Want to know what the best experience is in New Zealand? We would have to say swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat.
There is few chances in life where you can swim in the cold ocean waters with dusky dolphins but Kaikoura, a sea-side town in New Zealand's South Island is just the place you can do that.
Kaikoura is located 180km north of Christchurch or 150km south of Picton (the gateway to the South Island). The roads are winding between rocks and the sea with gorgeous views along the way, However the infrastructure of Kaikoura was heavily damaged in the 2016 earthquake, roads have been closed, although due to re-open by the end of 2017. (Below is a map of the routes into Kaikoura).
The name Kaikoura means 'meal of crayfish' (kai – food/meal, kōura – crayfish) and indeed Kaikoura has an abundance of marine life including fur seals, sperm whales, and dusky dolphins.
The company you will want to see these gorgeous dusky dolphins is 'Dolphin Encounter', you must make sure to book in advance as there is limited numbers every day. It costs around $175 pp (£88). And the tour lasts around 3 and half hours. You will arrive at the Cafe Encounter and check in, making sure the sea state is good. (It will be cancelled if sea state rough). Then wait for your group to be called and watch a safety brief before being sized up for wetsuits, flippers and masks, then head to your boat. Once out on the open waters you might get your first sightings of pods of dusky dolphins. Although it is not guaranteed you will see any dolphins during your trip, being that it is in the wild and not set up in a pool where you would be guaranteed to see dolphins. Upon sighting the dusky dolphins you will be told to get in the water ASAP. Jumping into the sea you will be immediately surrounded by wild dolphins, ones that have chosen to come swim here. You will have been advised to make noises as it will attract the dolphins, you will then get to swim alongside pods of dusky dolphins. Once the dolphins move on, you will jump back on the boat and hot foot it to the next potential spot.
You must realise that this tour is an open ocean experience and in order to swim with the dolphins you should be confident in the open ocean and it is an advantage to have had previous snorkelling experience.
All passengers should bring warm clothing and don't forget your underwater camera!!
We recommend booking for the earliest tours of the day, as the sea state is normally preferable then and the dolphins should be more interactive.
Dusky dolphins which are found around South America, southwestern Africa and New Zealand's waters, range in size length of 167–178 cm, so around the size of a human adult.
"We weren't out long before we got our first sightings of large pods of dusky dolphins. We were told to get in the water ASAP, we jumped into the freezing waters and immediately were surrounded by wild dolphins, ones that had chosen to swim here. We had been advised to make noises as it would attract the dolphins and it worked, we were swimming along side pods of dusky dolphins! They swam away and we jumped back on board, this happened a few more times. Each time in the water, dolphins were swimming next to us and if we spun around and around they would follow us like a game, it was so magical and so utterly unbelievable, truly once in a lifetime experience and by far the best thing we've ever done!"