Whales, Dolphins and Diving Gannets in Auckland!

So far, our time in Auckland has probably been the most diverse out of all the places we visited around New Zealand. It’s true! Of course, we have had those “big city” experiences, such as soaking up the food culture, visiting museums and having some awesome nights out. And when yesterday we were delved into the environment of some of New Zealand’s most fascinating land wildlife at Tiritiri Matangi Island, today, we are going out onto Auckland’s waters in search of some of New Zealand’s most fascinating marine mammals!

Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari

Our time in Auckland wouldn’t be complete without spending a good amount of time on the water. The city is known as “The City of Sails” after all. So we head down to Viaduct Harbour, a cool little place in Auckland in itself with bars and restaurants overlooking the many boats of the city backed with a view of the Sky Tower, and check into our Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari tour. (Yes, you can see whales in Auckland!) The check-in is just inside the entrance of the Maritime Museum, then we wait in the harbour for all the guests to arrive.

The perfect wildlife-viewing vessel

We have a quick briefing before walking down into the harbour, before walking onto the vessel, and while we the boat is moving out of the harbour – all that necessary health and safety stuff you need to know. Then we are free to roam the boat and what a boat it is! The huge catamaran vessel has a heap of open areas for optimal wildlife viewing. There’s the back, all along the sides, the upper level, and everyone’s favourite, the bow of the boat. The bow even has different levels to sit on, so obstructed views are not a problem.

Searching for whales and dolphins on the placid waters of Auckland Searching for whales and dolphins on the placid waters of Auckland
Look how awesome these diving gannets are! Look how awesome these diving gannets are!
A gannet following a dolphin: just another sight on the Auckland Hauraki Gulf A gannet following a dolphin: just another sight on the Auckland Hauraki Gulf
This little guy stealing the show under the bow of the boat This little guy stealing the show under the bow of the boat

A cruise around the Hauraki Gulf

Leaving Auckland by boat is a spectacular experience in itself. We capturing some awesome perspectives of the skyline from the water, as well as the volcanic cones at Devonport, and the distinct silhouette of Rangitoto Island – Auckland’s youngest volcano. Our skipper, Andy, is telling us stories and giving us heaps of insights on the surrounding islands of this body of water known as the Hauraki Gulf. He is also telling us about the methods him and his team of marine biologists are actually using to find whales and dolphins as we move across the calm waters. One of the signs is spotting groups of seabirds, especially gannets. We spot one of two gannets to begin with, white seabirds with yellow feathers around their head and bright blue eyes. Then groups start to form together, Andy predicting each time what the step is going to be…

A new appreciation for seabirds

“We’re definitely going to see some dolphins somewhere around here…” Andy says, “Right ahead with a fishing boat and a group of gannets is a pod of dolphins”. As we approach the gannets, the boat slows down so we can sit an observe the most awesome show!

While some gannets sit on the water’s surface, dorsal fins poke out around them as the dolphins are bringing schools of fish up to the surface. Meanwhile, more gannets are circling in the air to all of a sudden straighten out their bodies like a pencil and dive at point-break speed straight into the water. Wow! They look like bombs dropped from the sky – these birds are incredible! The next second, they’ll bob up onto the water’s surface and do a little shake. We know we were here to see marine mammals, but damn, those gannets!

Always remember to look down!

On the lookout for whales

We very often see the dolphins emerging from the water, even jumping out, as we sit here watching, but the Whale and Dolphin Safari team suspect there is more life to be seen towards Waiheke Island! Let’s go!

As we pick up speed, the boat attracts more nearby dolphins who surf the wake behind the boat, as well as right underneath the bow of the boat. They are so close we can see their eyes and even hear them! We can’t take our eyes off them, until Andy comes on the microphone again to say there’s a whale up ahead!

In the distance, we see the water shooting to the sky from the whale’s blowhole. As we get closer, we see it! A Bryde’s Whale! The huge creature slowly rises from the water’s surface showing it’s head, back and dorsal fin. It is heading toward another group of gannets and dolphins about to gatecrash the party.

Awesome sightings of the Bryde’s Whale

Andy tells us to keep an eye on the middle of the gannet group diving to get fish. Suddenly, the huge underside of the whale’s mouth emerges from the water with fish leaping out with it in a desperate attempt to escape. The boat goes silent in disbelief, then general: “Wow”s and “That was awesome”s…

We follow the trail of the bryde’s whale for quite some time, our attention excruciatingly divided between seeing the emergence of the whale’s dorsal fin and the cute-as-hell dolphins swimming and leaping right underneath us. Ahhh, it’s wildlife overload!

Amazing! Great capture from the AWADS team! Amazing! Great capture from the AWADS team!
Only the determined whale spotters stay on the front of the boat for the entire trip! Only the determined whale spotters stay on the front of the boat for the entire trip!
A dolphin with a mohawk! A dolphin with a mohawk!

What a day on the water?!

After about four hours on the water with diving gannets, jumping dolphins, whopping great whales (and did we forget to mention all the little blue penguins we spotted too?), we are returning via another scenic route to the Auckland Harbour. Eyes are still peeled, as orca have been known to come to the Auckland Harbour, but that would surely be pushing our luck after the day we’ve had!

We say goodbye to the team and head back to ACB Base which just happens to be surrounded by cheap takeaways, street food trucks, and backpacker bars. They finally seduce us into not making food tonight.

Join us tomorrow where the rain is meant to return, so we might just have a third installment of our “Perfect Rainy Day Activity in Auckland” coming up. See you then!

Laura and Robin

Cruising back to Auckland in the super scenic Hauraki Gulf
Cruising back to Auckland in the super scenic Hauraki Gulf Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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