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Akaroa Harbour Dolphin Cruises

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by Julian Groneberg (subscribe)
Freelance copywriter and blogger. Avid dog owner, living in East Brisbane. If you like my articles please hit subscribe or 'like' at the end of the post! To hire me visit for a range of copywriting services
Published September 20th 2012
An intimate dolphin experience like no other
Akaroa Harbour
Akaroa Harbour

The Hectors Dolphin, one of the smallest and rarest in the world and quite possibly among the cutest, are only found in New Zealand waters. This makes hectors dolphin spotting equivalent in popularity to whale watching, and serves as major tourism drawcard to coastal settlements along New Zealand's South Island. While considered to be endangered, they are found in especially good numbers in Akaroa Harbour, about an hours drive from Christchurch. This is a harbour created by a massive volcano eruption 11 million years ago, and as part of its legacy left magnificent coastal inlet surrounded by incredible geology and wildlife including seals, blue penguins and a myriad of bird life.

The stylish catarmaran 'Into the Blue' runs daily Hectors dolphin and harbour cruises departing from Akaroa Jetty

The best way to see this diverse terrain and wildlife for yourself is to take a boat cruise leaving the main Jetty in Akaroa. The small town, which more than doubles in size during peak tourism periods is a picturesque French influenced settlement and worth exploring in its own right. The major company offering dolphin and wildlife cruises in Akaroa is Akaroa Dolphins which runs daily cruises which run for about 2 hours departing from the Akaroa Jetty in the centre of town. To secure the best seats on the stylish and modern catarmaran, arriving well before departure time would be advisable as these tours, which run more frequently in the summer months, can be extremely popular. Fortunately for us and perhaps due to the weather and time of year, our group was small and being the first on board we got first seating preference on the upper deck, adjacent to where the skipper sat, giving us the chance to ask questions throughout the cruise. Upon arriving we were served a complimentary drink with our choice of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, local beer, or soft drink which was a great surprise and started the cruise with a festive tone, adding to our excitement.

The complimentary drink offered added to the excitement of the cruise that was ahead of us

Upon leaving the pier we were given a briefing of the cruise itinerary, which can be slightly different depending on the day's conditions. Fortunately for those (myself) who didn't bring a raincoat, the crew offered waterproof jackets to wear since the rough waters and rainy weather meant it was almost certain we were all going to get wet up on deck. To saying it was cold outside was an understatement, and despite the wet and chilly conditions being subjected to the elements made us feel alive and adventurous, not to mention eager for our first Hectors dolphin sighting.

Cold, wet and excited for the first dolphin sighting

We cruised along the peninsula, past volcanic hillsides and a tiny Maori village and stopped to get pictures at Elephant Rock, an rock formation rising up from the sea resembling an elephant head and trunk,as well as spotting colonies of sea birds perching at the water's edge.

Elephant Rock Akaroa Harbour
Elephant Rock is just one of the dramatic rock formations surrounding Akaroa Harbour

From elephant rock we cruised for about 15 more minutes and headed further out to sea. The sky became somewhat brighter and the rain slowed to a drizzle but conditions were still quite bumpy standing at the front of the boat with the wind in our faces. On board the vessels speaker system we were alerted by the skipper to a pod of dolphins on starboard side, and the dolphins started jumping out of the waves at the front of the boat while everyone rushed to get good photos - an incredibly tricky thing to do while the boat and dolphins are constantly moving. Perhaps trying to take a video instead would have been a better option. The pint-sized hectors dolphins seemed curious and playful and it was highly enjoyable to watch the speed which they raced along with the boat, ducking under the waves, and then reappearing seconds later to show off their streamlined bodies before disappearing again.

First dolphin sightings at the front of the boat

Searching for the Hectors dolphin

The boat then moved away from the open water into a more sheltered cove where New Zealand fur seals and blue penguins can often be spotted. Unfortunately for us while we did see lots of other sea birds, we didn't see any penguins. This was most likely due to the weather and time of year. We did however spot a few seals lazing about, although they were well camouflaged against the brown rocks and were too far away to get a decent picture, so you'll have to take my word for it. On the rocky hillside I was entertained to see large numbers of wild sheep grazing on the treacherous terrain and had a vivid picture of them losing footing and slipping into the cold waters. I'm sure this hasn't actually happened since sheep are hopefully smarter than they look.

We spotted seals in the near the cave entrance and wild sheep on the hillside

Aside from dolphins and other wildlife the boat cruises past spectacular volcanic rock formations

Throughout the entire cruise the skipper and crew offered fantastic commentary ranging from interesting facts about the wildlife and providing a history of how Akaroa was settled by the French as the first European settlers. The friendly and informative service added to an overall memorable wildlife experience, and for visitors to Akaroa the cruises should go down as a 'must-do' on tourists sightseeing list. Dolphin sightings are guaranteed and while the experience would have been enhanced with clearer weather, should the weather be wild, you can guarantee you'll have a great adventure viewing the prehistoric geology and the abundant wildlife.

Tours run daily and cost $70 per adult. For the full price list and itinerary of the tour visit the Akaroa Dolphins website

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Why? For an intimate wildlife adventure
When: Cruises depart daily year round, more services run in summer months
Phone: 64 3 304 7866
Where: Departs from the main jetty in the centre of town
Cost: $70 per adult
Your Comment
Bravo Julian! such a concise and well written review...I want to go there! ? Congrats on Gold! well deserved. L:)
by Lexa T (score: 3|1070) 2959 days ago
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