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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 along this coast and, if you get into the water around the rock pools, you might spot crayfish. Pods of dusky dolphins stay in the area year-round; you may even see them doing aerial jumps and flips.
Options to engage with seals and dolphins vary and operators will explain these 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 both watching and swimming with the Dusky dolphins that live around here. Tours operate three times a day through summer (5:30am, 8:30am and 12:30pm) and twice a day in winter (forget that 5:30am start!). Because they operate in the open ocean, you need to be confident in the water, and it's an advantage to have some snorkeling experience. Trips can cancel due to bad weather so prepare to be a little flexible. Book online or visit the Encounter Kaikoura headquarters, cafe and gallery, where you can also organise a pelagic bird watching cruise. 96 The Esplanade, Kaikoura, 7300. 03/319–6777 or 0800/733–365. www.dolphinencounter.co.nz. NZ$90 per person to watch the dolphins from the boat. $NZ170 per person to swim.
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. Pt. Kean, Kaikoura, 7300.
Seal Swim Kaikoura. Seal Swim Kaikoura is New Zealand's original seal-swimming experience and has several boat- and shore-based tours running daily from October to May. The swims are in shallow waters, sheltered by the Kaikoura Peninsula, and you're virtually guaranteed to see New Zealand Fur Seals up close and personal. Book online or phone in. 58 West End, Kaikoura, 7300. 03/319–6182; 0800/732–579 (NZ only). www.sealswimkaikoura.co.nz. from NZ$80 per person.