Swimming with New Zealand's many dolphin species is considered one of the country's best experiences.
There are nine different species of dolphin that are found around the New Zealand coast, including Hector's, Māui and bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins are large, gentle, intelligent creatures who seem to seek out human company when you encounter them. The common dolphin is very distinctive with a criss-cross or hour-glass type pattern centred on the flanks. Colours include purplish black, grey, white and yellowish tan. The bottlenose dolphin has dark or light grey on the back grading to white on the undersides, although their colour and shape can be variable. The smaller dusky dolphin, less than two metres long is equally as playful. And then there’s the Hector’s dolphin, one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins found only in our waters.
Spending time with dolphins while swimming or diving in New Zealand is an enticing and humbling experience that is an incredible privilege.
Best places to see dolphins
There are many tours and experiences across New Zealand and every encounter is special in its own special way. The cruise operators take extraordinary care to make sure that the dolphins are not harmed, and in many operations, part of the tour price goes towards dolphin conservation.
Explore Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf Marine Park(opens in new window) , which encompasses an incredible 1.2 million hectares of coast, sea and islands. Go on a whale and dolphin watching safari cruise and spot amazing and diverse marine wildlife such as dolphins, whales, seals, rare seabirds and more!
The Bay of Islands consists of 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. Discover Paihia, Russel and Kerikeri – picturesque towns rich with history, full of authentic Māori culture and boasts of endless coastlines and abundant marine wildlife including penguins, dolphins, marlin, whales, gannets and more.
Caught between the rugged Seaward Kaikōura Range and the Pacific Ocean, the picturesque coastal town of Kaikōura’s special talent is marine mammal encounters – dolphins, fur seals and whales live permanently in the coastal waters. Whale and dolphin watching trips leave the town several times a day and the local seal colony is always entertaining. Along with coastal walks and marine life encounters, there are also plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops to explore.