Whale Watching In New Zealand

Whale watching is the fantastic activity of observing whales in their natural habitat. Nowadays it is spread worldwide as recreational, but actually it is also an educational way of understanding and consequently, respecting the environment we live in. Tourism has also been a new way of conservation for those wild animals, which in the past have been widely hunted and nowadays are a profitable activity helping companies to protect the environment. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a global intergovernmental aimed to preserve whales and has created assessments on the activity, proposing not only benefits for management but also engaging countries in keeping this marine mammal safe.

Destinations all over the world are famous for whale watching, as example, Canada, Iceland and South Africa, but in this article, we are focusing in one specific country where the activity is available in different regions. We have done a mini guide for you about how to go whale watching in New Zealand, explaining first the reasons this activity is important in the country, going through species of whales, then moving to where to find them. Finally, you will find some tips to make the most of your time while whale watching in the country.

Why New Zealand?

New Zealand is widely known for its environment and it is often encountered in the bucket list of adventurous travellers. More than just a place to see landscapes, the country is also home of wildlife and here we will focus on marine mammals, specifically whales. Nowadays, 30 species of whales are seen around New Zealand, while the world has 80 species. Considering the size of the country, chances are high you will end up finding at least one during your visit. Most of them are in journey between breeding season in sub-tropical areas and feeding in Antarctic, depending on the specie you will notice different behaviours while in there.

The country is a leader in marine mammal protection and has engaged in making New Zealand a better place for the animals. In 1946 was a founding member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC); in 1979 established the act to protect 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and in 1992 a legislation was created for marine mammal protection. The Department of Conversation (DOC) make sure all rules are applied and are responsible for the safety of marine mammals in the country, which includes not only whales but dolphins, sea lions and seals as well. In order to keep the animals and yourself safe, there are some specific rules for watching the animals, which includes not disturbing them making noises and harassing and, equally important never feeding them.

Tours boats should also follow rules to make a safe environment for marine mammals and in case you see any misbehaviour towards an animal, DOC has a number to any person to call (0800-362-468) if you are unsure if a person or company is not following the rules, click here to check what is expected from an observer. Now that you have discovered the importance of whales for New Zealand, you are ready to find out which animals you will be able to see while in there.

Whales to look for in NZ

Despite the fact that in New Zealand 30 species can be found, as noted above, here we will focus in 5 of them which are considered the most popular among travelers. You will note each one has a specific behavior and probably you will not see every one of them when visiting the country, but in New Zealand you are sure to see some. Each one has its characteristics and watching them living freely in the ocean is an activity every person should experience. Here are our top five choices.

Sperm whales – This is a whale with deep water habits that can hold its breath for about 40-60 minutes usually, but researchers have seen a 2-hour holding. While most species only feed seasonally, sperm whales feed all the time, eating 3% of their body weight daily. Their head are square and makes up approximately one third of body length, sperm whales have a dark grey or brown colour.

Humpback whale – Easy to identify in the sea, humpback whales have a small dorsal fin but when swimming back to the ocean they show the black and white tails, each making an individual pattern. They also have a specific behaviour like spy hopping, breaching, lob tailing and flipper slapping. Humpback whales also produce unique songs.

Blue Whale – They are the largest and heaviest animal that has ever lived on earth. Actually, the largest animal found on history was a female blue whale weighing 150 tonnes. Named after the blue pigmentation, the blue whale can blow 9 meters high. This is a rare animal but can be found in New Zealand, as they live part of the year in its waters.

Southern Right Whale – Right whales have large wide bodies, no dorsal fin, V shape blowhole spray and their colour vary from dark grey to black. They swim on slow speed and have an oily body, which made easy for hunters to catch in the past being the reason why this specie has this name, it was the right whale to hunt.

Orcas – Here is an exception for our whales but equally famous. Also known as killer whale, orca is a member of dolphin family. The name comes from the fact they are the only marine mammal that prey upon other species. Orcas prefer deeper waters but can be seen in shallow bays for breeding. Easy to watch in the sea, as they have a long dorsal fin and characteristic black colour.


Where to go for whale watching in New Zealand

Nature reigns in the country and it is possible you will end up watching marine mammals in a lot of places, but here we have selected areas considered the most famous among travellers looking for whale watching in New Zealand. Take your time to read and start planning your trip by accessing www.flyusanywhere.com to check the best deals for New Zealand. You are one step away of experiencing one of the coolest thing to do in nature.


If you have to choose one destination to go for whale watching, this should be the one as it is only place on earth you will be able to see giant sperm whales all year round. Located in the east coast of the South Island, approximately 200 kilometres from Christchurch, Kaikoura has an intense marine life. Starting by sperm whales already noted above, humpback whales can also be found there mostly during winter in the country (June, July and August) for reproduction and, blue whale at different times of the year as they are passing through. Additionally, it is possible to see southern right whale, minke whales, pygmy whales, seals and dolphins. The company Whale Watch Kaikoura offers tours to watch the animals but also day tours from Christchurch, you can find more information clicking here.


The most famous area to watch the marine life in Auckland is the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park which holds 5 marine reserves and 50 islands in 1.2 million hectares. A population of around 50 Bryde’s whale live in the area, with approximately 150 visiting seasonally, being a regular appearance during tours. Additionally, more than 22 species can be found in the area like: humpback whales, orcas, fin whales and southern right whales, just to name a few. Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari offers tours to the area and guarantee marine mammal viewing, just to make things clear that marine mammal includes other animals like dolphin and seals. During the tours, Marine Research Scientists will be aboard commenting about animal’s behaviour and part of the ticket price goes to the Marine Mammal Conservation. Tours depart from Viaduct Harbour, in downtown Auckland.

Bay of Islands

Here is a destination for adventurous travellers who like to discover a place slowly, the region of the Bay of Islands is located in the North end of the north island of New Zealand. The area has approximately 140 islands and Paihia is the city to stay while getting tours to visit the islands nearby. While there is no specific whale watching tour, the animals are seeing freely in there, specially orcas and bryde whales mostly between May and July and, humpback whales passing through during the winter (June to August). If you are into the marine life, there is a tour to watch bottlenose dolphin in which it is possible to swim with them. Checking the website www.dolphincruises.co.nz will give the possibility to see all tours offered. If you are a nature lover, you should go to Bay of Islands.


Whakatane is located in the North part of the island, approximately 300 kilometres from Auckland. This is another area where nature commands, especially because the only marine active volcano in the country calls the region of Whakatane home. In order to visit the volcano White Island, travellers need to hop on a tour offered by local travel agency which will take 5-6 hours. Even though the visit to the volcano is a must thing to do, whale and dolphin watching is the real reason Whakatane is in our list. The main tour operator for the activity is Direworks Dolphin and Seal Encounters offering six tours to make the best of your visit. During a visit to Whakatane, it is possible to see orcas, humpback whales and blue whales, depending on the time of your visit.


Probably this is a city that is already on your list when visiting New Zealand. This is the last city on the North side of the island and where travellers take the ferry to go to Picton, making their way to the South part. As a cosmopolitan city, Wellington is great place to stop and sightseeing but it is also home for whale watching, being the most recommended place to see orcas. Throughout Summer and Spring time (April – October), orcas can be seen in the harbour around Oriental Parade, Frank Kitts Park and The Lagoon. They will be looking for food source in the area as they dig the sea bottom for stingrays, bringing them in shallow waters of the locations above. Definitely a performance every wildlife lover should see.



Tips for whale watching

While it is a pleasure activity, travellers should follow some safety tips in order to make the most of the whale watching. Basically, because will be interacting with wild animals in their natural habitat and, as most adventurous people already known, nature can be tough. Here are some tips before you go whale watching in New Zealand.

  • Wear comfortable clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat during your tour. When in a boat you may not feel how the environment can be harsh on you, so keeping you safe is a priority and that lead us to the second tip.
  • Stay hydrated and eat fresh food before you go. It is highly recommended to check if you need a motion sickness medicine and, if so check with your doctor before you travel.
  • Check the availability of the whales before travelling, some of them are migrating and may be not available in a specific area by the time you will be in the country.
  • Follow the rules about marine mammals watching, specified by the Department of Conservation (DOC). You can check them again here in order to keep you and the animal safe.
  • Book a tour with trustworthy travel agencies and note if they follow the procedures. All mentioned in this article are known for acting in accordance with the rules.
  • Have fun! Make the most of your time while enjoying this activity for all ages. Don’t forget to charge your batteries and take as many photos as you want, but take a minute to enjoy it alive, registering the moments in your mind. You will be a better traveler after whale watching in New Zealand.


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