Kaikōura (/kˈkɔːrə/) is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located on State Highway 1, 180 km north of Christchurch. The town has an estimated permanent resident population of 2,400 (as of June 2020).[1]

Town of Kaikōura as seen from the peninsula
Town of Kaikōura as seen from the peninsula
Kaikōura is located in New Zealand
Coordinates: 42°24′S 173°41′E / 42.40°S 173.68°E / -42.40; 173.68Coordinates: 42°24′S 173°41′E / 42.40°S 173.68°E / -42.40; 173.68
CountryNew Zealand
Territorial authorityKaikōura District
 • MayorCraig Mackle
 • Deputy MayorJulie Howden
 • Urban
6.78 km2 (2.62 sq mi)
 • District2,046.77 km2 (790.26 sq mi)
 (June 2020)[1]
 • Urban
 • Urban density350/km2 (920/sq mi)
 • District
 • District density2.1/km2 (5.3/sq mi)
District Postcode(s)
City Postcode

The town is the governmental seat of the territorial authority of the Kaikōura District, which is politically a part of the Canterbury region.[2] Kaikōura was the first local authority in the Southern Hemisphere to achieve recognition by the EarthCheck Community Standard.[3]

The infrastructure of Kaikōura was heavily damaged in the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, which caused two deaths in the area. The bay and surrounding region were uplifted by as much as 2 metres.


Maori have long been resident in Kaikoura and archeological evidence of moa bones suggesting that they hunted moa there. After the moa numbers declined, Kaikoura was still an attractive place to live with its abundance of sea food. Ngāi Tahu had been resident in the Kaikoura area since at least 1670.[4] Numerous sites are located around Kaikoura. The numbers vary between 14 and 40.[5][6]

Captain James Cook saw Kaikoura in 1770 but did not land there. He reported seeing four double hulled canoes approaching the Endeavour containing 57 Maori.[7][8]

In 1827 or 1828, Kaikoura was the site of a battle between the Ngati Toa (lead by Te Rauparaha) and Ngāi Tahu. Several hundred Ngāi Tahu were killed or captured.[7] Ngāi Tahu were surprised by the Ngati Toa raiding party as they were expecting a visit from Ngati Kahungunu with whom they were friends.[4]

A whaling station was first established by Robert Fyffe in 1842 at Kaikoura. John Guard and his family joined Fyffe sometime between 1844 and 1846. 40 men were employed at the whaling station initially. In 1845, he purchased a second whaling station at South Bay. This second whaling station (Fyffe's Village) became the commercial centre of Kaikoura until 1867. Fyffe diversified into shipping and farming due to the decline in whale numbers.[9] The Marlborough Express newspaper commented in 1866 that “whales seemed to have abandoned coming to Kaikoura.[8] The Whaling stations continued until 1922.[7]

The New Zealand government purchased land north of Kaikoura from Ngati Toa in 1847. This was challenged by Ngāi Tahu who said that Ngati Toa had no right to sell land that did not belong to them. In 1857, the New Zealand Government made an offer for land between the Ashley and Waiau rivers for 200 pounds which was signed by Ngāi Tahu. Other land deals were completed in the area leaving small reserves for local Maori. These reserves were reduced after 1900 when the New Zealand government compulsorily acquired further land for the proposed railway and "scenic" purposes.[4]

From the 1850s, land that had been acquired was sold to European settlers who most often started sheep farms in the area. Many small blocks were sold around the Kaikoura peninsula and in the 1870s roads and bridges were built. A small wharf was completed in 1863. The inland Kaikoura road to Rotherham was completed by 1888. The road which became state highway 1 was started in the 1890s across the Hundalee Hills with bridges across the rivers completed in 1914.[4]

From 1853 to 1876, Kaikōura was administered as part of the Nelson Province. In 1876, Kaikoura County was formed. A total of 59 Norfolk pine trees were planted from 1900 along the Esplanade. These now have "protected trees" status from the Kaikoura District Council.[5]

The population increased as a result of the extensive works required to built the railway in 1935. In December 1945, The Christchurch to Picton railway line was officially opened at Kaikoura. 5000 people came out to celebrate the occasion.[10] The population fell slightly after the railway was completed.[4]

Between 1945 and 1960, over-fishing had led to a decline in the crayfish numbers.[4]

In 1962 the "roll on roll off" car ferry between Wellington and Picton brought more visitors to Kaikoura.[10][11] There was only one motel (with 40 beds) prior to 1962.[4]

There are reports that between 1963 and 1964, 248 sperm whales in Kaikoura waters were killed during the last of the whaling activity in New Zealand.[8]

Kaikoura struggled during the 1970s economically. In 1975 there were 304 motel beds and a further 500 camp ground beds and hotel beds. The Marlborough Regional Development Council noted that there was investment in accommodation but not in tourist attractions at this time.[4]

By 1975 the decline in crayfish numbers had extended to other fish species. In 1975 there were 97 registered fishing vessels operating out of Kaikoura.[4]

The restructuring of the economy following the election of the Labour government in 1984 also affected Kaikoura adversely. Farm incomes dropped. Public sector employment was affected badly. There were 170 jobs lost in a town of 3000.[4]

In 1985 a group of local Kaikoura people established a tourist centre and began promoting Kaikoura as a tourist destination. The focus at that stage was on the walking opportunities and the scenery.[4]

Whales came to the economic rescue of Kaikoura in 1987. Local Maori leaders were concerned about local unemployment and mortgaged their houses to buy a 6.7 metre boat to start up a whale watching business to see the local sperm whales. In the first year of business, 3000 tourists took the opportunity to see whales. This has greatly expanded to more than 100,000 per annum.[12][13][8]

Funding was announced in 2013 to rebuild the 100 year old Kaikoura Hospital.[14] It was completed in April 2016. The new building provides space for general practice, physiotherapy, dental, optometry as well as maternity, radiology and medical/trauma stabilisation and resuscitation facilities.[15] It cost $13.4 million to complete.[16]

Kaikoura Civic Centre with the distinctive wooden craypot (2021)

The Kaikoura Civic Centre was completed in 2016. It has a distinctive large "cray pot" on the outside of the building[17] which represents Kaikoura's connection to the sea.[18] It contains offices for the Kaikoura District Council, Kaikoura Library and Kaikoura Museum. A third floor was approved by the Kaikoura District Council in 2011 and the cost rose which led to complaints from rate payers and submissions to the Long Term Plan in 2012 requesting restraint in spending.[19][20][21] Long term, finances for the Kaikoura District Council have been suggested to be tenuous.[22]

On 14 November 2016 a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the South Island just after midnight. It left two people dead and triggered a small tsunami. One thousand tourists and hundreds of residents were stranded in Kaikōura after the earthquake cut off train and vehicle access.[23][24] New Zealand Air Force helicopters ferried many people out of Kaikoura initially[25] with the New Zealand navy sending HMNZS Canterbury to ferry many hundreds of tourists out.[26]

1700 construction workers completed two million man hours to repair the quake-damaged route along State Highway 1 after the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake. It reopened on December 15, 2017.[27] The repairs included fixing almost 200 kilometres of damaged road and a similar amount of railway line. The repairs cost $1.1 billion.[28]

A $35 million 4.5 star hotel is due to open in September 2021. Progress was slowed on the hotel due to the loss of international tourists because of the Covid-19 virus. It is expected to have 118 bedrooms and provide economic stimulus to Kaikoura.[29][30]

The rebuild after the 2016 earthquake had replaced or upgraded many of Kaikoura District Council's assets. These included replacing the oldest water mains built in the 1920s and many roads. This has left Kaikoura better placed financially in 2021 than many councils as they do not have to replace these in the next 30 years as part of their long term planning.[31]


Iconic sperm whale and mountain ranges

The stretch of coastline stretching roughly between the mouths of the Conway and Waiau Toa / Clarence Rivers is generally known as the Kaikōura Coast. This coast is unusual for the South Island east coast, as there is very little coastal plain, with the Seaward Kaikōura Range, a branch of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, rising straight from the ocean.

The town of Kaikōura itself has a beautiful setting, with the Seaward Kaikōuras as a backdrop. Because of this, there are many walking tracks up and through the mountains. A common one for tourists is the Mt. Fyffe track, which winds up Mt. Fyffe, and gives a panoramic view of the Kaikōura peninsula from the summit.

Mt. Fyffe owes its name to the first European family to settle in Kaikōura, the Fyffe family. The cottage that they lived in, built in 1842, still stands, and is now a tourist attraction operated by Heritage New Zealand. The construction of the cottage is unusual in that the supporting foundations of the house are made of whalebone.[32]

The Kaikōura Peninsula extends into the sea south of the town, and the resulting upwelling currents bring an abundance of marine life from the depths of the nearby Hikurangi Trench. The town owes its origin to this effect, since it developed as a centre for the whaling industry. The name Kaikōura means 'meal of crayfish' (kai – food/meal, kōura – crayfish)[33] and the crayfish industry still plays a role in the economy of the region. However Kaikōura has now become a popular tourist destination, mainly for whale watching (the sperm whale watching is well developed) and swimming with or near dolphins. There is also a large and readily observed colony of southern fur seals at the eastern edge of the town. At low tide, better viewing of the seals can be had as the ocean gives way to a rocky base which is easily navigable by foot for quite some distance.

It is also one of the best reasonably accessible places in the world to see open ocean seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, including the Hutton's shearwater which nests high in Kaikōura mountains. A strategic plan for the future of the Kaikoura Coast is being developed by Te Korowai o te Tai o Marokura, the Kaikōura Coastal Guardians.[34][35]


Climate data for Kaikōura
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 20.6
Average low °C (°F) 12.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 47
Source: NIWA Climate Data[36]


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.
Source: [37]

Kaikōura District had a population of 3,912 at the 2018 New Zealand census, an increase of 360 people (10.1%) since the 2013 census, and an increase of 291 people (8.0%) since the 2006 census. There were 1,458 households. There were 1,998 males and 1,911 females, giving a sex ratio of 1.05 males per female. Of the total population, 630 people (16.1%) were aged up to 15 years, 600 (15.3%) were 15 to 29, 1,848 (47.2%) were 30 to 64, and 831 (21.2%) were 65 or older. Figures may not add up to the total due to rounding.

Ethnicities were 86.0% European/Pākehā, 18.4% Māori, 0.8% Pacific peoples, 4.1% Asian, and 2.6% other ethnicities. People may identify with more than one ethnicity.

The percentage of people born overseas was 15.7, compared with 27.1% nationally.

Although some people objected to giving their religion, 49.5% had no religion, 38.9% were Christian, and 4.3% had other religions.

Of those at least 15 years old, 417 (12.7%) people had a bachelor or higher degree, and 738 (22.5%) people had no formal qualifications. The median income was $32,400. The employment status of those at least 15 was that 1,806 (55.0%) people were employed full-time, 564 (17.2%) were part-time, and 39 (1.2%) were unemployed.[37]


At the 2013 census, the largest employment industries in the Kaikōura District were accommodation and food services (19.5%), agriculture, forestry and fishing (17.7%) and retail trade (11.5%).[38]


In Maori mythology, Kaikoura Peninsula (Taumanu o te Waka o Maui) was the seat where Maui sat when he fished the North Island (Te Ika a Maui) up from the depths of the sea.[7]

Takahanga Marae, a marae (tribal meeting ground) of Ngāi Tahu and its Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura branch, is located in Kaikōura. It includes the Maru Kaitatea wharenui (meeting house).[39][40]


Local governance historyEdit

At a provincial level, the area of Kaikōura initially belonged to the Nelson Province. When the Marlborough Province split off from the Nelson Province, Kaikōura became part of that new province, with the Conway River the new southern boundary. Provincial government was abolished at the end of 1876, and counties were formed instead.[41]

Kaikōura was from 1877 governed by Kaikoura County.[42] The county's boundary was adjusted northwards in 1940 to take over most of the East Coast Riding of Awatere County. There were also desires for land from Cheviot County to transfer to Kaikoura County, but the petition lapsed. In 1952, there were moves for a borough to be formed for Kaikōura township, but the underlying concerns from which the initiative resulted were addressed in different ways and no borough was formed. A 1971 scheme to form a Hurunui County would have seen Kaikoura County lose the area south of the Hundalee Hills, but this did not proceed.[43]

The 1989 local government reforms disestablished all counties, and district and regional councils were formed instead. Kaikōura District was formed in the process, with the land south of the Hundalee Hills transferred to Hurunui District as per the 1971 proposal. At a regional level, Kaikōura belonged to the Nelson-Marlborough Regional Council. When the regional council was disestablished in 1992 after only three years and its functions went to the unitary authorities of Nelson City Council, Tasman District Council, and Marlborough District Council, Kaikōura transferred to the Canterbury Regional Council. In 1993, an elector-initiated appeal wanted the northern 59% of Kaikōura District to be transferred to Marlborough District, but this was rejected by the Local Government Commission. There was a further elector-initiated proposal for Kaikoura District to merge with Hurunui District, but the Local Government Commission rejected this in 2009.[43]

In terms of its provincial anniversary holiday, Kaikōura observes the anniversary of Marlborough Province due to its historic association. This meant that the public holiday established through the Canterbury Earthquake Commemoration Day Act 2011 did not apply in Kaikōura District as it only applied to the area where the Canterbury Anniversary Day is observed.[44]

Kaikōura DistrictEdit

Kaikōura District has a land area of 2,046.41 km² (790.12 sq mi) and an estimated population of inhabitants; which includes other populated places within the district (aside from Kaikōura):

Provincial representationEdit

The town of Kaikōura was represented through an elected representative of the Amuri electorate on the Nelson Provincial Council. From 1860, the area was represented on the Marlborough Provincial Council first through the Flaxbourne and Clarence electorate, then the Clarence electorate, and finally the Awatere electorate.[42]


A dusky dolphin leaping near a Kaikōura beach

The town is on State Highway 1 and the northern section of the South Island Main Trunk Railway.


Kaikōura also has a small sealed airstrip located 6 km south of the main centre. Kaikoura Airport is mainly used for whale spotting tourist flights but it can also be used by small private and charter flights. It previously had return flights to Wellington and Christchurch operated by Sounds Air. A new service to Wellington has since been started with Air Kaikoura.


Kaikōura is served by the Main North Line, the northern section of the South Island Main Trunk Railway. The line opened north of Kaikōura on 13 March 1944, while the line south of the town opened on 15 December 1945, the latter completing the full line Christchurch to Picton.[45]

Kaikōura is served by the Coastal Pacific long-distance passenger train, formerly called the TranzCoastal, which connects the town with Christchurch to the south, Picton and the Cook Strait ferries to the north. Kaikoura Station was the last station in New Zealand to have a refreshment room for passengers, which closed in 1988 when the Coastal Pacific Express (former name for the TranzCoastal) introduced on-board refreshments.

Freight trains also pass through the town, mainly carrying freight between the marshalling yards at Middleton in Christchurch and the Interislander rail ferries at Picton.

The Main North Line (Picton to Christchurch, passing through Kaikōura) suffered damage in the November 2016 earthquake and was closed for repairs, re-opening to freight traffic on 15 September 2017. The Coastal Pacific is expected to resume running once all repairs are completed in mid 2018.[46]




The main newspapers for Kaikōura are the Wednesday weekly Kaikoura Star and Monday to Friday late morning daily The Marlborough Express. The early morning Monday-Saturday Christchurch based daily The Press is also available. These papers are all owned by Fairfax New Zealand


Kaikōura has three locally transmitted radio stations on FM. These are More FM Marlborough (formerly Sounds FM) broadcast from Blenheim during the day and Auckland at night, Blue FM which is a locally broadcast Kaikōura station, and Tahu FM broadcast from Christchurch. Non local transmissions of the following stations can be received: The Breeze (Wellington AM/FM), Radio New Zealand National (Wellington AM/FM), ZM (Wellington and Christchurch FM), Radio Hauraki (Christchurch).


Movies are shown at the Mayfair cinema (opened 1935), located on the Esplanade, and historically known for its carbon arc movie projector. In November 2013 the cinema went digital. It closed after the earthquake and reopened in November 2020.[47] As well as two movie screens, it has space for art exhibitions.[30]



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  3. ^ "Green Globe". Kaikoura District Council. Archived from the original on 21 March 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2008.
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  34. ^ Kaikoura Coastal Marine Values and Uses A Characterisation Report. Te Korowai o Te Tai o Marokura (Kaikoura Coastal Marine Guardians). Second edition May 2008.
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External linksEdit