I recently took my family for a trip to the top of the South Island, we explored Marlborough, Hanmer springs, Kaikoura and Christchurch. I have touched on some of the other areas in another South Island blog and will be following up on each area individually as there is to much to talk about for one article! In this blog i’ll talk about our time in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is located on the east coast of the south island and is primarily know for its marine life, whale watching, seals and dolphin encounters. The closest airports are Blenheim which is a 1 hour 45 minute drive, or Christchurch which is 2 hours & 20 minutes away. Both are lovely scenic drives with both coastal and inlands aspects. We drove from Marlborough with the drive predominately hugging the coast with wonderful ocean views. As you approach Kaikoura you begin to see families of seals basking in the sun. There are many places from where you can pull over and quietly watch the seals, remember they are wildlife in their natural habitat and should be respected, keep your distance and quietly take lots of photos! About 15 minutes out of Kaikoura on the main state highway 1, you will see a brown “department of conservation” sign for Ohau Stream, during the winter months you can watch the playful seal pups that have traveled up from the ocean. This short 10 min walk takes you to a waterfall where you may see seal pups swimming and frolicking in the stream.
Kaikoura is also well known for is seafood and crayfish in particular, as you approach the township you will begin to see roadside cafes and food vans that sell fresh seafood and cray, we pulled over at one of these spots, purchased a delicious crayfish and devoured it on a picnic bench by the ocean, perfect!
There are several places to stay in Kaikoura and our favourites are Hapuku Lodge, with its tree house style accommodation and Manakau Lodge, a smaller boutique lodge with mountain back drops and ocean visas. Both are great properties, with different styles and price points. This visit we stayed at Manakau Lodge which is owned and hosted by Neil Protheroe. Neil met us at the lodge and showed us to our rooms, myself and my husband had a room located towards the back of the lodge with spectaulcar views of the snow capped mountains, with doors opening onto a small deck where you could sit and drink your morning coffee or evening wine, my two children enjoyed a room at the front of the lodge which have views out towards the ocean. Manakau Lodge owner Neil is an accomplished photographer and his prints of the local area as well as the rest of New Zealand are worth checking out.
One of the main reasons our guests and many overseas travelers visit Kaikoura is for whale watching. Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where Sperm Whales can be seen year-round and close to shore. There are a few options to get to see the whales, the most popular and most cost effective is by boat, these boat trips run 3 times a day all year round, at approximately 7:00am, 10:00am and midday, with a later 3:30pm trip in the summer months. You need to allow 3. 5 hours for the tour, 2.5 hours of which is spent on the water, if you are prone to sea sickness we recommend you take motion sickness medication which can be purchased at the local chemists. Whilst there is no guarantee of seeing these mammals, Whale Watch Kaikoura have a 95% success rate in finding whales.
Other options to see the whales are by a fixed wing plane or helicopter. With both these options you can enjoy a panoramic whale flight, with stunning scenic views along the spectacular Kaikoura coastline. View the magnificent Sperm whales in their natural environment. Whilst you do not get as close to the whales as you would be boat, only by air do you get to appreciate the full size of the mighty sperm whale. You also get the chance to see dusky dolphins and other marine life and enjoy a scenic flight of Kaikoura and the stunning surrounds that include the high Alpine snow-clad Kaikoura mountain range, and to the east, the deep blue Pacific Ocean. With a few flight options and price points available, the Luxury Adventures team will be happy do discuss with you what option more suits you.
Unfortunately conditions meant that we didn’t get out to see the whales. But there were lots of other options to keep us busy. We opted to join a fishing charter and had an enjoyable time, as well as catching fish for our dinner we caught crayfish in a pot the skipper had laid down earlier that day and also saw dolphins and other marine life. Kaikoura is a excellent place for fishing and there are lots of charter options depending on time and budget, please ask the Luxury Adventures team if you would like to include this in your itinerary.
There are lots of great walks in Kaikoura, we walked the Peninsular Walkway, which i highly recommend for walkers of any level of fitness, its very accessible from Kaikoura township and an easy walk with stunning views over the mountains and ocean, with an added bonus of seeing LOTS of seals. The track is 11km return, but you can easily walk out for as long as you are comfortable and return the same way. There are plenty of other great walks in the area if you have more time and a good level of fitness. Two of the most popular Kaikoura Mountain hikes are Mount Fyffe; from the summit this trip offers stunning views of Banks Peninsula. Also the Kowhai – Hapuka Circuit, this is a tough hike which takes 2 – 3 days and we recommend only for experienced hikers. With limited time available I was only able to run through a short part of the Kowhai track, but the stunning mountain vistas and stream crossings, left me wanting to return!
As the weather and sea conditions are changeable in the area it’s a good idea to have a think about what you may want to do should the whale watching not be able to go ahead. Some ideas are horse riding, dolphin or albatross encounters, quad biking, Maori or cultural experiences, kayaking, fishing or farm tours. Our team always keep an eye on the conditions for you and should any planned tours have to be reschedules we will work with you to rearrange them and plan alternative options to fill your day. Further activities can be found in our article on Top New Zealand experiences 2016 or our earlier 2015 top experiences article.
Hapuku Lodge is a very popular lodge in Kaikoura with its unique tree house style accommodation. I have to say the photographs on the web site do not do justice to this excellent lodge. All of the lodge rooms, suites and tree houses are stunning, very spacious with great attention to detail in the design and architecture. The colour scheme mimics the natural surroundings with hues of browns, green and oranges. Lots of glass is used to make the most of the views over the olive groves and deer farm. The tree houses are nestled 30 feet above the ground and are really special and unique. The lodge boasts a lap pool, sauna and superb restaurant. We enjoyed hosted drinks with Chris the manager in the main lodge before dinner. The food was of a high standard you would expect from a top New Zealand luxury lodge. The menu offers in house guests a choice of 3 entrees, 3 main course and 3 deserts each evening. I chose Paua Soup (Sea abalone), followed by Crayfish (well while in Kaikoura!) and a yum cheese board to finish. I highly recommend dining at Hapuku lodge, if your travel budget won’t allow for a overnight stay then they do welcome non residents for dining and our team are more than happy to make reservations for you.
We had a wonderful visit to Kaikoura, it certainly has much more to offer than Whale Watching and I plan to go back for more as soon as I’m able!
Neil and Eileen Protheroe; are owners operators of Manakau Lodge
Chris Sturgeon is the manager of Hapuku Lodge
Kay Campbell is a luxury travel consultant for Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.