A Travel Price Comparison for Families, Couples, and Backpackers Cairns vs. Kaikoura for Nightlife, Beaches, Hiking, and Families

Should you visit Cairns or Kaikoura?

Which is cheaper to visit? Which is more expensive for vacation?

Should I visit Cairns or Kaikoura? This is a common question asked by many travelers. By figuring out which city has activities that align with your interests along with knowing which is more affordable, you'll understand where you can get more bang for your buck. So, let's dive into the details and the data, which all comes from actual travelers.

Cairns

Cairns is a tropical, idyllic, and outdoorsy city. And you can't forget about the hiking, shopping, and nightlife.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a nature-oriented, biologically diverse, and unique town. It's also popular because of the beaches, hiking, and shopping.

Cairns and Kaikoura: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Active nightlife
  • Nice resorts
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Good public transit
  • Home to the Great Barrier Reef
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
Pros
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
Things to Consider
  • Less museums and historical sights
  • Less popular for nightlife
  • Public transit not as usable


Is there more to do in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Tourists will generally find more to do in Cairns. Although Cairns and Kaikoura are both popular with visitors, Cairns has more sights, activities, and attractions for travelers. Cairns is more touristy than Kaikoura and is popular for its stunning beaches, nearby rainforests, and easy access to the world's largest reef system. It is also home to the Great Barrier Reef. Kaikoura is popular for its local Sperm Whale population, abundance of marine life, and local crayfish (lobster) recipes.

How is Cairns different from Kaikoura?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Kaikoura and Cairns. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns
Kaikoura

You'll find a number of decent museums and attractions in both Kaikoura and Cairns.

While most people don't head to Cairns specifically for the museums and attractions, it does offer a few options. Most visitors spend their time exploring nature and the outdoors, but there are some interesting cultural sights around town as well. Make sure you check out the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park as well as the Cairns Aquarium.

Kaikoura offers a handful of options for museums and historical sights. There aren't many museums in the area, but it's worth learning more about the region's history with a visit to Kaikoura Museum.


Is the Food Better in Cairns or Kaikoura? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Local dishes at restaurants are fun to try in both Cairns and Kaikoura.

Cairns has a number of nationally recognized food spots and restaurants. Waterfront dining with a view is what makes the restaurant scene special. Seafood is everywhere and you can enjoy the catch of the day while you relax on a beachfront terrace. There are also international restaurants that have everything from Spanish tapas to Japanese noodle bowls.

With its innovative style combined with traditional elements, Kaikoura makes for a great culinary experience. Seafood lovers will be in heaven in this town! There are many local, freshly caught favorites such as cod, mussels, and crayfish (which is actually lobster). You'll find plenty of casual eateries, including an authentic American diner.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Nightlife?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a world-class destination for nightlife and partying. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its evening party scene.

People head to Cairns just to party. For such as small city, the nightlife scene is incredibly vibrant, particularly during the peak tourist months. Backpackers are at the heart of the action, with many bars and clubs filling up each night with a young crowd. There are dance clubs, all night parties, cocktail bars, and beach side venues that are sure to offer a good time.

With a handful of venues, visitors can find a fairly lively vibe in Kaikoura. This is a small town so the nightlife scene is limited, but there are a few restaurants with bars around town.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Resorts?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a well-known place for its resorts. However, Kaikoura is not a resort destination.

Cairns is known as a popular and fun resort destination. There are many beautiful resorts that offer access to the beach and have impressive pools. There are family-friendly resorts, romantic resorts, and even some budget-friendly options.

Kaikoura is not a resort destination.


Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a world-class destination for its diving and snorkeling. However, Kaikoura is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

The clear water and abundant marine life make Cairns a world-class scuba diving and snorkeling destination. It's access to the Great Barrier Reef make this one of the world's top scuba diving and snorkeling destinations. The undersea world is filled with colorful coral, diverse tropical fish, graceful sea turtles, and a truly magical setting.

Kaikoura is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Beaches?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a world-class destination for the beache. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for the beach.

Travelers come from around the world to visit the beaches in Cairns. Near town you'll find stunningly beautiful beaches that range from hubs of activity to quiet coves. Cairns Esplanade Lagoon is the closest beach to the city center and it has a sandy beach and plenty of amenities. For a quieter setting, head north to Holloways Beach or to the family-friendly Yorkeys Knob Beach. Do take note that if the beach doesn't have a stinger net, then it's recommended you wear a stinger suit (to avoid jellyfish stings).

Kaikoura is a very popular place to visit for its beaches. There are many black pebble beaches in the area, which are great for wildlife spotting, but not so good for swimming. Gooch's Beach is one of the most popular, and it's sandier than many of the other beaches. South Bay is another popular area to visit.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Hiking?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a world-class destination for the nearby hiking options. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its hiking trails.

People visit Cairns specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. Near town you'll find wonderful national parks, lush rainforest, and beautiful mountain ranges. There are countless bush walks and hiking trails in the area. Head into the countryside and you'll get lost in nature and breathtaking views.

Many visitors explore the nearby hiking trails while visiting Kaikoura. There are many coastal walks in the area that will take you through a variety of landscapes. This is also a great way to see the many diverse types of wildlife throughout the peninsula.


Is the Shopping Better in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a well-known place for its shopping opportunities. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its shopping areas.

Cairns is a popular shopping destination with plenty of stores. There's plenty of shopping around town in the form of shopping centers, markets, and boutique shops. Whether you're looking for trendy fashion or a fun souvenir, there are many places to explore.

Kaikoura has a variety of shopping areas worth visiting. There are local shops where you can pick up some interesting products that are unique to the area.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Families?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Kids will enjoy a visit to either Cairns or Kaikoura.

As it has a large number of activities for kids, Cairns is a very family-friendly destination. With the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest nearby, this is a playground for kids and adults alike. There are sandy beaches, rainforest walks, turtle rehabilitation centers, scenic railways, adventure sports, and so much more.

Kaikoura is one of the most popular family destinations. Kids who love animals will appreciate all of the wildlife in the area. This is one of the best places in the country to see dolphins, whales, and seals. There are world class whale watching trips as well as opportunities to swim with the dolphins and get close to the seals. There is also kayaking, a coastal train, and even sheep shearing. Minigolf is also a fun activity in the area.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Couples?

Cairns
Kaikoura

With fun activities for couples, both Cairns and Kaikoura make for a high quality place to visit.

Cairns makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. It's a beautiful tropical setting with world class beaches and diverse marine life. Couples who enjoy the outdoors and adventure will love this amazing destination. You can experience the area's wildlife, relax on sandy beaches, or pamper yourself with a spa treatment. There is plenty of luxury, but also adventure-filled activities to choose from.

Couples visit Kaikoura frequently as it offers plenty of romantic activities. The town is all about wildlife, so if whale watching trips, dolphin spotting, and experiencing amazing local wildlife is your thing, then this is your spot! There are also beautiful coastal sights with a dramatic mountain backdrop.


Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a world-class destination for backpackers. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for backpackers and budget travelers.

Backpackers and budget travelers come from all over the world to visit Cairns. Backpackers flock to this coastal town for its easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and its many activities and vibrant energy. There are adventure sports, wild nightclubs, and no shortage of places to hang out with other backpackers.

Plenty of budget travelers and backpackers visit Kaikoura. There are a decent number of hostels in the area and plenty of fun activities that backpackers will enjoy.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Cairns is a popular place for its public transit. However, Kaikoura is not a good town for times when you don't have a car.

Cairns has a few public transit options. Sunbus operates a public bus service that travels through the city center and to many beaches. Most routes start at Cairns City Mall.

Public transit is quite limited in Kaikoura. The town is very small and there is no real public transit in the area.

Is Cairns or Kaikoura a more walkable city?

Cairns
Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a popular place for its ease of walking around. However, Cairns is lacking in options for its walkability.

Kaikoura is a somewhat walkable town. There are many coastal walks in the area, which is a great way to soak up the beauty and see the wildlife. The town itself is small and most of the accommodation is along Beach Road, so it's relatively easy to reach places on foot.

Cairns is generally not very walkable. While you can walk around many parts of the city center, most visitors want to head into the rainforest or experience the nearby day trips, which require a vehicle.


For even more information, also check out Is Cairns Worth Visiting? and Is Kaikoura Worth Visiting?.

Should I spend more time in Kaikoura or Cairns?

How long in Cairns or Kaikoura?

It's fun to spend time in either Cairns or Kaikoura. Generally, people tend to spend more time in Cairns due to the larger number of activities and things to do. Usually, 3-5 days is a good amount of time for Cairns, and 2-4 days is enough time in Kaikoura.

Families should spend more time in Cairns than Kaikoura. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Cairns, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Cairns than Kaikoura. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Cairns that are great for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Cairns than Kaikoura if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Cairns.


  • How many days in Cairns or Kaikoura? Ideal Length of Stay
    Cairns 3-5 
    Kaikoura 2-4

One day in Cairns or Kaikoura?

The city of Cairns offers food and scuba diving and snorkeling. Many visitors also spend a good bit of time hiking. With so much to do, one day is probably not enough time to see everything. It will give you the chance to have new experiences.

Many travelers enjoy the food and shopping when visiting the destination of Kaikoura. Hikers are also drawn to this area. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than one day exploring.

A weekend in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. People enjoy relaxing at one of the resorts. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than a weekend exploring. Take your pick from the many activities offered here.

Kaikoura is a great place to explore. It is common to spend a weekend here. With all of its activities, you can easily fill a weekend here. Your budget might influence how long you stay.

Five days in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns is a popular choice for travelers. Five days here is typical. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Cairns, five days is sufficent for most. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

It's hard to know how much time to spend in Kaikoura. Make sure you spend some time hiking while you're in the area. Five days may feel like too much time unless you plan to do a lot of relaxing. It has many unique tourist attractions and fascinating things to do.


A week in Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns is a great place to explore. Hiking can easily take up a good amount of your time here, too. One week is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. This city offers something for everyone.

Travelers enjoy the food and shopping when visiting the biologically diverse destination of Kaikoura. This town offers a variety of activities to choose from. Many travelers plan to spend time hiking while in the area. Most people find that one week is more than enough time to see everything.


For some great organized tour ideas, see The Best 10-Day Tours in Australia, The Best 2-Week Tours in Australia, The Best One Week (7-Day) Tours in New Zealand, and The Best 2-Week Tours in New Zealand.


Which place is cheaper, Kaikoura or Cairns?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

The average daily cost (per person) in Cairns is $96, while the average daily cost in Kaikoura is $139. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Cairns and Kaikoura in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Cairns $44
    Kaikoura $49
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Cairns $88
    Kaikoura $98
Compare Hotels in Cairns and Kaikoura

Looking for a hotel in Cairns or Kaikoura? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.

Hotels in Cairns


Hotels in Kaikoura


Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.


Our Analysis
We've analyzed the average and typical hotel prices based on guest reviews, star ratings, and hotel amenities here: Cairns Hotel Prices and Kaikoura Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Cairns $12
    Kaikoura $18

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Cairns

Also for Cairns, here are a few examples of actual transportation services:

  • Cairns airport to cairns city private Transfers: $13
  • Cairns Airport/City Transfers: $14
  • Shared Airport Transfer to/from City and Beaches: $14
  • Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Cairns City: $14
  • Airport Transfers between Cairns Airport and Palm Cove: $21
  • Private Transfer from Cairns City Hotels to Cairns Cruise Port: $21
  • Private Transfer From Cairns Cruise Port to Cairns City Hotels: $21
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Airport (CNS) to Cairns Cruise Port: $45
  • Private Transfer from Cairns Cruise Port to Cairns Airport (CNS): $46
  • Shuttle Bus Shared Transfer Cairns Airport to Port Douglas: $50
  • Cairns Airport(CNS) to Palm Cove hotels- Arrival Private Transfer: $50
  • Palm Cove to Cairns Airport (CNS) - Departure Private Transfer: $51

Is it cheaper to fly into Cairns or Kaikoura?

Prices for flights to both Kaikoura and Cairns change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.





Food
  • Food Meals for one day
    Cairns $28
    Kaikoura $39

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Cairns

For Cairns, here are some samples of tours and activities related to meals and dining experiences:

  • Cairns Luxury Catamaran Harbor and Dinner Cruise: $87
  • Night at the Aquarium Guided Tour & 2 Course Dinner: $91
  • Guided Twilight Tour with 3-Course Dinner: $118
  • City Sights Tour with Evening Dinner Cruise: $150
  • Small-Group Afternoon Cairns City Tour with Harbour Dinner Cruise: $159

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Cairns $38
    Kaikoura $157
Typical Entertainment Prices in Cairns

Below are a few sample prices from actual travelers for Cairns's activities, tours, and tickets:


  • Scuba Diving
    $36

Tours and Activities in Cairns

For Cairns, here are a few prices for actual activities, tours, and tickets provided by various companies:

  • Skip the Line: Cairns Museum Single Admission Ticket: $10
  • Cairns Self-Guided Audio Tour: $14
  • Kuranda Koala Gardens General Entry Ticket: $14
  • Cairns Pub & Club Tour: $27
  • Entry Ticket at Historic Village Herberton: $28
  • Cairns History Walking Tour: $29
  • Cairns Aquarium General Admission Ticket: $34
  • Sightseeing River Boat Safari with Soft Drinks: $36
  • Sunset River Cruise with Snack and Drinks: $43
  • Rusty's Market Foodlovers Tour: $44
  • Cairns Trinity Inlet Sightseeing Safari : $44
  • Kuranda Rainforestation Nature Park Ticket (BNP): $44

Tours and Activities in Kaikoura

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Kaikoura are as follows:

  • Llama Trek (Taster) - Kowhai River Valley and Native Woodland Tour: $84
  • 1-Hour Private Heli-Picnic Mountain top tour in Kaikoura : $243
  • 40-minute Mt Fyffe Summit Heli Tour in Kaikoura : $228
  • Half Day Zipline Adventure in Kaikoura: $99
  • Kaikoura Swim with Dolphins Tour from Christchurch: $247
  • Kaikoura Whale Watch Day Tour from Christchurch: $218
  • 1-Hour Whale Watching Helicopter Tour: $641
  • Guided Family Kayaking Adventure: $92
  • Half-Day Wildlife Kayaking Tour: $92
  • Seal-Watching Pedal Kayak Tour: $62
  • Whale Watching Cruise: $101
  • Wildlife Kayaking Tour at Sunset: $92

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Cairns $14
    Kaikoura -

Sample the Local Flavors in Cairns

Here are a few nightlife and alcohol tours and activities from local tour providers in Cairns:

  • Cairns Brewery Tours: $142
  • From Atherton Tablelands Food and Wine Tasting Tour: $161


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Cairns and Kaikoura, we can see that Kaikoura is more expensive. And not only is Cairns much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Cairns would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Cairns and be able to afford a more luxurious travel style by staying in nicer hotels, eating at more expensive restaurants, taking tours, and experiencing more activities. The same level of travel in Kaikoura would naturally cost you much more money, so you would probably want to keep your budget a little tighter in Kaikoura than you might in Cairns.

If you're trying to decide if either of these two destinations are within your price range, also see Is Cairns Expensive? and Is Kaikoura Expensive?.


Which is Bigger, Cairns or Kaikoura?

Cairns has a larger population, and is about 230 times larger than the population of Kaikoura. When comparing the sizes of Cairns and Kaikoura, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit along with the activities and attractions that interest you.