The Best Whale Watching Spots In New Zealand

Whale watching in New Zealand

Today’s guest post comes from Omega Car Rental New Zealand. A New Zealand-based car hire with rental depots throughout NZ. 

New Zealand is renowned for having a plethora of tourist attractions, but few have the broad appeal of whale watching. Perhaps it’s the awe-inspiring sight of these majestic creatures at close quarters, or the fact that you get to tour on a boat (or in the air) and see other remarkable aquatic scenery.

Below is a list of whale watching hotspots in New Zealand with valuable information about the types of whales that are viewable, best time of year to visit, available local tours and some tidbits relating to local history.


This little seaside town on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island is approximately 150km north of Christchurch and is considered to be one of the world’s great whale watching locations.

Unlike many other whale watching sites which are seasonal, you’re guaranteed to see Giant Sperm Whales no matter what time of the year you arrive. These whales are over 18 metres long, weigh almost 60 tonnes and live for approximately 60 years.

Whale watching in New Zealand

If you come to Kaikoura in winter, you’ll see Humpback Whales which are known for feeding within 50 meters of the water’s surface and can often be seen performing amazing displays of flipper slapping and “spy hopping” (a vertical half-rise out of the water performed by a whale in order to view the surroundings).

Other whales that can be seen (depending on the season) include Blue Whales, Pilot Whales and Southern Right Whales.

  • Whale Watch Kaikoura offers a two and a half hour tour for just €90. They say there’s a 95% chance of seeing a whale on their tours and if you fail to do so, they’ll return 80% of your fare.
  • Wings Over Whales Kaikoura allows you to spot the whales from the sky. This tour also costs €90pp (€45 for children under 15) and involves flying over the 2,800 metre-high Seaward Kaikoura Ranges. The flight is 30 minutes long.

Bay of Islands

These islands are found in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s a jewel in the crown of the nation, but was only documented some 90 years ago by famous author Zane Grey as he rounded Cape Brett, an area known as ‘the edge of the world’.

You’ll see Bottlenose Dolphins all year round. There are also occasional sightings of Killer Whales year round with various species of migrating whales seen between March and August. You’ll also see Humpback Whales in winter as they are in the midst of migrating.

Whale watching in New Zealand

  • Although Carino Sailing & Dolphin Adventures is ostensibly a dolphin tour company, you’ll certainly see whales on the journey. The 6-hour tour is a very reasonable at €69 for adults and €42 for children under 15. You can also enjoy an entire day and night on the cruise ship Ipipiri which leaves at 1pm and doesn’t return until 10.30am the following day. Choose between one of the 30 luxurious cabins which are available from as little as €150 a night.


Whakatane is considered to be one of New Zealand’s most diversely beautiful regions and can be found in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. It’s has over 50km of coastline and enjoys more than 2,300 hours of sunshine each year. Although it can be described as a tropical paradise, it does have excellent transport links and is just 4 hours drive from Auckland (many tourists grab a hire car in Auckland from somewhere like Omega Rental Cars Auckland and drive down that way).

You can expect to see Humpback, Southern and Blue Whales in winter as they make their journey to the Southern Pacific ocean where they gain weight before coming back north to give birth in the summer.

  • Whale & Dolphin Watch is the main tour operator in this region with two tours a day at 8.30am and 1.30pm. If you wish to swim with the whales and dolphins, it costs €100 for adults and €80 for children. You can also choose to just view the mammals which costs €20 less.

Hauraki Gulf

This marine park is located close to the city of Auckland and has been inhabited by people for over 1,000 years. There are an estimated 22 species of whales and dolphins in the Gulf’s waters, all of which are protected by the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Humpback Whales pass through the Gulf twice a year; in the summer on the way to the Antarctic and in the winter on their return to the South Pacific. Bryde’s Whales can be found in the Gulf’s water for most of the year. Orca whales can also be seen periodically on the Gulf though they only appear in pods of 5-15.

Hauraki Gulf for whale watching

  • Auckland’s Whale and Dolphin Safari has a reputation for being the best whale watch tour operator in the region. The tour costs €95 for adults and €60 for children. Each tour lasts around four and a half hours and the tour company guarantees that you will see whales on 75% of their trips. The cruise also includes commentary from a whale and dolphin expert. Children under the age of 5 travel free.

New Zealand

It’s believed that 50% of the world’s species of dolphins can be seen off New Zealand.

Black Cat Cruises, a tour operator from Christchurch in business for 25 years, say that they’ve never seen more whales than in the last 12 months. This includes Hector Whales, which are one of the smallest species found in New Zealand though they are still 4 meters long and one ton in weight, while Blue whales remain a popular attraction, unsurprising since they are the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth at 34 meters long and 136 tons in weight.

With such an array of whales on offer coupled with the fact that you are almost guaranteed great weather, it’s clear why New Zealand enjoys its status as one of the world’s premier whale watching locations.

Thanks to Gemma Louise Lowe, Pratt for the images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting. 

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