I’ve got a few favorite spots in New Zealand that I’ve talked about here and there on the blog before. Some of them are secret spots, some of them aren’t. Sometimes my answers vary, depending on who is asking.
But no matter who asks me, one of my favorite spots without a doubt is Kaikoura.
North of Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island, it’s not really in a fab location for roadtrips, but without a doubt, Kaikoura is a stunner.
I love mountains and I love the sea. Rarely do I get both in the same place, but hallelujah, thank you for Kaikoura because it has both. Boom.
On this rugged coastline tall snowcapped mountains drop down straight into turquoise seas. Kaikoura is the stuff of fairytales. It doesn’t look real, kinda like the rest of New Zealand actually.
Because the ocean drops off steeply on the shore, it’s as deep as the mountains are tall, Kaikoura is home to some kickass sealife, like whales, dolphins, seals, you name it, they got it. I first fell in love exactly a year ago when I passed through on my first trip to the South Island with Haka Tours. We went swimming with wild dolphins there and I spent most of the boat ride with my face in a bucket.
The weather wasn’t that great then and I didn’t even get a glimpse of the mountains. I’d been itching to get back ever since.
8 months rolled by before I had the opportunity to return to Kaikoura, this time on my own in the dead of winter on my Jucy campervan road trip around the South Island. In fact, I loved Kaikoura so much it was the only place I stayed for more than one night on my roadie.
One of the main reasons I went to Kaikoura in winter was to see the infamous baby seals. A few miles north of Kaikoura along the coast there is a magical place, are you ready for it?
Sit down, you’ve been warned.
The Ohau Stream Waterfall is just a blip on the side of a truly majestic coastline. On one side of the windiest road in existence you have a rugged, rocky coastline with turquoise waters overflowing with stinky seals and seaweed, with the Kaikoura Peninsula. On the other side you have dense New Zealand bush that leads up into the mountains.
There’s a parking lot usually packed with campervans stopped there, you can’t miss it, that is the beginning of the walk. About 15 minutes along a stream bed on a super easy flat walk you’ll eventually pop out a waterfall in the woods, beautiful in its own right. Except in winter it’s filled with frolicking baby seals.
I’m not joking.
The momma seals come up in winter and leave their babies in the safety of the waterfall pool to grow before hopping back down the stream bed, across the road and back into the sea where they lounge around on the rocks.
I’m not going to lie, it’s even more impressive in person. When I first moved to New Zealand, I was really fascinated by seals, I had never seen them before, and I had this romantic image that they were like docile, sea dogs, or maybe even otters. Cute, you know? Then I saw them for the first time up close and personal at Cape Palliser on the North Island, and I realized that couldn’t be further from the truth when they chased me back to my car.
They also stink to high heaven.
Luckily though, the babies aren’t all that bad. They swim and frolic like little fat sausages, staring at you with big eyes, bold an curious, not aggressive at all, though I did keep my distance.
Nothing is more demoralizing than being chased by a seal in front of other people.
Trust me on this one.
One of the reasons I *might* have ended up staying for more than a day was that I found a brochure for some amazing activity called LLAMA TREKKING (holy shit!!!) at the holiday park where I was staying.
Personally, I hate brochures and think they are such a waste of paper, but my opinion was decidedly reversed once I discovered that there is in fact a place in Kaikoura where you can walk a llama. Like on a leash. On the beach.
Dreams do come true!
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I kinda have a thing for llamas. And alpacas. They are seriously the coolest animals. Ever. No contest.
They have so much sass and personality, not to mention fluff, what’s not to love?
I rang and rang them and no one picked up the phone but I was not to be deterred so I just drove out to the farm anyways. No one was around so I just wandered around hollering hello, til some wwoofers (people who work in exchange for food and accommodation) popped their heads out and invited me inside.
Nothing would keep me from the llamas. Nothing.
As it turned out due to lack of demand, they weren’t really running the llama walking tours dead of winter.
Perhaps they could sense my devastation and said I could pay a couple bucks and get some feed and wander around the farm and see the llamas.
I spent a solid couple of hours wandering around this weird farm in Kaikoura, feeding alpacas and llamas from the palm of my hand and taking more photos than usual. Oh and trying to take the perfect llama selfie, which I hate to brag, but I’m pretty sure I achieved.
Animal selfies are kinda my thing.
As I stomped through the mud at this farm-meets-petting-zoo completely on my own, the only person there, I thought for a moment just how weird this probably looked to every normal person on the planet.
A grown woman intentionally going to a farm to play with llamas when she could be kayaking or whale watching, or doing anything else, really.
Oh well, weirdos for life!
I finished off my night in Kaikoura getting dinner at Tuti’s, which is the #1 Tripadvisor restaurant in town. I decided to splurge on the crayfish since that’s the go-to dish here, but to be perfectly honest, it was really disappointing and not worth the money.
Half of an average sized cray (which is basically a lobster) was $50. Can I get a holy shit?
Growing up on the east coast of the US, I was never in want for lobsters and I don’t think I ever paid $100 for one.
I sucked and licked every inch of that crayfish, determined to get my money’s worth but wasn’t pleased. I guess I was hoping it would taste like a $100 meal.
I polled around and realized that’s the standard price in New Zealand which shocked me since the coasts here are filled with crays. Thanks supply and demand in Asia!
In true kiwi fashion, the trick is going out and getting them yourselves, which is free and you can take 6 a day ( I think) and you can do it on air (scuba diving), you don’t have to freedive.
Looks like I have a new goal for 2015! Why pay for dinner when you can get just get it yourself?
This time around I just sort of chilled and enjoyed Kaikoura for what it was, relaxing and peaceful set against one of the most photogenic spots in New Zealand.
I loved that I had the best of both worlds with both the mountains and the sea in the same place for once, sitting on the rocky tidal pools staring at the snowy peaks as the sunset over turquoise waters.
You can really have everything here.
I’ve heard that oftentimes people skip Kaikoura because it’s not really on the way on your more traditional New Zealand roadtrips.
If you want my advice, find the time to stop here. It’s an epic place, and I promise you won’t regret it.
Have you heard of Kaikoura? Have you ever been in a place with both mountains and sea next to each other? Would you like to visit here one day?
77 Comments on “Picture Perfect Kaikoura”
Love your website. My husband and I are taking a 3 week trip to NZ at the end of June/beginning of July. We’re flying into Auckland and out of Christchurch. I was specifically wanting to do the road trip sort of from Nelson to Christchurch through Marlborough wine region, Hammer Springs and Kaikoura specifically (I so want to see the wildlife there!). Since it sounds like you were there in winter, can you tell me a little about the driving conditions? That’s the thing I am 100% most concerned about. Neither of us have much experience driving in snow/ice. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are. This is one of those things that seems to be a bit more difficult to find out!
Thanks so much!
Kaikoura looks like an amazing place; I’ll definitely have to pay it a visit sometime! I love how determined you were to interact with the llamas. (And your determination clearly paid off!) Great photos, and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip!
I used to live in New Zealand and Kaikoura was one of my favourite places. Back then there was an awesome convent turned B&B (it’s still functional but as a long term boarding house now I think) called The Old Convent whose cute rooms retained their original names (Mother Superior, etc), and the photos on the walls were of nuns being a bit naughty and the shop sold nun shaped chocolates, it was great!
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