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Kaikoura, Canterbury, New Zealand for Swimming with seals and dolphins

Arrive in Kaikoura and take a walk along the beach or go into town for dinner. Kaikoura literally means “eating crayfish” in Māori… so what better place to try some fresh New Zealand crayfish. That’s lobster for you Americans… so don’t be surprised when the price tag is $60+.

Start your first full day in Kaikoura by swimming with seals! Seal Swim Kaikoura was established in 1987 and they’re doing their part to ensure that the seals will be around for years to come. They never entice, feed, or train the seals, so the tour is completely based on the seals’ temperament and executed at their leading. Depending on the time of year, you’ll see moms and pups, adolescents, and if you’re lucky… a male seal standing his ground with a harem of females around him.

Squeeze into a wetsuit, hood, booties, fins, a mask and snorkel and jump into the chilly water, where you’ll wait for the seals to overheat. With their thick layer of fur, you shouldn’t have to wait too long! And once they’re in, they’ll spin, dive and jump as they try to work the cold water down to skin level. Your job? Try to keep up! We loved watching the babies and the babies loved watching us! One pup looked at us straight on, turned around and looked at us upside down, then stuck his head underwater to check us out from an underwater perspective… I’m sure he was thinking that we were a weird looking bunch of seals!

Haven’t seen enough seals yet? Cruise on down to the peninsula for a walk along the oceanfront. Out on rocks that look like stacks of pancakes, you’ll find a colony of seals, snoozing and playing in the shallow waters. Take the 4.5 hour loop or shorten your walk and go back to the car park.

The best spot for sunset is the Kaikoura lookout. Get there early and watch the sky change colors as the sun sets behind the mountains.

On day 2…. set your alarm for EARLY, because the dolphins are up… Are you? A 5:30 am check in time with Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura seems unattainably early, but when you’re on a boat witnessing the day’s first sunrise as a pod of dusky dolphins follow the wake, you’ll catch the magic.

Practice your best dolphin-talk and swimming in circles, because these guys like to play! Swim alongside a pod, then get out and change into warm clothes for hot chocolate, cookies and photo time as the dolphins show off, jumping, flipping and splashing.

The tour ends with plenty of time to shower, change and pack up for a 10 am check out. As you drive north from Kaikoura, stop for one last seal encounter at Ohau Waterfall, nature’s daycare. At the right time of year, these shallow waters are teeming with seal pups socializing as mom goes hunting. They’re just like puppies— playful, cute and curious!

Insider Tip

*Helpful hint* The Kaikoura pharmacy stocks a special anti-seasickness blend called the Kaikoura Cracker. If you’re prone to sea sickness… stop by the pharmacy and have a chat with the pharmacist about whether this is a good fit for you!

Where I stayed / started

The Albatross Backpackers

Have you done this? What can you add to this jrrny?

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