Published On: Thu, Nov 20th, 2014

Kaikoura Coast Deep Sea Fishing, Surfcasting, Boat Launching and Kayak Fishing, Part 1

kaikoura-nz-map-greenKaikoura Coast Fishing – Part 1

All the best fishing spots at Kaikoura

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 centered around ‘whale watching’ together with a host of other fun attractions for the visitor.

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.

Map: Goose Bay, Kaikoura

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.

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.

There are large numbers of sea perch along the rocky coast. I suspect the bottom is blanketed by them. This species isn’t every one’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.


A fantastic deep sea catch of groper and trumpeter taken off Kekerengu (56km north of Kaikoura).The Liquidator is no longer doing commercial charters on the Kekerengu coast. However the Albatross operated by Clarence Charters is now taking out deep sea anglers from the same spot. Contact Sam or Suzie: 03 575-8989 or email to

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.

Typical rocky Kaikoura coastline near Half Moon Bay.

Typical rocky Kaikoura coastline near Half Moon Bay.

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!

Boys releasing kahawai at Kaikoura's South Bay. Kahawai are very plentiful during the summer months, but can also be caught all year at Kaikoura.

Boys releasing kahawai at Kaikoura’s South Bay. Kahawai are very plentiful during the summer months, but can also be caught all year at Kaikoura.

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.

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.

Fur seals near Ohau Point, Kaikoura.

New Zealand fur seals near Ohau Point, Kaikoura.

There are also many others marine mammals to be seen including: orca, Dusky and Hectors Dolphins, and fur seals. The rich marine life also attracts 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!

Dusky Dolphins off Kaikoura's South Bay

Dusky Dolphins off Kaikoura’s South Bay

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.

One of Kaikoura's famous whales.

One of Kaikoura’s famous whales.

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.

History of Kaikoura

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.

South Bay, Kaikoura/

Retrieving a commercial trawler at Kaikoura’s South Bay. Without a save harbor trailer launching is the norm for most vessels. Only the Whale Watch boats are kept behind a breakwater.

Whale Watch vessels behind sea wall at South Bay, Kaikoura.

Whale Watch vessels behind a sea wall at South Bay, Kaikoura.

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.

Bonnie Debenham caught these two big kahawai while surfcasting off the beach at Kaikoura railway station.

Bonnie Debenham caught these two big kahawai while surfcasting off the beach at Kaikoura railway station.

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.

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

Top of the long wooden public boat ramp at Boat Harbour.

Top of the long wooden public boat ramp at Boat Harbour.

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.

The long wooded Goose Bay boat ramp in action. Boats must be pulled to the top with a rope fastened to your vehicle.

The long wooded Goose Bay boat ramp in action. Boats must be pulled to the top with a rope fastened to your vehicle. Boats need cleats welded on each side of the keel to keep the craft upright.

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.

Cleats to keep the boat upright on the ramp.

Cleats to keep the boat upright on the ramp.

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 snow-capped 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 taken at Kaikoura.

There are a lot of barracouta at Kaikoura. They will often take a lure intended for kahawai.

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 monofilament fishing line with their slashing teeth.

Paua shells on the beach at Half Moon Bay.

Paua shells on the beach at Half Moon Bay.

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 monofilament main line to a minimum as the ‘coutas will often hit your swivels.


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.

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. 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.

Kaikoura Coast Fishing – Part 2 

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