Hotels in Kaikoura (South Island, New Zealand)

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Hotels in Kaikoura

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Discover where the whales are, in beautiful Kaikoura

Regarded among the world’s best places to watch sperm whales in their natural habitat, Kaikoura on the north-east coast of New Zealand’s spectacular South Island is also blessed with a beautiful setting overlooked by snow-capped mountains. Kaikoura teems with wildlife because just offshore a Pacific Ocean trench plummets sharply, making the surrounding waters an abundant feeding ground for marine animals. Indeed, seals, dolphins, penguins and other birds can be spotted relatively easily. With road and rail links to Christchurch and Picton plus hotels, restaurants and local attractions aplenty, Kaikoura doubles as an excellent base for exploring the great outdoors Kiwi-style.

Go whale-watching

The promise of seeing sperm whales and other cetaceans in the wild brings travellers to Kaikoura from far and wide. With the largest brain of any animal on earth and sometimes measuring more than 20 metres long, the sperm whale is an awesome sight and the population of these huge marine mammals living off the coast helps to keep Kaikoura’s hotels busy. A peculiar blend of Pacific Ocean currents and the shape of the continental shelf, which drops away steeply for about half-a-mile just off the Kaikoura Peninsula, make the surrounding waters into a nutrient-rich feeding hotspot for herds of sperm whales and pods of dolphins. Kaikoura even takes its name from the Maori expression for “a meal of crayfish” as the marine life is so abundant. Now that sustainable ecotourism has replaced outlawed whale hunting as the local breadwinner in this corner of the Canterbury region, visitors can enjoy organised whale-spotting boat tours, which are the commonest way to observe the creatures up close. Those with a bigger budget can also consider chartering a small plane and a pilot from Kaikoura Aerodrome for whale-spotting flights.

A host of local attractions to enjoy

Following a powerful earthquake in November 2016, Kaikoura is returning to normal, but some of the interesting local attractions and infrastructure like State Highway 1 were adversely affected. So, it’s advisable to check the status of local roads, railways and attractions before you visit. Nevertheless, the town still possesses plenty to see and do before or after your whale-watching experience. Whichever hotel you choose, you won’t be far from the Kaikoura Museum in the town centre, where there’s also a smattering of seafood restaurants. It chronicles Kaikoura’s social, cultural and natural history through a wealth of old photographs, Maori artefacts, whaling tools and even the fossilised remains of an extinct plesiosaur. Heading on to the Kaikoura Peninsula, the wood-panelled Fyffe House in Avoca Street harks back to mid 19th century when European settlers arrived by sea to found a whaling station. Built on foundations made of whalebones, this pretty cottage is the town’s oldest surviving building. It contains exhibits and historical objects lifting the lid on Kaikoura’s whaling days. Nearby, the Kaikoura Marine Centre and Aquarium features touch tanks and exhibits about local marine life such as sharks and seahorses.

From Kaikoura’s hotels, it’s easy to reach fun hinterland attractions like Kaikoura Farm Park, where travellers can encounter more than 100 cute free-range animals, including ponies, pigs, llamas, sheep and alpacas. The theme around New Zealand’s agricultural and farming traditions continues at the Point Sheep Shearing Show. Located out on the Kaikoura Peninsula, this daily display of live sheep-shearing is a fun and educational show. In springtime, visitors can even hold and feed a lamb.

Kaikoura brims with wildlife

Sperm whales may grab the biggest headlines when it comes to Kaikoura’s top wildlife attractions, but a host of other creatures have made their homes in the surrounding area too. A colony of New Zealand fur seals can be found on rock platforms at Point Kean on the Kaikoura Peninsula, where those with eagle eyes might also spot penguins and open ocean seabirds like albatrosses, petrels and Hutton’s shearwaters, which nest in the mountains of the nearby Seaward Kaikoura Range; a northern extension of the Southern Alps. An ever-popular draw for visitors, the beautiful seals spend their time relaxing on the rocks in between occasional dives below the water to feed on fish. Be careful not to get too close, however, as seals can show aggression if they feel threatened. To see even more seals, visit the Ohau Stream and Waterfall walking trail located about 15 miles north of Kaikoura and its hotels. This short scenic trail leads to picturesque waterfalls frequently visited by seal colonies. Lucky visitors might get to see playful seal pups making a splash in the waterfall pool.

Get active in the great outdoors

Those who like to leave their hotel and get active on holiday will love the range of outdoor pursuits on offer in and around Kaikoura. For walkers, there’s the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway which gently wends its way past viewpoints of the town and mountains to Point Kean, where a colony of seals awaits. The main route takes about one hour, but there are optional legs walkers can add on for a longer stroll. Those tempted to explore the raw natural beauty of the Seaward Kaikoura Range can jump on their mountain bikes or lace up their hiking boots and head for tramping trails like the Mount Fyffe Track, which boasts rewarding coastline views. For those attracted by the lure of the ocean, Kaikoura also boasts numerous opportunities for scuba-diving, sea fishing and even snorkelling with seals on guided boat tours.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kaikoura