Kaikoura is famous for many things: picturesque mountain views, highly revered local produce, its seafaring history. But most of all, it’s renowned for its diverse wildlife. Located just two hours by car from Christchurch, the small seaside town is great for a standalone relaxing getaway or, at the very least, a weekend stint during a wider Kiwi experience.
For the perfect two days away, first book a reservation at the iconic, beautiful Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses. You read that right — tree houses. Choose between huge 900-square-foot suites — equipped with Japanese soaking tubs, rain fountain showers, fireplaces and a balcony or patio — or the “Tree Houses,” smaller rooms that are nested 30 feet above the ground in the canopy of a native manuka grove.
Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to experience the local wildlife. Book a tour for the one unmistakable Kaikoura attraction: whale watching. With a deep ocean shelf sitting close to the town’s shore, giant sperm whales find a home in these waters all year round. The two-and-a-half-hour tours leave twice daily, at 10 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. on most days. You’ll want to be on the 10 a.m. boat. These tours have a 95 percent success rate of seeing whales — but if you don’t see one, the operators will refund you 80 percent of the ticket cost.
Once your feet are back on land, head to the Green Dolphin Restaurant & Bar for lunch. This eatery prides itself on local seafood, and the menu changes daily depending on fish supply. Try the green-shelled Marlborough mussels, char-grilled mesclun salad, crayfish or, of course, the fresh local catch on offer. The restaurant also makes pasta in house daily.
For the afternoon, experience the local wildlife firsthand with one of two spectacular walkways. The first is a local secret that officials have tried to keep the public away from, as the space can be a huge tourist hot spot. The Ohau Stream Walk is a 10-minute forest walkway located around 20 minutes from the township that will lead you to a hidden waterfall pool. Here, you’ll find a hidden seal nursery, where seal mothers keep their pups safe every winter before going out to sea. There are often hundreds of the pups in the water, playing, fighting and laying about. This one will be an absolute favorite if you’re travelling with children, and the excursion makes for a wonderful story to tell when you get home. If you feel like taking a longer walk, choose the, a 50-minute stroll through one of Kaikoura’s beautiful bays. Have your camera ready, as sightings of local whales, dolphins, birds and seals are common along the trail.
Head back to Hapuku Lodge for a three-course dinner (matched with local wine), cooked personally by the hotel’s executive chef — and MasterChef TV show finalist — Fiona Read. She’s always happy to customize to your taste, just let her know what you’re craving.
As you wake the next morning with a view of the breathtaking Kaikoura Mountains, you have a choice to make: Would you like to spend the day on another seafaring adventure or get close to wildlife again?
If playing at sea is your thing, book a day trip with Kaikoura Fishing Charters. You’ll go on a fishing expedition to catch your own local specialties. Everything is sorted for you on this adventure, which can last from two to five hours, with prices ranging from $90 to $120. Simply arrive in the morning and board the 40-foot Takapu vessel to catch blue cod, grouper, sea perch and terakihi. Your prize will be filleted and bagged once you’re done; just give it to Hapuku’s chef Read and she’ll turn it into dinner.
In case fishing doesn’t float your boat, take advantage of Hapuku’s local market garden and fishmongers’ tour in the morning and get close to the seaside town’s famous produce. Lunch at one of the many local cafés and restaurants before heading to another amazing wildlife experience — snorkeling in coastal waters with New Zealand’s fur seals with Seal Swim Kaikoura. All gear is provided for each tour (which lasts from two to two-and-a-half hours), so just dive in and enjoy swimming alongside these graceful sea creatures.
This is just a taste of the thrills on offer — there are other wildlife encounters, surfing, skydiving and cultural experiences to try in Kaikoura. It may be best to leave a few days unaccounted for at the end of your weekend. Who knows? You may never want to leave.
Photos courtesy of Hapaku Lodge, Kaikoura, iSITE, Whale Watch Kaikoura