Bucket List

The Number One Bucket List Activity You NEED to Do In New Zealand

By Louise Burton
on  April 12, 2019

If, like us, you’re convinced you were born a creature of the sea, then you’ll love this New Zealand bucket list activity.

Nah, it’s not skydiving, bungee jumping, jet boating, rafting down the world’s highest commercially raftable waterfall or visiting Hobbiton. Although those are all legit New Zealand bucket list activities, nothing beats jumping into the salty stuff, getting a good dose of vitamin sea and heading out into the open ocean for a very unique adventure.

Here in New Zealand, we have more species of dolphin than anywhere else in the world, including the bottlenose dolphin, Maui’s dolphin, and dusky dolphin… Our waters are even home to the Hector’s dolphin which is endemic to NZ.

Yup, that’s a lot of dolphins! And you can interact with them, in their natural habitat, right here in New Zealand.

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about swimming with the dusky dolphin in New Zealand; from location to price and the finer details around the experience and the eco-friendly approach. So, grab a beer, take a seat, switch off any distractions, and get ready to cross off ‘swimming with dolphins’ from your New Zealand bucket list!

The Day Trip

Just bring yourself, we’ll sort the rest. Wetsuit, flippers and snorkel on; it’s time to prepare for a seriously epic 2.5 hours out at sea searching for, and swimming with, the dusky dolphin. This is a pretty intimate trip, with a maximum group size of sixteen people on the boat, for minimum impact on the environment and maximum opportunity for you to enjoy your encounter with the dusky dolphin in its natural habitat.

The experienced crew seems to have a sixth sense as to where the dolphins are hanging out, meaning that they nearly always find active dolphins for you to swim with. Majestic, thrilling and serene all at the same time, it can feel a little daunting for some, jumping into the open ocean, but your guides will be there to support and guide you. Nothing beats this epic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to encounter these curious animals in the wild.

The Dusky Dolphin

Only found in the Southern Hemisphere, the dusky dolphin is bluish-black in colour on the back and tail and white on the underside of the body. With a blunt dorsal fin and virtually no beak, there are 1000 recorded in the Kaikoura area alone, so the likelihood of spotting a pod is pretty high. They are curious animals and respond to simple sounds so you can have a bit of fun with them, like singing your best rendition of your favourite song through your snorkel. Obviously, holding on to the dolphins and trying to ride them is prohibited, but swimming beside them and watching as they zoom around you in the water is one of the most incredible (and surreal!) feelings.

The Impact On The Environment

We team up with Dolphin Encounter New Zealand, a company who run dolphin tours in South Island New Zealand. They run tours within the strict guidelines laid out by the DOC (Department of Conservation), meaning they are only allowed out a certain amount of times a day and have limited swim permits to ensure as little disruption to the wildlife possible. So, if you would like to swim with dolphins, it’s important to book with your guide as soon as possible on your trip to ensure you get a permit.


Set on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, in between Christchurch and Picton, lies the small coastal village of Kaikoura. Home to an abundance of marine wildlife including whales, seals and dolphins this little slice of paradise has some seriously cool scenery with a mountain range – the Seaward Kaikoura’s – to the west of the village and the expansive Pacific Ocean to the east. The scenery alone is epic, but it’s the marine wildlife which is sure to capture a piece of your heart.


Amazingly, you can experience the Kaikoura dolphin swim year-round. It’s worth knowing that the tours are weather dependent and also require minimum numbers to run (although that one shouldn’t be a problem with a group of you awesome humans!) meaning that winter departures are usually slightly more unpredictable.

How Much?

$175 for the boat trip including the dolphin swimming permit.

Not A Creature Of The Sea?

No worries, you can still join your mates on the trip and opt for the dolphin watch option for a cheaper rate. Just catch up with your leader for current prices and to book on.

Want to swim with dolphins in Kaikoura on a Wild Kiwi South Island adventure? Check out these epic Wild Kiwi trips:

7-Day Southern Loop

14-Day Big South

14-Day NZ Adventurer

21-Day NZ Discovery

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