Whale and Dolphin Watching in New Zealand

Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he explores the delights of dolphin and whale-watching in New Zealand.

Sperm whale fluke, New Zealand

No visit to New Zealand is complete without an up-close and personal encounter with some of the spectacular marine life that calls the waters off Kaikoura on the South Island home.

About Kaikoura

The town is superbly set in the shadow or the New Zealand Alps and is surrounded by great coastal scenery. The magic begins when you get close to the sea. Seals, penguins and albatross can all be easily seen a short walk from the town. But what draws everyone to this once-sleepy crayfish port turned traveller’s playground is what happens on, or rather under, the water.

In fact, it’s Kaikoura’s seabed that makes it unique. The continental shelf drops off dramatically just offshore, causing a clash of currents that forces nutrients up from the depths. This canteen of the deep attracts marine life in huge numbers.

Seeing a glimpse of the massive bulk of a blue whale in the wild is an incredible experience

Seeing a glimpse of the massive bulk of a blue whale in the wild is an incredible experience

Whales are the main attraction and no visit is complete without a boat trip searching for the many different cetacean species – even blue whales are sometimes spotted. Sailings boast high success rates but bad weather can cause cancellations.

When is the best time to visit New Zealand?

While northern-hemisphere types shiver, February is the best time to see the Land of the Long White Cloud. The late summer brings warm sunshine to many places – and less rain to perennially damp spots. Remember that New Zealand is a temperate country and certainly not Australia-hot, so bring a woolly hat and a jumper – and you should always be prepared for rain.

Planning your trip to Kaikoura

New Zealand Tourism is the best place to start planning a trip. The best site is the Kaikoura Tourism website. The cost and distance involved in getting to New Zealand makes it a once-in-a-lifetime destination for some, or part of a round-the-world air trip for others. Once here you’ll find costs reasonable compared with home, but car hire and other transport is comparable in price.

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