Swimming with wild dolphins in Kaikoura

A lot of you probably have this image of hanging on to a fin through the water, getting kisses and loads of interactions while swimming with dolphins, but that’s in a pool with a tamed one. Swimming with wild dolphins is something completely different whatsoever and a truly amazing experience.

Because it was my last day in New Zealand, and I would have to head back to Christchurch airport later that day, I signed up for the morning trip. I got up around 4.30 and by 5am, after a short walk in the pitch black of the night, I was at the headquarters of Dolphin Encounters. Everyone got fitted out with wetsuits and snorkeling equipment and we got a little briefing before we went to the boats.

We headed out to more dolphin filled waters while the sun rose on the horizon, and it was absolutely beautiful. After about half an hour, they had spotted a nice little group of dolphins so we went for our first swim. The water was really cold at first, but as soon as you started moving (and the moment you spotted your first dolphin) it didn’t feel too bad. Our first swim was the longest one, and it was really nice. We were a bunch of people splashing around in the water with our heads down, singing through our snorkels, probably looking ridiculous, but having so much fun.


I was so surprised at how close some of the dolphins would come. I had met some people earlier on my trip who had swam with dolphins as well, and they told of dolphins swimming so close that if you had wanted to, you could have reached out and touched them, and it was true. What also surprised me was how easy it was to get some kind of “contact” with them. They would follow you with their eyes, and if you caught their gaze; more times than not they would start swimming around you for as long as you could keep up (keeping up was the hard part).

When the horn went off, everyone went back to the boat. Apparently one of the other boats had found a huge group of dolphins, so we went there. If the first swim was great, nothing could have prepared us for the other ones. When we arrived we could see the whole ocean near us boiling with dolphins swimming and jumping near the surface. Our guide estimated it to be at least 200 dolphins, probably a lot more. At the first swim we would spot one dolphin at the time, try to interact with it, and then try to find another one, but here the dolphins were all around you. Suddenly I would have five dolphins swimming right beneath me, while two or three dolphins would swim around me at the same time. It was absolutely breathtaking and an amazing experience. I was trying to swim around in circles and take pictures at the same time, but most of the time the dolphins were almost too close (I think more or less all the pictures I took were taken at the widest my Canon s100 can go, and none are cropped other than to make it from a 4:3 to 3:2 pr 1:1 format, which might give you an idea of how close we’re talking).

Our guide said we were really lucky and that it’s not often the dolphins are so curious and playful as they were that morning, and I were really happy that I would get such a great ending to my New Zealand trip. Some of the others didn’t have too much of a great experience though, they got seasick already on our way out and went out into the water maybe once. And there was almost constantly someone throwing up into the buckets provided, so if you want to go on a trip like this and is prone to seasickness, take a tablet before going out, or it might ruin your whole experience.