The small town of Kaikoura enjoys a pretty setting in the lee of the Kaikoura Peninsula, wedged between the mountains and the ocean. Offshore, the sea bed drops away rapidly to the Kaikoura Canyon – 1000 metres deep a kilometre from land – a phenomenon that brings sea mammals in big and varied numbers. Whale watching and swimming with dolphins are big business here, and the presence of expectant tourists has spawned a number of eco-oriented businesses offering swimming with seals, sea kayaking and hiking.
The town's aquatic activities are very popular and visitors often book well in advance to be sure of getting a place. Unfortunately, because trips are in the open ocean the sea easily chops up in bad weather and trips quite often get cancelled. If you don't want to miss out, allow yourself a couple of days' flexibility here.