Where to Go Whale Watching in New Zealand
There’s nothing like the rush of excitement felt when spotting a huge body appearing from the water, finishing with the graceful emergence of an almighty fluke. It’s fair to say, that spotting a whale is a once in a lifetime experience for many. But what are the best tours for whale watching in New Zealand? We’ll go through them all in this list of top spots to see whales in New Zealand.
The New Zealand waters are the fourth-largest marine territory in the world, with a whale migrating route going straight through them. With that, it comes as no surprise to find there are some excellent whale watching tours from the coast of New Zealand. From the year-round show of sperm whales in Kaikoura to the frequent visits by orcas in Auckland‘s Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand provides an awesome opportunity to see an unreal variety of whale species. In fact, almost half of the world’s species of whales have been seen around New Zealand’s coast.
As a final tip before we get into the best places for whale watching in New Zealand, it’s not that uncommon to spot whales simply by chance when exploring the coast by boat or kayak. It just goes to show that you should always have your camera ready and your eyes peeled.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into the best places to see whales in New Zealand.
Kaikoura is the only place on earth where you can see giant sperm whales on a tour. Plus, you can see them all year round. Not only can you view the whales by boat with Whale Watch Kaikoura (available to book on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook), but you can hop on a plane and get a unique view of them from the sky with Wings Over Whales (also on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook). On a whale-watching encounter in Kaikoura, you are very likely to see other sea life, such as fur seals and dolphins. All of which are attracted to the continental shelf close to the land known as the Kaikoura Canyon.
Location: Kaikoura, South Island. See more experiences in the area in the 13 Best Things to Do in Kaikoura.
2. Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf
Search for whales straight from the city of Auckland. Orcas are known to be regular visitors into the Auckland Harbour itself, making the Hauraki Gulf, the body of water on the east coast of Auckland, a great place to start searching for our flippered friends. Bryde’s whales and common dolphins are the usual species seen on the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari, although you may see four or five different species on one trip. The probability of seeing a whale on an Auckland whale-watching cruise is 75%. Find out more about the tour and book your trip on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday.
Location: Auckland Central. Check out the 16 Best Things to Do in Auckland for more activities while you’re there.
3. Bay of Islands
Although there are no tours dedicated to whale watching in the Bay of Islands, whales are frequent visitors to the bay. Keep an eye out for orca and Bryde’s whales, most often seen between May and July, when on a boat or kayaking trip out in the bay. It is also possible to see long-finned pilot whales, humpback whales and even blue whales. Your best chance to see whales is from one of the 10 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands. Check out our 14 Best Things to Do in the Bay of Islands for more activity inspiration.
4. Marlborough Sounds (Picton)
Situated along a migratory route in between the North and South Island, it’s no surprise that the Marlborough Sounds has its fair share of marine mammals. Back in the day, Marlborough Sounds was a hub for whaling but today, thankfully, all that has changed to viewing them for a safe distance (for the whales). You are most likely to spot baleen whales in June/July when they migrate through the Cook Strait, as well as the odd sighting of orcas in Marlborough Sounds. Although not solely dedicated to whale watching (their focus is more on dolphin swimming), E-Ko Tours will stop to watch whales if the opportunity arises. Find out more about their tours and read reviews on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook.
Location: Picton, South Island. Check out our 10 Best Things to Do in the Marlborough Sounds and 12 Best Things to Do in Picton for more activity ideas.
Take a cruise from Whakatane to the aptly named Whale Island/Moutohorā or around the active marine volcano White Island for multiple wildlife encounters. The ocean around White Island is a hugely popular diving spot and with that a great attraction for marine mammals. Spot whales and dolphins on boat tours, such as White Island Tours and Diveworks, departing from Whakatane. Otherwise, orca whales, minke whales and pilot whales can sometimes be seen from Whakatane’s shore.
Location: Whakatane, Bay of Plenty. Check out more about the Bay of Plenty in the 13 Best Things to Do in Whakatane.
More Wildlife Encounters in New Zealand
That’s it for our guide to whale watching in New Zealand and where to spot whales in New Zealand. However, whales are not the only marine wildlife encounter you can have here. Did you know there are places to spot seals and penguins too? How about checking out the 5 Best Places for Swimming with Dolphins while you are at it?
And when you’re done, complete your New Zealand bucket list with the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.