Swimming with Dolphins and Seals

The dolphin- and seal-spotting opportunities are fantastic here. Although operators have led visitors to view and swim with dolphins and seals off the Kaikoura coast for years, and the animals may be familiar with boats, they are not tame. New Zealand fur seals are also common along this coast and, if you get into the water around the rock pools, you might spot crayfish. Pods of Dusky dolphins stay in the area year-round; you may even see them doing aerial jumps and flips.

Options to engage with seals and dolphins vary and operators will explain these before you book. Some boat operators go quite a ways offshore, whereas others hug the coast. If you have any questions about the suitability of a trip, pipe up; these guys are happy to help. Guides can prime you with information on the local species and will be in the water with you. Wet suits and other gear are provided.

Dolphin Encounter. Swim with, or just watch, the Dusky dolphins that live around here. Tours operate three times a day through summer and twice a day in winter. Because boats operate in the open ocean, you need to be confident in the water, and it's an advantage to have some snorkeling experience. Trips can cancel due to bad weather so prepare to be flexible. Book online or visit the Encounter Kaikoura headquarters, café, and gallery, where you can also organize a bird-watching cruise. 96 The Esplanade, Kaikoura, Canterbury, 7300. 03/319–6777; 0800/733–365; www.dolphinencounter.co.nz. NZ$95, NZ$175 to swim with the dolphins.

Point Kean Sea Colony. You don't have to join an organized tour to get close to seals. You can drive to this seal colony just outside of town on the northern side of the Kaikoura Peninsula. Watch the seals in their natural habitat, lying in the sun or playing in the kelp-filled shallows. These are wild animals so don't approach closer than 30 feet. With seabirds wheeling above and waves breaking along the shore, this is a powerful place just minutes from the main street. Follow Fyffe Quay to the colony at the end of the road. Pt. Kean, Kaikoura, Canterbury, 7300.

Seal Swim Kaikoura. New Zealand's original seal-swimming experience has several boat- and shore-based tours running daily from October to May. The swims are in shallow waters, sheltered by the Kaikoura Peninsula, and you're virtually guaranteed to see New Zealand fur seals up close and personal. Book online or phone in. 58 West End, Kaikoura, Canterbury, 7300. 03/319–6182; 0800/732–579; www.sealswimkaikoura.co.nz. NZ$80–NZ$110.