Kaikoura Coast Deep Sea Fishing - Kaikoura Surfcasting - Kaikoura Boat Launching and Fishing

Kaikoura Coast

For many years the township of Kaikoura was little more than a fuel stop on the highway between Christchurch and Picton. Kaikoura today it is a vibrant and exciting place with street side cafe's and considerable tourist activity centred around 'whale watching' together with a host of other fun attractions for the visitor.

Note how the ocean floor is very deep close in off Goose Bay. The scenic State Highway One follows the coast from Oaro to Kekerengu.

The 190 kilometre drive north east from Christchurch takes some two and a half hours. The motorist is rewarded over the final 22 kms with what must be among the best scenic coastal drives to be found anywhere in the world.

As a commercial and sportfishing centre Kaikoura is without equal in the South Island. The sea fishing, though perhaps not as hot as it was twenty years ago, is still extremely good. Most importantly for small boat fishermen there is good deep sea angling close to shore.

In the area of Barney's Rock 15 kilometres south of Kaikoura Peninsula the sea floor is an incredible one kilometre down just one kilometre from shore. When fishing from a boat sounders simply stop working because it is so deep. The sea floor runs down a steep slope so that as you fish from a drifting boat the bottom suddenly just drops away seemingly to nothing!.

The combination of deep water so close to shore combined with the up-welling of deep plankton-rich ocean currents has created an extraordinary abundance of sea life. The sea is at times red with krill. There are always schools of kahawai and barracouta chasing silver sprats and other baitfish. You can always find birds working over schools of fish. These work-ups are often close to shore and can easily be seen from the main highway particularly south of the peninsula. You can even catch salmon at Kaikoura from the beach behind the railway station in the middle of town.

There always seem to be barracouta close to shore. These things can be a horrid pest as they cut through lines and attack hooked fish as they are retrieved to the boat. Unlike kahawai barracouta don't appear the least bit frightened by propellers and engine noise.

Kaikoura Marine MAP South of Kaikoura Peninsula.
Kaikoura Marine MAP NZ63 south of Kaikoura Peninsula.
Kaikoura Marine MAP NZ63 south of Kaikoura Peninsula.

There are large numbers of sea perch along the rocky coast. I suspect the bottom is blanketed by them. This species isn't veryone's cup-of-tea but they are excellent table fair. Simply drop your line to the bottom and count up to "one" then wind the line back up!

Trumpeter are a favourite catch but you have to know where to look for them. One bloke who knows where they are is Sam Dillon skipper of the Albatross. This big charter vessel takes out groups of deep-sea anglers to fish along the incredibly fish rich Kekerengu coast north of the Peninsula. Some very big trumpeter are caught from time to time, as well as big grouper.

Sport anglers, particularly from Christchurch, often fish the area over summer for albacore tuna and mako sharks. Both species are seasonally abundant but certainly not always present.

Kaikoura is perhaps best known for its crayfish. The rocky coast teems with them. Brightly coloured craypot markers bob in the tide along the coast for 80 kilometres. Again there may not be as many crays as there were some years ago.

I read recently the account of a member of one of the road and rail gangs who worked for the old Ministry of Works and Development around the time of the Second World War. Many of the workers came from Christchurch. On occasion they would make a trip home for the weekend. Before leaving they would catch a "few" crays to take back home. There wasn't a lot of money around in those days and crays were good for barter though they weren't quite as popular then as they are now!

In his account this chap talked of catching them with their bare-hands in the shallows. Another often used method was to row a short distance from shore and lower a baited ring net to the bottom in just twenty feet of water. They would then watch over the side as a steady stream of crays would obligingly march from their hiding places straight over to the net.

One of Kaikoura's famous whales.

The crays would then be boiled in old petrol tins over a fire on the beach. Interestingly they often cut the body oft the cray before cooking the tail only.

There are several old caravans located on the main highway that serve as shops selling the cooked local delicacy to passers-by.

The abundance of marine mammals have today transformed Kaikoura into an international tourist destination on a par with Queenstown and Rotorua!

Whales are the star attraction. They can be viewed both by boat and from the air 12 months of the year. The giant sperm whale which can grow to 20 metres in length is the lead attraction.

There are also many others marine mammals to be seen including: orca, Dusky and Hectors Dolphins, and fur seals. The rich marine life also ttracts a wide range of sea birds including the giant Royal Albatross.

l have been "visited" by orca (killer whales) while fishing and the experience was both thrilling and frightening when you are in a small boat looking at them at eye level. Their grace and menacing power is truly spine-chilling close up!

Many of the dolphins and seals don't appear to be afraid of boats and they appeared to come racing over to our boat, check us out, and then carry on about their business!

I remember one particular morning at Goose Bay when the sea was too rough to venture out. As we stood at Boat Harbour cursing our misfortune we joined with a small crowd of campers gazing out to sea with their binoculars. They pointed out to us a small pod of orca that where tossing a full sized dolphin about as if they were enjoying a game of volley ball. One of the black and white whales would come up underneath the dolphin tossing it perhaps 30 feet or more into the air. It would cart-wheel several times before coming down with a splash. We couldn't tell if the animal was alive or dead. I have no idea whether orca caught it alive or if it may already have been dead or injured before they caught it? The sea life is so abundant and diverse that there is always plenty to see at Kaikoura.


A marine laboratory was setup and run by the University of Canterbury to study the ocean for which the area is world famous among fisheries scientists.

The brilliance of the cobalt sea to one side and the majestic snow capped Seaward Kaikoura Ranges tower above the coast on the other.


For hundreds of years the readily available, and easily accessibly sea food resources, or kai moana, of the area, were coveted and fought over by successive Maori invaders from the North Island.

It is believed that the earliest Polynesian inhabitants the "Waitaha" were routed by the Ngati Mamoe. They were in turn driven from this rich coastal region by Ngai Tahu who held it until the musket armed warriors of the Ngati Toa chief swept south from their Kapiti Island stronghold in the 1830s.

Almost every hill-top close to the coast shows evidence of early Maori fortification. Old Maori artifacts were unearthed during railway construction in the 1940s. You can see some of these in the museum at 14 Ludstone Road, Kaikoura, along with many other interesting items of local Maori and European history.

Kaikoura Today

Kaikoura's Resident population of 2,200 is swollen to many times this number by holiday makers and tourists at the height of the Christmas holiday season. The peak being from Boxing Day to around 5 January. If you are going to Kaikoura for the fishing then any time is good. The best time for the albacore tuna is between February and May.

There is excellent accommodation at Kaikoura to suit every budget. There are big motels, hotels, and half a dozen good camping grounds spread along the coast from Boat Harbour, Goose Bay all the way up to Kekerengu.

Boat Launching at Kaikoura

The Kaikoura Coast is very poorly served by public slipways. In a way this is good because to some extent it protects the fishery from over exploitation.

Excellent concrete launching ramp at Kaikoura's South Bay. Most of Kaikoura commercial fishing boats are launched here.
Excellent concrete launching ramp at Kaikoura's South Bay. Most of Kaikoura commercial fishing boats are launched here.

The coast is very exposed from the south and north easterly winds that can whip the sea to a blanket of white horses.

The Kaikoura Peninsula does however provide shelter from the prevailing north easterlies when you can still venture out from South Bay where the sea can be flat despite the big sea north of the Peninsula. Likewise a nor'west, dreaded of Canterbury fishermen, is blocked by the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges close in so you can still get out.

The coast can take a fearful hammering when there is a big sea running. This is particularly so when a storm hits around Cook Strait. An unprotected boat ramp along this exposed coast I suspect wouldn't last long. There is a public ramp at South Bay along from the raceway. Further around there is a large private ramp owned by the Kaikoura Boating Club. This is always locked!

Many fishermen launch small boats directly from the numerous small beaches that are spread along the rocky shore. Dinghies and inflatables are valuable assets for checking a few pots and a little close in fishing.

Boat Harbour - Goose Bay - Kaikoura

There is a boat ramp that can be used by the public for a small fee at Boat Harbour, Goose Bay. There is no boat harbour at Boat Harbour! Just a small narrow wooden decked slipway. This wooden ramp is only suitable for smaller boats up to 14 feet. Entry to this ramp from the sea is through a narrow rock lined channel. With a reasonable swell running it would be all too easy to "bash" the blades on your prop beyond recognition.

Launch and retrieval from this ramp is less than straight forward. Boats are pushed from their trailer and walked down the ramp. From the water at the bottom careful manoeuvring and reversing are required to safely reach the open sea. Boat Ramp Goose Bay

On retrieval at Boat Harbour again you can't back down the wooden ramp with your car. Instead a stout rope is fastened to the boat low on the hull and the boat pulled up the ramp by driving your vehicle forward. All of which is made more hazardous the larger the boat.

The weight of heavier craft also tend to break the ramp's boards much to the displeasure of other users. Hence if you have a heavy twenty footer you'll do as others do and travel the 17 kilometres by road to launch at South Bay!

Regular users of the Boat Harbour ramp weld additional skids to the hulls of their alloy boats in order to keep it upright during the slide up and down the ramp.

It is a pity if you have a larger boat, because, in my view, Goose Bay affords the best coastal camping sites complete sea view and snowcapped mountain backdrop, right next to the best fishing.

Goose Bay is adjacent to where the sea is deepest close to shore. Once launched at Boat Harbour you need travel only 500 metres and you will catch any number of fish!

Barracouta Bonanza

If Cook Strait is the spiritual home of the barracouta, then the Kaikoura coast must run a very close second. This species is astonishingly plentiful here no doubt attracted by the rich supply of prey. They can be an awful nuisance to anglers by attacking fish as they are hauled up to the boat.

Barracouta are frequently found together with schools of kahawai close to shore. The barracouta make quick work of lures by chopping off mono fishing line with their slashing teeth.

Locals and visiting anglers have come up with numerous methods of defeating the barracouta. Some of these I have seen appear a bit extreme such as short lengths of light chain and very heavy wire leaders. I prefer fine wire leaders around 50cm in length, which makes it possible to still cast the lure. You have to keep the join to the mono main line to a minimum as the 'coutas will often hit your swivels.

The best option when bottom fishing is to always use very heavy mono - 100kg at least - for your bottom rigs, and carry plenty of spare rigs. It also pays to wind up from the bottom as quickly as possible.
The reason being the barracouta will often hit perch and blue cod that are being wound in. Frequently two or three barracouta will be hooked at once leading the tyro to believe they have caught a "whopper" only to have their spirits deflated by a swirl of tackle destroying 'Cook Strait Sailfish!' See barracouta from the beach.

Trumpeter and Groper

These two species are great eating and tremendous fighters when hooked in reasonably shallow water. There are several hot spots for trumpeter, one being Bushett Shoal which is a reef system further to the south of Claverley. Many of the campers with larger boats head down the coast to this area where the reef rises to within only a few metres of the surface. Some very big trumpeter have been caught there over the years. It is roughly halfway between the only available boat ramps at Kaikoura and Motunau. Perhaps it is this inaccessibility that causes it to fish well.

Trumpeter are usually found over rough ground in much the same place as you would expect to find grouper. Larger fish are resident in an area and so tend to be fished out closer to shore.

From memory I think only one person in our camping ground at Goose Bay managed to land a groper over the holidays suggesting that they are to be found further out. The fishing for both these species is far better off Kaikoura than it is in the Pegasus Canyon.

l strongly recommend that you switch to braided lines instead of monofilament. At Kaikoura you are fishing in deep water. Braid is very fine in diameter and has only about two percent stretch making it possible to feel bites even in water over 100 metres deep.

Shark Fishing at Kaikoura

Every year big mako sharks weighing in excess of several hundred kilos are caught off Kaikoura. To their credit many sport fishing anglers are now tagging and releasing most sharks to fight again another day.

Blue sharks are also regulars off Kaikoura. Two years ago a 40 odd kilogram blue was caught from shore during a surfcasting contest held on the beach along from the "Whaleway Station."

There are also good rig to be caught while surfcasting at Kaikoura.

Sea Perch and Blue Cod

Perch are often rubbished by anglers in search of blue cod. They are found in the same rocky areas as the more favoured cod but I suspect are less shy about taking a baited hook should one invade their territory.
Anglers annoyed at catching the "wrong" species have come up with a series of derogatory names for sea perch such as; Bo Whacker, poor man's Orange Rough and Scarpie to name just a few. There are however easy to catch and very good eating. The flesh is firm and white. In my opinion tastes just as good as blue cod. Another tip is that blue cod are caught off Kaikoura by fishing in a slightly different spot. Some anglers would return to the camping ground with plenty of blue cod whilst others, myself included, where vastly better at catching sea perch instead!

There seem to be so many fish at Kaikoura that as soon as the line hits the bottom you feel a tug and a fish is hooked. Maybe some species find it hard to get a look in.

Albacore Tuna

These speedsters of the sea put in a regular appearance at Kaikoura from Christmas through to just after Easter weekend. Some years they come quite close in to Kaikoura Peninsula while other years anglers and commercial fishermen report that the schools are at least 20 miles or more offshore.
Albacore tuna are caught by trolling at about 8 knots with a variety of lures. The most common of these are rubber skirts over lead heads. The treble hooks used are similar in size to that used for salmon at around 1/0.

Catching albacore involves attracting them to your boat by making plenty of
commotion by trolling at least half a dozen lures at once. Teasers are also a good idea. The tuna often take the lures right in close to your prop wash! So it is a good idea to spread you lures both far back and up close to the stern. Once a school has shown interest you can then catch them on cast lures as well.

This species are tremendous fighters for their size. Sport anglers from
Christchurch have taken record fish on light lines chasing albacore tuna at Kaikoura.

Rock Fishing and Surfcasting

Many surfcasters fish the steeply shelving shingle beaches close to the peninsula. Popular spots are in front of the race course at South Bay and in front of the old railway station. Surprisingly many salmon are caught by anglers spin fishing for kahawai from the beach in front of the old railway station. This is right near the middle of town. I'm not sure why this should be. If you think you know please write and tell me! Kaikoura Surfcasting.

Surfcasters also regularly catch skate weighing 5kg or so, along with kahawai and sharks.

Almost anywhere is good for rock fishing. Wrasse seem to be the most easily caught species, and some of them are quite big. When climbing over the rocks in search of a fishing spot watch out for fur seals. They sleep in the sun sometimes causing great fright for both parties when you catch them by surprise.

Looking along the Coast: From north to south.


56 Km north of Kaikoura. Takes its name from a Ngati Ira rangatira, Te Kekerengu. During a series of raids on the South Island in 1827 and 1828 by the Ngati Toa war chief Te Rauparaha, his nephew Te Rangihaeata captured Kekerengu's mother Tamairangi for his wife and spared her young son's life. He took both of them back to live on Kapiti Island. Later Kekerengu became involved with one of Te Rangihaeata's other wives and both mother and son made a run for it down the South Island's east coast.

There are few houses along this coast and no public boat slipways. Instead many anglers launch dinghies and small boats from the beach using them to fish or lift craypots. This stretch of coast is truly wild and rugged. No place to be in a big sea.

Clarence River

Birds working grill just a couple of hundred metres off the beach at Goose Bay.
Birds working grill just a couple of hundred metres off the beach at Goose Bay.

Thought to have been named after the Duke of Clarence who later became King William IV. The Clarence Rivermouth is best known as the site of the wreck of the Taiaroa in 1862. In all 34 lives where lost as the 438 ton steamer travelled from Wellington on route for Lyttelton smashed into the rocky shoreline. Fourteen souls made it safely to shore. Later the captain had his master's certificate suspended for two years for failing to take proper cross-bearings.

Just past here is the home of Clarence Fishing Charters vessel F.V. Albatross. This huge boat is launched and retrieved with the aid of a large bulldozer, surely an added treat for the occasional deep-sea angler. The fishing out from here is some of the very best to be found around the South Island. Clarence Charters Phone Suzie or Sam on 03 575- 8989.

Blue Duck

48 km north of Kaikoura. Blue Duck Creek is almost certainly named after the blue duck, whio. The coastal road affords tremendous views the whole way.


22 km north of Kaikoura. The Maori word for stream being: manga. The meaning of: maunu is uncertain. The scenery is fantastic. You'll have great fun spotting birds working schools of fish!


Hapuku River

10 km north of Kaikoura. Hapuku being the Maori word for groper.


At the southern end of the Kaikoura flat land. Puke: hill, ta: sloping.

Barney's Rock

Rileys Lookout is just to the north of Goose Bay: named after the early whaler and settler Barney Riley who lived in the area between 1857 and the turn of the century. It is said that he climbed the rock to spot for whales. It is now known as Barney's Rock. The Maori name for this small island and important landmark is Panau Island. Panau: to slope, or jump like a fish.

Goose Bay

19 km south of Kaikoura. Known by this name for well over 100 years apparently because a flock of geese escaped from an early whaling station, or possibly from an unfortified village destroyed by Te Rauparaha.
The Kaikoura Coastal Campgrounds are highly recommended.There are four of them: Goose Bay, Boat Harbour, Omihi, and Paia Point. The later three are ideal for campervans, and have what must be the best sea views in the whole of New Zealand! Phone 03 319-5348 email: I also suggest you make the 20 minute climb to the top of the hill at Boat Harbour for a fabulous view up the coast.

Boat Harbour

Top of the long wooden public boat ramp at Boat Harbour.
Top of the long wooden public boat ramp at Boat Harbour.
You can see the same ramp at Boat Harbour here viewed from the top.

The name given to the southern most camping ground at Goose Bay. Boat Harbour, as the name suggests, is one of the few public boat ramps located along the 22 km coastline south of Kaikoura Peninsula.

The ramp being of wooded plank construction is only suitable for light-weight modest craft up to 14 foot in length. Indeed bigger vessels would damaged the slipway. The Boat Harbour ramp cannot be seen directly from the seaward side. It is approached through a gap in the rocks in front of "Grey Stones" house followed by a swing to the right.

If more than a moderate sea is running the swell can make for a lively passage through the narrow channel bounded by jagged, boat-damaging, rock to either side. All the more reason to stay away with your 20 footer!


22 km south of Kaikoura. There is a small settlement of baches here including one owned by the Canterbury Sport Fishing Club. There is no boat ramp but surfcasting is possible and worthwhile.


32 km south of Kaikoura. Named after Claverly in Shropshire. England.

A big trumpeter caught during a charter aboard the M.V. Albatross off Kaikoura. It shows the excellent fishing available off this coast. Photo: Sam Dillon.
A big trumpeter caught during a charter aboard the M.V. Albatross off Kaikoura. It shows the excellent fishing available off this coast. Photo: Sam Dillon.

Haumuri Bluffs

These unmistakable tall cliffsare near the mouth of the Conway River. In Maori are hau: wind muri: north. They can be seen for many miles and so form an important landmark.

Conway River and Conway Flat
According to The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Place Names there are three possibilities for the origin of the Conway name.

1. It may have been named after the survey vessel HMS Conway.

2. That in 1849 or 1850 the officers of HMS Acheron may have named it as a tribute to Charlotte, wife of J.R.Godley, who's home in Wales was on the Conway River.

3. Or that it was named by Thomas Hamner after a place where he lived in North Wales.

The shingle beach is an excellent place from which to launch a kite or Kon tiki propelled longline. The rivermouth is also a great spot to spin for kahawai. It was not unknown to catch groper here straight off the beach!


Named by John Tinline after a place in Scotland. State Highway One has been much improved just south of here with many of the old narrow corners removed. The road is quite steep in places.

The Railway Line

There are no fewer than ten rail tunnels between Oaro and Puketa. For most of its length the highway and road run side by side. The main north south line was only completed in the 1940's. Kaikoura was always an isolated and beautiful place.

See these good surfcasting and rock fishing spots around Christchurch. Also try surfcasting at Amberley Beach and Surfcasting at Birdlings Flat. You might also be interested in catching big sharks in the surf. Take a look at this article about surfcasting with Alvey Reels. Here is a video of surfcasting with an Alvey sidecast reel as well. Bushett Shoal reef.

The Complete Guide to Surfcasting by Allan Burgess


Anderson, Harold.J., Unique Kaikoura - Whales, Rails and Tales.

Elvy, W.J., Kaikoura Coast - The History Traditions and Maori Place-names of Kaikoura.

Sherrard, J.M., Kaikoura - A History of the District, 1966.

Return to: Deep Sea Fishing Around New Zealand

Albacore Tuna
Albacore Tuna - Click to enlarge
Sam Jenet with a 13kg groper caught off Kaikoura. Photo: Impulse Charters.
Kaikoura Crayfish
Crayfish are the species most associated with the Kaikoura coast. The long rocky shoreline is perfect habitat for "crays."
Sea Perch, Kaikoura
Sea perch are abundant on the sea floor off Kaikoura. They are very good eating. Photo: Impulse Charters
Barracoutta, Kaikoura
The "Cook Strait Sailfish," or should I say barracouta, can be a huge nuiscence at Kaikoura. They attack hooked fish as you reel them in, and make a mess of your rigs.
Kahawai, Kaikoura
Huge schools of kahawai work the rich coastline over the summer months. They are excellent light tackle fighters.
Seal Kaikoura
When looking for some where to fish from the rocks you can get a fright when one of them suddenly barks at you.























































Click to enlarge the pictures below.
Rig caught surfcasting at Kaikoura.
Kaikoura groper
Groper Fishing
Click to enlarge
Clarence Charters - Kaikoura
Clarence Charters
Click to enlarge
Boat Harbour - Kaikoura
Boat Harbour Kaikoura
Click to enlarge
Barney's Rock, Kaikoura
Barney's Rock Click to enlarge






























Barney's Rock - Kaikoura
Barney's Rock picture 2 - Click to enlarge
Barney's Rock from the sea off Kaikoura
Barney's Rock Picture 3 - Click to enlarge
Goose Bay
Cafe at Goose Bay, Kaikoura. Click to enlarge
Dusky Dolphins - Kaikoura
Dusky Dolphins at Goose bay, Kaikoura
Click to enlarge
Kaikoura shop
Mural in Kaikoura township - Click to enlarge
Salmon caught spinning at Kaikoura
Kaikoura Salmon at the Railway Station. Click to enlarge
Barney's Rock
Barneys Rock viewed from the road near Goose Bay south of Kaikoura. Click to enlarge





























































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