The town of Kaikoura sits at the base of a peninsula that juts into the ocean from the east coast, and is backed by the steep Kaikoura mountain range. Take it all in from the 360-degree lookout by the water tower up on Scarborough Street. In addition to its spectacular scenery, Kaikoura is famous for the abundant marine life that gathers here because of offshore sea canyons and the meeting of subtropical and cold southern sea currents, which support a rich and complex underwater food chain. Sperm whales feed closer to shore at Kaikoura than anywhere else in the world. Humpbacks, pilot whales, and orca join them during seasonal migrations. You are most likely to see the whales between October and August, though the sperm whale lives here year-round. Joining the marine melee are dolphins and seals, and the birdlife is equally prolific. On a good day, Kaikoura is considered one of the world’s best places for watching pelagic (oceangoing) birds, such as albatross (many species), while Hutton’s Shearwaters, also oceanic travelers, nest only here, high in the craggy peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Range. Ecotourism, whale-watching and bird-watching cruises, and swimming with dolphins and seals have become the backbone of Kaikoura’s economy, attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Kaikoura's main street runs close to the coast, behind a high, stony bank, protected from stormy swells. On the southern shoreline of the peninsula, a few minutes’ drive away, is South Bay, the boarding point for whale-watching and dolphin-swimming operators.

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