Kaikoura  (Pronounced: Kai-kou-ra) is a small coastal town on the east (or Pacific Ocean) coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Situated about half way between Christchurch and Blenheim, this area of New Zealand is famed for its seafood. The town is an ideal rest stop on a section of State Highway 1 that passes through isolated country both north and south of the town.
In Maori, kai means "eat" and koura is "crayfish' (rock lobster). So Kaikoura is a place to eat crayfish!
Kaikoura lies on a narrow coastal plain between high mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In places along this coast the mountains drop almost straight into the sea, with barely enough flat land for a single railway line, two lane road and rocky beach to be accommodated and even then some short tunnels are needed on corners. The steepness of the mountains reflects the underwater geography as well and the continental shelf edge lies just offshore here. This causes the ocean around Kaikoura to be rich in sea life and attracts seals, whales (and humans) to the area to partake in the bounty of the sea.
The town itself has a similar charm to an east coast USA beach town, with a hodge podge of signs trying to grab the tourists attention. At the edges of the town, the more relaxed and nature oriented activities again take precidence.
The Maori settled in Kaikoura long before European colonisation of New Zealand and cultivated the coastal plain, planting kumera, a form of sweet potato. Maori legend has it that Maui placed his foot on the Kaikoura peninsula to steady himself as he 'fished-up' the North Island.
In 1770, Captain Cook discovered the Kaikoura peninsula, believing it to be an island at first. Early European settlers used Kaikoura as a whaling station and the remains of pots used to render the whale blubber can be seen on the town foreshore.
Kaikoura is the perfect place to enjoy both the wonders of the magnificent Pacific Ocean and the tall, majestic mountains.
A number of bus or shuttle services run from Picton to Christchurch. They will all stop at Kaikoura.
Kaikoura is on State Highway 1, and you must pass through it if you are driving that route. Two hours drive north of Christchurch.
Kaikoura is on the Scenic rail line between Picton and Christchurch. There is one train, but it stops at Kaikoura twice. It leaves from Christchuch in the morning, stops at Kaikoura on the way up to Picton, and then it stops again at Kaikoura on it's way back to Christchurch.
The train journey is fantastic with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, the train follows the coast for the last part of the journey into Kaikoura and you can often see fur seals lazing on the rocks.
The station itself is on Whaleway Station Road (presumably named because Whale Watch Kaikoura operate out of the station).
Kaikoura Airport is a one of New Zealand's smaller airports. It's not an airstrip, as the runway is sealed for a smoother landing. Don't expect to join crowds of other passengers filing aboard a widebodied jet, or even a narrowbodied one. You'll fly in a plane the size of a compact car, where every seat has a window, or two, and a door as well. You might even get to sit alongside the pilot, so don't play with the controls! Oh, and you will have to carry your own bags, so pack well and don't have too much luggage; excess baggage doesn't fly.
Kaikoura is part of the Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route which links three of New Zealand’s popular recreational destinations, Hanmer Springs, Waipara Valley wine region and Kaikoura. The easy and pleasant drive around the entire touring route is 370 kilometres, beginning at its southern end just 45 minutes’ drive from Christchurch International Airport or Christchurch City and at its northern end in Kaikoura. More information on the Alpine Pacific Touring Route here Alpine Pacific Tourism
Depending on the season you may also see migrating Humpback Whales, Pilot Whales, Blue Whales and Southern Right Whales. Kaikoura often hosts the world's largest dolphin, the Orca, and is home to the world's smallest and rarest, the Hector's. Kaikoura also attracts the largest concentration and variety of seabirds on mainland New Zealand including 13 species of Albatross, 14 varieties of Petrels and 7 types of Shearwater.
Travel north up the coast to the Kekerengu store, for a bite to eat, or a meal. The best restaurant for miles - hey, its the only restaurant for miles and has to be the best, so people will stop. Just far enough North, on your way to Picton, to justify pulling over for a rest break.