A Travel Price Comparison for New Zealand Nelson vs. Kaikoura for Beaches, Hiking, Families, and Couples

Should you visit Nelson or Kaikoura?

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

Trying to figure out where to travel next? This travel comparison between Nelson and Kaikoura can help. It includes a travel cost comparison in addition to other factors. For many travelers, the cost of a destination is a primary consideration when choosing where to go.

Nelson

Nelson is a natural, beautiful, and outdoorsy city. The beauty of this spot is also one of the main reasons why visitors come. And you can't forget about the shopping, museums, and nightlife.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a biologically diverse, unique, and nature-oriented town. It's also known for nightlife, food, and beaches.

Nelson and Kaikoura: Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Popular beach
  • Good for hiking
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Impressive beauty
Pros
  • Active nightlife
  • 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


Is there more to do in Nelson or Kaikoura?

Travelers will usually find more to do in Nelson. Although Nelson and Kaikoura are popular destinations, Nelson has more sights and attractions for tourists. Nelson is famous for its stunning national parks, beautiful coastline, and outdoor adventures. It is also well known for Abel Tasman National Park. Kaikoura is famous for its local Sperm Whale population, abundance of marine life, and local crayfish (lobster) recipes.

How is Nelson different from Kaikoura?

Which is Better for a Holiday?

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

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

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson is a popular place for its sights and museums. However, Kaikoura is not a good town for its museums and history.

Nelson offers a variety of museums and landmarks to choose from. While most people spend their time enjoying the nature-oriented activities, there are several museums in the area as well. Founder's Heritage Park Museum is a village-like setting that you can explore. There's also the Nelson Classic Car Museum and local art and craft galleries that are fun to walk through.

While most people don't head to Kaikoura specifically for the museums and attractions, it does offer a few options. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Nelson
Kaikoura

There are opportunities to sample the local cuisine at excellent restaurants in both Nelson and Kaikoura.

With its innovative style combined with traditional elements, Nelson makes for a great culinary experience. Local ingredients, vineyards, and craft breweries all make the foodie scene around town interesting. There are many great restaurants that offer seasonal menus that change with the season. Eating is an experience in town, and locals take pride in the food they produce.

Kaikoura has a huge number of terrific restaurants. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Nightlife?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Both Nelson and Kaikoura are nice when it comes to partying.

There's a variety of activities in the evening in Nelson. The city attracts a good tourist crowd, and there are bars and clubs that keep things interesting late into the evening.

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 Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Beaches?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson 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 Nelson. Beaches in the area are sandy and most are great for swimming. There are many water sports available as well such as kayaking, kite surfing, and paddleboarding. You'll find locals and tourists alike hanging out at the beach and enjoying a barbecue.

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 Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Hiking?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson 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 Nelson specifically for its hiking, as the natural beauty is well-known. The area is filled with walking and hiking trails that wander along the coast and soak up the spectacular views. There are also three national parks in the area that are filled with trails. Abel Tasman National Park, Kahurangi National Park, and Nelson Lakes National Park each have their own environments and scenery to explore.

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 Nelson or Kaikoura?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Both Nelson and Kaikoura are nice shopping destinations.

Nelson is a great destination for shopping. There are weekly markets in the area and a variety of retail shops where you can pick up anything you might need.

Shopping is a popular activity when visiting Kaikoura. There are local shops where you can pick up some interesting products that are unique to the area.

Is Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Families?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Both Nelson and Kaikoura are terrific to visit with kids.

Nelson is an extremely popular city to visit for families. Surrounded by family-friendly national parks, this city has a number of things for kids to do. In particularly, Abel Tasman National Park is a highlight for kids, with canoeing, sailing and other activities. Kids will also enjoy a visit to Cable Bay Adventure Park or seeing the historically themed Founders Park.

With a huge array of activities for kids, Kaikoura is very family-friendly. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Couples?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson is a world-class destination for its romantic activities. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for couples.

Nelson makes for a terrific place to visit as a couple. Wilderness, national parks, beaches, and mountain scenery make this a wonderful couples destination. The area also has beautiful vineyards and gardens as well hiking and outdoor adventures.

Kaikoura makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson 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 Nelson. There are many hostels in the area as well as outdoor activities and adventure sports that backpackers will love.

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

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson is a moderate city for its public transit. However, Kaikoura is not a good town for times when you don't have a car.

Public transit is generally limited in Nelson. The city has a local bus network, but to efficiently explore everything that the area has to offer, you'll want to have a car.

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


Is Nelson or Kaikoura a more walkable city?

Nelson
Kaikoura

Nelson is a well-known place for its high level of walkability. Also, Kaikoura is not as famous, but is still a good town to visit for its ease of walking around.

Nelson is a very walkable city. There are many great walks in the area and its a wonderful way to get around.

Kaikoura is a somewhat walkable city. 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.

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

Should I spend more time in Kaikoura or Nelson?

How long in Nelson or Kaikoura?

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

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

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

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Nelson 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 Nelson.


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

One day in Nelson or Kaikoura?

The beautiful city of Nelson offers food and shopping. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura?

Nelson is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. Many visitors spend time at the beach while visiting the area. 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 Nelson or Kaikoura?

Nelson is a popular choice for travelers. Five days here is typical. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Nelson, 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 Nelson or Kaikoura?

Nelson 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 unique 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 Family-Friendly Tours to New Zealand, The Best Wildlife Tours to New Zealand, The Best Hiking & Trekking Tours in New Zealand, and The Best 10-Day Tours in New Zealand.


Which place is cheaper, Kaikoura or Nelson?

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

The average daily cost (per person) in Nelson is $95, while the average daily cost in Kaikoura is $136. 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 Nelson and Kaikoura in more detail.



Accommodation
  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person
    Nelson $41
    Kaikoura $48
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room
    Nelson $82
    Kaikoura $96
Compare Hotels in Nelson and Kaikoura

Looking for a hotel in Nelson 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 Nelson


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: Nelson Hotel Prices and Kaikoura Hotel Prices.

Local Transportation
  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc.
    Nelson $29
    Kaikoura $17

Is it cheaper to fly into Nelson or Kaikoura?

Prices for flights to both Kaikoura and Nelson 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
    Nelson $27
    Kaikoura $38

Entertainment
  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc.
    Nelson $24
    Kaikoura $154

Tours and Activities in Nelson

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

  • Nelson City Walking Tour - Guided: $30
  • Cable Bay Adventure Park: E-bike hire: $57
  • Cable Bay Adventure Park Skywire Experience: $66
  • SKYWIRE Experience: $68
  • Nelson to Mapua: Full-Day Cycling Self-Guided Adventure: $72
  • Self-Guided Nelson to Mapua Cycle Adventure: $73
  • Magical Mapua Self Guided One Day Cycle Tour: $77
  • Magical Mapua Charms in off-summer Season Selfguided Cycle Tour: $77
  • Great Taste Beer Tour by Bicycle (Self-guided): $80
  • Guided Quad Biking Tour Through Forest and Farmland: $81
  • Cruise, Walk, and Sail in Abel Tasman National Park: $114
  • Full-Day Sailing Adventure in the Abel Tasman National Park: $151

Tours and Activities in Kaikoura

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

  • Seal-Watching Pedal Kayak Tour: $72
  • Sunset Kayak tour in Kaikoura: $74
  • Seal Kayaking Adventure in Kaikoura: $74
  • Llama Trek (Taster) - Kowhai River Valley and Native Woodland Tour: $82
  • Guided Family Kayaking Adventure: $90
  • Half-Day Wildlife Kayaking Tour: $90
  • Wildlife Kayaking Tour at Sunset: $90
  • Wildlife Sea Kayaking Tour - Kaikoura: $92
  • Sunset Evening Kayaking Tour - Kaikoura: $92
  • KaikĊura: Zipline and Native Forest Adventure Trip: $96
  • Half Day Zipline Adventure in Kaikoura: $98
  • Whale Watching Cruise: $99

Alcohol
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day
    Nelson $13
    Kaikoura -

Sample the Local Flavors in Nelson

Some specific costs for nightlife related activities in Nelson:

  • Hop on Hop off Wine Tours Nelson: $61
  • Self-guided E-bike cycle tour with private wine tasting : $98


When we compare the travel costs of actual travelers between Nelson and Kaikoura, we can see that Kaikoura is more expensive. And not only is Nelson much less expensive, but it is actually a significantly cheaper destination. So, traveling to Nelson would let you spend less money overall. Or, you could decide to spend more money in Nelson 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 Nelson.

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


Which is Bigger, Nelson or Kaikoura?

Nelson has a larger population, and is about 90 times larger than the population of Kaikoura. When comparing the sizes of Nelson 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.