Kaikoura is a small town (population 1971 at 2013 census) situated on a peninsula 130 kilometres south of Blenheim and 180 kilometres North East of Christchurch. Originally an island created by subterranean uplift the peninsula became joined to the mainland by vast amounts of erosion gravels washing down from the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges.
When the first explorers began their travels around the South Island in the 12th and 13th centuries they soon learnt the value of Kaikoura as an area for restocking supplies and making any repairs needed to their vessels. Many legends mention the heroes visiting in the course of their adventures. Te Rakaihouia who arrived in New Zealand with his father on Uruao was one such explorer. He and his father were to sail down opposite coasts and meet in the south but food was running low on board Te Rakahouia's canoe and his crew were tired. Most of the coast had been rough and inhospitable forcing them to carry on, so when a peninsula was sighted with good landing beaches and large stocks of fish and birds the crew named it Te Whata kai a Te Rakahouia, the food house of Te Rakahouia.
Some years later Tamatea Pokai Whenua in pursuit of his three fleeing wives called in to the Peninsula to feast on crayfish, koura. Although he made history by naming the peninsula Kaikoura (crayfish food) the story ended tragically with his wives turning to greenstone.
Once Maori settlement of the South Island began Kaikoura became important yet again. Not only did the ranges behind prove to be useful sign posts for the journey between Banks Peninsula and Cook Strait but the region's mild climate, numerous natural resources and excellent defensive positions made the area highly attractive for settlement. Within a few years the area became the most heavily populated locality in the south Island with pa and kumara gardens in any suitable position. Its strategic nature however became a major point of conflict and before long Kaikoura saw intense fighting between Ngati Mamoe, Ngai Tahu and later, Ngati Toa as well as several large massacres.
By the time European whalers and sealers discovered Kaikoura it had become a no man's land through intense fighting between Ngai Tahu in the South and Ngati Toa in the North. Because of Kaikoura Peninsula's proximity to deep water and its rich sea life whales could be found close in to shore so in the early 19th century it became popular with whalers and a few small settlements were established. However it was not until the mid 1860s that any serious settlement began with the auctioning of sections. Even so sales were slow as the area was covered in thick coastal forest and extensive swamps. The town developed slowly as a fishing village but its isolation continued to hinder growth until a road linking it with other areas was finished in 1914. A rail link followed in 1945.
Today Kaikoura has become popular as a tourist destination. Since marine mammals have been protected their numbers have increased dramatically and regular whale watching tours are run from the town as well as other attractions including limestone caves, tramping, gourmet food, fishing and hunting. Besides fishing and tourism Kaikoura has two other major industries; agriculture and lime crushing. University of Canterbury maintains the Edward Percival Marine Research Laboratory which studies marine organisms at Kaikoura.