Going Wild for Wildlife on an Akaroa Harbor Cruise

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You usually hear about one animal and one animal only when it comes to Akaroathe Hector's Dolphin.

This tiny dolphin — the smallest and rarest in the world — is easily the star of the Akaroa show. But it certainly is not the area's only act.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

When I visited Akaroa, I took advantage of a Black Cat Cruises two-hour Harbor Nature Cruise. I boarded a boat with perhaps 20 other passengers, and we headed off into the glassy waters around Akaroa to learn about the area's fauna, and hopefully spot some of it along the way. Even though it was a cloudy day, the scenery was pretty, and even a cold wind couldn't keep me off the outdoor viewing platform.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

I, like everybody else, was hoping to see some Hector's Dolphins. A group of them call the waters around Akaroa home, which is pretty special, considering there are only about 7,500 left in existence.

The dolphins are endemic to New Zealand, meaning you won't find them anywhere else in the world — at least, not in the wild. So it's not hard to understand why everyone goes to Akaroa hoping to see at least one of these small marine mammals.

Hector's Dolphin, Akaroa, Black Cat Cruises, New Zealand
Spoiler alert: we found them!

Before finding the dolphins, however, I was surprised that we had many other things to look at on our harbor cruise. Even though seeing the dolphins was our end goal, it wasn't the only thing our guides were on the lookout for.

We sailed past small settlements, colorful rock formations, and a series of sea caves along the coast.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

Once we got out closer to open water, we even began spotting small groups of Little Blue Penguins, which also call New Zealand home.

New Zealand, it seems, specializes in rare, cute animals.

Little Blue Penguin, Akaroa, New Zealand
A Little Blue Penguin!

Once we got out onto the open ocean, the sky began to clear a bit, almost like a welcoming sign. And, sure enough, not long after we spotted the telltale rounded dorsal fin of the Hector's Dolphin headed straight for our boat.

Hector's Dolphin, Akaroa, Black Cat Cruises, New Zealand

The dolphins — a group of 5 or 6 of them — spent at least 20 minutes splashing and diving around our boat, while we squealed with delight and tried to snap as many photos as possible. Our guide said we were lucky that they seemed so interested in us.

I had never realized just how SMALL these dolphins are — only about 3.5 feet long when fully grown. And their coloring is interesting, too: grey bodies with black around all the edges. They certainly are pretty animals, and I'm so glad I got to see them.

Hector's Dolphin, Akaroa, Black Cat Cruises, New Zealand

I would have been content with my day after this, but Akaroa and its wildlife wasn't finished showing off yet. After getting our fill of the dolphins, we headed back toward the harbor, spotting some fur seals, an albatross, and some shag birds along the way. Our Black Cat guides were fantastic at spotting the wildlife and getting us up close while still keeping the animals' wellbeing in mind.

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

I don't know why, but for some reason I hadn't expected to find so much wildlife in Akaroa. I knew it was going to be a scenic town, but I did not expect the local fauna to also be so impressive.

It just goes to show you how much New Zealand (and Akaroa) has to offer.

If you ever find yourself in Akaroa (and I really hope you do), I can definitely recommend a harbor cruise with Black Cat Cruises. They also do dolphin-swimming cruises, where you can actually jump into the water with the Hector's Dolphins. Wouldn't that be fun?

Akaroa, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

Want to go on a similar tour? Book your own nature cruise in Akaroa here.

Which wildlife would you be most excited to see in Akaroa?



Disclaimer: Black Cat Cruises supplied me with a complimentary tour during my visit. As always, though, opinions are 100% my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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27 Comments on “Going Wild for Wildlife on an Akaroa Harbor Cruise

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  1. Hi Amanda, we love Akaroa. A favourite spot. But never done this tour, so top of the list next time we make it down thataway! Thanks for this.
    Loved it.
    And sadly I’ve seen a Hector’s Dolphin up close…too close. Caught in a friend’s set net before they got around to banning them!

      I would probably suggest swimming with the dolphins over any sort of cruise, but if getting into chilly water doesn’t excite you, I very highly recommend this cruise! Black Cat is awesome, and the guides on my cruise were great. Definitely a great activity for the whole family in Akaroa.

      So sad about the dolphin caught in the net, though! Was it okay?

    Hey I liked Akaroa, literally I fell in love with it. I must say you seem to be a great photographer and “the lover of nature”. Though its pretty cool in New Zealand you were lucky enough to see a cute penguin at the same time. I would love to visit Akaroa in summer.

      Thanks, Anthony! It’s not difficult to take good photos in NZ, though…

      I, too, would love to visit Akaroa in the summertime. I’m sure it has a completely different vibe to it then!

    Although it looks cold there, I think that it would be unbelievable to see all those animals on one cruise. Gotta love the cuddly penguins!

      It was a bit chilly, yes (especially with the wind), but it was indeed awesome to see so many wild animals on just one cruise!

    Beautiful. Swimming with the dolphins in the Bay Islands of the North Island was one of the highlights of New Zealand for us. The scenery and wildlife of this country is like nowhere else on earth. Looks like you had a great time. Cheers,

      I can see how it would have been one of your highlights! New Zealand certainly is a special place; I’ve never seen any place like it!

    Sounds like a very cool experience. I loved that about Australia, all of the rare plants and animals (minus the spiders!). I’m storing up all of your recommendations in my mind for next time I’m in NZ!

      I’ve got plenty more recommendations where this one came from! I love all the unique wildlife NZ has to offer. And you know what the best part is? They don’t have any snakes or poisonous spiders! Win.

    Looks like you had a fab cruise! I’ve been to Akaroa a couple of times, but never made it out onto the water. I did see people in wetsuits going on these cruises though and thought it would be fun going swimming with the dolphins in the summer! So great you saw penguins, too!

      The dolphin swimming would be awesome even if it was chilly out, I think, so long as you had a good wetsuit on. But yes, even just doing the cruise was great!

    Hehe, there’s nothing better than breathing fresh wildlife air. Also, I must confess that I fell in love with the pictures and with Akaroa itself. It looks fantastic, a paradise on Earth, like I said. Akaroa, sooner or later – HERE I COME!


      It’s definitely not difficult to fall in love with this place!

    Love this tour company! I did the swimming with dolphins over Easter weekend and even though we jumped in the water at one point, the dolphins swam away and the company gave us a partial refund. Since I had such a good time anyway, I donated my refund to the “Save the Hector Dolphin” campaign and got a little stuffed dolphin!

    So awesome, love everything about Akaroa!

      They really are a great company, aren’t they?? That’s awesome that they gave you a partial refund. And good on you for donating yours to help the dolphins!

    Dolphins – they’re so adorable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Hector Dolphin before.

      They are indeed adorable! And unless you’ve been to New Zealand, you probably haven’t seen a Hector’ dolphin – they only live here!

    I loved Akaroa, very jealous you got out on the water though. All the tours were cancelled when I visited because of huge swell.

    The Hector Dolphin is one of my favourites – I was lucky enough to see some when I was in the Queen Charlotte Sounds.

      Too bad you didn’t get to go out on the water! I suppose you’ll just have to go back, eh??

      Great that you did get to see these little dolphins, though. Aren’t they great?

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