An abundance of marine life is what draws the crowds to Kaikōura, but there's plenty going on ashore as well. Framed by the stunning Kaikōura Ranges, and hemmed in by a 3km-deep sea canyon just offshore (the up currents from this canyon push nutrients and food up from the seafloor, which is what makes Kaikōura so popular with the dusky dolphins, sperm whales and fur seals), Kaikōura is a nature lover's paradise.
Take the time to try the Kaikōura Peninsula walk, which will take you past a New Zealand fur seal colony and a colony of Hutton's shearwaters (the Kaikōura tītī), along the peninsula clifftop, with huge expanses of sky and rugged east coast ocean, historical pā and whaling sites, in a satisfying three-hour round trip.
Where to eat and drink in Kaikōura
At the Old Kaikoura Winery, Rob and Rosie serve locally sourced and foraged food, such as crayfish mornay, and high teas. There's also a deli counter where you can pick up lunch boxes of salmon or wild venison and salad, served in eco-friendly takeaway packaging.
Sicarios Mexican restaurant is by the gated pool at Dusky Lodge, a welcoming backpackers. Sicarios is open from 10am till 9pm, serving tacos, fajitas, crispy chicken salads and churros, and is perfect for families - kids can play in the pool while you watch and eat.
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Another perfect option for lunch is SlamClub - free-range wild game toasties such as duck and wild boar, gourmet club sandwiches, and local craft beer. You'll find slow-cooked meats on the dinner menu.
If you fancy an unusual tipple, the Hislop family at Hexagon Mead have been making honey and flour on their organic farm for generations, but mead is their true speciality. Associations with this ancient drink might be more King Arthur than Kaikōura, but this honey wine, aged in French oak, is said to be mellow and delicious.
Where to stay in Kaikōura
The Manakau Purepod offers luxurious surroundings in a glass box, from which you can see the sky above as well as the ground beneath. The self-contained room is situated on private farmland, so is completely private. However, there are shades to be drawn should the sheep wandering past make you feel shy. Self-cater or order a food kit, which will see your breakfast and dinner waiting for you to put on the finishing touches.
Best suited for those with a bit of mountain biking experience, there's a new bike park just outside town at Middle Hill. The trails are intermediate to advanced, and predominantly downhill. Some have been formed around cracks that were opened by the 2016 earthquake (the site had 12m of uplift in some sections), others are hand-shaped. Middle Hill is surrounded by mountains and rivers, with beautiful views all around. If you book a ride, you can also camp for a fee. Bring your own tent, and get access to the kitchen, barbecue, bathroom and living areas.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com