Original explorer Tama ki te Rangi must have had one helluva cray meal here to have left the town with a name that means “eat crayfish”. With the return of their much-anticipated Crayfest this year, from 28 October to 13 November, it is understandable that crayfish is a popular ingredient in this picturesque town. As a great lover of our kai moana (food from the sea), I hit town more than ready for a taste of the local delicacy and along the way discovered a community that is extremely passionate about flavour, and which is hanging on for dear life for the return of a tourist trade. The 2016 Kaikōura earthquake resulted in the closure of all land routes into the township and as locals slowly re-built their homes, businesses and confidence, the pandemic hit and shut them down again. This summer is the perfect time to support them while exploring a unique taste of this eclectic seaside village.

There is history at Flo & Co. Café, as sisters Bex and Jax Hunt cut their teeth in the hospitality world years ago, working in a café on this very spot. You’ll find Jax overseeing the front of house, while Bex and her team whip up a steady flow of favourites for both the menu and the impressive cabinet fare. Their vegetable slice with its vivid hues of purple, orange and green looks loaded with vitality and will undoubtedly catch your eye. The popular kimchi pancakes served with marinated tofu, poached eggs and a chilli mayo are definitely worth your attention and those with a sweet tooth will be deliriously overwhelmed by the crumpet French toast with grilled bananas, vanilla mascarpone, caramel, cashew and salted caramel ice cream.

A bonus for parents is the kiddie corner, designed to allow that little burst of much-needed serenity with your coffee.
13a West End, Kaikōura
facebook.com/floandcokaikoura

The cosy Beach House Café sits within the bones of an original house whose history stretches back over 100 years and the story goes that the front section was once a soup kitchen. The moment you step through the door and feel the warmth of barista JP’s huge smile, you can sense the joy that seems to permeate throughout this all-day café where owner-operator Corrina Allen is proud of her loyal regulars.

You’ll be lucky to score a table at the far end of the building as locals vie for space on the comfy, sun-drenched sofas, but a solid menu, an ever-changing array of cabinet treats and a selection of beers, wines and ciders give ample motivation to grab a seat inside or out for more than just a delicious coffee. The breakfast souvlaki wrapped in a toasty warm pita is a strong favourite and if Corrina’s award-winning ‘Koura Benedict’ is on, you are in for a treat.
39 Beach Road, Kaikōura
beachhousecafe.co.nz

It’s ‘world-famous in New Zealand’, so I was curious about the Kaikōura Seafood BBQ kiosk. Food-loving locals tell me it is the perfect spot for a whole cray served with salad, rice and garlic bread and when I heard that I could get a glass of bubbles from Charli’s Seaside Refreshments – the kiosk right next door – it was too good to miss.

You choose your cray from the chilly bin and pay by weight, upwards of $50 for a whole cray or $25 plus for half. It’s cooked on the hotplate in front of you and you are given strict instructions not to leave your plate unattended. Of course I ignored these instructions, while I took a photo, and as a result I ended up in a tug of war over my garlic bread with a very vocal seagull. In the end I let him have it and tucked into my crayfish tail, nervously keeping an eye out as his mates had quickly realised that they had a rookie in the ’hood. I loved it. The whitebait, pāua and crayfish fritters look terrific, and you can also grab a platter or some chowder. It’s a great place to have a bite pre or post the fur seal colonies. It’s not flash or fancy but it’s the real Kiwi deal.
55 Fyffe Quay, Kaikōura Peninsula
facebook.com/thekaikouraseafoodbbq
facebook.com/ Search for Charli’s Seaside Refreshments

At the north end of the main street you’ll find much more than a delicatessen at Kaikōura Fine Foods. Owners Rob and Rosie Cullen are way up there in the Kaikōura foodie hall of fame and a visit to this magical little store will be worth it for the insider knowledge on local deliciousness alone. With spectacular salads, artisanal cured meats and your pick of some of the best cheese around, I’d suggest you just let them just do their thing, load you up a sandwich or roll with what is super-fresh and seasonal and take home a goodie bag full of the stunning offerings on their shelves, all thoughtfully curated to showcase the New Zealand products that you really should have in your pantry. Chef Rob has a particular penchant for Haku farmed kingfish, so if you are in luck you might be able to scoop up some of his magnificent ceviche.
8 West End, Kaikōura
facebook.com/kaikourafinefoods

You can fill a rigger or take a bottle away, but with 11 beers and one cider on tap I’d suggest you make time for a tasting tray with some lunch at Emporium Brewing. Venture beyond the popular Run for the Hills IPA into Belgian styles, barrel-aged stouts, sours or a nice crisp lager, and taste first-hand why so many of Kaikōura’s bars and cafés stock Paul and Laura Finney’s much-loved brews. For my money, their American Brown Ale is the show stopper. With two escape rooms and an 18-hole mini golf course onsite you might even settle in for the afternoon.
57a Beach Road, Kaikōura
emporiumbrewing.co.nz

Ask around Kaikōura about a special place for dinner and it will be Zephyr that is the first suggestion, every time. Owner-operators Richard Allan and Corinna Driscoll are hospitality royalty, and widely respected for their offering at this stylish dining establishment. Richard heads up a team that produces everything that hits the pass from scratch. The menu leans toward French in style with a strong New Zealand focus showcasing Marlborough green-lipped mussels, Canterbury prime angus, duck from Canter Valley, venison from Tai Tapu and superbly fresh produce and herbs from Richard and Rosemary Goodman. On a chilly late-winter evening, the roast chicken breast stuffed with a spinach and feta mousse and served with rosemary-spiked mushrooms and bacon cream sauce was as comforting as a huge hug and the chicken liver paté with chutney was worthy of a place on my chicken liver paté appreciation society list. The mood is relaxed and casual, but there is no denying this is the most serious restaurant in town. Book ahead.
40 West End, Kaikōura
zephyrrestaurant.co.nz

Pizza traditionalists avert your eyes now, but just around the first bend heading north out of town you’ll find Black Rabbit Pizza. This is not just a catchy name with a cute rabbit for a logo; this is pizza with fresh game front and centre on a crispy thin base. Roasted goat, kangaroo and pulled pork all come with their own special toppings and a herb sprinkle, but I went for the wild rabbit loin with caramelised onion, spinach, cream cheese and mozzarella and it was a real thrill to be eating wild game on a pizza instead of the usual farmed suspects. My only advice would be to ditch the cranberry sauce drizzle as it was just a distraction. If game is not your thing, you’ll find plenty of seafood, vege and traditional toppings plus an impressive selection of burgers – sadly no wild meat in any of these. The next time I’m in town I’ll be heading back for a ‘Hop, Skip & Jump’ topped with roasted roo, chorizo, red onion, feta and garlic aioli. It is inspiring to see Kathryn Hill and her family challenging the norm with these smart ingredients.
17 Beach Road, Kaikōura
blackrabbitpizza.co.nz

The humble toasted sandwich finally gets the respect it is due from Phil Valentin at Slam Club and you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to taste these beauties! This local foodie hot spot dishes up a terrific menu across breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s the gourmet sangers that you need to pay attention to – and I don’t throw the ‘G’ word around often. Imagine this: barbecue-smoked pulled pork, corn chips, melted cheese, jalapeños, crispy greens and sour cream or shredded hoisin-roasted duck, pickled slaw, melted cheese, crispy greens, aioli, duck skin crackle and sesame seeds, ‘slammed’ in a hot sandwich press to pack in all that goodness and served with roasted potatoes. You’ll also find great coffee, a carefully selected wine list and a good selection of beers including one brewed specifically for Phil by Emporium as a tribute to his Austrian heritage. Don’t leave without trying Phil’s homemade apple strudel.
10 West End, Kaikōura
slamclub.nz

You can’t go past The White Morph for a waterfront stay in Kaikōura. The view is of snow-capped mountains to the west, the peninsula to the east and the stunning shoreline right in front. Reasonably priced with comfortable and spacious rooms, it’s a top place to call home for a couple of nights.
92/94 Esplanade, Kaikōura
kaikourawhitemorph.co.nz

Kelli travelled to Kaikōura courtesy of Uniquely Kaikōura. For information on activities, accommodation and shopping see kaikoura.co.nz.

WELL WORTH STOPPING BY

Bee Box A beautiful store packed with local and sustainably produced bee products. 28 West End, Kaikōura

Strawberry Tree Quirky Irish-themed décor, beer garden and live entertainment. 21 West End, Kaikōura

Coopers Catch Fish & chips, burgers and light meals – they will even cook your own catch! 9 West End, Kaikōura

Nins Bin Crayfish and fish & chips at a roadside café only 20 minutes drive from Kaikōura. State Highway 1, 6, Kaikōura

Karaka Lobster Premium seafood and casual café located 30 minutes north of Kaikōura overlooking Ōkiwi Bay. 2825 State Highway 1, Kaikōura

The Store at Kekerengu Halfway between Blenheim and Kaikōura, a perfect combination of restaurant, café and gift store. 5748 State Highway, Kekerengu

And for your diary Crayfest Kaikōura 2022 28 October to 13 November 2022