Giant sperm whales are year-round residents in the deep trenches off the Kaikoura coast. Seabirds, dolphins and seals enchant visitors with entertaining antics.


Overlooked by a range of snow-dusted mountains, the Kaikoura region in North Canterbury first attracted Māori who came to harvest its abundant seafood (kai = food, koura = crayfish). European whalers and sealers followed, and Kaikoura town is built on the site of a whaling station that was established in 1843. Despite the challenges of recent earthquakes in the region, Kaikoura has now reopened most attractions and is welcoming visitors to come experience all it has to offer. The main State Highway 1 route is up and running again, but the roads are still under repair and sometimes have scheduled closures, so make sure to check out or phone 0800 4 HIGHWAYS for the latest information to help you plan your trip.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Ironically, the sperm whale, once hunted for its oil, has helped Kaikoura prosper in the 21st century. The whales feed on rich marine life in the deep Kaikoura Canyon, which runs along the coast quite close to shore. Kaikoura has a large marine reserve and whale sanctuary dedicated to protecting these intelligent mammals, and these giants of the sea can be seen from a Whale Watch boat or small plane as they rise to replenish their air supply then return to the depths in an awesome display of grace. Whale Watch Kaikoura know a thing or two about the area’s wildlife. Dusky dolphins, rare Hector’s dolphins and fur seals also entertain visitors at sea, and seals can be seen on rocks south of town and out on the peninsula. Seabirds too – including the rare wandering albatross – are attracted by the area’s abundance of fish. Their on-board plasma screens display a virtual animated whale watching tour while the tour is taking place – discover how a sperm whale survives in the dark and freezing depths of the Kaikoura Canyon or why the green-eyed plunket shark is easy prey for a giant squid. It’s important to book in advance.

Encounter Kaikoura

Watching is one thing, but maybe you want to dive right into the world of the native wildlife. Encounter Kaikoura offer a Dolphin Encounter where you get the chance to swim with the dusky dolphins in their natural environment. Renowned for their acrobatic leaps and interactive behaviour, this is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime! Make sure to book in advance.

Nins Bin seafood

Other Kaikoura activities include fishing, four-wheel drive adventures, walking and horse trekking. There’s also a picturesque golf course just south of the town. Visitors must sample Kaikoura’s famous seafood – try the crayfish (lobster), rated by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top 10 foodie experiences, scallops, mussels, blue cod or butterfish. Accommodation ranges from coastal campsites to a unique lodge with luxurious tree houses.