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An Abundance of Marine Life on the Kaikōura Coast

Located 180 km north of Christchurch on the South Island’s east coast, Kaikōura is known for being a one of the world’s best places for whale watching – you have a 95% chance of seeing a sperm whale on a whale watch excursion in Kaikōura. Lucky visitors may also get to see orca, or humpback whales!

While they may be what the area is known for, it’s not all about the whales – you can also swim with dusky dolphins in Kaikōura, or visit fur seals and admire albatross with their impressive wingspan.

coast life

Kaikōura coast is a particularly picturesque setting with the jagged Kaikōura mountains – a branch of the Southern Alps – very nearly touching the Pacific Ocean. The abundance of photogenic sea-life here is fed by an abundance of smaller (not-so-photogenic!) marine critters, but don’t worry, there’s still plenty of fresh seafood for you to taste! In fact, the name Kaikōura means 'meal of crayfish' (kai – food/meal, kōura – crayfish). We recommend sampling the local wares at Nin’s Bin.

What’s the best way to see whales in Kaikōura?

We often get asked this for our tours that explore the South Island, but it really depends on personal preference. You can choose to take a whale watching cruise where you get to feel the sea spray and may or may not snap a shot of a whale tail. Or, you can take a scenic flight where you’ll get the full picture of just how magnificent these creatures are in their natural habitat – and won’t have to worry about losing your camera overboard as you get that epic shot for your Instagram feed! Remember that you’re 95% certain of seeing a sperm whale either way, as they are the resident locals. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, their humpback whale and orca friends can be seen, too!

Swim with dolphins and see the seals!

Dusky dolphins can only be found in the southern hemisphere and are known to be some of the acrobatic dolphins in the world! They are very often seen on a whale watch tour, but if you want to swim with or near them, then Kaikōura is the place to do it. There are thousands of ‘duskies’ in this coastal region, and the whale watch and dolphin swim staff never tire of their playful antics.

Your Haka guide can direct you to a coastal colony of southern fur seals that are best viewed at low tide. Remember to always keep a respectful distance from the seals – they may look slow, cute and lazy, but their hind flippers can rotate forward which allows them to move quickly on land when they feel threatened.

Other things to do in Kaikōura

If being on the water isn’t your thing, there are many walking tracks up and through the mountains, including the popular Mt. Fyffe track, which gives a panoramic view of the Kaikōura peninsula from the summit.

Visit Kaikōura Museum for intriguing insights into the Māori and European settlement and whaling history of the area. In summer, the southern end of the beach is the place to swim and cool down.

Photo Credits: Destination Kaikōura, Wings Over Wales, Kaikōura Kayaks, Dolphin Encounter Kaikōura

Tours including Kaikōura

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Amplified NZ Tour

Price from$2,899NZD

Discover the best of the North and South Island. Tours run from Auckland to Christchurch, or Christchurch to Auckland.

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Haka Plus


Price from$3,799NZD

A sample platter of North and the South Island highlights including the Coromandel, Tongariro, Rotorua, Kaikoura & Christchurch.

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Legendary NZ Tour

Price from$3,899NZD

Our Legendary Tour lives up to its name, with stupendous scenery, bucket loads of adventure and eye-opening cultural experiences.

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Haka Plus

Southern Explorer

Price from$4,199NZD

Visit Queenstown, Wanaka, glaciers & rainforests then see more of the South Island on the world famous TranzAlpine rail journey.

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Epic NZ Tour

Price from$4,399NZD

Discover more of NZ than most New Zealanders, as you thoroughly explore the best of both the North and South Islands.

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Haka Plus

New Zealand Uncovered

Price from$6,499NZD

Uncover all the beauty, adventure, culture and fun activities of New Zealand and tick practically everything off your bucket list.

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