bay of islands dolphin tour

Cruising with Dolphins in New Zealand

After a long first week as an au pair, I needed to get out of the house! I am off duty on the weekends, so on a whim I decided to book a tour – a dolphin cruise – for the upcoming Saturday. Swimming with dolphins has been on my bucket list since I was a kid, after all.

Now, this company has a policy that they will guarantee they find you SOMETHING exciting to see, be it dolphins or whales, or they give you a voucher to return on a different day. We drove around the major islands in the bay looking for dolphins for probably an hour and a half. I snagged a spot on the very front of the boat just in time as the captain said they spotted a pod straight ahead. Yes! Camera ready, I waited for the first glimpse of dorsel fin. And I waited. And I waited. Nothing.

“Great,” I thought. “They’re going to say that THEY saw the dolphins, and therefore they aren’t going to give us the vouchers to come back, even though I didn’t see anything.”

They turned the boat around and we cruised just a few minutes before the captain said they got a radio message from another boat that they found a pod.

I was the first on the boat to spot them, shouting, “There they are!” And before long we were pretty close to them and could see the fins popping out and disappearing. We tried to get closer, but they kept disappearing, and eventually were pretty far away. We were going the opposite direction of them.

“To the right! To the right!” “They’re over there!” People were yelling to the captain. We were all a bit confused why were going the wrong way.

“Okay folks,” the captain announced, “these guys don’t seem to want to play with us, but we’ve just received word that there’s a friendlier pod about 10 minutes away, so we’re going to try to catch up with them.” As we came around the bend behind an island, we saw the other boat, and a bunch of dolphins jumping in the wake! The other boat was going farther away, but the dolphins turned around and headed straight for us. All of the sudden two swam right under my feet, and before I knew it the whole pod was swimming alongside and under the boat, splashing and playing with us.


Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to swim with them because there was a juvenile dolphin present in the pod. It is against New Zealand law to swim when there’s a baby because it will forget to feed (they have to do it every 3 minutes!), and then they will get hypothermia and possibly die. So we just hung out while they swam up beside us, and despite not being able to swim, it was still one of the coolest experiences to see them up close in the wild.


dolphin cruise bay of islands tour paihia Russell

After a while, we sped up and they did some bigger jumps in front and then fell back in the wake, and we parted ways. (There is also a limit on how long you can stay with a pod.)

The crew showed us some of the points of interest around the islands, and then we pulled into and dropped anchor in a beautiful little bay and did some snorkeling. Didn’t see much, but it was still pretty fun – the water was so clear and a beautiful blue-green.

dolphin cruise paihia bay of islands

Although disappointing I didn’t get to swim with the dolphins, this was still a great tour I highly recommend if you’re in the Bay of Islands! I’ve seen others post that they’ve even seen Orca whales! To see more info on this tour, visit the Great Sights website.

Check out my video about exploring the Bay of Islands here!

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