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Caught between the rugged Seaward Kaikoura mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura offers a spectacular environment in which to investigate the east coast’s marine wildlife and seabirds.

Kaikoura’s unusual underwater topography features a deep drop off close to the coast with a number of deep canyons, and a pattern of sea currents that results in nutrient rich waters, sustaining all types of marine life. Here is one of the best areas to see sperm whales, with a resident population year-round, while orca may be seen from December to March and humpback whales visit in June and July. Kaikoura is also a playground for New Zealand fur seals and dolphins, including the ever-present dusky dolphin. 

Although, world famous for its whale and dolphin populations, Kaikoura is a great place to spot a huge variety of seabirds, with possibly the best viewing of pelagic birds in the world. Amongst the long list of species to be seen here the main attraction is albatross – with more than 12 species present, amongst them northern royal, southern royal, and Buller’s – but this is also the best place to see Hutton’s shearwater. Other species include numerous petrels, prions, Australasian gannets, spotted shags and white-fronted terns.

There are a number of walks to enjoy, leading to whale-watching sites and exceptional cliff top views, as well as the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, a three-hour trail that takes you to seal and seabird colonies. There are shorter tracks to explore amongst the dramatic landscape.

Please note that due to the earthquake in 2016, some of the coastal walkways may be closed until damage has been assessed. 

View suggested itinerary

Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: sperm whale, dusky dolphin, Gibson’s albatross, Cape petrel, New Zealand fur seal

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itinerary:

Kiwis & Whales Galore: South Island Self-drive

This self-drive of New Zealand’s South Island showcases dramatic scenery, from sandy beaches to picturesque snow-capped mountains. Highlights include cetacean-rich Kaikoura, the Otago Peninsula - home to the endangered yellow-eyed penguin - and Stewart Island for southern brown kiwis.

  • When to go: Sep-May
  • Duration inc. flights: 23 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £6,495 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Manakau Lodge

This small and intimate boutique lodge is set amidst picturesque mountain scenery, just a short distance from the marine hotspot of Kaikoura. With only four rooms, the luxury Manakau Lodge is the perfect base from which to explore the nearby beaches and coastal reserves on wilderness walks.