Swimming with Dolphins
Swimming with dolphins is a big summer activity in the Bay of Plenty. Boat trips leave from Mount Maunganui and Tauranga. Bookings are essential and should be arranged at least one day prior, as some leave as early as 7:30 am. The Department of Conservation licenses and regularly inspects operators and sets limits on the number of boats allowed around any pod of dolphins. Touching, handling, and provoking the dolphins are prohibited. Locals say that the dolphins call the shots; if they don't want anyone swimming with them, they'll take off, and no boat has yet managed to catch up with an antisocial dolphin.
Butler's Swim with Dolphins. Graeme Butler of Butler's Swim with Dolphins has been running dolphin-swimming and whale-watching voyages on the sailing boat Gemini Galaxsea since the early 1990s. He's passionate about dolphins and whales. Trips leave at 9 am from Tauranga and 9:30 from Mount Maunganui, any day that weather allows. Cost is $135 for swimming with dolphins (includes wetsuit, snorkel, and hot drink), or $120 if you just want to watch. You'll also need to bring lunch, you'll be out until at least 4 pm. When the sails are up and the engine's off, it's a great feeling. Stopping at an island for snorkeling is part of the day, and if you don't see dolphins you can take another trip for free. September to November is whale season. You'll likely see as many whales as dolphins. Bookings essential. 07/578–3197 or 0508/288–537. www.swimwithdolphins.co.nz.
Dolphin Blue. Aside from the dolphins, a highlight of this trip is the classic, 54-ft. wooden launch you sail in. It makes a comfortable trip out to dolphin world (keeping in mind the cruise travels into open waters). Small groups, no more than 15, provide an intimate, boutique experience on the water. Trips ($140) leave Tauranga at 8:30 am and return about 3 to 4 pm. The vessel is fitted with a "swim rope" for you to hold while the dolphins dart around you. As with other such tours, if no dolphins or whales are spotted you can return for free trip, with no time restriction on when you do. J Pier, Sulphur Point Marina, Keith Allen Drive, Tauranga, 3110. 07/576–4303. www.dolphinblue.co.nz.
Dolphin Seafaris. Dolphin Seafaris will take you out for a dolphin encounter. Wet suits, dive gear, and towels are included in the $130 price tag for a trip leaving at 8 am (from Tauranga, a bit later from Mt Maunganui) and back around 1 pm. Continental breakfast, fresh juice, hot drinks are also included. All guides have a marine mammal/biology background. Donations from every booking goes towards prevention of the slaughter of dolphins and whales. Bookings essential. Phone ahead for daily departure times from the Tauranga Bridge Marina. Berth D5, Tauranga Bridge Marina, Tauranga, 3141. 07/577–0105 or 0800/326–8747. www.nzdolphin.com.
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