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Sprawling metropolises are not typically the first place you'd look for immersive wildlife experiences but Auckland has something up its sleeve - or off its shores to be more precise.
The body of water lying east of Auckland known as the Hauraki Gulf is teeming with wonders of the living natural kind. Multitudes of marine creatures call the gulf and its islands home, including rare seabirds, a great diversity of fish species and a wealth of both migrant and resident dolphins and whales known collectively as cetaceans.
These 1.2 million hectares of emerald island dotted ocean are the jewel in Auckland's crown - a rich environment of ages-old cultural, spiritual and historical significance. However, it is the conservation significance of the Hauraki Gulf which truly sets it above and beyond, making it not just a national treasure of immeasurable value but a global one too.
The geographical and topographical make up of the Hauraki Gulf mean an incredibly diverse range of habitats exist in one relatively small area. These include sandy beaches, rocky coastlines which become exposed reefs at low tide, estuaries, sponge gardens, kelp forests, canyons, shellfish beds, mangroves, mudflats, underwater cliffs and otherwise unique sub-ocean environments. Such variety in turn leads to the presence of a great diversity of species which either call the gulf home or pass through - several of which are endangered or considered severely at risk from a conservation perspective. Furthermore, the offshore coastal waters are home to many cetacean species.
In 2000, this marine tapestry of ecosystems and rich biodiversity, was officially recognised as the Hauraki Gulf became the country's first national park of the sea - a marine park. Today, the park has five separate marine reserves which fall under its protective umbrella. Both above and below the water, the list of flora and fauna sights possible in the Hauraki Gulf are so extensive they read like a nature's version of who's who. Snorkelers and divers enjoy the company of multitudes of rainbow-coloured fish, sting rays, sharks, anemones, crabs, starfish and playful seals; bird lovers revel in the abundance of sea-birds which include the only black petrels breeding anywhere in the world and a further 20+ breeding species.
However, it is the cetaceans (whale and dolphins) which continue to act as star attractions - so abundant in number they are an almost guaranteed sighting on any foray into the gulf's waters and a relatively common sight from land. Whalers and sealers were some of the first European settlers of these lands with more than 200 whaling ships working around the 1830s. Thankfully times change and not only are all cetaceans now protected by law but these days people come to delight simply in the stunning sight of a whale's massive tail fluke or the magical spectacle of a hundreds-strong dolphin school passing by.
Nearly one third of all the planet's marine mammal species have been spotted in the gulf's waters which include both seasonal visitors and residents, such as the 15 metre Bryde's whales found here year round. Other common sightings include common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and the magnificent orca or 'killer whale' - actually the largest member of the dolphin family.
Other possible sightings may include blue whale, long-finned pilot whale, sei, minke whale and southern right whale – so called because they were once the 'right' whale to hunt. Humpback whales also feature on the highly-likely-to-spot list at certain times of year; the Hauraki Gulf lies on their migration route bewtween the Antarctic and the Pacific.
Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari state that dolphins are seen on more than 90% of their trips and whales on around 80%, so getting up close and personal isn't just possible but highly likely. In fact this long established company with daily departures are so confident they can take you to where the cetacean action is you can have another trip for free if you don't get lucky.
In summary, 1.2 million hectares of ocean, over 50 islands, thousands of wildlife species and quite possibly an infinite number of ways to find fun and adventure - this is the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.
To book a whale and dolphin spotting trip, contact the team at Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari.
Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari make it easy to experience the astonishing wildlife of the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Our award-winning nature tour offers guaranteed whale watching and dolphin watching year-round, departing from Auckland.
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