New Zealand

Swimming with Wild Dusky Dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand


The small coastal town of Kaikoura, New Zealand is best known for its Aquatic life. In particular, its resident seals and local dusky dolphins. As a huge animal lover, I knew I had to go there.

I wanted to see the dolphins of Kaikoura in their natural habitat. I wanted to get up close and personal with them. I wanted to swim with them.

In November 2016, the beautiful coastal town of Kaikoura was the epicentre of a point 7 earthquake. Initially, Kaikoura found itself cut off from the rest of the country as major highways were damaged.

When my husband and I set off in February (2017) they’d reopened the route from Christchurch, however as there was no access North from there still, it meant we would have to take the inland scenic route to the Picton ferry, a mere 7-hour drive.

Faced with this extra journey, something we’d not counted on, we initially thought we’d have to change our plan of action completely. But, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, we couldn’t miss it.  Without giving away spoilers, it was absolutely worth it.

Setting Out

We booked ourselves onto a “Seal Swim and Dolphin Encounter” experience. Unfortunately due to the water conditions where the seals lived that was cancelled, however, the dolphin swim was going ahead.

Sadly, mother nature had other plans for our trip, again. And the weather ruled out a visit to the seals. However, swimming with the dolphins was still going ahead.

Phil and I were on a rather small boat. Fourteen swimmers, the skipper and deckhand. We’d been warned that the sea conditions were ‘moderate’, there was a fairly large swell of approx 3 metres. We tried to ignore it as we hugged the coast in search of New Zealand’s Dusky Dolphins.

We spotted a ‘nursery’ pod but we weren’t going to swim with them. Like many mammals, Dolphins are very protective of their young. So we moved on.

We went further out into open sea. We perching on the edge of the boat ready to get in. It was crucial we got in quickly and tried to interact with the dolphins immediately to get some interaction back. They are wild and will only stay around if they are interested in us. It’s more like we entertain the dolphins.

The Swim

Out in open water, with another pod spotted, we jumped in. The water was colder than expected. And it was an oddly intimidating moment, being at sea with dolphins underneath us. The Dolphins swiftly swam on meaning, we had to get back on board and keep looking.

Not long later we came across another pod and dived in determined and excited. Within seconds we were amongst them. I can’t describe the feeling. These majestic creatures were gracefully gliding through the waves and coming straight up to us. We’d been told to be as “dolphin like” as possible and to dive down, make eye contact and try to swim alongside them, circling with them if they start to circle you. We were also told to make as much noise as possible through our snorkels, sing, shout, whatever you can as they are stimulated by noise. The more we did this, the more likely the dolphins would stick around and play with us. We went for it, literally singing at the top of lungs and being bold. They loved it, and so did we. They came so close to us, I could have reached out and touched them. I never did though as you shouldn’t.

They kept coming back and forth. Appearing next to us, below us and jumping up beside us. It might have been scary if it wasn’t so exhilarating and knowing they are friendly animals. They stayed for ages and we constantly engaged with them. There aren’t really many other things to say except it was magical. I just got lost in the moment.

The boat sounded its horn which meant we were to come back in, we went slowly as the dolphins didn’t leave our sides so it was hard for us to leave theirs. Once back on board we were on such a high but was greeted with a weird sight. Everyone else was out of the water already, either lying on the ground or having heads in buckets. Out of 14 people only Phil, the Irish girl and I were the only ones fine and not sea sick. Horrendous! I just felt so bad for them as they had just missed out on that amazing interaction.

The Epic finale

We sailed on, with the small pod following us and suddenly the amount grew. The skipper slowed the boat right down. We were in the middle of an entire pod and they were all swimming around us.

Three hundred plus dolphins in all directions. Dusky dolphins are known to be the most gymnastic of all dolphins. And, they absolutely lived up to their reputation. We started cheering and hollering which only encouraged them and soon they were all doing it. Coming closer, jumping higher and doing more tricks. It was like our own personal show. The atmosphere

was electric and we never wanted to leave. It was like they put on this incredible finale just for us. That moment will stay with me forever.


Sadly we moved on, the waves were even worse on the way back so we focused on chatting and animal spotting, seeing albatross and seals in the water. Phil and I were buzzing when back on land and both concluded it was one of the best experiences, not only on this trip but in our lives to date.

Do it!

If you are interested I’d recommend booking in advance with Dolphin Encounter. Not only is the opportunity amazing, but I highly recommend this company, the staff are so helpful and friendly, they even let us in the day before when they were closing up to try on wetsuits as we’d be pushed for time the following day. Plus when people were ill on board I was incredibly impressed with the care and support the deckhand showed everyone. It’s a popular excursion, so don’t miss out by potentially turning up on the day with no availability.

The amazing thing with this experience is that you are joining the dusky dolphins in their own natural environment. Nothing is forced and you can truly interact with them in an awe inspiring way.

Have you done this? Or been to Kaikoura lately?
I’d love to know how the town is doing post earthquake and whether you’ve had the joy of dolphin or seal swimming!

Let me know in the comments below.


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