In a country of mountains and sea, nowhere else quite caps the contrast like Kaikoura. Those glistening mountains tumble directly into the ocean and as the tourist brochures are keen to re-iterate, Kaikoura is where ‘the mountains meet the sea.’
The Kaikoura Peninsula walk kicks off with seals right off the bat. But it's the classic New Zealand lookout that is the jewel in the crown. It takes your breath away - as the reviews show. More seals than you can poke a stick at. Enjoy!
The two main access points for the walkway are at the Peninsula carpark (Kaimokehu or Point Kean) and South Bay. South Bay is heavier on the interpretation and facilities.
The Peninsula or Point Kean carpark is at the road end from Kaikoura township. Follow the Esplanade, Avoca Street and Fyffe Quay 4.5 km from the i-site to the carpark and seal colony.
South Bay is signposted on the left 1.8 km south of the township along SH1. Continue 2 km to the parking area by the shelter (with toilets) and interpretation panels.
The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway loops around the whale’s tail. In a commendable effort by the district council and their partners a detailed series of interpretation panels not only gives insight on the natural and human histories, but is well-embellished with photographs, both old and new.
The various parties who have developed the walkway have poured a great deal of thought, time and money into developing a highly informative suite of interpretation panels, which complement the incredible scenery. Their initiative is to be commended, as this is a superb celebration of a town, it’s history, scenery and people, embodied in a walk.
While most visitors to Kaikoura will pay over $100 for a trip to see whales and listen to commentaries read from an operations manual, they will miss the essence of the place, which rests on its geology (both above and below water), Maori and early European whaling history and land based views. All these are amply described with the wealth of informative detail and good stock of black and white photos sourced mainly from the Kaikoura Museum.
The track can be divided into three sections, each of around 1 hour. Point Kean carpark to South Bay, South Bay to Kaikoura town centre and Kaikoura town centre to the start.
Initially the track climbs to the first of several lookouts – the Point Kean Lookout. There are fine views of the ocean and Seaward Kaikoura Range.
The track is mostly marked with poles, many with maps showing where you are. Follow these and you can’t go too wrong. The track mainly crosses farmland, which can be muddy after rain. It’s perched on the clifftops above the inter-tidal rock platform. The best chance to explore this is after 30 minutes, where there’s a 20 minute return detour to the coast at Whalers Bay. Look for the indentations in the grass where whaleboats were formerly parked. Be careful of nesting seabirds, especially in spring and early summer.
A metalled section of track then leads down to South Bay, where there’s a toilet, some lurid carving and detailed interpretation. This last 5 minutes is suitable for wheelchairs and looks over Limestone Bay.
Continue to the site of the old whaling station and past the fishing boats. The life of Kaikoura fishermen continues here. The only place the marking is confusing is after this point. 100 metres after the last pole, look for the small green sign which points to Kaikoura. This now ascends on a metalled track through farmland to Scarborough Street.
The main walkway descends to the township via Tom’s Track, however to keep you off the main streets and up high, head right along Scarborough Street. This also accesses the remains of Nga Niho Pa. These are the best views of Kaikoura, the sea and mountains. Dempseys Track then nips down the terrace to Torquay Street, just after the short detour to the Kaikoura lookout on the right.
On Torquay Street head right, which joins Avoca Street and leads to Fyffe House on the corner, complete with an old chimney for the old wharf shed and whalebone fencepost. Passing Armers Bay, (the only suitable swimming beach and with toilets) the track returns to Point Kean carpark.
There’s also the possibility of walking around the base of the cliffs. This is a great excuse to explore rock pools, but beware of the tides. This walk will take around 2 ½ hours one-way to South Bay, so you should leave no later than low tide on an incoming tide and wait until mid tide on the outgoing. The section nearest Limestone Beach is where the cliffs are closest to shore and you may get caught.
Snow-covered for much of the year, the Seaward Kaikouras are a series of ridges running south-west to north-east, capped by Manakau (2608 metres). The ocean they meet is the raison d’etre for Kaikoura in both Pre-European and the colonial eras.
By a quirk of geological fate, the Indo-Australian and Pacific tectonic plates meet right at Kaikoura. The theories of plate tectonics and continental drift postulate that the surface of the Earth is formed of 11 crustal plates, which move and jostle for position relative to each other. The Indo-Australian plate and Pacific plate battle it out in New Zealand, both on land and at sea. A deep oceanic trench only a few kilometres off shore forms an underwater canyon known as the Hikurangi Trench. This is the catalyst for upwelling of nutrients from the deep.
Most of the limestones and sandstones of Kaikoura were formed 100-60 million years ago in a sub-marine basin. The overlying layers compacted those below to form rocks, which were uplifted around 15 million years ago. Most recent penetrations on the surface have only been in existence for 180,000 years.
Over the last 125,000 years a succession of wave-cut platforms has been chiselled into the rocks, a response to tectonic uplift and coastal erosion. From the highest viewpoints on the walkway three distinct profiles are visible relating to terraces 125,000, 40,000 and the most recent 1,000 years old. The geological dynamism is also demonstrated by the fact the peninsula was originally an island. Outwash debris eroded from the mountains has been brought down by the Hapuku and Kowhai Rivers, filling the channel and joining it to the mainland.
The original vegetation of the peninsula would have been a podocarp forest dominated by matai and totara with an understorey of kowhai, mahoe, ngaio, titoki. On the bluffs native lilac and Marlborough rock daisy would have clung to the exposed rocks. With the advent of pastoralism nearly all the peninsula’s vegetation was burned and stock munched the delicate cliff plants. Revegetation programmes are now underway with fragile areas fenced. To avoid further degradation, keep to the track.
Kaikoura lies at the meeting of several oceanic currents. Warm saline currents from the tropics and cooler nutrient rich water associated with the Southland Current from the south, intermingle and draw water to the surface, a marine larder stocked with phytoplankton and zooplankton. Krill such as Munida gregaria feed on this abundance and their vast numbers attract fish and higher predators. These include dolphins, seals, toothed whales and the sperm whales, for which Kaikoura is now famous.
Hutton’s shearwaters (titi) use the peninsula to nest. They spend 6 months at sea, then return to Kaikoura to breed. The region is the only place in the world they choose to breed, with sites on the peninsula, the headwaters of the Kowhai River and the Puhi Puhi Valley. They arrive in August, lay eggs in October, then after fledging migrate to the warmer climes of Australia for the winter. Juveniles spend s a few years in exile, before returning to breed.
The seal colony at Point Kean seems to co-exist harmoniously with the humdrum of 250,000 annual visitors. Cars and seals are parked next to each other. Keep at least 10 metres away from the seals and stay landward side. They can chase and bite, so beware! And they carry syphilis.
According to Maori traditions, Kaikoura peninsula was the spot Maui braced his foot while fishing up the North Island. The area is known as Te taumanu o te waka a Maui, the thwart of Maui’s canoe. Kaikoura literally translates as meal of crayfish (kai = food, koura = crayfish), a name bestowed by Tamaki-te-rangi when he ate here during the chase of his estranged wives. Over 15 pa sites are noted around the peninsula probably occupied for short times by a succession of Waitaha, Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu. The return route along Scarborough Street passes Nga Niho Pa, although little remains of the site’s contours.
This abundance of whales not only attracted Maori to the area, but was the catalyst for European settlement. In 1845 Robert Fyffe started shore whaling at ‘Waiopuka’, with other stations soon established in South Bay. Fyffe House still stands, anchored on solid whalebone piles. Yes, Kaikoura is a town literally built on whales.
South Bay was also known as Fyffe’s Village. It was the social focus of the area but suffered a setback when Robert Fyffe drowned in 1854. His cousin George took over running the enterprise. From the 1840s to 1910 whalers went to sea in open 7-man clinker boats, with hulls painted blue to camouflage them from whales below. Their gear included a harpoon, lance and 100 fathoms of neatly coiled rope. From 1908 chasers became motorised, a relief for the crew who previously rowed, towing their 25 tonne cargo. The relief was short-lived as the industry soon slumped with a decrease in whale numbers.
At Whalers Bay, grooves in the grass behind the beach are the physical symbols of where boats were hauled ashore. Spotters would use the clifftop to spy whales, attracting the waiting crews at Atia Point with the cliché ‘There she blows.’
Ironically, in a town built on whales, the peninsula when viewed from above resembles the fluke of whale’s tail.
South Island ▷ Kaikoura Region ▷ Kaikoura
Showing 13 reviews of 156.
15Oct18. Very windy and chilly! A nice walk all the same. The last time we did it was April 2014 and it was warm and sunny.
We walked along the top to Whalers Bay then down the cliff path and back along the beach. Keep to the non maintained path and avoid the bird colonies that are close to the path in some places. They don’t like us being there! We were seen off in no uncertain terms.
This coastal walk is really nice, lots of seals and birds.
Tip : don't make a circular walk from the city, as advised in the i-site. You can park either in south bay, either near point Kean. From there, can bee nice to first walk on the cliffs, to enjoy the stunning view, then come back near the shore, to approach the seals : Check first at the i-site for the tide and weather info.
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Windy as but worth it.
The walk around the peninsula of Kaikoura is wonderful, with nice views of the mountains and beaches. You can see sea lions and birds - really awesome.
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Beautiful walk. Possibility to see seals.
Nice to see seals in their own environment, great view around Kaikoura - such a nice walk!
Awesome walk, follow the beach. Be aware of the tides. Saw some seals, at least 20.
Easy walk with spectacular views and amazing animals.
The walk atop the cliff are a sight to behold. It is very well maintained and nice.
Go there to see many seals and birds. The place is quite packed but worth the trip.
Nice spot for walking but a bit short.
Great walk, well sign posted with lots of information provided en route as to significance of buildings, structures etc. Good wildlife to see en route.
We saw seals and had a wonderful walk on the peninsula. We loved it so much we stayed and did the walk twice.
Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍