Whale Watching in New Zealand – Dive into an Oceanic Journey!


Image your self on the pristine shores of New Zealand, surrounded by turquoise waters that stretch so far as the attention can see. The air is alive with anticipation as you embark on an exciting journey like no different – whale watching in New Zealand, the land of the lengthy white cloud & The Lord of The Rings!

Welcome to a world the place the light giants of the deep roam freely, and also you get a front-row seat to witness their awe-inspiring presence and this distinctive expertise.

whale watching boat with a whale in the background
Whale watching in New Zealand ©Niels Thomas

Historical past of whaling in New Zealand and the rise of whale watching

Whales have performed a major function in New Zealand’s historical past, from the period of business whaling to the emergence of whale watching as a well-liked and sustainable tourism exercise.

From the late 18th century to the early-mid twentieth century, whalers hunted whales for his or her priceless assets, together with oil, blubber, and baleen. Stations have been established alongside the coast, attracting adventurous people looking for fortunes within the whaling commerce. Whaling ships ventured into treacherous waters utilizing harpoons and methods to seize and course of the whales.

The intensive searching of whales through the whaling period had a devastating impression on whale populations worldwide, together with these in New Zealand’s waters. Many species, such because the southern proper whale and humpback whale, have been pushed to the brink of extinction.

As the notice of the ecological significance and great thing about whales grew, efforts have been made to guard and preserve these magnificent creatures by implementing the Marine Mammal Protections Rules in 1978 by the Division of Conservation (DOC).

Humpback whale feeding  in the ocean while seagulls surrounding it
Humpback whale gape feeding

Within the late twentieth century, a major shift occurred in the best way people interacted with whales. As an alternative of searching them, folks started to understand and observe them of their pure habitat. Whale watching emerged as a substitute for whaling, providing a possibility to coach the general public about marine conservation and lift consciousness about the necessity to defend these unimaginable creatures.

What’s the finest whale watching vacation spot in New Zealand?

New Zealand gives a number of world-class whale watching locations, every with its personal distinctive allure and alternatives to come across these majestic creatures.

Map of best spots to go whale watching in New Zealand
Whale watching locations in New Zealand


Positioned on the east coast of the South Island, Kaikoura is a picturesque city nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Kaikoura Ranges. Additionally it is the most effective locations in New Zealand to see whales. The city’s distinctive geography, with its deep underwater canyon, creates an ideal atmosphere for wealthy marine biodiversity.

Kaikoura whale watching season: Humpback whales are seen June to August, orcas are current from October to April, and you’ll find sperm whales and dusky dolphins all year-round.

Along with sperm whales, guests to Kaikoura might also have the possibility to see different whale species reminiscent of humpback whales, pilot whales, and even the occasional blue whale.

The city of Kaikoura can be house to a colony of New Zealand fur seals, which may typically be seen lounging on the rocks close to the shoreline. Dusky dolphins are one other spotlight in Kaikoura, identified for his or her playful acrobatics and interactive conduct with boats and swimmers. Kaikoura gives a spread of experiences, together with whale watching boat excursions, the place educated guides present insights into the whales’ conduct, the marine life within the deep Kaikoura canyon, and conservation efforts.

Scenic flights or a helicopter tour present a wide ranging aerial perspective of marine wildlife and gorgeous coastal landscapes.

humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale in New Zealand breaching ©Niels Thomas

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is a well-liked vacationer vacation spot identified for its idyllic coastal surroundings and historic significance. Along with its magnificence, the bay is house to a various array of marine

Alongside bottlenose dolphins and customary dolphins, guests on a typical whale watch tour might encounter different species reminiscent of orcas, baleen whales like Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni), and sometimes even sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis).

One of many major points of interest is the uncommon Hector’s dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori), which are sometimes noticed within the space. These small, playful dolphins are endemic to New Zealand and are identified for his or her distinctive black and white markings. Boat excursions and kayak journeys present alternatives for up-close encounters with these pleasant creatures, whereas additionally showcasing the bay’s gorgeous islands, secluded coves, and pristine seashores.

Marlborough Sounds

Located on the high of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds is a wide ranging area identified for its intricate community of fjords, bays, and secluded inlets. The calm and sheltered waters present a super atmosphere for dolphins, seals, and different marine life.

Guests to the Marlborough Sounds might have the chance to look at a number of dolphin species, together with widespread dolphins and pods of Dusky dolphins, as they trip the bow waves of boats or gracefully swim alongside kayaks. Fur seals are a typical sight, and for those who’re fortunate, you might even spot a pod of orcas patrolling the waters.

close up two dusky dolphins in the ocean
Dusky dolphins ©Niels Thomas

Boat excursions and sea kayak leases can be found, providing an opportunity to discover the gorgeous waterways whereas having fun with shut encounters with the native wildlife.

Hauraki Gulf

The Hauraki Gulf is a marine playground positioned off the coast of Auckland. This expansive coastal space is thought for its various ecosystems, together with quite a few islands, sandy seashores, and ample marine life. The gulf is house to a wide range of dolphin species, together with bottlenose dolphins, widespread dolphins, and the occasional orca pod.

Guests can be part of boat excursions departing from Auckland to enterprise into the gulf and witness these playful and clever creatures of their pure habitat. Alongside the best way, you’ll be handled to scenic views of Auckland’s skyline, in addition to the chance to identify different marine animals reminiscent of fur seals and seabirds.


Akaroa, an enthralling city on the Banks Peninsula close to Christchurch, gives a novel alternative to come across the uncommon and endemic Hector’s dolphins. These small dolphins are identified for his or her pleasant nature and distinctive rounded dorsal fins.

Akaroa’s sheltered harbor offers a secure haven for these playful creatures, making it one among
the very best locations on the earth to look at them up shut.

Becoming a member of a dolphin cruise or a kayak tour round Akaroa Marine Reserve permits guests to immerse themselves on the earth of Hector’s dolphins and find out about their conduct, habitat, and conservation efforts. The scenic great thing about Akaroa, with its picturesque harbor, rolling hills, and French affect, provides
to the general allure of the expertise.


Tauranga, positioned within the Bay of Loads area on the North Island, is thought for its gorgeous shoreline, lovely seashores, and implausible alternatives for whale and dolphin watching. Frequent dolphins and bottlenose dolphins are steadily noticed within the waters off Tauranga, the place they showcase their acrobatic shows and playful conduct.

Throughout the summer time months, the world turns into a migration path for orcas, presenting an thrilling probability to witness these highly effective predators in motion. Boat excursions departing from Tauranga provide guests the chance to witness these unimaginable marine creatures firsthand, whereas additionally having fun with the coastal magnificence and panoramic views of the bay.

What species of whales and dolphins can you notice in New Zealand?

The mighty sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) reign supreme amongst New Zealand’s marine giants. They’re the biggest toothed whales and may develop up to an enormous 20 meters in size! These magnificent creatures are identified for his or her iconic square-shaped heads and spectacular diving talents, descending to depths of over 1,000 meters looking for their favourite prey, squid.

Put together to be dazzled by the acrobatic shows of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Throughout their annual migration, they delight spectators by breaching out of the water and slapping their tails and pectoral fins towards the floor. They’re identified for his or her hauntingly lovely songs, which may journey nice distances throughout the ocean.

Sometimes called the “wolves of the ocean,” orcas (Orcinus orca) are apex predators identified for his or her intelligence and complicated social buildings. In New Zealand’s coastal waters, you might witness pods of orcas showcasing their spectacular searching methods, reminiscent of cooperative methods to seize their prey. Orcas are extremely vocal, utilizing a wide range of clicks, whistles, and calls to speak with one another.

New Zealand can be house to a number of dolphin species, together with the widespread dolphin (Delphinus delphis), and the dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus). These playful and clever marine mammals typically accompany boats, using the bow waves and performing energetic leaps and flips. Hold a watch out for his or her social behaviors, reminiscent of leaping in synchronized teams often called “porpoising,” and their potential to speak utilizing a variety of clicks and whistles.

pod of dolphins swimming in front of a boat
See the playful conduct of dusky dolphins whereas on a dolphin tour ©Niels Thomas

Alongside the whales and dolphins, seals additionally grace the shores of New Zealand. Two widespread seal species discovered within the area are the New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri), and the New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri). These pinnipeds may be noticed sunbathing on rocks or swimming gracefully within the water. Seals are well-adapted to life each on land and within the sea, with streamlined our bodies and flippers that permit them to swim and hunt with agility.

Whale migration within the waters of New Zealand defined

Humpback whale migration in New Zealand

Humpback whale migration in New Zealand is a exceptional pure occasion that happens between Might and November. Throughout this time, humpback whales journey (roughly 10,000 km/yr) from their feeding grounds in Antarctica to the hotter waters of the South Pacific, Australia, and South Africa for breeding and calving functions.

The migration routes sometimes observe the japanese coastlines of the North and South Islands, passing by areas just like the Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Loads, Cook dinner Strait, and the Kaikoura area.

humpback whale lobtailing in Antarctica
Humpback whale within the feeding grounds in Antarctica.

The DOC conducts annual surveys of those migratory guests in Cook dinner Strait to evaluate the standing and restoration of humpback whales in New Zealand waters. These surveys present priceless data on
migration patterns, locations, and total administration of those whales.

It’s the solely venture of its form in New Zealand. Since 2008, OMV NZ Ltd has partnered with DOC to assist this venture, together with contributions from Transact Administration Ltd, Bell Tea NZ Ltd, and the College of Auckland’s Molecular Ecology Laboratory.

Moreover, DOC participates in humpback analysis and administration applications within the South Pacific. They acquire images of whales encountered through the Cook dinner Strait survey and by the general public, making a New Zealand catalog.

These images are in contrast with related catalogs from different South Pacific international locations by the South Pacific Whale Analysis Consortium. These catalogs assist determine particular person whales, estimate inhabitants sizes and actions, and genetic sampling is performed to know the connection between New Zealand’s humpback whales and different populations.

Just like humpback whales, blue whales, southern proper whales, and orcas (also referred to as killer whales) will also be present in New Zealand’s waters throughout their respective migration seasons.

Blues whales, southern proper whales, and orcas

Blue whales, the biggest animal on Earth, undertake migrations from Antarctica to New Zealand’s waters through the summer time months (round December to April) to feed on the ample krill populations. They are often noticed in numerous areas, such because the Hauraki Gulf, Cook dinner Strait, and the waters across the Chatham Islands.

Southern proper whales migrate to New Zealand’s coastal waters primarily for breeding and calving. Their migration interval happens from Might to October, overlapping with the humpback whales. Key areas for observing southern proper whales embrace the Otago Peninsula, Foveaux Strait, and the Auckland Islands.

Orcas, the extremely smart and social marine mammals also referred to as killer whale, are identified to go to New Zealand all year long. They’ve transient and resident populations, with some people
migrating alongside the coasts looking for meals, whereas others are extra localized. Kaikoura is among the finest locations to identify orcas, as they steadily journey alongside its shoreline.

Whale migration will not be solely mesmerizing but in addition essential for the life cycles of those whale and dolphin species. It ensures entry to meals, mating alternatives, and safer environments for elevating their younger. New Zealand’s geographic location makes it a significant stopover within the migratory routes of many whale species.

The conservation and schooling advantages of whale watching in New

As we immerse ourselves within the surprise of whale watching, it’s essential to recollect our duty to guard these unimaginable creatures and their habitat. Whale populations have confronted vital challenges attributable to human actions, making accountable whale watching practices important for his or her conservation.

New Zealand takes pleasure in its strict laws and pointers governing whale watching actions. These laws make sure that the encounters are performed in a way that minimizes disturbance to the whales and their atmosphere.

By selecting respected tour operators who prioritize accountable practices, we will contribute to the preservation of those majestic creatures for future generations.

The DOC performs a vital function within the conservation and safety of marine mammals. They administer the Marine Mammals Safety Act 1978, which focuses on the conservation, safety, and administration of those fascinating creatures.

To safeguard particular marine mammal species and their habitats, the Act permits for the institution of marine mammal sanctuaries or marine reserves. New Zealand at the moment has seven marine mammal sanctuaries in place:

  • 5 sanctuaries defend the endangered Hector’s dolphin: West Coast North Island, Clifford and Cloudy Bay, Banks Peninsula, Catlins Coast, and Te Waewae Bay.
  • One sanctuary on the Auckland Islands protects the principle breeding areas of the New Zealand sea lion and the southern proper whale.
  • One other sanctuary within the Bay of Islands safeguards all marine mammals from excessive vessel interplay and offers secure zones for pure behaviors.

Training and consciousness additionally play a significant function in marine conservation efforts. Many whale watching excursions in New Zealand embrace instructional parts, the place passionate guides share insights into the whales’ behaviors, migration patterns, and the significance of their conservation.

By fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for these magnificent creatures, we will encourage a collective dedication to their safety.

New Zealand is acknowledged as one of many main advocates for whale conservation on the worldwide stage. As a founding member of the Worldwide Whaling Fee (IWC), New Zealand actively participates in advocating for whale conservation measures. DOC offers recommendation and illustration at worldwide conventions associated to marine mammals, together with the IWC and the Conference for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Residing Assets (CCAMLR).

Ultimate Phrases

Whale watching in New Zealand is a rare journey that connects us with the sweetness and significance of the oceanic world. It permits us to witness the grandeur of those magnificent creatures whereas selling their conservation.

Allow us to cherish these encounters and proceed to guard and respect the light giants of the deep, making certain their presence for generations to return.

In regards to the writer

Niels Thomas is a whale watching skilled. He studied Wildlife Administration in The Netherlands and is obsessed with moral and sustainable whale watching. Niels is the founding father of Whale Watching Kaikoura, a information to accountable whale watching in Kaikoura, New Zealand.


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