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5 Places to Spot Whales in New Zealand

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Spot the giants of the sea!

There’s nothing like the rush of excitement felt when spotting a huge body appearing from the water, finishing with the graceful emergence of an almighty tail. It’s fair to say, that spotting a whale is a once in a lifetime experience for many backpackers coming to New Zealand.

The New Zealand waters are the fourth largest marine territory in the world, with a whale migrating route going straight through them. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise to find there are some excellent whale watching tours from the coast of New Zealand. From the year-round show of sperm whales in Kaikoura to the frequent visits by orcas in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand provides an awesome opportunity to see an unreal variety of whale species. In fact, almost half of the world’s species of whale are seen around New Zealand’s coast.

It’s not that uncommon to spot whales simply by chance when exploring New Zealand’s coast by boat or kayak. It just goes to show that you should always have your camera ready and your eyes peeled!

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1. Kaikoura

Kaikoura is the only place on earth that you can see giant sperm whales on a tour. Plus, you can see them all year round. Not only can you view the whales by boat, but you can hop on a plane and get a unique view of them from the sky. On a whale-watching encounter in Kaikoura you are very likely to see other sea life, such as fur seals and dolphins. All of which are attracted to the continental shelf close to land known as the Kaikoura Canyon.

Location: Kaikoura, South Island. Read more about the town in our complete Kaikoura backpacker guide.

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2. Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf

Search for whales straight from the city of Auckland. Orcas are known to be regular visitors into the Auckland harbour itself, making the Hauraki Gulf, the body of water on the east coast of Auckland, a great place to start searching for our flippered friends. Bryne’s whales and common dolphins are the usual species seen on the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari, although you may see four or five different species on one trip. The probability of seeing a whale on an Auckland whale-watching cruise is 75%.

Location: Auckland Central. Check out our complete backpacker guide to the Hauraki Gulf here.
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3. Bay of Islands

Although there are no tours dedicated to whale watching in the Bay of Islands, whales are frequent visitors to the bay. Keep an eye out for orca and Bryde’s whales, most often seen between May and July, when on a boat or kayaking trip out in the bay. It is also possible to see long-finned pilot whales, humpback whales and even blue whales. Find out more in 7 Whale and Dolphin Species to See in Auckland.

Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands. Check out our complete guide to the Bay of Islands here.

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4. Marlborough Sounds

Situated along a migratory route in between the North and South Island, it’s no surprise that the Marlborough Sounds has it’s fair share of marine mammals. Back in the day, Marlborough Sounds was a hub for whaling but today, thankfully, all that has changed to viewing them for a safe distance (for the whales). You are most likely to spot baleen whales in June/July when they migrate through the Cook Strait, as well as the odd sighting of orca in Marlborough Sounds.

Location: Marlborough Sounds, South Island. Check out our complete guide to Marlborough right here.

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5. Whakatane (Bay of Plenty)

Take a cruise from Whakatane to the active volcano of White Island and the aptly named Whale Island for multiple wildlife encounters. The ocean around White Island is a hugely popular diving spot and with that a great attraction for marine mammals. Spot whales and dolphins on boat tours on the bay. Otherwise orca whales, minke whales and pilot whales can sometimes be seen from Whakatane’s shore.

Location: Whakatane, Bay of Plenty. Check out more about the Bay of Plenty in our Bay of Plenty backpacker guide.

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More wildlife encounters in New Zealand!

Whales are not the only marine wildlife encounter you can have in New Zealand.

Did you know there are places to spot seals and penguins too?

How about checking out the 5 Best Places for Swimming with Dolphins while you are at it?

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