Kaikoura is a town on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located on State Highway 1,180 km north of Christchurch. Kaikoura has now become a popular tourist destination, mainly for whale watching and swimming with or near dolphins. The grace, beauty and curiosity of these most sociable and acrobatic dolphins will take your breath away! Either of the tour options whether it is swimming with the dolphins or watching the dolphins are renowned as world class experiences. Immerse yourself in their world with Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura, an unforgettable experience in one of New Zealand’s most breath-taking destinations.
What to expect
Join the pioneers of dolphin swimming in Kaikoura on a 3.5 hour cruise, taking in amazing coastal views where you’ll see dolphins in their natural environment. This is a truly unique experience! Choose to either watch and learn about these fascinating creatures from the boat, or upgrade and jump in the water with the dolphins for a 20 – 40 minute swim.
Imagine sitting on board the Kaikoura dolphin watching boat as it cuts through the gentle waves, gliding towards a wide horizon. The air is alive with the salty tang of ocean spray, but you’re dry and warm, safe onboard with your fellow dolphin watchers. The sound of the engines falls away. And then, there they are. Dozens, hundreds of dolphins, leaping, flipping and jumping in a one-time-only acrobatic spectacular. As they leap, so does your heart. As they move with an unrestrainable joy, so does your smile.
Kaikoura’s dusky dolphins are heart-warming characters you’ll remember forever. They are the most acrobatic of the dolphin species, so be ready for the best dolphin show on earth-because Kaikoura is one of the best places on the planet to encounter them in their natural habitat.
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Kaikoura is located on the east coast of the South Island between Christchurch and Picton. Christchurch is approximately 2.5 hour drive to the south of Kaikoura and has an international airport. Picton is approximately 2 hour drive to the north and is the entry point for travellers coming to the South Island by ferry from Wellington in the North Island. The Tranz Coastal train is a beautiful way to travel from Picton to Christchurch and stops in Kaikoura twice daily.
The Dolphin Encounter tours operate from the Encounter Kaikoura site which is located at 96 Esplanade in Kaikoura, which is a 5 minute walk from the centre of Kaikoura. There is a large car park available for your vehicles to park safely while participating in this tour.
If you don’t have your own transport, InterCity services provide a daily coach transport between Christchurch, Kaikoura and Picton then back to Kaikoura. Fares vary depending on your day of travel and date of booking and vary between $30 – $40 NZD.
Encounter Kaikoura have a modern well maintained fleet of smaller boats which, unlike most other operators both locally and globally, offer a close-to-the-water experience for you. There is a limit of just 16 swimmers on each vessel with plenty of additional space for watching. Both swimmers and watchers travel on the same boat. All boats using for swimming with dolphins have deck showers available to help you warm up in between swims if necessary or when you have finished swimming.
The Kaikoura Coast is an exposed coastal area and the weather can be changeable. It is advisable to check the weather forecast before you travel to Kaikoura especially if you are travelling here for the day to specifically participate on the tour. You can check your phone app for Kaikoura’s weather or alternatively log in to the New Zealand Metservice on www.metservice.co.nz.
The water temperature rarely rises above 19 degrees celsius in the summer months and drops to around 8 degrees celsius in the winter months. To keep you comfortable in the water the supplier will provide you with good quality 7 mm wetsuits which consist of a full body one piece overall with a 7mm jacket which fits over the top. In the colder months of winter additional gear of gloves and booties will be provided.
The tour operates at 5:30am (sunrise tour), 8:30am and 12:30 pm from November to April and operates at 8:30 am and 12:30 pm from May to October. The best time of day to do the tour is either 5:30 am or 8:30 am if possible. The reasons for this are that the sea conditions tend to be calmer in the day and the dolphins can be more interactive, but the number of dolphins does not usually vary too much from tour to tour.
The Kaikoura coastline is an expansive area of deep water open to the Pacific Ocean with no sheltered bays or fiords nearby. To gain the best experience from swimming with the dolphins previous snorkelling experience is an advantage but not necessary. Being an experienced swimmer is also helpful but it is not essential to be a strong swimmer just so long as you are confident in the water. There are flotation devices such as kickboards and buoyancy aids if a little extra assistance is needed. Please note that the crew do not enter the water on the tours.
The Dolphin Encounter tour is focused on respecting the dolphins in their natural environment. While the dolphins will come very close to you we don’t recommend that you try and touch them but rather, the best idea is to swim with your arms at your side. If you reach out to touch them this will usually cause the dolphins to move away. The dolphins are curious and we encourage you in the water to make some noises, for example, singing a favourite song or making a dolphin like noise through your snorkel can attract the dolphins close to you. Please note that seasickness is often experienced and even in slight seas, you may find yourself dealing with motion sickness. We recommend taking medication to combat this prior to your tour.