots for your viewing pleasure 😀

So…that’s about it for Kaikoura. If you are about to visit, I hope you find this helpful. Stay tuned for more of New Zealand; there is so much more gorgeousness in store 🙂 

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