Introduction

Observe seals and seabirds, explore historic pa and whaling sites and enjoy clifftop vistas from sea to mountain peaks. There are a range of shorter tracks to explore, or to fully enjoy all the features, allow at least three hours for the whole walkway.

Track overview

200 m - 11.7 km

Walking and tramping

5 min - 3 hr Easy: Walking track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

View to South Bay.
View to South Bay

The track crosses the Peninsula’s cliff top, with excellent views of the Seaward Kaikoura Range, ocean and coastline, to South Bay. It returns to the township via South Bay and Toms Track.

Distinctive marker posts and, at some locations, interpretation signs link a loop walkway, from West End the town centre, to Point Kean car park.

To fully explore and enjoy the features of the walk, allow at least three hours to complete the whole walkway.

Map of Kaikoura Peninsula walkway (PDF, 212K)

Point Kean car park to Point Kean viewpoint

Time: 5 min
Distance: 200 m

A five-minute walk up the hill from the car park takes you to a lookout platform. This platform, designed in the shape of a waka, affords an excellent view of both the sea and the mountains. Here, interpretation panels provide stories of the land, the sea and the people who lived here.

From the car park when the tide is low, you are able to explore the open tidal platforms. You may see wading birds, such as oystercatchers and reef herons, feeding on the platforms. Shags are common also, and blue penguins may be seen bobbing just offshore.

View of Kaikouras from walkway. Photo: Patricia Devine.
View of Kaikouras from walkway

Just off the tidal platforms is an excellent diving area for those who want a closer look at the marine life.

Seaweeds, both small and large, thrive in the nutrientrich waters of the Kaikoura coastline. In the many rock pools, shellfish, anemones, shrimps, triplefins and rockfish can be seen, although the fish may be hiding to avoid stalking birds.

This is also an excellent snorkelling area for those who want a closer look at the marine life.

You may notice patterns on the rock surface, as if a mini water-blaster has been at work. These are left by limpets grazing on algae when the tide is in, or at night.

One species always returns to the same place to await the tide’s return. Over time it modifies the rock to fit its particular shell-shape, thus minimising water loss.

South Bay car park to Limestone Bay

Time: 5 min
Distance: 250 m

At South Bay, a fully accessible path from the car park takes you to Limestone Bay. The elevated walkway above the tidal platform gives wonderful coastal views and allows you to smell the ocean and watch the birds.

Limestone Bay to South Bay viewpoint

Time: 10 min
Distance: 350 m

A 10-minute climb up to a viewpoint on the cliff top rewards you with superb views of tidal platforms, cliff formations and Haumuri Bluffs to the south.

South Bay viewpoint to South Bay car park

Time: 15 min
Distance: 600 m

From the South Bay viewpoint, the Walkway descends to a fully accessible path that leads to an information shelter and toilets at South Bay. Before descending to South Bay, linger to view the tidal platforms and the view south. The interpretation panel here has a landscape profile identifying the mountain peaks and Goose Bay.

Whalers Bay side-trip

Time: 20 min return
Distance: 200 m

Staircase to Whalers Bay.
Staircase to Whalers Bay

A 10-minute track follows a former whalers’ route down the cliff to the shoreline. A prominent feature in this area is known as “The Sugarloaf”. To prevent further erosion to this landmark, please refrain from climbing it.

Seabirds, seals, walkers, divers, crayfish floats and fishing boats all lend their own flavour to the view. Out to sea, you may see scores of seabirds feeding frantically on small fish herded to the surface by bigger fish or dolphins. Please take great care to avoid disturbing any wildlife along the shoreline as there are large colonies of birds in the area. These are particularly vulnerable to disturbance during the breeding season over summer.

Return back up via the same cliff track, as tides or seals along the shoreline may prevent you from returning to the car park.

Interpretation on the cliff top overlooking “The Sugarloaf” describes the point below as “Bird City” — the largest red-billed gull colony in the South Island. From here, whalers kept a vigil over the sea, looking out for their quarry. Around the corner in Whalers Bay was the launching point for the whalers’ boats.

Whalers Bay viewpoint to South Bay viewpoint

Time: 20 min
Distance: 1.1 km

On the sea cliffs near this section of the Walkway, DOC is working to establish a new colony of Hutton’s shearwater. If you are walking this section in summer, you may see large rafts of these birds sitting on the water. At nightfall, these birds, after feeding at sea all day, return to their breeding colonies high up in the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. An interpretation panel further explains the work being undertaken to establish a colony on the Kaikoura Peninsula.

Point Kean viewpoint to Whalers Bay viewpoint

Time: 25 min
Distance: 1.5 km

Beyond the lookout platform, follow the track along the cliff top for superb views of rugged cliff formations, tidal platforms and the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

An interpretation panel on this section of the Walkway explains that, hundreds of years ago, the Peninsula was forested with many species of native New Zealand trees and plants. Most of this vegetation was removed during successive waves of human development, leaving small, remnant outcrops of hardy shrubs and plants clinging to the steep cliff faces.

Kaikoura town centre to Point Kean car park

Time: 50 min
Distance: 4.4 km

From the town centre, follow the footpath and road verge along The Esplanade, Avoca Street and Fyffe Quay to Point Kean. On the way, look out for the interpretation signs on The Esplanade opposite Brighton and Margate Streets, telling stories of “Life on the Edge”, a community living by the sea — the land, the sea and the people. At Avoca Street, the sign takes you back to 1909, when the new wharf was built. Near Fyffe House, a sign details the early European settlement in Kaikoura and, at nearby Armers Beach, the story tells of the importance this site holds for the local community, both past and present, for the shelter it provides.

Seal resting at Point Kean carpark. Photo: Markus Baumann.
Seal resting at Point Kean carpark

As you approach Point Kean car park, you will notice several signs warning that seals are likely to be present in the surrounding area. Most of the seals in the car park are males. They may appear to be harmless; however, they are capable of becoming aggressive if disturbed and can inflict a nasty, infectious bite.

The seals on the rocky platforms out from the car park are females and their pups. These females have recently begun breeding at this location. For your safety and to avoid disturbing the seals, please remain 10 metres from any seal in the vicinity of the car park. Along the rest of the Kaikoura Coast, 20 metres is the recommended distance to keep away from a seal. There are no toilets at the car park. The nearest toilet is at Armers Beach.

South Bay to Kaikoura town centre via Scarborough Street

Time: 1 hr 5 min
Distance: 3.9 km

From the South Bay shelter, return to Kaikoura town centre by following the marker posts along the coast towards the marina. Follow the marker posts to South Bay Parade and cross to South Bay Track, walk up the hill, cross Scarborough Street and walk down Toms Track to return to The Esplanade.

Management of the walkway

The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway is a joint community project, shared among Whale Watch Kaikoura, Te Runanga o Kaikoura, Kaikoura District Council and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

Whale Watch Kaikoura and Te Runanga o Kaikoura allow access over private land for parts of the Walkway; Kaikoura District Council manages the urban sections, including Toms Track and Dempseys Track; the remainder is managed by DOC.

Getting there

Kaikoura lies almost midway between Picton (154 km) and Christchurch (183 km) on the east coast of the South Island. Regular bus and train services pass through the town.

There is no scheduled public transport from Kaikoura to the Walkway.

Nature and conservation

Geology

Kaikoura Peninsula is made of limestone and siltstone laid down beneath the sea about 60 million years ago; it has been exposed to the elements for a mere 180,000 years. Once an island, it is now linked to the mainland by debris eroded from the Kaikoura mountains, These mountains are rising faster than any other mountains in New Zealand (10 mm per year) but erosion keeps their height fairly constant.

Tidal limestone platform. Photo: Chip Warren.
Tidal limestone platform

Periods of rapid uplift have formed the steep-sided promontories, ideal for pa sites, and have twisted the neatly layered limestone into unusual shapes. The relatively young rocks have been worn into many interesting forms by the pounding sea. In less active periods, the sea has cut large tidal platforms in the softer sandstone.

Offshore is a very deep underwater canyon system called the Hikurangi Trench. It comes unusually close to shore at Kaikoura, where it is known as the Kaikoura Canyon. The canyon floor collects sediments that will form tomorrow’s rocks and may appear in millions of years’ time as new mountains.

Marine life

Variety is said to be the spice of life, and nowhere is this saying truer than at Kaikoura Peninsula.

Seaweed and limpets in rock pool. Photo: Chip Warren.
Seaweed and limpets in rock pool

Jutting out around 4 km from the shore and sculpted by numerous rocky headlands and small, semi-sheltered embayments, the Peninsula presents a wide variety of aspects depending on the weather. Rocky outcrops, wavecut mudstone platforms incised with guts and channels and tortured-looking limestone reefs are interspersed with boulder reefs and small, crescent-shaped, stony beaches. The reefs, so prominent at low tide, continue for hundreds of metres offshore, eventually breaking up into flat expanses of pebbles, which eventually terminate in sand and mud further offshore

The Peninsula is a biological nodal point, a place where “north meets south” or, more accurately, where “warm meets cold”. Here, the distributions of typically northern and southern species overlap — the seaweeds show a strong southern affinity, while the animals show a warmer, more northern influence. Add to this the rich variety of intertidal and sub-tidal habitats, and you have one of the most biologically diverse locations of the entire east coast of the South Island.

Firmly anchored to the rocks, bull kelp forms a distinctive fringe along the low-tide mark, its dense mass of leathery fronds swirling snake-like in the waves. Kelp and numerous other seaweeds thrive in the pulsating light zone of Kaikoura’s nutrient-rich coastal waters and, along with phytoplankton (microscopic plants), form the beginning of the marine food chain. Koura (crayfish) shelter in rocky crevices and under boulders around much of the Peninsula; these are some of Kaikoura’s best known marine creatures and lend their name to the town. Ranging from barnacles, limpets and crabs to paua, sponges and fish, the multitude of marine animals found at Kaikoura Peninsula is simply remarkable.

Hutton's shearwater.
Hutton's shearwater

Conservation management

On the sea cliffs near Whalers Bay viewpoint on the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, DOC and the Hutton's Shearwater Charitable Trust is establishing a new colony of the endangered Hutton's Shearwater. Kaikoura is the only place on earth where these unique sea birds breed.

Predator-proof fence around Hutton's shearwater colony site.
Predator-proof fence around Hutton's
shearwater colony site

Between 2004 and 2008, 300 Hutton's shearwater chicks were brought down from their mountain colonies to the new site. The chicks were fed in artificial burrows for up to a month, ensuring that they would return to the new site to breed. In 2009, the first of the translocated chicks returned. While the Hutton's shearwater population will take some time to fill the entire area within the fence, eventually it will protect a population of 10,000 breeding birds.

Funding raised by the Trust has paid for the 500 metre long, state-of-the-art predator-proof fence around the new colony site. The fence will keep out introduced mammals such as rats, cats, possums and stoats as these burrow-nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to predators.

This new colony adjacent to the walkway provides a sanctuary for these unique birds and a special opportunity for visitors to experience the delight of an active sea bird colony, especially at night when the birds return from feeding at sea.

Heritage

Legend has it that Maui used the Kaikoura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea. From this comes the Peninsula’s earliest name: Te Taumanu o te Waka a Maui, the thwart or seat of Māui canoe. The name Kaikoura means “eat crayfish”, recalling the occasion when Tama ki te Raki had a meal of crayfish here, pausing on his journey around the South Island in pursuit of his three runaway wives

The archway powhenua as you walk up the entrance path at South Bay tells the story of Maui going fishing in his canoe and pulling up the house of Tangaroa (the god of the sea).
The archway powhenua as you walk up the entrance path at South Bay tells the story of Maui going fishing in his canoe and pulling up the house of Tangaroa (the god of the sea)

The Peninsula, providing abundant food and shelter, is rich in over 800 years of Maori tradition. The earliest Maori hunted moa and sheltered in coastal caves. A grave found in the 1850s revealed the skeleton of a man holding the largest complete moa egg ever discovered and a pakohe (argillite) adze. As moa numbers declined, gardening became more important and settlements more permanent.

Fortifications were built on hilltops as lookout points and for shelter in case of attack. There are at least fourteen pa sites on the Peninsula, most of which were occupied for short periods only and witnessed some fierce battles. Today Ngai Tahu occupy the area at Takahanga Marae in the township.

Both Maori and Pakeha have found Kaikoura ideal for settlement, relying on the bountiful harvest of food from the ocean and the shelter afforded by the Peninsula.

The whaling industry attracted the earliest European settlers to the area. Whales occur here because of the unusually deep waters close to shore. Some whales pause in their migration from feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to breeding grounds in the warm sub-tropical seas of the Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand. Robert Fyffe established the first shore-whaling station, Waiopuka, in 1843; other stations were built soon after in South Bay.

Due to the pressure of the whaling industry, whale numbers steadily declined after 1850 and it became uneconomic to exploit them. Today, with marine mammals in New Zealand being fully protected, the whales again find Kaikoura a safe environment. Kaikoura is now internationally renowned as a whale-watching location.

Fyffe House, standing on piles made from whalebone vertebrae, provides a link with Kaikoura’s whaling days. It was built by George Fyffe in 1860 and is situated on the way to the northern end of the Walkway. The house is a Historic Places Trust property and is open to the public.

For many years, the town’s main link with the outside world was its official port of entry; now, all that remains of the former customhouse is an old brick chimney near Fyffe House. Because the overland routes and bridle tracks were hard-going, most people and freight travelled by sea, often braving inclement weather and the perilous coast, which could take a heavy toll on a small coastal vessel. Eventually, access by land improved and, in 1931, the port closed. In 1945 the Christchurch to Picton railway opened, complete with 21 tunnels.

Like other small towns, Kaikoura suffered from the economic recession of the 1980s. However, since then, an increased number of visitors, attracted mainly by the opportunities provided to observe marine mammals close at hand, has brought increased prosperity to the area.

Know before you go

Keep children with you at all times, especially along the cliff top and at the water’s edge. Keep to the formed track of the Walkway. It is dangerous to descend the cliffs on unformed tracks.

DOC manages a project to revegetate the cliffs and does not want these plants trampled. If you wish to descend to the shoreline, use the formed track down to Whalers Bay and return via this same track.

Weather

The Peninsula is very exposed to coastal winds. Weather conditions can change quickly, especially when a southerly storm arrives: be prepared with warm and windproof clothing.

Tides

High tide may restrict access along the shoreline.

Seals resting near Point Kean car park. Photo: Chip Warren.
Seals resting near Point Kean car
park

Wildlife

Many animals and birds make the Peninsula their home. Please observe wildlife from a distance. If birds start flying at you, this is their way of telling you that you are too close to them. Please report any injured or stressed wildlife to the Department of Conservation. DOC HOTline 0800 362 468

Fires

No fires are allowed on the Walkway, on the shoreline or in the car parks at Point Kean and South Bay.

Toilets

There are no toilets on the cliff top. Toilets are located at Armers Beach on the way to Point Kean car park and in South Bay.

Private land

Sections of the Walkway cross private land. Please respect farm property and stock and do not take vehicles, mountain bikes, firearms or dogs on the Walkway.

Rubbish

There are no rubbish facilities along the cliff top. Please use the rubbish and recycling facilities at the car parks.

Mountain biking

Mountain biking is not permitted on the Walkway.

Dogs and other pets

Dogs and other pets are not allowed on the Walkway except on these sections:

  • The town centre to Point Kean car park but not in the car park.
  • Within the confines of South Bay Recreation Reserve and along South Bay Parade to the start of South Bay Track.
  • Toms Track to the town centre.

Dogs and other pets are a threat to wildlife: do not take them on the cliff-top section of the Walkway or the tidal platforms.

Kaikoura, a Green Globe certified community

Kaikoura District Council is committed to maintaining the environmental health of Kaikoura for residents and visitors. Kaikoura is a certified Green Globe community. This certification recognises the commitment of the community to protecting the environment.

As a resident and a visitor you can contribute to the health of the sea and land by not littering the shoreline with your rubbish and by observing the recreational fishing regulations and also the bans on fishing and gathering from temporarily closed areas (rahui).

To learn more, pick up a Kaikoura Green Globe 21 brochure from the Kaikoura i-SITE Visitor Centre.

Contacts

Kaikoura Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 319 5641
Address:   West End
Kaikoura
Email:   info@kaikoura.co.nz
Full office details
Nelson Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 546 9339
Address:   Millers Acre/Taha o te Awa
79 Trafalgar Street
Nelson 7010
Email:   nelsonvc@doc.govt.nz
Full office details
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