canterbury’s own lifestyle magazine / a great local read
There are not too many places in the world where one can wake to see a sky lit by a brilliant orange and pink sunrise and then turn their head to witness snowcapped mountains being illuminated in the same manner. This was my first experience of the sleepy seaside town of Kaikōura, located 
180 km north of Christchurch. After a night of photographing a series of ‘nightscapes’ (Kaikōura has superb night skies full of stars) I did not expect the location to outdo itself come the morning; but it did. And as I continued exploring the quintessential South Island town, I only became more impressed with what it had to offer.

Kaikōura has a modest, mostly rural population of approximately 4000 people. It has historically prospered from whaling and fishing industries, but is now primarily focused on wildlife conservation through ecotourism. In keeping with its emphasis on aquatic exposure, several beachfront accommodation options cater to travellers of all budgets. Apartments, motels and holiday parks suitable for families and couples are dotted along the esplanade. There are also a couple of hostels in the north of the town, or responsible freedom camping sights even further north along Kiwa Road, for shoestring backpackers. For food and drink, you could indulge in any one of the numerous cafés and restaurants along Kaikōura’s main street, but be sure to try some of the niche options as well, such as the produce from Kaikōura Cheese Localvore Store, or Hexagon Mead.

In November of 2016, Kaikōura suffered a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which severely damaged both rural and major urban infrastructure, including the north and south running arterials, isolating the town for some time. Tourist numbers subsequently dropped, but have risen again to pre-earthquake standards; approximately 173,000 overnight guests chose Kaikōura as a holiday destination in 2018. Along with exhibitions documenting and displaying the rich historical nature of the town, Kaikōura Museum also offers an award-winning exhibition on the events surrounding and including the infamous earthquake.
Just like Christchurch, from the ashes of this tragedy has resolve and creativity been born. The town now has a small but developing art scene, which is notably obvious by the installation of eccentric-style cafés such as the BeeBox in Kaikōura’s Uplift Container Mall, and luminous art galleries such as Ocean Arts, an exhibiter of prominent New Zealand artist Jane Riley, whose unique landscapes capture Canterbury’s multifaceted environments.

Without a doubt, the prime jewel on Kaikōura’s necklace is its proximity to natural beauty. Perched between the ocean and the nearby Seaward Kaikōura mountain range, its positioning truly is remarkable. The Kaikōura Peninsula is populated with sea bird colonies; a stroll at sunrise along its walkway will have you listening to their morning calls as they begin to chase each other across the sky. Also residing on the peninsula is one of the most accessible seal colonies in the world. They spend the majority of their day basking in the sun; but if you wait long enough, you may witness young pups chasing each other across the rocky landscape, or even an adult cooling itself by performing a series of tumble turns in the watery veins that snake their way through the crags. Ensure that you respect the space of the seals and the opportunity for others to encounter them, by refraining from coming within 10 metres. I unfortunately saw a few overzealous ‘Instagramers’ trying to capture a perfect selfie with a seal; I must disclose that I was a little disappointed not to see them receive a sharp nip (which seals can deliver, without remorse).

Kaikōura also has plenty of options to view migrating whales and dolphin pods by sea and air. Whale Watch Kaikōura operates several cruises each day, and multiple companies offer scenic helicopter and plane flights that might score you a ‘top-view’ perspective of sea life. If this, however, is a little over budget, you may be lucky enough on a clear day to see a humpback breaching from the cliff walk atop the peninsula. Orcas have also been seen in the bay area, so do not worry if other tourists regale you with their fauna-spotting stories – Kaikōura really is a haven for wildlife, so I have no doubt that something will be waiting for you just around the corner. Perhaps pack a pair of binoculars.

For the adrenaline junkies and outdoorsy personalities, the high country, valleys and rivers have plenty of options to help you escape from the dreary office environment and scratch your adventure itch. Mountain biking and tramping trails twist their way along Mount Fyffe and the Puhi Puhi and Clarence Valleys, which are complemented by new and historical huts to accommodate multi-day rides and tramps.

The Clarence River, a landscape altered dramatically due to the earthquake, is also a hotspot for river rafting; various companies offer packages from half- to multi-day experiences. If hunting is a favoured pastime, the Kaikōura North Coast hunting area is known to contain a population of chamois, red deer, wild pigs and goats. A rigorous stomp will likely be required to reach your target, but rewarding views out to the west coast will be a worthy hunting companion (or substitute should your hunt not result in bagging a trophy).

Describing the gems of Kaikōura is, in fact, a nightmare for a verbose buffoon like myself; there are simply too many reasons why it is a marvellous travel option to narrate. Instead, I suggest you head there yourself to experience all that this seaside town has to offer.

Where to eat, 
shop, play & sleep

Play
• Whale Watch by boat, 
plane or helicopter
• Kaikōura Kayaks, 
get up close with the seals
• Dolphin Encounter
• Point Kean Seal Colony
• The Kaikōura Museum

Eat
• Zephyr Restaurant
• The Pier Hotel & Restaurant
• Hislops Wholefoods Café
• The Green Dolphin 
Restaurant + Bar
• The Whaler Bar & Restaurant

Shop
• Southern Paua & Pacific Jewels
• Jade Kiwi
• Woolshed Gallery
•Kaikōura Cheese Localvore Store
• Little Rock Kaikōura

Sleep
• Kaikōura Boutique Hotel
• The White Morph 
Heritage Collection
• Lemon Tree Lodge
• Top 10 Holiday Park
• Anchor Inn Motel

WORDS & IMAGES Isaac McCarthy