Dolphin watching in New Zealand and where to find them?

Dolphins & Whales are abundant in New Zealand. There are several different species of dolphins found around the coasts of New Zealand, including the world’s smallest dolphin the Hector. The common & bottlenose dolphins are plentiful. Along with the rare Maui Dolphin which can only be found on the West Coast of the North Island of New Zealand.

There are a few options available to get to see or even in some cases swim with a dolphin in New Zealand. Luxury Adventures only work with reputable cruise operators who take extraordinary care to make sure that the dolphins are not harmed. With many of the operators part of the tour price goes towards dolphin or whale conservation.

Dolphins can be seen in many areas around New Zealand. It’s quite possible you will spot one or two whilst on a journey or tour, sailing trip, or cruise. If however you specifically want to get close to dolphins then the key destinations where you can see the dolphins are. Bay of Islands, Auckland, Kaikoura and the Marlborough Sounds.

Dolphin watching in the Bay of Islands

In the Bay of Islands you can view dolphins all year round. There are tours available that combine a discover the bay, or hole in the rock cruise with dolphin watching. You’ll get to see the dolphins play in their natural environment. Once you come across a pod of dolphin, Department of Conservation regulations will determine whether a swim is possible. If there are young calves it is not permitted to swim. There is usually an additional cost to swim and you should be a confident swimmer, and over 8 years of age.

Dolphins are a common sight in the Bay of Islands
Dolphins are a common sight in the Bay of Islands

Dolphin watching in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf

In the Hauraki Gulf of Auckland you are likely to spot either the common dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin or orca (which actually belongs to the dolphin family). The tours from Auckland operate daily, and the tours take around 4 – 5 hours. There are only viewing tours from Auckland with no options to swim with the dolphins.

Dolphin watching in Marlborough Sounds and Kaikoura

In the calm waters of the Marlborough Sounds you can find Dusky, Bottlenose, Common, Orca and the rare Hector’s dolphins. As well as fur seals and an abundance of bird life. Tours depart Picton on a daily basis and you are permitted to swim with the dolphins. The Dusky dolphin can also be found in Kaikoura where dolphin tours are separate to any whale watching tours. The dolphin tour boats are not allowed to the sites where the Sperm Whales are found. Dolphin tours are purely for the purpose of viewing dolphins.

How much does dolphin watching in New Zealand generally cost?

The cost of a dolphin encounter varies from region to region and of course the various operators offer slightly different experiences. Average costs are around NZ$100 per person for viewing tours, with additional costs of $50 per person for a swim. All tours are weather dependent, and as you are visiting the mammals in their natural habitat, there are no guarantees of sightings.

There is a good chance of seeing whales in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf. Dolphins are also a common sight.
There is a good chance of seeing whales in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. Dolphins are also a common sight.

Whale watching in New Zealand and where to find them?

You can find whales all around New Zealand’s coast, including the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland and Kaikoura on the east coast of the south island. In Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf the Bryde’s whales and pilot whales are the most often sighted. Humpback whales pass through on their way to the Antarctic in summer and on their return in winter. They breed in the tropical waters of the South Pacific. The distinctive black and white Orca also known as killer whales visit the Gulf in small pods and sometimes venture into Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Auckland’s whale watching and dolphin safaris operate all year round, and tours last approximately 4.5 hours.

The mighty fluke of a sperm whale off the coast of Kaikoura
The mighty fluke of a sperm whale off the coast of Kaikoura

Kaikoura is the place for sperm whale watching

The town of Kaikoura is the most well known place for whale watching in New Zealand. Kaikoura is one of the few places in the world where Sperm Whales can be seen all year round and relatively close to shore. The whales gather in in this area due to a 3km deep canyon which runs right up against the coast. This in turn creates a rare system of sea currents with an amazingly rich marine food supply.

Boat tours from Kaikoura run all year (weather dependent) and they have a 95% success rate. There are three trips daily with an additional trip during peak summer times. The cost of these tours is approximately NZ$150 per person. You should allow 2.5 hours for the tour.

Whale watching in Kaikoura from the air

To gain a different perspective of the the sperm whale, and if boats are not for you. Take a whale watching flight viewing the entire whale from head to tail, a unique opportunity to see the whales, and dolphins.

Are you wondering about what else to do on your New Zealand trip?

Have a look at some of our previous activity ideas below.

Luxury Adventures – Tailoring luxury travel in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific Islands since 1999.

Kay Campbell

Originally from the UK, I now call New Zealand my home, relocating 15 years ago with my husband and two children. I have been with Luxury Adventures for 15 years. When not planning perfect vacations and honeymoons for our clients, I enjoy running and recently completed the Queenstown marathon, along with reading, walking in the bush and on the beach with my two dogs and finding new favourite places in New Zealand.

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