If you are passionate about wildlife, then whale watching will be at the top of your bucket list. One of the best places on earth to see different species of whales in large numbers is New Zealand, especially Kaikoura. Located on the South Island’s east coast, Kaikoura is famous for its resident population of giant sperm whales that attracts tourists from across the world. But you can spot several other marine wildlife as well, including blue whales, humpback whales, dusky dolphins, and even fur seals.
So, if you are planning to go whale watching in New Zealand, then read this guide about the best months for whale watching in Kaikoura, the top Kaikoura Whale Watching tours and the costs. After reading our guide, you will be ready to choose the best tour to enjoy these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
What is the best time for whale watching in Kaikoura?
Kaikoura has a resident population of sperm whales visible all year around, along with several species of dolphins. But depending on how you feel about the weather, you can visit Kaikoura in summer when New Zealand is perfect for long hours on the sea.
Moreover, pods of Orcas often pass by the area during summer in packs of 6-12 whales. Lucky tourists can even spot several Orca pods 2-3 times a month if they plan their trip right.
But on the other hand has winter in Kaikoura also its advantages for whale watching. This is because Kaikoura acts as a stopping point for several species of migrating whales as they swim away from the cold Antarctic waters and head over to the warm, tropical waters.
You can spot pilot whales, humpback whales, southern right whales, and blue whales resting in Kaikoura’s nutrient-rich waters on their journey to Australia and Tonga.
What is the best month for whale watching in Kaikoura?
Summer in New Zealand lasts from October to March, while the winter season is between June and August. To view the sperm whales, you can plan a trip any time of the year, but spotting other species will require more planning.
Many whale watching Kaikoura tour services guarantee a 95% success rate during the June-August tours as the cold waters force the whales further north. This is the best time for booking a whale watching tour as you can see giant sperm whales and migrating species, like blue whales, humpback whales, and southern right whales.
Moreover, this is the time of the year when the Kaikoura ranges are covered in snow, and you can catch a fantastic view from the waters. And with the crisp blue skies heightening the overall experience, it will be a whale watch tour like never before.
You can also spot dolphins, killer whales, and the usual sperm whales between October and March. Best of all, you won’t have to brave the cold climate and can enjoy yourself on a boat with the added advantage of packing light.
But although June-August is the perfect time for a whale watch Kaikoura tour, if the weather permits, any day is good for catching the whales in action. So, plan accordingly and book your Kaikoura whale watching tour in advance.
Top Whale Watching companies in Kaikoura
Before choosing the right whale watching tour in Kaikoura, you’ll want to know about the different tours to book the right whale watching experience for you. Here are some of the most popular tours reliable companies offer for a thrilling experience.
1. Whale Watching Kaikoura
While most people just want to experience the deep waters and spot elusive marine life, you can amplify the experience by learning about the Maori tribes of New Zealand. This whale watching tour on a speedy catamaran comes with commentary from an experienced guide while you spot humpback whales, fur seals, and dolphins in their aquatic habitat.
You can learn about the whales of New Zealand, while the company offers an 80% refund in case of no sightings. Best of all, the tour runs all year round, complete with onboard animations, bus pickup and drop, and a large capacity of 116 people.
2. Kayaking tour
Another different kind of tour to get up close with seals, penguins and albatross is with a kayaking tour. This small group tour is a great way to avoid the hustle and bustle of being in a large group. Whale Watching Kaikoura offers these kayaking tours with three different options. You can either choose the tour that follows a route to the best spots for viewing seals, penguins and albatross. Or watch a New Zealand sunset on the water, or opt for a shorter, little-kid friendly spin along the coast. These tours are particularly useful for people travelling in small groups and last 2,5 – 3 hours, with a certified guide. Note that the sunset kayaking tour is not available in the winter months.
Since Whale Watching Kaikoura is a reliable company, their tours are eco-friendly, and tourists always maintain a respectable distance from the animals. You can explore through the waters of a marine reserve at your own pace while the company also provides a dry bag for camera equipment, wet shoes, spray skirts, dry pants, and gloves.
3. The Dolphin Encounter
If you want an experience different from the usual whale spotting in the pristine waters of South Island, you can go swimming with dolphins in Kaikoura. The Dolphin Encounter group is one of the leading organisations that help people get up close to these inquisitive animals. Booking a dolphin swim tour with them is highly recommended and an unforgettable experience!
A special part of the tour is that you will learn about the rare dusky dolphins of Kaikoura, with a guide on board discussing how to interact with them safely. So, once you book the tour and board the boat, the company will take you to the areas frequented by the dolphin pods.
Lucky tourists can also photograph these intelligent animals jumping out of the water as the boat gets closer. Then at a suitable spot, you will gear up into a wetsuit, snorkel, and mask provided by the company before diving into the water.
Remember that dolphins are curious and are known to approach divers to investigate. As they swim around you, displaying their playful characteristics, make sure to follow the guide’s signals. Most importantly, stay calm, go up regularly for deep breaths of air, and swim back down with your waterproof camera to capture the dolphins in action.
4. Air Kaikoura
A unique experience that offers a different perspective of the Kaikoura’s marine ecosystem is by taking a scenic Whale Watching Flight. Instead of going on a regular boat tour, you can book a whale watching flight to have an unobstructed aerial view of sperm whales, dolphins, and possibly other migratory whales from a safe, high-winged aircraft.
The tour guarantees all passengers a window seat and a higher success rate since it can cover a large area. Also because the whales are tracked you won’t waste time flying in the wrong direction. But the icing on the cake is the picturesque aerial view of the coastline that only a select few have the luxury to enjoy.
This is because, unlike the crowded boats, the flight accommodates only 7 people at a time, along with a guide to educate you about the protection of New Zealand’s marine animals. The biggest advantage is that you can cover large swathes of the ocean by flying and capturing unobstructed photos of the whales from above.
Most people who have taken the aerial tour return with a greater understanding of marine animals and how they cover large distances, stay in groups, hunt, or protect themselves. Plus, to truly gauge the magnitude of a whale, there’s no better way than a sighting from the air.
But as with most wildlife tours, a sighting is not guaranteed. Although the tour operator has over 30 years of experience, the likelihood of spotting whales depends on the weather.
How much does a whale watching tour cost?
The price per whale watching tour varies depending on the type of tour you are taking. Tours that use boats are the least costly, priced at around $95 USD for adults. Trips with kayaks are around $85 USD. Kids below 3 years of age aren’t allowed on the kayaks or even on the boats in many cases, so make sure to confirm with the operator.
If you aren’t interested in touring by sea, the other option is booking a whale watching flight. A plane charges around $115 USD for adults. Best of all, children below 3 years are also welcome and can fly for free.
How long is a whale watching tour in Kaikoura?
Whale watching tours in Kaikoura usually last 2 – 3.5 hours on a boat, but there are day tours that sail longer. You can contact a tour operator and ask for the availability of half-day tours to increase the chances of spotting marine wildlife. Other than that, aerial tours by plane last about 40 minutes.
Is whale watching better in the morning or afternoon?
Whale watching is better in the mornings, especially between 7 AM and 10 AM when the sea is calm, and there is less wind. Although there is no guarantee of spotting whales, the wind picks up towards the afternoon, with seas becoming rougher as evening approaches.
Also, mornings are pleasant and promise an enjoyable experience for tourists compared to other times.
What to bring when you go whale watching in Kaikōura
- Take enough layers of clothing with you as it might be chilly in the morning on the open sea. A windbreaker or waterproof jacket would be the best with a sweater and t-shirt underneath.
- Don’t forget sun protection and your sunglasses, especially on a sunny day.
- Bring enough water and some snacks with you.
- To avoid getting seasick you can do a few things. Don’t drink alcohol for at least twelve hours before your excursion. Look at the horizon in the direction that you’re going. Take a motion sickness medicine before you board the boat. Eat ginger 12 to 24 hours before your whale watching tour. Scientists discovered that this powerful root helps to prevent seasickness. If you don’t like ginger some sour sweets also do its job. The last funny tip when you’re already seasick is: put a cotton in the opposite ear of the hand you write with.
- Of course don’t forget your camera and bring an extra empty memory card.
Whale watching in Kaikoura is a must-do experience, and with this guide, you have all the information you need. You know the best time to plan your trip, the top tours and companies to choose from, and the probable cost.
With whales, dolphins, seals, and the picturesque Kaikoura ranges, you can capture breath taking memories that you will cherish for a lifetime. So, pack your bags and camera and head over to Kaikoura for the whale watch tour of a lifetime!
How to get around in New Zealand
To experience New Zealand to the fullest and at your own pace, renting a car, campervan or motorhome is the best way to get around. Which one of these options you choose depends on your preference and budget. If you love camping, being outdoors all day and you don’t mind a smaller living space, then renting a camper van is the way to go. It also gives you the freedom to sleep at some of the most beautiful camping spots. But for some of them, you’ll have to make a reservation and plan your trip accordingly. The same goes for a motorhome which is bigger than a campervan and fits about 4-6 people. Here’s what you need to know about renting a car, camper van or motorhome in New Zealand.
Car rental in New Zealand
Renting a car in New Zealand is the easiest and cheapest rental vehicle available. It will get you to all the best destinations with ease and gives you the freedom to stop for a break wherever you want. However, you should keep in mind that some roads in New Zealand are still gravel or that you have to cross shallow rivers to some destinations in National Parks. Therefore we recommend a mini SUV or SUV model to have enough clearance for this kind of road. We rented for 6 weeks a Mitsubishi ASX model and were super happy with this car!
The best place to book your rental car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare different car models, prices, companies, and terms and conditions. Make sure to secure the booking of your rental car as soon as possible to have the lowest price possible. Prices go up the closer you get to the pickup date.
Campervan rental in New Zealand
Traveling around in a campervan is one of the most popular ways for a road trip in New Zealand. With a bed, small kitchen, and seating area you will have all the (basic) needs on four wheels. Make sure to check if your campervan has a shower because this might influence where you want to camp. A campervan allows you to camp at plenty of beautiful places, sometimes for free, sometimes for a fee. It will give you a true feeling of freedom and connect you with nature.
We recommend booking your campervan with Travellers Autobarn as they have a wide range of Station wagons, 2-berth campervans & 3-5 berth campervans to hire for all budgets. All Travellers Autobarn campervan hires in New Zealand come with free unlimited kilometers, 10% discount to premium campgrounds, 24/7 roadside assistance & long-term rental discounts. Check the availability and prices today to secure your campervan for a New Zealand dream road trip!
More New Zealand travel guides
I hope you enjoyed this complete guide to whale watching in Kaikoura. Make sure to put this awesome experience on your New Zealand South Island itinerary!
There are many amazing other things to do and places to visit on the South Island of New Zealand. So if you’re looking for more inspiration and ideas, head over to our other New Zealand travel guides.