Top Places to See Dolphins in New Zealand

New Zealand has many species of dolphins. Some tourists choose to visit New Zealand just for the opportunity to swim with them. Here are the top places to see dolphins in New Zealand.

The Bay of Islands

You're spoilt for choice when it comes to dolphin tourism operators in New Zealand, and the Bay of Islands is no exception. You go out on a ferry, sail around a bit until you find dolphins, and hope they're attracted to your bow wave. They usually are. It's apparently marvellous fun for them to swim in. Then, if the dolphins don’t have any calves with them, you’re allowed to get in the water. Sometimes the dolphins will come right up to you, sometimes they won’t. The Bay of Islands is a great place for swimming with dolphins because the water is quite warm compared to the rest of the country, and because there’s some pretty scenery around, such as the imaginatively named Hole in the Rock.

The two species of dolphins you’re likely to encounter in the Bay of Islands are the common dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin. The bottlenoses are the stereotype of what everyone expects dolphins to look like; the common dolphins have yellow patches on their sides. Both species can be really friendly towards humans, but they can also get boisterous and downright violent, which is why you’re not allowed in with them if they have calves to protect, or seem in a slightly odd mood.

Also, if you’re extremely lucky, you might see some killer whales. (Although you’re not allowed to swim with those.)

Goat Island

Goat Island is a haven for snorkelers, with its clear water and abundance of beautiful, colourful fish. For most people, wading into the shallow surf and having all these vibrant aquatic creatures swimming around your ankles is a wonderful experience, which is why so many people flock to Goat Island each year.

You can see bottlenose and common dolphins at Goat Island as well.

Auckland

You can get a ferry that’ll take you to see the dolphins out in the Hauraki Gulf straight from downtown Auckland.

You can see both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. If you're lucky, you might even get a fantastic show of gannets working with a pod of dolphins to hunt fish.

Tauranga

There are yet more dolphin tour companies operating from Tauranga, which, again, offer the opportunity to see common and bottlenose dolphins, along with killer whales, and occasionally even something as magnificent as a baleen whale. These tours take you out past Mount Maunganui into the Bay of Plenty.

But you don’t necessarily have to book an expensive dolphin tour to be amazed. Every now and then, a pod of orca will come right into Tauranga Harbour for a short stay, mainly to hunt stingrays in the shallow water, which are apparently like killer whale confectioneries. When this happens, you can get up close to the orca in a kayak, or on a jet ski, or just watch from the shore.

The West Coast of the North Island

Off the west coast of the North Island is the only place in the world you’ll find the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world. It has a round, black dorsal fin and is really cute. Unfortunately, the chances of you seeing one are so small that if you do see one you have to inform the Department of Conservation. There are less than eighty left.

Maui’s dolphins like to swim around in shallow water close to shore, which means they’re in danger of being caught in fishing nets or being hit by boats.

The Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds are at the top of the South Island and are beautiful to cruise around even without the dolphins. Along with the expected bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins and orca, from Picton you can see the rare Hector’s dolphins and the more common dusky dolphins. In fact, you might see dolphins on the ferry crossing between Wellington and Picton anyway.

The waters of the sounds are nice and peaceful, absolutely lovely for swimming in, and relaxing to kayak on.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a town famous for its whale watching. Here, you can see sperm whales, humpback whales and even sometimes a blue whale! Of course, you can swim with some dolphins as well. There are common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins, killer whales and the rather confusingly named southern right whale dolphins, the only dolphins without dorsal fins.

Akaroa

Akaroa is the place to see Hector’s dolphins, though it’s a charming village in itself. Conveniently located near Christchurch, it was originally settled by French immigrants so, of course, you get the whole culture of fancy food and wine.

Akaroa is the only place in the world where you can swim commercially with Hector’s dolphins. They look the same as Maui’s dolphins, small and sweet.

Fiordland

Fiordland is one of the most stunning places on earth. It’s at the bottom of the South Island and has sounds like Marlborough at the top, but they’re somehow more dramatic, and there are dolphins in them too. You can see the dolphins if you go for a cruise on Doubtful Sound, or Milford Sound, but there’s only one species, the bottlenoses. You probably wouldn’t want to swim with them either. Aside from the water being dark, (which means it’s like a mirror, reflecting the breathtaking hills, waterfalls and mountains above,) it’s freezing.

Porpoise Bay

Porpoise Bay has a resident population of Hector’s dolphins, which you can see just by standing on the beach.

Top Places to See Dolphins in New Zealand

Article by Abigail Simpson

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