Seal and Dolphin swimming in Kaikoura, New Zealand

fjord land taken from the wellington to picton ferry in New Zealand

Seal and Dolphin swimming in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Hello everyone and welcome back to my blog. We’re now heading into South Island nearing the end of my New Zealand travels. Don’t worry I still think there could be another 5 posts yet to come! Todays post is all about swimming with fur seals and dusky dolphins in Kaikoura in New Zealand. But first let’s talk about the journey…

Wellington to Picton ferry

From Wellington in the North Island we caught the Bluebridge ferry across to Picton in the South Island. We went with Bluebridge because we got a deal with our Escape camper van. I would have a google to see if there are any deals because there always normally is. Also you need to book maybe a few weeks in advance.

Now the ferry crossing itself is notorious for being rough so please take travel sickness tablets! Luckily we went on a rather calm day but, even still we felt a bit queasy… The journey is roughly 3 hours. The first and last hour is okay as you are sheltered in bays and fjords. It’s the hour in between you need to watch out for. I would also recommend sitting in the middle of the boat and outside if possible. The journey however is beautiful. The scenery when you come into the South Island is utterly breath taking.

ferry from wellington to picton in new zealand
fur seal swimming underwater in Kaikoura in New Zealand
fur seal swimming trip in Kaikoura in New Zealand
underwater photography of a fur seal swimming in Kaikoura in New Zealand
fur seal swimming in Kaikoura in New Zealand

Seal swim Kaikoura

We booked the fur seal swim in Kaikoura a week before as we had seen it advertised in the Lonely Planet*We booked our trip with the company Seal Swim Kaikoura and it did not disappoint! Seal Swim Kaikoura provided you with everything you needed. We just need to bring along our underwater camera*, swimsuit and towel etc. The weather was gorgeous that day. Once we were suited and booted we took a short bus journey to our boat and then a short boat ride over to the seals. There was maybe 10 other people with us on the trip and we were split into 2 groups. This made it a very pleasant and relaxing experience for both us and the seals.

Seals are naturally inquisitive animals and you just kind of need to bob along and wait for them to come to you. We had such an amazing encounter with really minimal effort on our part! It was wonderful to see these creatures under the water. They are a lot speedier and graceful than they are on land! The trip cost us $120 each and was about 45 mins in the water. This was plenty time as it was really cold but, you’re so amazed by watching the seals that you don’t even realise how cold you are until you get out! Luckily the boat had a warm hose which felt incredible in your wetsuit, ha.

dusky dolphin on dolphin encounter trip in Kaikoura in New Zealand
dusky dolphin with calf in Kaikoura in New Zealand
close up underwater shot of dusky dolphin swimming in Kaikoura in New Zealand
dusky dolphin looking at underwater camera in Kaikoura in New Zealand

Dolphin Encounter

After enjoying the seal swim so much we saw that there was also a dolphin swim. Now I have always wanted to swim with dolphins but, I am an avid animal lover and would never want to swim with one in captivity. Which until now I thought was the only choice. So when I found out I could swim with them in the wild and it was completely on their terms I jumped at the chance. 

The price

We went with the company, Dolphin Encounter which also offer albatross and whale watching tours. The price to swim with dolphins was slightly more at $180 but you can always (with both of the trips) be a spectator. Thus is slightly less but, I would highly recommend getting in the water with them if you can.

The experience

I have to say swimming with the dusky dolphins in the wild has to be the best experience of my life. I cannot put into words how amazing it was. The dolphins were so inquisitive and playful and were coming right up to us and swimming around us. I’d have to say that it was a completely different experience from the seals which were a lot more calm. A lot of the dusky dolphins had calfs which was incredible to see and lovely to know that they did not feel threatened at all by us as the Mother’s would have never have come so close. You have to remember 

fur seal sleeping on rock in Kaikoura in New Zealand
fur seal sleeping on sand in Kaikoura in New Zealand
snow top mountains by sea in Kaikoura in New Zealand

we are in the open ocean which means that they can swim off whenever they please which made it even more special.


The company had very strict conservation rules on how long we could stay in the water with the dolphins. Again I think we were roughly 45 minutes in the water swimming with 2 different pods. Believe me when I tell you there were hundreds of dolphins! Even when you didn’t have your head in the water you could see them jumping, doing flips and playing in the wake of the boat. There is no way anyone could tell me that these animals are not highly intelligent. They were looking at us like we were humans in a zoo!

Sea sickness

However, I have to mention that I do think we were very lucky in the fact that we found such a big pod and they were up for interacting with us. Sometimes I don’t think that is the case. I also need to mention that although this was one of the most incredible experiences of my life I was unfortunately sea sick even though I had taken tablets and I wasn’t the only one… The swell was pretty big on the day we went even though it was forecasted to be slight to moderate. I was also told that a lot of people do feel sick more with the dolphins rather than seals because you’re out in the open ocean where you can’t see the bottom or have no where to ‘ground’ yourself. Also the dolphins can be very disorientating. 

Summary and other posts

Apart from that if  you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this experience and honestly I wish I could do it everyday. If you are going to New Zealand this is a must do activity. If you haven’t already please check out my posts on: Wellington, Cape Palliser, Tongarriro, Craters of the Moon, Rotorua, Hobbiton, Piha, Coromandel, Waitomo Caves and Auckland.

Lots of love, Melissa x

Video credit – Sam Gill