A day with the dusky dolphins of Kaikoura
"Experiencing their world, their way"
At 5.00am on warm summers morning, we pulled back the curtains to a dark sky and a rippled Kaikoura bay. Struggling to keep our eyes opened, we wondered whether we’d spot any dolphins to help us believe we'd woken up at the crack of dawn for good reason.
Before long we were completing a pretty methodical check in process and getting kitted out with our snorkeling gear and full body wetsuits that we'd later come to realise made for a perfectly toasty swim.
Like so many trips that begin with an early start, not too many words were spoken as we filled the buses and transferred down to the wharf where our Dolphin Encounter boat and crew were on-the-ready to head out across the bay into open waters.
Pulling out of the harbour as the sun was rising made for a spectacular start. We soon forgot about our early rise which was replaced by a growing anticipation of what we were actually doing there.
We cruised around the Kaikoura coastline, keeping our eyes peeled for a fin to pop through the surface. After a while the situation changed, and quite radically too. Before we knew it, we were sitting on the back step of the boat, ready to hop in the water, as our crew had spotted what looked like a pod of dusky dolphins approaching.
The second we saw them in the distance, cutting through the water toward us at the speed of light, we came to realise that this was the defining moment – our patient search was soon to be rewarded. Our guide yelled out “look to your left, there are hundreds of dolphins coming right at you”. This was our cue – we plunged into the open ocean.
Under the water, we soon gained a whole new perspective. While we could no longer see them, we certainly could feel them heading our way. Eagerly swimming to position ourselves in their path, we moved away from the boat in the direction the crew had pointed us in.
What followed was just incredible, that pod of hundreds of dusky dolphins had arrived. The sheer number of them was overwhelming and exceeded any expectations we had. It was like being placed in the middle of a dolphin super-highway as they rocketed past us, almost as if they were sizing us up and working out if we were a threat or eligible playmates. After all we had entered their world and they were calling the shots.
While the threat of sharks did cross our mind, the presence of the dolphins gave us complete reassurance that we were part of their world and in their safe keeping, which was enough to more than overcome any fears.
To attract the dolphins, we joined the choir of ridiculous high pitched noises in an attempt to mimic the sound of dolphin calls, hoping we could lure them our way. As hilarious as it sounds when you hear each other making them, somehow the excitement of being surrounded by dolphins encourages you to keep at it, in the hope you are connecting with them on some level - which quite possibly could be them just laughing their heads off at us.
Occasionally a dolphin would slow down and challenge you to a dizzying game of swimming in circles, knowing they would always win. You could read their cheeky and inquisitive stare as they claimed victory and moved on to another competitor.
As each swim drew to a close, a horn sounded to signal us back onto the boat. We sat on the lower step, as we headed toward our next swim spot, getting to see the dolphins follow us riding the tail wave and leaping out of the water right in front of us.
Dolphins are said to have an emotional intelligence which was most evident when we were finishing each swim. As the first swimmers got out the water, it was pretty magic to see them stick even closer to us as we sensed their disappointment, knowing we were leaving.
Their social nature was reflected as Emma and I swam together, interestingly the numbers of dolphins that approached us increased, more significantly than when we swam alone. Somehow they could sense our connection, sticking around for longer and slowing their pace as they curiously checked us out almost as if they were acknowledging how similar we actually were.
When all the swimming was done, there was no greater comfort than hopping back onboard to hose ourselves down with a warm water shower and sit back to enjoy a hot chocolate and a cookie.
As we wrapped up the trip we were treated to the magic all over again, but this time it was from above the water, while cruising back to the harbour. The dusky’s are one the most acrobatic dolphin species and it was a real bonus to see them flip out the water in somersault-like manoeuvres as they showed us their best moves.
We had attempted to swim with dolphins previously, but were faced with the fact that Mother Nature has her own game plan that often cannot be controlled. So, finally fulfilling this dream made it worth the wait, as Kaikoura delivered results way beyond our expectations.
Experiencing one of the most incredible sunrises we've ever seen
The chance to enjoy multiple dolphin swims, not just one, with different pods
Kaikouras huge concentration of Dusky Dolphins, way beyond expectation
Highly personalised trip, run by super friendly and knowledgable crew
Telephone: +64 3 319 6777
Location: Kaikoura, New Zealand