Swimming with dolphins is an experience that many people crave, and for good reason, it's an unbelievable experience! In New Zealand there are quite a few places that you can swim with wild dolphins. They aren't in a tank and if they swim with you it's their choice to do so. Dolphins are notoriously friendly so they do often choose to get very close to swimmers.
The NZ DOC (Department of Conservation) has strict rules about getting close to marine life and the companies who offer dolphin watching or swimming tours are very good at sticking to them. The dolphins won't be harrased or disturbed, and pods with young calves will be left alone.
There are 7 marine mammal sanctuaries in New Zealand. In these locations interactions with dolphins, and other marine life, will be limited. This includes the Bay of Islands since December 2021.
So with all that in mind, knowing that swimming with dolphins in New Zealand is a positive experience for people and dolphins alike, let's get onto where you can actually swim with dolphins in NZ.
Swimming with Dolphins NZ
Let's start with Kaikoura as it's the place most well known for dolphin swimming in New Zealand. Kaikoura is famous for it's marine life and you'll have a high chance of not only seeing dolphins but whales and seals too. It's not legal to swim with whales but jumping in the water with the dolphins is perfectly ok.
You'll find dusky dolphins in Kaikoura, and they're known to be the most acrobatic dolphin species. This is a show like no other, and one you won't easily forget, especially with the stunning coastline as a backdrop.
Akaroa is not on many tourists radar, but this is the only place in the world that you can swim with the worlds smallest and rarest dolphin - the Hectors Dolphin. If you want to have this experience then pre-booking is essential as Black Cat Cruises only allow a maximum of 12 swimmers on any trip.
Akaroa is found just south of Christchurch, so make sure you make a little detour for this truly once in a lifetime experience.
3. Marlborough Sounds
This is a particularly good place to go dolphin spotting for those that may occasionally suffer from seasickness, as the waters are so calm. There's an abundance of wildlife you can see here, including orca, NZ fur seals and even penguins, as well as a variety of sea birds.
Dolphins you can see here include dusky, common and bottlenose.
Dolphin Seafaris offer dolphin swimming tours in Tauranga, located in the North Island (south of the Coromandel). There are normally lots of common dolphins to be seen as well as the chance of seeing bottlenose dolphins, orca, pilot whales, humpback whales, turtles, seals and much more.
This trip is particularly good for people who might not be overly confident in the water as they have 'swim bars' which you can hold onto whilst in the water.
Bay of Islands
One of the most popular places to swim with dolphins was in the Bay of Islands and that's because the water is much warmer here than many other places. However since December 2021 swimming with dolphins in the Bay of Islands is no longer allowed and the area is now a marine mammal sanctuary. Unfortunately the popularity of boating tours in the Bay of Islands was having a detrimental effect on the very animals people love so much. The sanctuary was created "to protect all marine mammals from high vessel interaction and provide safe zones to encourage natural behaviours free from distractions."
Going out on a boat when in the Bay of Islands is an absolute must-do activity anyway because the area is so beautiful. So head out on a dolphin watching boat, enjoy the spectacular scenery and watch the dolphins in their natural habitat from a safe distance. Still an amazing experience!
Read more: Swim with Dolphins in Bay of Islands
If you're more interested in seeing dolphins and not so much with getting in the water with them, then an Auckland whale and dolphin safari is a fabulous option. The Hauraki Gulf is filled with marine life and you'll see all sorts of marine life.
The 4 places listed above are all amazing places to visit anyway and if you've always wanted to swim with dolphins New Zealand is the place to do it!