Things to do in Kaikōura | Apollo NZ
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Drone image of campervan driving along water

Alyssa Tresider
/ Categories: NZ blog

Things to do in Kaikōura.

Known for its diverse marine life, breathtaking landscapes, and seaside culinary delights, Kaikōura is a bucket list road trip destination for campervan travellers. From once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters to scenic hikes and beachside picnics, this picturesque part of New Zealand is all about getting back to nature.

To help you make the most of the many great things to do in Kaikōura, we’ve put together this helpful guide. Whether you're looking for a great walk, some historical insights, or exciting outdoor adventures, we’ve got you covered. We’ll also include a few ideas on where to stay in Kaikōura so you can park up, relax, and explore this special spot.  

 

Why Kaikōura is a great place to visit on your campervan trip

A scenic two-hour road trip from Christchurch, Kaikōura is renowned for its incredible marine wildlife encounters. Its unique location, where the deep underwater Kaikōura Canyon meets the nutrient-rich waters of the Pacific, creates an ideal habitat for an array of marine life. From whales breaching the waves to fur seals sunning themselves on the shore, you’re guaranteed to see something special.

Kaikōura makes a great addition to any South Island travel itinerary. A popular New Zealand road trip is the Christchurch to Nelson Loop. Pick up your Apollo campervan hire in Christchurch, then hit the road and enjoy the coastal drive along the way. 

The town's compact size is perfect for motorhome travellers. You can conveniently park your camper and explore much of what Kaikōura has to offer on foot. Whether you’re browsing the artisan shops or taking the Pt Kean Walk, there’s stunning scenery to enjoy from start to finish. 

 

The best things to do in Kaikōura

Ready to check out some of the must-do Kaikōura attractions? Let’s start off with one of the most popular …

 

Whale Watching

Whale watching in Kaikōura is not only a highlight but also one of the most popular Kaikōura attractions, offering an unforgettable experience to see these majestic creatures. Join Whale Watch Kaikōura by boat or – for a truly magic experience – take to the skies with Kaikōura Helicopter Scenic Flights. Both options provide a chance to witness a variety of whale species and other marine life that call Kaikōura home. You’ll also get fascinating insights into the behaviour of these incredible creatures and learn about the ecological significance of Kaikōura's marine environment. This activity is a highlight for many visitors and a key reason why Kaikōura is a must-visit destination on any New Zealand road trip.

 

Dolphin Tours

The waters around Kaikōura are famous for their resident pods of dusky dolphins, known for their playful nature and acrobatic displays. Dolphin Encounters provide tours where you can watch these graceful creatures from the comfort of a boat cruise. Or, for a more immersive experience, don a wetsuit and snorkel to swim alongside them. These encounters are respectful of the dolphins' natural habitat, adding a sustainable and memorable experience to your list of things to do in Kaikōura New Zealand.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Albatross Encounters

Kaikōura's wildlife experiences tick the boxes for bird enthusiasts too. An Albatross Encounters tour allows visitors to get up close not only with albatross but a variety of other ocean birds. 

Kaikōura's nutrient-rich waters attract a variety of albatross species, making it one of the best places in New Zealand to observe these majestic birds in their natural environment.

The tours are conducted with a deep respect for our wildlife, ensuring the albatrosses' habitat is preserved while providing an educational and awe-inspiring experience. Whether you're a seasoned birdwatcher or simply looking to enjoy one of the many Kaikōura attractions, an Albatross Encounter is a must. It's not only a chance to witness these magnificent birds but also to learn about their behaviours, migration patterns, and the ecological importance of Kaikōura's marine ecosystem. 

 

Enjoy fish and chips on the beach

One of the quintessential Kiwi experiences in Kaikōura is enjoying fresh fish and chips by the sea. For some of the best seafood takeaways in town, head to Coopers Catch. Grab your meal and make your way down to the beach, where the simple pleasure of eating outdoors is made even more special by the stunning natural scenery around you.

While you're enjoying the beach, keep an eye out for Kaikōura’s precious banded dotterels, especially during their nesting season from September to March. These small, well-camouflaged birds nest in shallow scrapes in the sand, so it's important to be mindful and avoid disturbing them. Look for roped-off areas or signs indicating nesting sites and give these areas a wide berth to protect the vulnerable dotterel chicks.

 

Take a walk to the seal colony

A campervan road trip to Kaikōura isn't complete without taking a walk along the Kaikōura Peninsula Walkway. This easy walking track spans up to 11 km and is perfect for all ages and fitness levels. Whether you're up for the full three-hour walk or prefer shorter strolls, the walkway offers various options to suit your pace.

As you walk along the path, you'll have the opportunity to encounter one of Kaikōura's most charming attractions: its seal colonies. These areas, where seals rest and play, provide a fantastic chance for a family-friendly wildlife experience. It's important to remember to keep a respectful distance from the seals, ensuring their comfort and safety while you observe.

 

Visit the Kaikōura Lookout

For breathtaking panoramic views of the region, head to the Kaikōura Lookout. From the lookout, you can see the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the sweeping coastline, and the majestic Kaikōura mountain range. It's an ideal place for photography enthusiasts or anyone looking to capture the essence of the region’s natural beauty. The viewpoint also provides a unique perspective of the town, nestled between the sea and the mountains.

 

Go kayaking

Kayaking in Kaikōura offers a unique and intimate way to explore the stunning marine environment. With a range of kayaking experiences on offer, from guided tours to independent rentals, there's something to suit every level of adventurer. 

As you glide through the clear waters, you'll find yourself in close proximity to an array of marine life. It's not uncommon to have encounters with playful seals and curious dolphins. You may even be lucky enough to spot an albatross soaring above. The calm waters near the shoreline are perfect for beginners, offering a safe and scenic environment to paddle in.

For those seeking more adventure, guided tours can take you to more remote areas, where the scenery shifts from the rugged coastline to open ocean, providing a different perspective of Kaikōura's natural beauty. Along the way, experienced guides share insights about the local wildlife and the ecological significance of the area.

 

Visit Fyffe House

Located on the picturesque Kaikōura Peninsula, Fyffe House is steeped in history and culture. As Kaikōura's oldest surviving building, it offers visitors a unique glimpse into the region's past. The house, originally part of a whaling station in the 1840s, now serves as a heritage museum, showcasing the rich history of the area. Explore the well-preserved structure, which stands as a testament to the early European settlement in New Zealand. The museum displays a fascinating collection of artefacts and exhibits that tell the story of the whaling industry, the lives of the early settlers, and the interactions with the local Māori community. 

 

Sample fresh seafood

Kaikōura is a haven for seafood lovers, famously known for its delicious crayfish. The town offers a diverse range of dining experiences to suit all tastes, from fine dining establishments to family-friendly restaurants and casual food trucks.

For an authentic Kaikōura seafood experience, a visit to Nin's Bin is a must. This iconic roadside seafood caravan has been serving fresh crayfish and other seafood delights for decades, offering stunning ocean views as you dine. It's a perfect spot for those looking to enjoy the local flavours in a relaxed, outdoor setting.

For a sit-down meal with a historic backdrop, the Pier Hotel is an excellent choice. Offering a range of delicious dishes in a cosy and welcoming atmosphere, it's a great place to unwind and dine with a view of the sea. 

If you're craving some classic American-style comfort food, Bernie's Diner is your go-to spot. This unique eatery stands out not just for its nostalgic ambience but also for its mouth-watering menu, which includes a local twist on diner classics. A must-try is their famous Kaikoura Crayfish Burger, simply delicious! Whether you're in the mood for a hearty meal or just want to soak up the retro vibes, Bernie's Diner makes a memorable stop on your New Zealand road trip. 

 

Take a day trip to Hanmer Springs

Just a two-hour road trip from Kaikōura, Hanmer Springs is a perfect destination for a day trip. The journey there is as beautiful as the destination itself, with scenic views of rolling hills and charming countryside.

The must-do highlight is the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, where you can soak in natural hot springs or indulge in a spa treatment. The town also offers outdoor activities like walking trails and adrenaline-pumping adventures, along with quaint cafes and shops.

Image: Tourism New Zealand

 

Where to stay in Kaikōura

Looking for a few great places to stay in Kaikōura? Here are a couple of great campsites worth adding to your travel itinerary. 

 

Kaikōura TOP 10

The Kaikōura TOP 10 Holiday Park, situated just a short distance from the town centre, offers an ideal base for exploring the region by campervan. This well-maintained campground is known for its beautiful setting, surrounded by lush greenery and stunning views of the mountains.

The park is equipped with excellent facilities, including clean and modern kitchen and bathroom amenities, laundry services, and a barbecue area for guests to use. For families, there are plenty of activities to keep children entertained, including a playground and a jumping pillow. 


Alpine Pacific Holiday Park

Situated conveniently near the town, Alpine Pacific Holiday Park offers a tranquil setting with stunning views of the mountains and sea, ideal for those travelling by camper.

Guests can enjoy modern facilities, including clean and accessible kitchen and bathroom amenities, ensuring a comfortable and hassle-free stay. After a day of exploring Kaikōura's natural wonders, you can unwind in the heated swimming pool or the spa pool, adding a touch of luxury to your campervan adventure.

 

Peketa Beach Holiday Park

Located about 10 minutes south of Kaikōura, Peketa Beach Holiday Park offers a beachside retreat. Set right on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, you can park your campervan just steps away from the beach. Wake up to the sound of waves and enjoy direct access to the beach, perfect for morning strolls, sunset watching, or even a spot of fishing. The park is also a great base for exploring Kaikōura's famous marine life and other local attractions.

 

Ready for your Kaikōura adventure?

With its stunning landscapes, rich marine life, and diverse attractions, Kaikōura is a destination that truly comes alive when explored in a campervan. Enjoy the freedom to roam the scenic coastlines and unwind in the comfort of Kaikōura’s top-notch holiday parks. Whether it's whale watching, savouring local cuisine, or simply relaxing by the beach, your campervan adventure in Kaikōura offers a blend of excitement, serenity, and awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Ready to embark on your Kaikōura adventure? Book your Apollo campervan online today and start planning your ultimate New Zealand road trip.

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