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Swimming with Dolphins and Seals
The dolphin- and seal-spotting opportunities are fantastic. Although operators have led visitors to view and swim with dolphins and seals off the Kaikoura Coast for years, and the animals may be familiar with boats, they are not tame. New Zealand fur seals are common, and you might spot an octopus or crayfish. Pods of dusky dolphins stay in the area year-round; you may even see them doing aerial jumps and flips.
The offerings vary and operators will explain their expectations before you book. Some boat operators go farther offshore, whereas others hug the coast. If you have any questions about the suitability of a trip, pipe up; these guys are happy to help. Guides can prime you with information on the local species and will be in the water with you. Wet suits and other gear are provided.
Dolphin Encounter. Dolphin Encounter arranges dolphin watching and swimming. Tours operate three times a day through summer and twice a day in winter, for $165 per person. (It's just NZ$80 to watch the dolphins from the boat.) Because they operate in the open ocean, you need to be confident in the water, and it is an advantage to have some snorkeling experience. Trips can cancel due to bad weather so prepare to be a little flexible. They also offer "Albatross Encounter" tours that take you out to view the seabirds off the Kaikoura Coast. 96 The Esplanade, Kaikoura, 7300. 03/319–6777 or 0800/733–365. email@example.com. www.encounterkaikoura.co.nz.
Point Kean Sea Colony. You don't have to join an organized tour to get close to seals. At the Point Kean sea colony out on the Kaikoura Peninsula you can see seals in their natural habitat, lying in the sun or playing in the kelp-filled shallows. These are wild animals so don't approach closer than 10 meters (30 feet). With seabirds wheeling above and waves breaking along the shore it's a powerful place just minutes from the main street. Follow Fyffe Quay to the colony at the end of the road. Kaikoura.
Seal Swim Kaikoura. Seal Swim Kaikoura is New Zealand's original seal-swimming experience and has boat- and shore-based tours running daily from October to May for NZ$70–$90 per person. The swims are easy because they're behind the shelter of the Kaikoura Peninsula, and you're virtually guaranteed to see NZ Fur Seals up close and personal. 03/319–6182; 0800/732–579 (NZ only). www.sealswimkaikoura.co.nz.
Whale Watch Kaikoura. Whale Watch is owned by the Ngai Tahu iwi (tribe). Since arriving in the Kaikoura area in AD 850, Ngai Tahu, the predominant South Island Māori iwi, claims to have lived and worked based on a philosophy of sustainable management and sensible use of natural resources. Having worked these waters since 1987, Whale Watch skippers can recognize individual whales and adjust operations, such as the boat's proximity to the whale, accordingly. Allow 3½ hours for the whole experience, 2¼ hours on the water. Various dolphins and seals and other species of whales may also be seen on any day.
Book in advance: 7 to 10 days November–April, three to four days at other times. Their sturdy catamarans are fully enclosed for sea travel, but once the whales are spotted you can go out on the deck for a closer view. Trips depend on the weather, and should your tour miss seeing a whale, which is rare, you will get an 80% refund. They can't accept children under three on the trip. Take motion-sickness pills if you suspect you'll need them: even in calm weather the sea around Kaikoura often has a sizable swell. Trips are subject to cancellation if the weather is bad. 03/319–6767 or 0800/655–121. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.whalewatch.co.nz. NZ$145.
Wings over Whales. To get above the action, take a half-hour whale-viewing flight. A seven-seater Airvan or three-seater Cessna aircraft gives you a bird's-eye view of the giant sperm whales. The planes will drop to 150 meters to view the whales while the pilots give informative commentary. You'll also get a stunningly scenic flight over the famous Kaikoura coastline at the same time. They have a 98% success rate in spotting whales and the planes can often fly when it's too rough for the boats to go out. Kaikoura Airfield, State Hwy. 1, Kaikoura, 7374. 03/319–6580 or 0800/226–629. email@example.com. www.whales.co.nz. NZ$165. Children under 14, NZ$75.
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