Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located on State Highway 1 180 km north of Christchurch. Kaikoura became the first local authority to reach the Green Globe tourism certification standard. Kaikoura is a small coastal town on the east (or Pacific Ocean) coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
Situated in southern coastal Marlborough 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.
According to the 2006 census, the permanent resident population is 2,172, a 2.03% decrease since the 1996 census. The town is the governmental seat of the territorial authority of the Kaikoura District, which is geographically a part of the Canterbury Region. The District has a land area of 2,046.41 km² (790.12 sq mi) and a 2006 census population of 3,621 inhabitants.
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 Kaikoura Peninsula extends into the sea south of the town, and the resulting upwelling currents bring an abundance of marine life from the depths of the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The town owes its origin to this effect, since it developed as a centre for the whaling industry. The name ‘Kaikoura’ translates to ‘meal of crayfish’ (‘kai’- food/meal, ‘koura’ – crayfish) and the crayfish industry still plays a role in the economy of the region.
However Kaikoura has now become a popular tourist destination, mainly for whale watching (the Sperm Whale watching is perhaps the best and most developed in the world) and swimming with or near dolphins.
There is also a large and readily observed colony of Southern Fur Seals at the eastern edge of the town. At low tide, better viewing of the seals can be had as the ocean gives way to a rocky base which is easily navigable by foot for quite some distance.
It is also one of the best reasonably accessible places in the world to see open ocean seabirds such as albatrosses. The town has a strikingly beautiful setting, as the Seaward Kaikoura mountains, a branch of the Southern Alps come nearly to the sea at this point on the coast. Because of this, there are many walking tracks up and through the mountains. A common one for tourists is the Mt. Fyffe track, which winds up Mt. Fyffe, and gives a panoramic view of the Kaikoura peninsula from the summit.
Mt. Fyffe owes its name to the first family to settle in Kaikoura, the Fyffe family. The cottage that they lived in, built in 1842, still stands, and is now a tourist attraction operated by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The construction of the cottage is unusual in that the supporting foundations of the house are made of whalebone.
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.
The town is on State Highway One and the northern section of the South Island main trunk railway. Kaikoura also has a small, sealed airstrip located 6 km to the south of the main centre. The Kaikoura airstrip is mainly used for whale spotting tourist flights by Wings over Whales and Air Kaikoura, it can also be used by small private and charter flights. It is also used five days a week for return flights to Wellington by Sounds Air.
Kaikoura is served by the Main North Line, the northern section of the South Island Main Trunk. Due to the hilly terrain north and south of the township, the railway only opened to the town on 15 December 1945, seventy years after a line to the town was originally planned.
Kaikoura is served by the TranzCoastal long-distance passenger train, which connects the town with Christchurch to the south, and Picton and the Cook Strait ferries to the north. Kaikoura Station was the last station in New Zealand to have a refreshment room for passengers, which closed in 1988 when the Coastal Pacific Express (former name for the TranzCoastal) introduced on-board refresments.
Freight trains also pass through the town, mainly carrying freight between the marshalling yards at Middleton in Christchurch, and the Interislander rail ferries at Picton. 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.