Most people know Kaikoura, New Zealand for whale watching. Maybe they visit for its nearby colony of seals, or to eat some super fresh seafood (Kaikoura, in the Māori language, translates to “meal of crayfish”). Maybe they’re just lured by the stunning scenery of a peninsula surrounded by sparkling water and snow-capped mountains.
These are all pretty good reasons, and Kaikoura lives up to every one. But for me, it represents something else altogether.
I arrived in New Zealand with very little idea what to do next. Four weeks later, I still had no clue, but I knew one thing: funds were dwindling, and I needed a job. So I hopped on TradeMe (kind of like NZ’s Craigslist), sent off my CV, and wound up with a few offers–all in places I’d never heard of.
I can’t remember why I chose Kaikoura in particular. Maybe they were the first to contact me with concrete details. Maybe I closed my eyes and pointed. However it happened, it wasn’t long before I was climbing on a bus, heading for this little coastal village and a poisiton in a “cafe” that was actually an old caravan parked on the side of the road.
But Kaikoura isn’t just where I found my first job in NZ. It’s also where I found my groove, if you can forgive the tragically unhip terminology. It’s where I realized long-term travel was not out of my league; in fact, I seemed downright suited for it. When I departed at the end of the season, I felt full of possibility in a way I hadn’t felt before, not even when I first boarded the plane, or arrived in Auckland.
Part of this is simply coincidence. I might feel similarly about any place that was my first extended stay in New Zealand. But I also think there’s something pretty special about the town itself. For such a small place (the permanent population is around 2000), it’s got a vast amount to offer in the way of natural beauty, culture, and history. Sometimes people ask “in the mountains or on the coast”? I ask, why choose, when places like this exist?
In my opinion, the best way to see Kaikoura is via its peninsula walk–arguably the area’s most popular land-based activity. Along this walkway, you’ll find cliff drops into the colorful shallows, beautiful vistas of towering mountains, and heaps of wildlife, from whales to seals to all kinds of weird birds (that’s actually New Zealand in a nutshell, really).
The trail isn’t too strenuous, but does take a few hours to complete in full (allowing for photo breaks, rests, and a leisurely pace–it can certainly be done a lot quicker). If you have time constraints, limited abilities, or just don’t feel like walking so much, there are a number of shorter/quicker options.
I think anyone who completes even part of this walk will see why Kaikoura had the effect on me that it did. If you have only one day to experience this incredible spot, the peninsula walk is a great way to spend it.
Find more information on NZ’s DOC website here.