Amazing Wildlife Encounters in Kaikoura

New Zealand fur seals just chillin'. Having a gawk at the humans.

New Zealand fur seals just chillin’. Having a gawk at the humans.

Dreams come true in Kaikoura. To swim with several dusky dolphins in their natural environment, witness a humpback whale casually emerge beside your boat, laugh at an albatross as it clumsily waddles on water in preparation to make flight, and hang out with some New Zealand fur seals is a surreal experience and an absolute privilege. 

Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Why is its shores a mecca for this rare wildlife? Off the coast of Kaikoura is a 2km deep channel with colliding currents bringing important nutrients to the surface. This brings the smaller fish and krill closer to the water’s surface, which in turn attracts the bigger marine life. The largest being the sperm whale, which is often spotted on whale watching trips.

Take a wildlife encounter trip

Dolphin Encounter Boat

The grand vessel we took out to sea!

The boat trip and dolphin swim with Dolphin Encounter surpassed all expectations. Despite a heavy mist hanging around us, this did not hinder the experience. If anything, it enhanced the feeling of going into another world – the marine world. In fact, it wasn’t long before a humpback whale was spotted. We couldn’t hang around due to permit restrictions on whale watching with this particular trip.

Swim with dolphins

Dolphins in the mist. Like gorillas in the mist but with dolphins...

The dolphins were far too quick for my camera clicking skills. This is all I managed to get of their fins…

Seeing a group of fins on the water made me lose my breath with excitement. They were so close! It then became a hilarious chasing game between boat and dolphins that went something like this:

  1. Dolphins spotted.
  2. Boat stops.
  3. Wetsuit and snorkel-clad humans fall in unison from the boat.
  4. Humans “make like dolphin” by making all sorts of dreadful screeching noises through their snorkel.
  5. The dolphins are nowhere to be seen so screeching humans swim aimlessly in circles, often bumping into each other or getting a flipper to the face.
  6. Humans viewing from the boat laugh.
  7. Screeching humans are called back onto the boat to try find the dolphins again.

This happened on our first three dolphin swimming attempts. The fourth attempt was one of the most amazing experiences of my whole goddam life! Dusky dolphins dove underneath us, came up for air right in front of our faces, and did it again and again. They were so close I could touch them (but didn’t because they are wild dolphins that probably don’t want to get molested by me). There was even a calf glued to the belly of its mother. Brought a tear to my eye, it did. Can you cry underwater?

New Zealand fur seals are so cute!

Did you get my good side? New Zealand fur seal pup posing for the camera. So freakin' cute!

Did you get my good side? New Zealand fur seal pup posing for the camera. So freakin’ cute!

To explain the above, I am trying out pins for Pinterest. Pin it if you like *cheeky wink face*.

Our vessel then headed toward a ye olde rock over yonder – a rock like no other. It was a rock covered in bird shit and thus the name became White Rock.

What's that yee see over yonder?

As we drew closer, it seemed like some rocks were moving. Moving because they were only bloody seals! Right then, I was living the Frozen Planet dream. Cue cute seal pictures:

See seals for free

Seal colonies can easily be found along the Kaikoura coast. Tourism signs point out the colonies and look out points. Here is how close you can get to these dogs of the sea.


Whether you prefer dry land or are a bit of a marine animal yourself, Kaikoura is a must for anyone with a soul i.e. who can’t help but be astonished by these creatures. The $170 Dolphin Encounter swim is something I would do again in a heartbeat. With nature as the star of the show, you never know what you’re going to get – likely more than dolphins. Plus, if the dolphins don’t want to play you get a 80 per cent refund.

In any case, the seals are often basking in the sun as free entertainment. And you may see the odd albatross with its gargantuan wings swooping overhead.

So, when can I go back?

The mist finally shifts to reveal the Kaikoura Ranges

The mist finally shifts to reveal the Kaikoura Ranges


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