Kaikoura is one of my favorite regions in New Zealand: tall mountains plunge into the sea filled with dolphins, seals and whales. A nature wonderland! One of the top things to do is the Kaikoura Peninsula walk walkway with impressive views from the bottom and top paths. Below is my guide to help you plan your trip and enjoy your Kaikoura peninsula walk.
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Why do a Kaikoura Peninsula Walk?
f you are stopping in Kaikoura to see the whales or swim with wild dolphins, I recommend blocking half a day to walk around the peninsula, just South of the town:
- It is home to the seal colony of Point Kean
- It offers a walk at sea-level around beautiful white rocks and cliffs
- Or you can head to the top of the cliffs for amazing views of the peninsula, the bays and the mountains.
- You can walk as little or as long as you want, even with just 10min you can have great views
- If you bring binoculars, you may spot dolphins or whales in the distance
Below are 2 of my pictures to show you what I mean 🙂
Many more photos after the practical information.
Planning tips - Kaikoura peninsula walkway New Zealand
Start to Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway
- Located in South Island, East coast
- The walk starts from the Point Kean car park, about 5 km south from the town centre
- Easy drive to the carpark - a good stop on your South Island itinerary
- There are no public transport from Kaikoura’s centre
- The Kaikoura peninsula is included in my eBooks, to help you plan an unforgettable road trip:
Be overwhelm by the beauty, not the planning!
- 12 easy-to-plan Maps
- 200 scenic locations in NZ
- Tips to plan + make the most of your time
- 285+ large photos to decide where to go
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
Completing the Kaikoura Peninsula Walk
- Free access
- Toilets at the Point Kean carpark and at the South Bay carparks
- Time: You can walk from 10 min to 3 or 4 hours - see next section for the walking times
If you take the top walk – once you climbed to the top very easy walk. Climb was a little steep but not too long ;
If you stay at sea level: it is rockier and not as easy to walk around
- Safety: Always leave some distance between you and the seal: They seem lazy but the can be fast!
- There many information points along the way to point out interesting features.
- Here you can find their very detailed brochure fo the Kaikoura peninsula walk
Planning to rent a car in New Zealand? Check out the local company Snap Rentals
I selected it myself and paid my rental in full. My experience:
- They were very nice and responsive, they pick you up and drop you off at the airport
- The car I rented was in perfect condition
- In addition, they have all-inclusive insurance packages with AAA roadside assistance, which means I didn't have to worry (I think it's worth the price)
Kaikoura peninsula walkway map & Times
Below is the map you can find at the beginning of the peninsula walkway :
The official walkway is the one at the top of the cliffs:
Next to the map the walking times and distances indicated are :
- Carpark to Point Kean viewpoint - 5min / 200m
- Point Kean viewpoint to Whalers Bay viewpoint - 25 min / 1.5km
- Whalers Bay viewpoint to South Bay viewpoint - 20min / 1.1km
- South Bay viewpoint to South Nay carpark - 15min / 600m
Option 1 - Short walk - climb to Point Kean viewpoint and back down
Option 2 - Walk the cliff walkway and back the same way (what I did the first time)
Option 3 - Half loop - Sea-level walk at low tide up to Whalers Bay, climb the 130 stairs up the cliffs and come back via the cliff walking track (what I did the second time - It took me 3 hours but with lots of photos and with me being a slow walker) - or you can do the opposite
Option 4 - Long Loop - Sea-level walk at low tide walk along the shore all the way to South point car park and return via the cliffs at higher tide
You can also download the brochure for the walk
Below is a short video of my half loop walk starting on the sea-level and coming back on the cliffs:
Point Kean seal colony
At the beginning of the walk, you can head towards the sea on the large flat area you see in front of you. This is Poiint Kean.
A seal colony lives in the area, so there is a great chance that you spot some seals resting on the rocks.
However they are wild animals, so I can't guaranty it...
About the New Zealand fur seals:
- Remember to stay at a distance, their flippers are strong and they can go fast on land even if they don't look like it!
- They are great swimmers (they are able to cross to Australia)
- They have 2 layers of fur
- They can dive deeper than 250m
- They can dive for up to 10min
- Males are massive around the neck and shoulders while females carry their weight around the lower body
- In Kaikoura they feed in the off-shore canyon. They enjoy lantern fish, squid and octopus
You can read more information on the signs at the carpark.
Best time to see the seals at Point Kean, Kaikoura
They can be seen all year but their numbers vary.
- You can see many males during Winter
- During the breeding seasons (Spring and Summer) they head to larger colonies such as Ohau Point
Short walk to Point Kean viewing platform
If you have a little big more time, you can climb the 5min to the Point Kean viewing platform.
If offers great views of the peninsula and the mountains dropping into the sea.
Below is the start of the Kaikoura peninsula walkway. As you can see there is to way to miss it 🙂
The path is well maintained:
And it offers great views of the mountain plunging into the sea:
Once at the viewing platforms, you can learn more about:
- The summits
- The land
- The geology with the uplifted sediments
- The history
From their you can walk back down to the carpark, or keep walking the peninsula walkway. From there it is easy and rather flat (but not paved).
The cliff walk at Kaikoura peninsula to Whalers Bay
Belows are a few pictures of the views that you can have as you walk towards or from Whalers Bay:
View from Whalers bay viewpoint:
About the whales in Kaikoura -
- Some sperm whales are resident
- You can also see migratory whales: Humpbacks, Blue whales...
- They enjoy the feeding ground that is the deep canyon off the coast
If you decide to not complete the cliff walk and use the stairs at this point to go up or down, make sure you walk just a few more minutes South on the cliffs for views of the neighouring bay. It is my favorite!
Staircase at Whalers Bay
From the sea-level walk, the staircase is not well indicated.
Just find the single pointy hill at the end of Whalers's bay and head behind it towards the cliff.
It starts as a track and ends as a staircase with 130 stairs.
Sea level Kaikoura coastal walk - photos
If you opt to walk at sea level, know that:
- There is some walking on rocks and in pebbles. It is not a flat easy path. The pebble sections are particularly tiring
- It is better to do it at low tide (especially for the second half), as some of the points must be walked around close to water and waves can come crashing
- But it allows you to see up close the sculpting of the limestone by the elements - twisted, layered...
Below are pictures of my Kaikoura coastal walk:
Geology of Kaikoura Peninsula - pre and post earthquake
- The land you are walking on used to be the sea bed.
- 15 millions year ago the earth curst movement, raised them up out of the sea.
- The Kaikoura peninsula used to he an island hundreds of thousands of years ago.
- But gravels rom the mountain filled the sea and it became a peninsula.
Between major earth movement and uplifts the wave shape and erode the land creating platforms.
At the top of the peninsula you are on the oldest platform and at the sea-level you are on the newest.
The crust keeps being lifted and it was significantly raised during the last big earthquake in 2016 revealing new land (note you can learn more about it at the Kaikoura museum in town)
Below are photos take before and after - however it is not possible to compare - the tide is different and the new land clearly identified in in the North shore of the peninsula (see difference here)
Want to see more of NEW ZEALAND?
Do you like walking along coastal cliffs?