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  • Writer's pictureRach Stewart


Guide to Beautiful Kaikoura Photo Spots NZ Blog

The small coastal town of Kaikoura is a place that you might not hear about as much as some of the other locations in New Zealand, but it's impact and incredible diversity means it absolutely ticks all the boxes and is a true favourite on my list of places to visit in the South Island especially for photography.

Kaikoura sunset
Sunset from the rocky waterfront in Kaikoura

Kaikoura is nestled on the rugged eastern coast of New Zealand's South Island, where the magic of this incredible country I call home is clearly evident and thriving in its raw untamed beauty. With its breathtaking blend of majestic mountains and the mesmerising expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Kaikoura is an absolute playground for those with a passion for nature and landscape photography. With every sunrise and sunset, Kaikoura's ever changing diverse landscape is an endless canvas for anyone visiting with their camera wanting to capture New Zealand's best scenery.

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I first visited Kaikoura for photography at the beginning of Autumn (late March) back in 2016 which left me in complete awe wanting to never leave. I was lucky enough to be on a media trip and got to experience some of the most magical moments of my life swimming with dusky dolphins, watching Sperm Whales breach and exploring the coastline. Since then I have returned a couple of times during the winter months (June - September) experiencing more precious moments with my camera and again feeling so sad when its time to say goodbye.

Kaikoura Whale Watching Aerial
Whale watching from above with South Pacific Heli

I thought it was about time I wrote down my Guide to Beautiful Kaikoura Photo Spots so that you can all experience them too! In this blog you will find all the information you need about where to go, what to shoot, what's the best time and how to get there. If it's your first time visiting Kaikoura be prepared for a beautiful experience in a town with the friendliest of people and a true gem in our natural world. If you're a returning visitor hopefully you might find something new to discover in my Guide to Beautiful Kaikoura Photo Spots below.



Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter sunrise
Being greeted by a whale and dolphins at sunrise with Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter



Getting to Kaikoura from Christchurch is a beautiful little journey that takes you through some of New Zealand's most stunning rural landscapes. The distance between Christchurch and Kaikoura is approximately 181 kilometers taking around 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. You'll head north on State Highway 1, passing through several towns and stunning landscapes along the way.


The drive from Picton to Kaikoura is another journey that takes you through some incredibly beautiful New Zealand landscapes. The distance between these two towns is approximately 156 kilometers and can be covered in about two to two and a half hours. Follow State Highway 1, and you'll be treated to awe inspiring vistas of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the dramatic Kaikoura Ranges on the other.

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In Kaikoura, you'll find a wide range of accommodation options, from seaside retreats to charming bed and breakfasts, all designed to enhance your experience in this captivating coastal town.

Kaikoura Town Aerial at sunrise


Camping in Kaikoura lets you immerse yourself in the breathtaking coastal beauty, where you can wake up to the sound of ocean waves and the stunning views of the Kaikoura Range on a budget!

Some Kaikoura Camping options to check out are Kaikoura Top 10, Alpine Pacific Holiday Park, and Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park.


Kaikoura's freedom camping sites provide an even better budget friendly option if you're in a self contained vehicle to stay in close proximity to the beach and mountain landscapes.

All the information you need is on the Council website about where to stay, the rules and guidelines.


For great info on all the Things to Do in Kaikoura check out the official Kaikoura Tourism website.

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I have been lucky enough to experience watching Kaikoura's Whale Population by boat on three separate occasions and each time it left me in complete awe at how incredible our natural world is.

Going out onto the ocean with Whale Watch Kaikoura is not just a photo opportunity .. it's an extraordinary experience into the world of these magnificent marine giants that grace the Kaikoura coastline. This renowned whale watching experience is a testament to the raw power and natural beauty of this very special part of New Zealand.

Kaikoura Sperm Whale Tail Fluke
Kaikoura Sperm Whale Tail Fluke

With a team of passionate guides and researchers, Whale Watch Kaikoura not only offers an opportunity to marvel at these marine wonders but also fosters a deep understanding of the need to protect and preserve our oceans. It's an experience that leaves an indelible mark, a reminder of the awe inspiring beauty and fragility of our planet's underwater world.

Whale Watch Kaikoura
The team at Whale Watch Kaikoura on the search for whales

My encounters aboard Whale Watch Kaikoura have included being graced with the presence of resident sperm whales, a juvenile humpback giving us an amazing show breaching many times, two blue sharks cruising around the ocean, hundreds and hundreds of dusky dolphins, seals, albatross and many other sea birds.

Juvenile Humpback Breaching in Kaikoura
Juvenile Humpback Breaching in Kaikoura
Kaikoura White Capped Albatross
Kaikoura White Capped Albatross

An experience of a lifetime is an understatement and I would highly recommend doing this one on your trip to Kaikoura.


The best camera settings for whale watching would be having the shutter speed set at 1/500 or faster. Stick to aperture between f/8 - f/11 if you can to make sure the whale and surrounds are in focus. A mid range zoom lens (eg. 24-105mm, 70-200mm, 100-300mm) would be a great selection to have so that you have a range of options if you're wanting to capture both landscape and close up detailed shots.



I was extremely lucky on my last trip to Kaikoura to have the opportunity to fly with South Pacific Helicopters to do a spot of whale watching. Wow what an experience! For a truly extraordinary perspective on Kaikoura's incredible marine life, there's no experience quite like Kaikoura whale watching by air. South Pacific Heli also offer whale watching options by plane at Wings over Whales.

Sperm whale Kaikoura Aerial
A sperm whale surfacing in Kaikoura with some friendly Dusky Dolphins in frame

Flying above the pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean and gazing down on magnificent sperm whales, dusky dolphins, a humpback whale plus other marine species was the experience of a lifetime .. something I will remember forever. From the air, the vivid blue hues of the ocean contrast against the rugged shoreline and the towering Kaikoura range, creating such a unique perspective of this amazing part of New Zealand.

Some of the images I captured of the sperm whales and dolphins while up in the air are the most popular of my entire portfolio and I'm so thankful to have had the experience to see it all.


Capturing whales by helicopter can be an exhilarating experience, but it also presents unique challenges due to the movement of both the helicopter and the whales. To get the best shots use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and prevent motion blur. A minimum of 1/1000 should be safe. An aperture of anywhere between f7 - f11 is good and if you can keep your ISO low. A telephoto lens like a 70-200mm or 100-400mm is recommended to capture whales up close.

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On the same day I went whale watching by air with South Pacific Helicopters I also was able to do a doors off sunrise helicopter flight over the Kaikoura Ranges again with South Pacific Heli. Now this experience was absolutely mind blowing and far exceeded any expectations I ever had.

Kaikoura Range sunrise aerial
The sun rising over the North Island as seen from Kaikoura in a doors off heli experience

Seeing the suns first light hit the mountains and paint the snow tipped peaks pink and orange whilst buzzing around in a helicopter with no doors on is something I hope everyone might get to experience just once in their lifetime. My eldest daughter who was 9 at the time was in the front seat and with this being her first ever helicopter ride her eyes were bulging at the scenes and proximity to the mountains.

 Kaikoura Peninsula and Kaikoura Ranges
Looking towards the Kaikoura Peninsula and Kaikoura Ranges


Photographing from a moving object like a helicopter at sunrise can be quite a challenge but my best advice would be to set your ISO high, your shutter speed at least 1/500 sec and your aperture around F7. You will need to constantly adjust your ISO as the sun rises and the scene gets lighter, so it definitely requires some effort.

Taking a variety of lenses from wide angle to mid range zoom should also cover all your bases for landscape photos.

Kaikoura Range winter sunrise aerial
Aerial views over the Kaikoura Range during winter at sunrise

South Pacific Heli also offer flights over the Kaikoura mountain ranges with landings at remote and picturesque locations like Mount Fyffe. Depending on the tour, this allows you to step out and truly immerse yourself in this breathtaking environment.



The rocky shoreline of the Kaikoura waterfront along the south end of The Esplanade is a beautiful and easy location to capture the grandeur of the Kaikoura range with the bay and Pacific Ocean in the foreground. To me this location and composition is the quintessential Kaikoura image showing exactly what this stunning little coastal village setting is all about. The ocean, the mountains and the people.

There is plenty of parking along the Esplanade and you might even come across some friendly (or angry) seals waking up from their slumber at sunrise.


Kaikoura sunset nz
The Kaikoura range reflecting in a rocky pool along the waterfront at sunset

There are lots of compositions available along the shoreline with rock formations, rock pool reflections and there are even a few pretty flowers scattered about. I visited the waterfront at sunrise to capture the light hitting the mountains and also at sunset hoping for some nice clouds to light up the sky.



The Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway from the Point Kean carpark is an easy and beautiful walk full of photo opportunities along the way. The Point Kean seals near the carpark are a great opportunity to take wildlife images from a distance ... and although most of the time these seals are pretty chill and relaxed, they have a capability of becoming aggressive fast and I would advise caution around them.

The followings routes are available from the Point Kean carpark:

Point Kean car park to Point Kean viewpoint (200m)

Point Kean viewpoint to Whalers Bay viewpoint (1.5km)

Whalers Bay viewpoint to South Bay viewpoint (1.1km)

South Bay viewpoint to South Bay car park (600m)

As I was pushed for time I went to the Whalers Bay viewpoint return but if I had the option I would definitely complete the entire walk.

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Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter
Dusky dolphins playing around the boat just after sunrise with Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter

On my first visit to Kaikoura in 2016 our adventure started with the amazing team at Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter with an epic sunrise departure out into the ocean to find some friendly dusky dolphins. Not long after leaving the dock we were treated with an acrobatic show by these amazing little creatures coming right up to the boat and showing us all their tricks, along with some whale friends!!

Dusky Dolphin sunrise Kaikoura
Sunrise out on the Pacific Ocean with Dusky Dolphins

Swimming with dolphins had been a life long dream of mine and on this day we swam with them on 3 occasions during our time out on the ocean, and boy do these guys like to play. These super cute and small dolphins came up to me in the water and looked me right in the eye, as if to say 'c'mon lets go'! So around and around I swam with them, circles and twists and turns. I've never had so much fun in the ocean in my life (which is a big call being a surfer!). This trip left me with a full heart and an experience to remember for a lifetime.


Photography wise these guys were pretty tricky to photograph with my old Gopro but I was able to get a few shots underwater that weren't just of a tail or half a head!

Dusky Dolphins Kaikoura
Dusky Dolphins playing around the boat in Kaikoura

From the boat it was a lot easier keeping a setting of 1/800 and above on the shutter and sticking between f/8 - f/11 with my aperture. A mid range zoom lens (eg. 24-105mm, 70-200mm, 100-300mm) is a good option to have so that you have a range of focal distances when photographing from the boat.



The Kaikoura Lookout Scarborough Street
The Kaikoura Lookout in the late afternoon

The Kaikoura Lookout is one of the easiest elevated photo spots in town as you can literally drive right up to it and hop out of the car and enjoy the views on both sides of the peninsula. The view over the town and the Kaikoura ranges is absolutely stunning and then out to the other side the coastline and rolling hills of pasture make for two equally stunning photo opportunities.

Kaikoura Lookout off Scarborough Street
Views from the Kaikoura Lookout off Scarborough Street

The carpark is off Scarborough Street and well signposted, and this spot is definitely worth a visit especially with your camera.


Kaikoura Lookout
The view from the Kaikoura Lookout (there is a powerpole that does get in the way a little which I have edited out of this image)

I visited during the later afternoon just before sunset to capture the golden light on the hills but this spot would also work well at sunrise with the light hitting the Kaikoura range. Take your mid-range and wide angle lenses with you for this spot.



Kaikoura Kayaks offers a completely different opportunity to explore the captivating coastal wonderland of Kaikoura, New Zealand, from a pretty unique perspective. The team at Kaikoura Kayaks provide a gateway to the abundant marine life and pristine waters of the Pacific Ocean right from your seat on the water.

Kaikoura Kayaks Seals
The views from mountains to sea with seal friends don't get much better than this.

We started off mid morning paddling along the Kaikoura coastline taking in the incredible scenery which included those magnificent mountains and all the rocky outcrops out in the harbour. From the kayak we encountered playful seals frolicking in the waves against the rocks, lots of seals sunbathing and watching seabirds soaring above us.

Seal encounters with Kaikoura Kayaks
Seal encounters with Kaikoura Kayaks

One of the most sought after experiences offered by Kaikoura Kayaks is the chance to kayak with the renowned dusky dolphins, known for their playful and acrobatic behavior. Unfortunately it wasn't our turn for some friendly dolphin visitors on this day, but the seals definitely made up for it.

Kaikoura Kayaks
The perfect way to close out a trip to Kaikoura

Being out with Kaikoura Kayaks was such a great way to connect with the marine world and an opportunity to see the Kaikoura landscape with fresh perspective. In between the paddling I was able to get some of my favourite photos from this experience and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting.



I would definitely suggest exploring the coastline in and around Kaikoura to get your beach fix. There are so many little bays and stretches of sand it is worth getting out there and finding a quiet place to sit.

Hapuku beach Kaikoura
The Kaikoura range from the beach in Hapuku

For more info on Kaikoura beaches and surfing check out the official Kaikoura Tourism website.

Peketa Kaikoura
The beach near Peketa in Kaikoura

There are still more locations I'd love to photograph in and around Kaikoura so its unfinished business for me here, but these are the ones I've experienced first hand and wanted to share with everyone.

Thanks for taking to time to read my Guide to Beautiful Kaikoura Photo Spots. I hope it inspires you to come to New Zealand and explore the amazing Kaikoura coastline sometime soon.

If you are interested in prints of any of the New Zealand Landscape Photography seen in this blog, please feel free to head on over to my New Zealand Photography Print Store and have a little look around.


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