You usually hear about one animal and one animal only when it comes to Akaroa — the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.