Dolphin leaping over swimmers, New Zealand

Best place to swim with dolphins in New Zealand?

18 Oct 2016

There’s something about dolphins that we’ve always found pretty magic – we’ve loved their free spirit, playful nature and fun tricks since we were kids! New Zealand’s sheltered coastline, rich in fish stocks, is a favourite playground for dolphins. New Zealand is one of the best places in the world to jump in and swim with them. We reckon swimming with dolphins is one for the bucket list for sure, but where is the best place to do this?

Where is the best place to swim with dolphins in New Zealand? 

Dolphins are all over the country, but there are a few places that are better than others when it comes to jumping in the water with them.

Bay of Islands

Our absolute favourite place to swim with dolphins in New Zealand is the Bay of Islands, up in the ‘winterless north’. Why? Because the tropical climate up there makes the water quite a bit warmer. Instead of shivering in your wetsuit, you can focus all your attention on what you’re doing. The picturesque islands that dot the area provide such an amazing backdrop, meaning the whole experience is one that you won’t forget in a hurry.

The Bay of Islands also has a lot of fun stuff to do off-water; after all, it’s often called the ‘birthplace of New Zealand’. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the most important document in NZ history was signed between Maori and the British, is a fantastic place to learn about New Zealand history. Just across the bay in Russell, NZ’s first capital, you can stroll the charming waterfront and visit the little museum to learn of New Zealand’s colorful start. We recommend getting off the beaten track a little to reach the Bay of Islands – instead of taking State Highway 1, take the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, via Hokianga. This way, you’ll be able to get a look at Tane Mahuta – a huge, 2,000-year-old Kauri tree that we promise will take your breath away.

Dolphins next to the boat, Bay of Islands


Kaikoura is a pretty famous one. On the East Coast of the South Island, Kaikoura is home to heaps of marine wildlife, not just dolphins. Here you can see albatross, seals, penguins and even whales! A must-do activity is to jump in the water with the Dusky dolphins. These fellas may be small but they are some of the most playful, so they’re highly likely to put on a show.


One of the rarest dolphins in the world, the Hector’s dolphin, is found only in New Zealand – and the French settlement of Akaroa is the only place you can swim with them! Because they are so rare, it’s a very special experience to hop in the water with these guys.

Is it safe to swim with wild dolphins?

Just like us, dolphins are friendly folk but just like visiting your mates, you have to respect them when entering their home. There are a few simple rules to follow when swimming in the wild with dolphins. If they have calves, you definitely shouldn’t get in the water with them because they will do anything to protect their babies; when they are feeding, you also shouldn’t interrupt them – how would you like it if you were munching away on your favourite snack and someone came and distracted you? Also, look, don’t touch as this could frighten them or make them feel threatened. If you’re smart and swim with dolphins with experienced guides, you’ll be fine. 

swimmer and dolphin under water

Best time for dolphin watching

We are lucky in New Zealand – because of our mild climate, there are often playful pods in our waters all year round, at any time of day. For a more comfortable experience, we would recommend the warmer months – if not summer, the end of spring or start of Autumn – for dolphin watching and definitely for dolphin swimming. The water and the sea breeze can get quite chilly over winter.

How do you swim with dolphins?

The best and safest way to swim with dolphins is to take a boat cruise with specialist tour operators. They know all the secret spots, so you are more likely to find some lively swimming buddies pretty quickly. When you find a pod and the experts say it is ok to get in the water with the dolphins, a small group of you will slip in and splash around with them at a safe distance.

Where to see wild dolphins in NZ

Animal welfare is very important to us kiwis and we are proud to be able to say that the only place you can see dolphins here is in the wild. We reckon it’s much better to see animals in their natural habitat anyway! There are few places in the country, as well as Kaikoura, Akaroa and the Bay of Islands, that dolphins prefer over others. The calm waters of Marlborough Sounds are inviting to the Bottlenose, Common and even Orca, which you may see on the ferry crossing from Wellington. It is hard not to see why dolphins like to splash about further south in Fiordland; who wouldn’t want to spend their days surrounded by huge snowy mountains, Milford Sound and other fun marine life! Conveniently, you may even find dolphins in a couple of our main cities, like in the Hauraki Gulf of Auckland or off the coast of Tauranga. It’s safe to say you really don’t have to look far in New Zealand to see dolphins in the wild.

Pod of dolphins leaping out of the water, New Zealand

As well as swimming with dolphins, there are heaps of awesome ways to encounter wildlife in New Zealand. From whale watching in Kaikoura, hikes past seal colonies and night-walks to discover the endangered Kiwi, a holiday down under offers heaps of ways to connect with nature.

We often hear from people that swimming with dolphins was the highlight of their time with us on one of our small group tours. On our signature Kakapo 21 day tour you'll have the chance to tick dolphin swimming off your bucket list in the Bay of Islands, and more chances to see them in Kaikoura, Milford Sound and crossing the Cook Strait on the ferry. To start planning your New Zealand 'Trip of a Lifetime' Get a Brochure now or get in touch with one of the friendly MoaTrek team to have a chat!

18 Oct 2016
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