The small town of KAIKOURA, 130km south of Blenheim and 180km north of Christchurch, enjoys a spectacular setting in the lee of the Kaikoura Peninsula, wedged between the mountains and the ocean. Offshore, the sea bed drops away rapidly to the kilometre-deep Kaikoura Canyon, a phenomenon that brings sea mammals in large and varied numbers. Whale watching and swimming with dolphins are big business here, and the presence of expectant tourists has spawned a number of eco-oriented businesses offering swimming with seals, sea kayaking and hiking.

Brief history

Kaikoura got its name when an ancient Maori explorer who stopped to eat crayfish found it so good he called the place kai (food) koura (crayfish). Maori legend also accounts for the extraordinary coastline around Kaikoura. During the creation of the land, a young deity, Marokura, was given the job of finishing the region. First, he built the Kaikoura Peninsula and a second smaller peninsula (Haumuri Bluff). Then he set about creating the huge troughs in the sea between the two peninsulas, where the cold waters of the south would mix with the warm waters of the north and east. Realizing the depth of Marokura’s accomplishment, the god Tuterakiwhanoa said that the place would be a gift (koha) to all those who see its hidden beauty – and it is still known to local Maori as Te Koha O Marokura.

The Ngai Tahu people harvested the wealth of the land and seas until Te Rauparaha and his followers decimated them, in around 1830. The first Europeans to settle were whalers who came in the early 1840s, swiftly followed by farmers. The trials and tribulations of their existence are recorded in the Kaikoura Museum and the more evocative Fyffe House. Kaikoura ticked on quietly until the late 1980s when whale watching really took off and put the place on the tourism map. Since then it has steadily expanded, becoming more commercial, though without losing its small-town feel.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

New Zealand features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Everything you need to know about backpacking New Zealand

Everything you need to know about backpacking New Zealand

New Zealand’s craggy coastline and beautiful national parks beg to be explored. The scenery gets more spectacular around every corner, with beaches, vineyards…

21 Nov 2017 • Rachel Mills insert_drive_file Article
The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook