On the road north from Christchurch and south from Picton….it’s the Kaikōura coast, a place full of New Zealand’s natural wonders offered by land and ocean, where the mountains meet the sea.
However you get there these days, coastal road or inland route, you’ll find a peninsula with a very special marine system, full of mammals and seabirds - a tremendous place to get close to this country’s beautiful nature offerings. Think whales, dolphins, fur seals, penguins, shearwaters, petrels and several species of albatross. They all live in, or pass by, the area.
It’s been a place of tough times recently, more on that later. But it’s hard to think of anywhere else around here where the power of nature can be so immediately seen and appreciated, and the bounty of this country so acknowledged and celebrated. We suggest you get there, if you can….
A place of history
There’s a lot of history around here, mostly to do with the sea. Back in 1770 Captain Cook discovered the Kaikōura peninsula, thinking it an island at first. Early European settlers used Kaikōura as a whaling station, beginning in 1843 and growing to be a bustling industry, before decline over time. And apparently remains of pots used to render whale blubber can be seen on the town foreshore.
Thankfully the only activity involving whales that happens around here now is whale watching….They say the sperm whale watching here is perhaps the best, and most developed, experience in the world - and don’t forget, there’s swimming with, or near, dolphins too.
But of course Kaikōura was an important settlement for early Māori, and long before Europeans arrived. Māori legend has it that Maui placed his foot on the Kaikōura peninsula to steady himself as he “fished up” the North Island. And, how appropriate, it’s still a place for fish and more marine life.
A modern origin for the name Kaikōura is Te Ahi Kaikōura a Tama ki Te Rangi (the fire that cooked the crayfish of Tama ki Te Rangi). That’s right, the name Kaikōura translates to a “meal of crayfish”, “kai” meaning “food or meal”, and “koura” meaning “crayfish, rock lobster”.
And so, you must seek a meal.
A meal of crayfish
The area around Kaikōura is always famous for abundant resources of crayfish. It’s known for that delicacy, as well as the whales. There’s a couple of quintessential roadside businesses, to love and enjoy the local seafood.
Hard to think of a more classic kiwi food experience…crayfish, and beer batter chips, and mussels, and whitebait, and tomato sauce - on the beach, at a picnic table, accompanied by seagulls. Watch out for those gulls, they’re cheeky…
These shaky isles
So find the classic experiences. There’s seafood, there’s ice cream, there’s coffee, there’s delicious goat’s cheese - and tremendous picnic spots.
And remember recent history…..this place is a place of shaking and damage. Just after midnight one night in November 2016, the Kaikōura region was struck by a severe magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The sea level, of the bay and surrounding region, was said to lift by as much as two metres. That’s big change, to a place that relies on the sea.
But, over time since then, there’s been a lot of work to rebuild badly damaged transport and other infrastructure. You can still see the workers on the roads, and on the cliff-sides. There’s some amazing work that’s been going on. And it’s fantastic that the town can still be reached and enjoyed.
A simple idea….
It's a fabulous crayfish meal by the sea, for lunch of course.
And then, for a perfect afternoon treat, try something as simple as perfect local goats cheese atop a slice of crispy pear - we highly recommend, but ate it too quickly to photograph it for you..... Delicious kiwi food moments indeed.
And for more….
For more on The FoodPath NZ’s handpicked eateries and artisans, for our collection of spot on New Zealand food moments, download our Food Travel Guide here.