Swimming with the World’s Smallest Dolphins in Akaroa

New Zealand is a land of extremes. If it isn’t celebrating its really BIG things, like giant paua shells and gumboots, then it’s being the home to some of the world’s smallest (and largest) creatures. Today, we are going to not only be spotting the world’s smallest species of dolphin, we’re going to be swimming with them! We don’t know about you, but we think this an awesome way to end the year!

Joining Ecoseaker for a dolphin swimming cruise

We rock up to Akaroa in our pimpin’ Jucy rental car, find somewhere to park on this busy New Year’s Eve, and head down to Daly’s Wharf, the launch for EcoSEAker. Adam, dolphin know-it-all extraordinaire, greets us, reminds us what we need to bring on the dolphin swimming tour, as well as giving us the all-important waiver to sign – you know the drill. Once our whole dolphin swimming team arrive, we are not-so-elegantly squeezing into our thick, dry and rather new-looking wetsuits. We are looking fit and ready to join the dolphins!

Small groups and small dolphins

The maximum amount of passengers on this protector boat is 12, allowing Adam to talk to all of us quite easily as we gather around the front of the boat. As well as telling us about the life and behaviour of the Hector’s dolphin, the world’s smallest species of dolphin, he also talks about the best ways to swim with them. Because they are only about 1-1.4 metres long, they can be pretty intimidated by big clumsy humans like us. The key is to attract them to you. You have to look interesting them! Adam’s tip is to sing in the water with them, don’t swim towards them, and don’t try to touch them. We imagine this is going to look pretty hilarious later…

Dolphins giving us a splashy show! Dolphins giving us a splashy show!
The EcoSEAker vessel in the midst of the beautiful Akaroa Harbour The EcoSEAker vessel in the midst of the beautiful Akaroa Harbour
The awkward moment when you're not looking the right way The awkward moment when you're not looking the right way
The world's smallest species of dolphin. Look at this little guy! The world's smallest species of dolphin. Look at this little guy!

Playing hard to get with the dolphins

The boat cruises slowly away from Akaroa and through the Akaroa Harbour. It’s only about 20 minutes into the trip when the first dolphins are spotted emerging at the surface of the water for air. Even the skipper and owner of the family business, Steve, commentates of the speakers saying it’s unusual to see dolphins this close into the harbour. Whatever the reason, it’s a sign for a good day of wildlife spotting.

Now that we have seen dolphins, the aim is to see if they are interested in the boat. Some will come for a swim under the bow gliding along with the currents for a minute, then leave, while others will stick around a bit longer providing some amazing photo ops! It’s impossible to miss them, as they don’t seem as quick as other species of dolphins. Steve stops the boat to see if they are still interested. When the dolphins look like they are not going anywhere, it’s time to put on the snorkel masks! We’re going swimming.

Time to swim!

One by one, we climb down a ladder at the back of the boat as to not scare the dolphins. Still, we want to do this as quick as possible to get over the shock of the chilly water. Soon enough, we are comfortable in our wetsuits and comfortable enough with our company to start some appalling song renditions to attract the dolphins. Kung Foo Fighting, The Final Countdown and I Want to Break Free seem to be a hit with the dolphins, as we spot a couple of curved dorsal fins coming our way. The next second, the dolphins are half a metre away from us just as curious of us as we are of them. We can’t describe the jolt of excitement we get when being so close to these magnificent creatures.

The dolphins are having a ‘hull’ of a time under the boat

Singing songs and dolphins making a mockery of us

It even feels that sometimes they are toying with us. Just when we think all the dolphins have gone and we start getting out of the water, the cheeky buggers come back making us quickly shuffle back down the ladder and sing like idiots again. Oh, those dolphins!

While 12 of us bob up and down in the water singing ’80s hits like mad people, the dolphins will come and go until we have two pods coming to join us. The best viewing is on the water’s surface, as the recent large swells in the harbour have stirred up the water making the visibility underneath a bit murky.

From smallest dolphins to smallest penguins

After about 45 minutes of dolphin swimming, we are moving on down the harbour when Steve spots a fishing boat completely surrounded by albatross. We make our way out for a closer look, spotting a little blue penguin, the world’s smallest penguin, along the way. Man, the variety of wildlife is crazy out here on the Akaroa Harbour!

New Zealand fur seal doing what seals do best: chilling on the rocks New Zealand fur seal doing what seals do best: chilling on the rocks
Warming up with a hot chocolate under the spectacular Cathedral Cave Warming up with a hot chocolate under the spectacular Cathedral Cave
Just one of the many albatross circling the skies. Epic shot by Rob Pine. Just one of the many albatross circling the skies. Epic shot by Rob Pine.

And here come the world’s largest seabirds!

Wings reaching a three metre wingspan glide around and around the passing fishing boat, catching interest in our boat and giving us an amazing show of the world’s largest seabirds. (See, we weren’t kidding with all these world’s smallest/largest!) Albatross of a couple of different species group together on the water, only to lift back into the air one at a time on an invisible runway etched in the water. Our attention is split between the dolphins that have come to join us under the bow again and the surprising sighting of the albatross.

Rugged rocks and New Zealand fur seals

As we make our way back into the harbour, not only do we slow down for some awesome view of basalt columns at the top of towering cliffs formed by an ancient volcano, but we also see a small colony of New Zealand fur seals. Last year’s seal pups hop around on the rocks full of energy, while the adult seals lie in the sun, we can only assume, giving up on life.

Meanwhile, we are still pumped from seeing all this wildlife up-close. By EcoSEAker actually giving so much time, both in the water with the dolphins and out, we are getting wildlife sightings beyond what we expected from a dolphin swimming tour.

One last stop before we get back to Akaroa involves hot chocolate and biscuits under the shelter of Cathedral Cave and Elephant Rock, grand rock features carved out by the sea.

Another amazing experience in Akaroa!

We leave the EcoSEAker boat with our cameras full and satisfaction of this trip exceeding all expectations. Now, we just have to peel these wetsuits off…

It’s another night at the Pohatu Penguins base camp thanks to their kindness of letting us use their sleepout while our campervan is currently sick somewhere between Akaroa and Christchurch. What we are going to do without our campervan on this 365 days doing 365 activities, we are still trying to figure out… At least tomorrow, we have a wildlife cruise to procrastinate with… Join us then!

Laura and Robin

UNDERWATER WITH THE WORLD'S SMALLEST SPECIES OF DOLPHIN
UNDERWATER WITH THE WORLD'S SMALLEST SPECIES OF DOLPHIN Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read the yesterday’s post about sailing on a yacht around Akaroa Harbour? How about these articles:

Until tomorrow’s blog post, check us out on the HerePin app to meet other travellers in your area. We also post travel tips for New Zealand on Facebook, as well as our adventure on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to find people to travel with, ask us questions and buy/sell.

See you tomorrow!

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