Kaikoura is a small Coastal town on the South Island of New Zealand, known for its amazing and plentiful ocean activity – Specifically whales, dolphins, and seals. It’s a must-see if you are headed for Christchurch as it’s only a couple of hours drive away, so no excuses!
If you are travelling with The Kiwi Experience, they do offer a trip to Kaikoura, however the wildlife activities are limited to the times and number of seats that they have been allocated. With this in mind, we decided to book through the Kiwi Reps, but for a day/time when there was more availability and freedom. We just had to make our own way there.
Fortunately for us, this was easy enough! We simply rented a car in Christchurch for a day that we booked online after comparing a few rates. It was all very laid back and the process was smooth – which is almost always the way in New Zealand.
So, one very bright, early morning, we picked up our granny-like vehicle and headed over to pretty little Kaikoura with plenty of time to spare. It is almost impossible to miss the ‘Dolphin Encounter‘ centre, as it dominates the shore and is a hive of activity; a focal point of the town. A little advice: They do have a nice cafe if you need to kill some time before your session, but don’t eat too much as once you get out on the choppy waters, you will likely regret it!
The activities on offer in Kaikoura are to swim with dolphins, or to observe them. You can also go whale-spotting, however there are many warning that this is not always guaranteed, so don’t get your hopes up too much. We opted to swim with the dolphins as it seemed too great an opportunity to pass up, and we were not disappointed.
The time came for our session to begin, and we were taken into a large room to find gear that fitted us. Once suited up (very sexily I might add), our entire group were provided with a brief introduction and training on what to expect and how to behave around the dolphins. It’s super important to pay attention here and to respect these amazing creatures, after all, you are the one intruding on their turf.
Eventually we made our way onto the open-topped boat and we were giddy with excitement. It was a very windy and rather nippy day, so the waters were really rather rough. Mike and I wanted to shelter on the lower deck, but thanks to the bumpy ride quite a few other tourists soon discovered that they suffered from sea-sickness, and we couldn’t really be around them in an enclosed area.
It took a while for the crew to spot any dolphins, as obviously this varies with every trip. After at least half an hour they found our first ones so we all quickly headed into the water, but alas, these particular dolphins did not want to play with us. After only around ten minutes in the water we were back on the boat, to try again. Luckily, second time around was a huge success.
The dolphins were so playful! We had been told in training that they love it if you make noises to them, and they will mirror your behaviour. Honestly, I couldn’t believe how intelligent they were. All of the loud squawking I was doing was reciprocated, and once I paired up with one of them, I found that they would quite literally swim in circles around me! Of course they were faster every time, but they clearly found it highly entertaining trying to get me to keep up.
I must admit, it was quite alarming an alarming experience at first. The water was so rough (and freezing), and the dolphins are so large and quick that it can be a little unsettling. However, I would advise that you just take a deep breath and relax – the most important thing is to not panic. I started to, but just had firmly tell myself NO, make the most out of this amazing opportunity. Do not waste it!
We were in and out of the water a few more times, as the dolphins always lose interest after a while (understandably). It was incredible to see how many of them were in Kaikoura though. Even as we made our way back they would swim alongside the boat, jumping and twirling as they did so.
It was a totally unforgettable day. As we drove back to Christchurch we reminisced excitedly about our own experiences, in disbelief that it had actually happened. I must admit we were completely exhausted thanks to the wind and temperature battled throughout the day, but it was completely worth it and we even had time for a hearty meal out before having to return our granny-mobile. The perfect end to a perfect day.