Swimming with dolphins wasn’t even on my agenda, well not at the moment anyway. Kaikoura is on the east side of the south island and the only reason I had stopped there originally was because Christchurch didn’t have any space for accommodation because it was high season, and the cricket didn’t help matters either.

So I didn’t have any knowledge of what was in Kaikoura when I arrived there, I went for a wander around the small town and got some lunch and got chatting to a few others from the hostel who had just returned from there dolphin encounter of swimming with the dusky dolphins.

What they described sounded amazing, so I went online and booked almost straight away. I booked the 5.30 am slot, it’s a bit early I know but I was hoping to catch a sunrise out on the water too.

I arrived there nice and early, there were about 30 or so other half asleep waiting to get kitted out in our gear. We were eventually ushered through to put on our wetsuits and there was a hustle and bustle with the gang of us getting the right sizes, but it well went past quite quickly and efficiently.

We then had to sit in a cinema like room and watch a safety briefing, and told what to expect from the experience. We were told that they are wild dolphins and we may not necessarily get a chance to swim with them depending on if we even find them first and how interested they are.

We set off towards the boats, 2 buses between us and arrived in there in about 10 mins or so. The weather was calm but there was a mist over everything with poor visibility.

Kaikoura dolpin encounters mist

We boarded onto one of two of the boats and set off in search of dolphins, luckily there was little to no wind and the sea was very calm. However the visibility was really bad, we could only see maybe 15 meters ahead, so the 2 boats split up to have a better chance at spotting them.

It felt like we were driving around aimlessly hoping to find them for quite a while, I can’t remember how long exactly but I would say around 30 minutes. Eventually we heard on the radio that the other boat had found the pod, and by this time the mist had eased off a bit and the visibility was better.

The captain said that the pod was around 400 dolphins…I had to take a few seconds to take that information in, 400? dolphins? did he say that right?

Kaikoura shore mist ocean

Just around this time the sun was rising as well, it was a beautiful right as the mist was clearing the sun was beginning to pierce through it. We met up with the other boat and that when I first saw the pod jumping and splashing on the water’s surface, I had never expected to see so many dolphins in my life.

The boat stopped and we were instructed to wait until the horn sounded, and then entered the water among the thrashing of the dolphins tails.


As soon as I hit the water and looked down into the water with my goggles I was immediately amazed, there were so many dusky dolphins flying past…some of them stopping near me and would look directly into my eyes before darting off again.

Some of them would swim up right next to me and circle around, as if wanting to play some kind of game.

The boats horn would blow again to signify that the pod were now too far away so we would gather back on board and head over in front of the pod and dip back in the water for some more thrilling encounters.

I think we ended up in the water 5 separate times before it was time to get out, and change out of our wetsuits so that we could view the dolphins from above the water.

This was equally amazing, as they performed some aerial acrobatics they would flip and spin out of the water.

Dolphin pod kaikoura

There were some baby dolphins jumping out as well, but they didn’t quite yet have the hang over the diving part so they would just sort of belly flop on the surface.

As the boat would drive off to a better position, some of the dolphins would be right on the tail of the boat riding the wake…they could pick up so much speed and you got a great view of it as they were so close.

Dolphine kaikoura swim dive

I would highly recommend the experience to anyone that is curious about dolphins, swimming among them is such a thrilling experience.

Even if you are not a strong swimmer you can get a spectator ticket instead which is equally amazing to watch them as they perform wild flips out of the water.

For those that want to give it a go I used Dolphin Encounters, they are right by the beach. I would recommend to book in advance as well as they are quite busy in the summer.