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Whale watching in New Zealand


Whale watching in New Zealand really brings one word to mind: Kaikoura. There are a host of places where dolphins can be seen, but to see whales, head to Kaikoura. The unique geography of the Kaikoura area, a series of very deep trenches just off the coast known as the Kaikoura canyon, provides a perfect environment for some key whale a dolphin prey species, including giant squid.

Sperm whales are the most common and visible species, and you are almost guaranteed to see one at anytime of the year, with the best months being in the summer (December to March). Orca are often seen too, feeding on the large pods of dusky and common dolphins that are resident all year. Other whales occasionally seen include Humpback and Pilot whales, and very occasional sightings of Cuviers Beaked, Southern Right and even giant Blue whales.

As well as boat based tours, whales can be seen from the air, from either light aircraft or helicopters. This is a spectacular way to see the whales, and gives a great perspective. It is also possible to sea Kayak from Kaikoura which can be very exciting, but is more dependent on the weather.

Dolphins are also a major draw at Kaikoura, and this is one of the best places in the world to “swim with dolphins”. If you imagined that you will be swimming around leisurely spotting the dolphins as they swim below you, think again. This is the dolphins’ home environment, and if they want to come and see you, they will. Sometimes your best bet is to sing/groan/hum and if you hit the right note, you will suddenly become aware that you are not alone. On a good day the dolphins will swim around you, under you, upside down beneath you and they will even jump over you. Just as you begin to get used to it, they will disappear, and, and they will come and go at their whim.

Even if you don’t feel like the swim, boat based viewing can be very rewarding as you have a great chance of seeing the playful dusky dolphins, as well as possible sightings of Common and the rare Hectors dolphins (Strictly speaking, both Killer and Pilot whales are actually dolphins too).