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South Island

Dolphin & Whale Watching

  • Water activities
  • Multi-day trips
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Our most recommended South Island Dolphin & Whale Watching

Milford Sound Nature Cruise on Premium Glass-Roof Catamaran

1. Milford Sound Nature Cruise on Premium Glass-Roof Catamaran

Climb aboard 'Gem of the Sound', the newest vessel to cruise in the fiord, for a Milford Sound nature cruise. Capture the best views of the incredible fiord with three-levels of indoor and outdoor seating, unique glass roofs, and large viewing decks. Your friendly crew will welcome you on board and embrace you as one of the family, whilst you marvel at one of the most stunning places on earth. Relax in the comfortable booth seating with stylish decor and ambient lighting. High-definition cameras project outdoor footage live onto TV screens throughout the vessel - so no matter where are, you won't miss a thing. Admire New Zealand fur seals basking on rocks and feel the spray of cascading waterfalls. Look out for playful dolphins and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the rare and elusive Fiordland Crested Penguin. Travel the length of the fiord and out into the Tasman Sea, to see why Captain Cook failed to discover Milford Sound after charting the Fiordland National Park.

Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise

2. Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise

Take a whale-watching cruise off the Kaikoura coast, and see giant sperm whales in their natural environment. Enjoy onboard commentary as you encounter a range of wildlife, including fur seals, pods of dolphins, and the endangered wandering albatross. Set sail on a catamaran, equipped with engines that minimize underwater noise and nonpolluting toilets. Take in the views from the large outdoor decks or stay inside the air-conditioned interiors with comfortable seating and plasma screens displaying marine wildlife animations. Gain an insight into the habitat with scientific information and indigenous knowledge about these creatures from the crew. Passenger numbers are kept well below the vessel's capacity to ensure a more personal experience.

Kaikoura: Dolphin Encounter Cruise

3. Kaikoura: Dolphin Encounter Cruise

Cruise along the scenic Kaikoura coast as you watch for dolphins. During the cruise, you'll be able to swim with the dolphins in their natural habitat or watch their antics from the comfort of the boat. Kaikoura is one of the best places in the world to encounter the Dusky Dolphins in their natural environment. The Dusky Dolphins are some of the most interactive and acrobatic species of dolphins, making them thrilling to watch and interact with. 

Queenstown: Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Full-Day Trip

4. Queenstown: Milford Sound Coach & Cruise Full-Day Trip

Enjoy a fun and leisurely day trip to admire the glacial features, wild flora and fauna, and picturesque backdrops of the world-famous fiord at Milford Sound. Start with pickup for the bus journey to Te Anau. Your driver will share their local knowledge as you stop along the way to see spectacular scenery. Marvel at views of waterfalls, wildlife, and the rainforest. Soak up the sights from any of the three indoor and outdoor viewing decks during your cruise and join your jovial crew at the bow as you nose under Stirling Falls for a free shower in some of the world's freshest water.  Benefit from complimentary tea service is available for the entire cruise and espresso coffee, snacks cakes. Additional drinks can be purchased from "Off The Rocks" onboard bar.

Kaikoura: 30-Minute Whale Watching Flight

5. Kaikoura: 30-Minute Whale Watching Flight

Receive an informative briefing of the Sperm Whales and other wildlife of Kaikoura, ready for your 30-minute flight experience. Learn about its unique geology, and what you can expect to see during the flight. Spend a special half hour viewing these majestic creatures from a unique vantage point.  Head directly out over the Kaikoura Whale Sanctuary to start looking for Kaikoura's wildlife. This whale watching flight showcases the year-round whales and dolphins, as well as the stunning coastline and peninsula. Focusing on the mighty Sperm Whale, this is a once-in-a-lifetime flight to view these animals, as well as other whale and dolphin species that migrate through Kaikoura's waters.  All aircraft are high-winged, which allows each person their own window seat and optimal, unobstructed viewing and photography opportunities. Your tour finishes back at the terminal where there is a gift shop and refreshments available.

From Te Anau: Milford Sound Tour with Cruise and Lunch

6. From Te Anau: Milford Sound Tour with Cruise and Lunch

Take a guided tour by comfortable minibus to explore the natural beauty of Milford Sound and the surrounding area. Your tour includes a sightseeing cruise, a picnic lunch, and plenty of scenic stops along the way. Meet your guide in Te Anau and drive along the lakeside, making a stop at Te Anau Downs to soak in the scenery. Enter the Fiordland National Park and visit Eglinton Valley, to admire the landscape carved by an ancient glacier. Continue to Mirror Lakes and see the Earl Mountains reflected in these clear waters. Relax and take photos by Lake Gunn, before continuing towards Hollyford River. Pass the waterfall at Falls Creek as you head higher into the Darran Mountains, stopping at viewpoints along the way. Keep a look out for local wildlife, including kea, the world’s largest alpine parrot. Enter Homer Tunnel and learn this history of this hand-built tunnel, before arriving at Milford Sound. Board the boat for a sightseeing cruise and see impressive views of Mitre Peak. Back on dry land, take a bush walk through The Chasm and snap photos at Pop's View Lookout, on the return journey to Te Anau.

Kaikoura: 1-Hour Whale Watching Helicopter Tour

7. Kaikoura: 1-Hour Whale Watching Helicopter Tour

Spot sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and fur seals from above before making a summit landing among the towering peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Ranges on this 1-hour helicopter tour. The adventure begins with a short safety briefing from the pilot, as well as additional information about the year-round population of sperm whales and the unique underwater Kaikoura Canyon. Next, jump in the helicopter and head out over the Whale Sanctuary and Hikurangi Marine Reserve for a chance to view the pod of sperm whales. Taking on a bird's-eye-view maximizes time viewing the wildlife while not disrupting their natural behavior. Continue along the magnificent coastline of the Kaikoura Peninsula keeping an eye out for playful dusky dolphins and New Zealand fur seals. The last stop of the day will be the towering peaks of the Seaward Kaikoura Mountain Ranges for an incredible alpine landing. Get out and walk around on rugged pristine land with breathtaking vistas of the mountains, peninsula, and ocean.

Kaikoura: 120 Minutes Ultimate Adventure Helicopter Tour

8. Kaikoura: 120 Minutes Ultimate Adventure Helicopter Tour

Begin your adventure are Kaikōura Airport where you will receive a short safety briefing from your pilot, as well as additional information about the year-round population of sperm whales and the unique underwater Kaikōura Canyon. As you head out over the Pacific Ocean you are surrounded on all sides by the gorgeous scenery of Kaikōura, with the coastal mountains as a backdrop. Slowly orbit the whales so you can see the whole animal from head to tail, minimising your impact on the animal while maximising your time and viewing. Soar back along the coastline keeping an eye out for any other animals that may be around, including the resident population of dusky dolphins and New Zealand fur seals, as well as any other whale species that may be migrating through including blue, humpback, fin, and killer whales. After completing your wildlife viewing, head for the Seaward Kaikōura Mountain Ranges. Fly along the coastline to see the impact from the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that changed the entire landscape of the coastal mountains and see the new Papatea Fault where it scars the land and runs out to sea. Fly inland along the Clarence River Valley and back up through the mountain range for a landing at the turquoise waters of the newly created Hapuku Dam Lake, which was created during the November 2016 earthquake. Enjoy the scenery as you fly back through the mountain range to land.

From Queenstown: 2 Day Fiordland National Park Adventure

9. From Queenstown: 2 Day Fiordland National Park Adventure

The ultimate small group Fiordland combo experience combining a premium Cheeky Kiwi Travel tour to the top Highlights around Te Anau & Milford Sound, a Milford Sound boutique cruise, your choice of a Milford Track day walk or a Milford Sound kayaking experience, Overnight accommodation in Te Anau and a picnic lunch all from Queenstown. This tour is the ultimate way to do the Fiordland region right. Itinerary: Day 1: 1. Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu - Your tour starts in the stunning city of Queenstown. Your guide will point out highlights while setting the scene for the day. As we wind our way around Lake Wakatipu, with amazing views of ‘The Remarkables’ Mountain Range and the lake, stopping for photos is a must. 2. Lake Te Anau – After more amazing views we arrive in Te Anau, home to Lake Te Anau, NZ’s second largest lake. Here we stop for a break before starting the Highlights Tour and making our way to Lake Te Anau, exploring the edges and visiting our favourite spot. 3. Te Anau Bird Sanctuary - We continue to the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary for a guided tour and to see some of the rarest birds in the country including the Takahe and Kaka. You will learn about these animals and local environment while exploring this Te Anau asset. 4. Dead Marshes & Rainbow Reach - We visit our first famous LOTR attraction, a viewpoint looking over The Dead Marshes from an elevated position. At Rainbow Reach a cable bridge over the Waiau River (known as The River Anduin in LOTR) leads us into the forest and Kepler Track. 5. Lake Manapouri - Gateway to the Doubtful Sounds, explore the shores of this crystal-clear lake and hearing about its history including the construction of the Manapouri hydro dam, the largest in the country. Then have a quick break at a local coffee shop. 6. Mavora Lakes - Next we make our way to one of the most famous LOTR sights and hidden gems of the region, Mavora Lakes. Enjoy free time to explore, eat lunch or act out some LOTR scenes! 7. Te Anau - We return to Te Anau to check you into your accommodation and free time for the afternoon. Day 2 8. Fiordland National Park - Visit Eglington Valley, Mirror Lakes, Lake Gunn, Hollyford River, Falls Creek, the Darran Mountains and Homer Tunnel on the way to Milford Sound. 9. Milford Sound - Board your cruise with Cruise Milford, TripAdvisors No. 1 Cruise operator in Milford Sound. Offering a boutique cruise on a smaller, less crowded boat and with a crew that gives an informative and personal tour, this tour brings you closer to wildlife and nature. Unbeatable 10. Mitre Peak - While on the boat cruise you will be able to marvel at the awe-inspiring Mitre Peak, the iconic Milford Sound mountain. 11. Pop's View Lookout, Te Anau and Queenstown - - After your cruise, do not fear the adventure is not over, there is the return journey with many more amazing stops.

Akaroa/Banks Peninsula Day Tour with Scenic Harbor Cruise

10. Akaroa/Banks Peninsula Day Tour with Scenic Harbor Cruise

Depart from your accommodation for a scenic drive across the Banks Peninsula summit. Experience the surrounding scenery from this extinct 6 million year old volcano, before arriving in Akaroa which is located in the crater.  Depart from the main wharf on your nature cruise where you can see Hector’s Dolphins, fur seals, penguins and other local wildlife. Learn more about the geographical history from the boat skipper while viewing the volcanic cliffs.  Enjoy lunch at an award winning cafe, then explore the local history and influences of New Zealand’s only attempted French settlement. Relax as your expert guide delivers you back to your accommodation.

Frequently asked questions about South Island Dolphin & Whale Watching

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What people are saying about South Island

Overall rating

4.7 / 5

based on 222 reviews

Our guide was super informative he really knew his stuff. Also a very good coach-driver. Milford sound cruise is a must and the whole ride there could even be a separate trip itself as the landscape is breathtaking too take in. Will definitely recommend to friends and family. Enjoyed the whole day.

We seen 3 Sperm Whales and a pod of about 200 Dusky dolphins ! It was amazing ! Would definitely recommend. Boat crew also super friendly and inviting! Can’t wait to do it again !

Really recommend this trip. Coach was super comfortable, our driver Debbie was really knowledgeable and fun, and the stops were a great way to see the beautiful scenery.

Not crowded, captains commentary was on point in terms of brief and to the point so could enjoy the nature and views around you without being bombarded with info.

Lovely cruise, modern and clean boat, staff were friendly and approachable.