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If you are looking to have one of the most breathtaking (literally) and memorable travel experiences of your life don’t pass up the opportunity to swim with wild dusky dolphin pods off the coast of the South Island, New Zealand. There’s something special about dolphins. They are curious, gentle, quick, playful and always bring smiles to those that glimpse them jumping out of the ocean.

If you are already planning a trip to New Zealand or are looking for awesome experiences to be found then make sure to mark off a stop at a little town called Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island.

swim dusky dolphins

Why swim with dolphins at Kaikoura?

The extremely high success rate at spotting and being able to swim with wild dolphins off Kaikoura is in part due to their location. Just a short boat ride away from shore lies a submarine canyon. This underwater trench provides a current swooping all forms of life in the marine food chain (think Finding Nemo), from plankton to large deep sea fish, up in towards the shoreline allowing the larger sea life such as dolphins, seals and whales uninterrupted feeding opportunities.

What will I see?

The tour is called ‘Dolphin Encounters’ for a reason. You are pretty much guaranteed to see dolphins in this area. The Dusky dolphins are unique to the southern hemisphere in temperate to sub-antarctic waters (which are found at Kaikoura). They swim in massive pods and it is common to see up to a thousand in the area at any one time, closer or further offshore. They are easy to spot with their unique black and white markings. A part from Dusky dolphins you will also encounter other species such as the Common dolphin, Hectors dolphins and even Orcas. There are also seals in the area that can often be seen on the sides of the road sunning on the rocks.

Can I actually swim with the wild dolphins?

Yes! Be prepared for an early morning wake up, being kitted up in a full body wet-suit and being jetted off into the crisp morning air. Keep your eyes peeled for those fins! Once the dolphin pods have been spotted the guides will tell you when it’s time to slip into the water and swim with the Dusky dolphins. They will precisely maneuver the boats ahead of where the pods are swimming. And BAM! Before you know it you are in the freezing water (this is where they take your breath away) and there are hundreds of fins headed your way!

Is it safe?

Completely! The dolphins are very accurate swimmers and although you can’t see them until they are right beside you they are definitely aware of you! You are encouraged to make noise and spin in circles with the dolphins, they are very curious animals and love to have fun. This means sounding like a crazy person, singing, pulling your zipper up and down, laughing and doing somersaults in the water. You are instructed never to touch the wild dolphins but I can tell you they are far too quick and will get out of your way anyway. You should keep your head under the water as you will see way more dolphins under the water surface than above.

Is it just one swim?

The tour guides will keep pulling you out of the water and dumping you ahead of the dolphin pods until time is up or the dolphins swim away so there is plenty of opportunity to swim with the Dusky dolphins. Be prepared for about four swims. It does however get very tiring and cold. But the adrenaline keeps you going. If at any point you’ve had enough swimming you are able to spend the rest of the tour on the warm boat watching the dolphin’s acrobatics and play around the swimmers.

swim dusky dolphins
swim dusky dolphins

How do I book?

Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura take bookings easily online. Be sure to pre-book especially in Summer as they are so popular you don’t want to miss out. Costs at the time of publishing this blog are around $105 to watch from the boat (spectator) and $210 to swim with the dolphins. Click here to go to the Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura website.

I haven’t met anyone yet who has done this tour and it’s not one of their most memorable travel experiences of all time. I encourage you to enjoy the dolphin hospitality even if you are a little nervous or afraid to go, you won’t regret it. Swimming with the Dusky dolphins is truly one of those once in a lifetime experiences you don’t want to miss!

Are you thinking of booking this tour? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Planning on visiting NZ? Click here to check out my 2 Week NZ Road Trip itinerary blog!

Happy wandering x