Whales and Tales Along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Whales and Tales Along the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Most people know Kaikoura, New Zealand for whale watching. Maybe they also visit to see its nearby colony of seals, or eat some super fresh seafood (Kaikoura, in the Māori language, translates to “eat 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 solid reasons, and Kaikoura lives up to every one. But for me, it represents something else altogether.

Seagulls hanging out on a rocky gray beach next to a bright blue sea in Kaikoura, New Zealand

When I arrived in New Zealand to begin my working-holiday visa, I had very little idea what to actually do first. Four weeks later, I still had no clue, but one thing was becoming more and more evident each day: my funds were dwindling, and I needed a job.

So I hopped on TradeMe (New Zealand’s online marketplace), sent off my CV, and found myself with a job few offers — all, of course, in places I’d never heard of.

I can’t remember why I chose Kaikoura in particular. Maybe they were just the first to get back to me with concrete details. However it happened, it wasn’t long before I was climbing on a bus, on my way to a teeny-tiny coastal village and a barista position in a “cafe” that was actually an old caravan parked on the side of the road.

Wooden sculptures of people found in Kaikoura, NZ

View of a rooftops on a residential street in Kaikoura with snow-capped mountains in the background

But Kaikoura isn’t just where I found my first job in New Zealand. 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 summer season, I felt much more capable than I had a few months prior. Possibilities loomed before me much more clearly than they had when I first boarded the plane in Minneapolis, or touched down 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 of Kaikoura 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. And while I’ve never personally felt torn between hiking in the mountains or surfing at the beach, that’s not a choice you’ll ever have to face here — cause you can just do both.

View of the sparkling sea and rocky coastline of the Kaikoura Peninsula from above

In my opinion, the best way to experience Kaikoura is via its Peninsula Walkway — arguably the area’s most popular land-based activity.

The Walkway winds along the edge of the Kaikoura Peninsula and through the woods, looping around to both start and end in the town center.

As you walk, you’ll find stunning cliff drops into the shallows; beautiful vistas of towering mountains over the bright blue sea; colorful sculptures and other artwork; and heaps of wildlife, from whales to seals to all kinds of weird birds (which is pretty much New Zealand in a nutshell, to be honest).

At Point Kean, you’ll encounter Kaikoura’s famous fur seal colony. They don’t do much but lie around in the sun and look annoyed, but hey: seals!

Be careful to stay a safe distance away; seals don’t like to be disturbed by people (#relatable), and can get pretty grumpy when they are.

Peninsula Walk - Kaikoura

Peninsula Walk - Kaikoura

Peninsula Walk - Kaikoura

Aside from flora and fauna, the Walkway also provides insight into the human histories of Kaikoura.

The Māori call the peninsula Te Taumanu o te Waka a Māui, and according to their mythology, Māui used it to brace himself when he pulled the North Island out of the sea. (Kaikoura itself gets its name from Tama ki te Raki, an explorer who stopped there to eat crayfish on his way around the island.) The peninsula has been populated for several hundred years; there are at least 14 pā sites on the peninsula, and perhaps as many as 40.

When the Europeans invaded and colonized New Zealand, they set up whaling stations, beginning with Robert Fyffe in the mid-19th century. Today, the whales around Kaikoura are protected, and the only physical structure that remains of those whaling stations is the Fyffe House — a distinctive pink cottage, located about halfway between the town center and Point Kean, which is now open to the public as a museum.

Peninsula Walk - Kaikoura

I think anyone who completes [even a part of] this track will see why Kaikoura had such an effect on me. If you have just one day to experience this part of New Zealand, this is a great way to spend it.

Hiking the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway

Level: The Peninsula Walkway is mostly flat, and classified as “easy” by the NZ Department of Conservation. (I didn’t even bother wearing proper walking shoes either time I did it, though you shouldn’t necessarily take that as a recommendation.)

Distance: The entire loop is 11 kilometers (6.8 miles), but it’s still worth doing a shorter section if you have time constraints, limited abilities, or just don’t feel like walking so far.

Parking: Car parks are available at both Point Kean and South Bay.

For more information, see NZ’s DOC website here.


Looking for some other great (but not so strenuous) walks in New Zealand? I’ve rounded up a few of my personal recommendations over here.

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Take the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, and experience one of the most stunning and vibrant coastal areas in New Zealand -- full of wildlife, culture, and history. Click through to find out more about Kaikoura and why this walk is such a great option, even if you only have a single day to spend. | Photo by Blake Lisk     This walk is a great way to experience the natural beauty, plentiful wildlife, and rich human history of the Kaikoura Peninsula, located on New Zealand's south island. The 11-kilometer track is classified as 'easy' by the NZ Department of Conservation and easily broken up into smaller sections if you prefer. Click through to learn a bit more.

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