The Kaikouras consist of two ranges, separated by the Clarence Valley, with the Inland Kaikoura Range to the north-west and the Seaward Kaikoura Range to the south-east. The Inland Kaikoura Range, 60 miles long, starts at Blue Mountain (4,080 ft), 10 miles west of Ward, trends in a south-westerly direction, and reaches its greatest height of 9,465 ft at the peak, Tapuaenuku (“Footsteps of the Rainbow God”). It terminates south-west of Turks Head (6,426 ft) in the Acheron Valley. The Seaward Kaikoura Range, 60 miles long, starts 20 miles south-west of Ward as the Sawtooth Range, trends in a south-westerly direction, rising to 8,562 ft at the peak, Manakau, and terminates south-west of Mt. Tinline (5,731 ft). Seen across Cook Strait the Kaikoura Ranges, snow clad in winter, are a magnificent sight from Wellington.
Both ranges started to emerge from the sea some 30 million years ago as a result of block faulting. This process is still active today and is shown by the presence of active faults which hug the southeasterly and, consequently, the steepest flanks of these ranges. In part due to climate, with seasonal dry north-westerly winds, and in part due to continuing uplift, but due also to overstocking and introduction of noxious animals since European occupation, the ranges and their flanks are to a large extent devoid of vegetation; only relatively small areas of tussock and mountain totara have been preserved. On the lower north-west flank of the Seaward Kaikoura Range manuka scrub covers large areas. Both ranges, and the intermontane Awatere and Clarence Valleys, provide good shooting of deer, pigs, goats, and rabbits. The intermontane valleys are used for sheep farming, while lately cattle farming has been developed. Paua shells at the bush line at 7,000 ft on the southern flank of Tapuaenuku suggest a Maori retreat of probably pre-European age.
Literally, the name Kaikoura means “to eat crayfish”. It is said that the full name is Te Ahi-kai-koura-a-Tamatea-pokai-whenua meaning “the fire which Tamatea-pokai-whenua made to cook crayfish”. The legendary traveller stayed at Kaikoura Peninsula to cook crayfish during a journey.
by Geert Jan Lensen, New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.