Executive summary by darmansjah
Further down the east coast from the Marlborough wine region on South Island is the picturesque peninsula town of kaikoura, backed by the peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. Its rugged beauty is a draw, but most come here for the abundance of local wildlife: whales – including the elusive sperm whale – orcas, dolphins, fur seals and penguins. There are a variety of ways to encounter these creatures, such as marinelife-spotting boat trips complete with hydrophones (underwater microphones) to pick up whale song (US$110 for 2.5-hour tour; whalewatch.co.nz), as well as helicopter touch, which can allow you to see the creatures from top to tail, as opposed to just a flipper or spout that might be seen from a boat (from US$170 per person in a group of hour; worldwhales.co.nz). stay at the Hapuku Lodge to continue the nature theme, with its designer treehouses set 30-feet up in the air among a grove of manuka trees, featuring hand-crafted wooden furniture and large windows (doubles from US$300; hapukulodge.com).