Any visitor to New Zealand wish to watch whales and you can spot whales throughout New Zealand. When you spot the huge mammal you will just jump in excitement and looking at the appearance of the whale for the first time is the real life time experience for many. The New Zealand waters are the fourth largest marine territory in the world, with a whale migrating route going straight through them. It will be no surprise that there are some excellent whales 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 whale are seen around New Zealand’s coast.
Types of whales in New Zealand
Whales and dolphins belong to a group of animals called cetaceans. They can be divided into two families:
Toothed whales have teeth, though these may not always be obvious. These whales use sound waves in a method called echolocation to navigate and hunt for fish and squid. New Zealand examples include sperm whales, pilot whales and dolphins.
Baleen whales have plates of baleen suspended from the roof of their mouths, through which enormous quantities of krill are sucked from the water. These whales are generally larger than toothed whales and include the largest whale of all, the blue whale. New Zealand examples include humpback and Southern right whales.
Blue Whales: The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. There are two sub-species of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere, the Antarctic (or true) blue whale and the pygmy blue whale.
Humpback Whales: Humpback whales are easy to identify and are well known for their spectacular breaching and beautiful, complex songs.
Southern Right Whales: These baleen whales can be recognized easily by their strongly arched mouth, lack of dorsal fin and V-shaped blowhole spray.
Sperm Whales: Sperm whales are one of the easiest whales to identify at sea. These animals are widespread around the world, but have a patchy distribution.
So here are the five top locations to visit if you want to spot whales. Remember you can spot them simply by chance when exploring New Zealand’s coast by boat or kayak and have your camera ready to take a shot.
Kaikoura is the only place on earth that 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, but you can hop on a plane and get a unique view of them from the sky. 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 land known as the Kaikoura Canyon.
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. Bryne’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% and rest on your luck.
3. Bay of Islands
Though 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.
4. Marlborough Sounds
Situated along a migratory route in between the North and South Island, it’s no surprise that the Marlborough Sounds has it’s 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 orcas among several species of dolphins in Marlborough Sounds.
Take a cruise from Whakatane to the active volcano of White Island and the aptly named Whale 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 on the bay. Otherwise orca whales, minke whales and pilot whales can sometimes be seen from Whakatane’s shore.