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Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 16 January, 2023
Expert travel writer: Mark Chipperfield

Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to encounter these charismatic mammals as pods of hundreds – sometimes thousands – of wild dusky dolphins cluster every day just off this dramatic coastline. When the boats find dolphins, (or vice versa), conscripts, equipped with snorkels, smartly ease into the water to marvel at the grace of these magnificent creatures, swimming barely an arm’s length away.

If you’d rather stay out of the water, local operators offer an alternative dolphin-watching tour on a bigger, more comfortable, catamaran-style boat.

Price from: £100
Minimum age: 8
Age suitable: 8+
When: All year around
Duration: 3-4 hours

Getting there & doing it

Local operator Dolphin Encounter will provide you with all the equipment you need, but bring your own swimming togs and a towel. Expert guides are on hand to give you advice on getting close to the dolphins without spooking or distributing them. The boats are small and carry no more than 16 snorkellers.

There is a minimum age of 8 for swimming with dolphins, and all participants must be confident swimmers in the open ocean, though it’s still worth going to watch the dolphins from the boat. Take warm clothes on board for when you get out of the water.

In summer especially, tours are popular so book as far ahead as possible.

When to do it

Tours operate all year round, seven days a week, but less frequently in winter (June to August). In winter, however, sea temperatures are a chilly 9°C-12°C. You’ll be given wetsuits, gloves and boots, but it’s cold when you get in.

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses

Hapuku, South Island, New Zealand[9.8 miles]

Luxury lodge with fun treehouse rooms, superb in-house dining and jaw-dropping landscape views. A good base for accessing Kaikoura’s ecotours, 20 minutes away.

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