Whatever you do in New Zealand , please don't leave without swimming with dolphins. Dolphins in New Zealand aren't kept in captivity in a sea life centre or aquarium, they're swimming wild in the ocean which surrounds the shores of both North and South Islands . So you'd be foolish not to. Really.
Actually getting in the water with these amazing wild creatures is something else. Something you will never forget. Even when you're old and grey and dozing in your rocking chair. And the dolphins in Akaroa aren't just your average, everyday dolphin. This is your chance to get up close and personal with New Zealand 's Hector's Dolphin - the world's rarest and smallest marine dolphin. It doesn't matter what the weather is doing. Come rain or shine, dolphins like to play. That's what it's all about.
I set off for a morning of adventure with Black Cat Cruises, which runs trips daily out of Akaroa Harbour , just a short 90 minutes drive from Christchurch. After a safety briefing, I was presented with a dry suit which I was told would keep me warmer than a wet suit, and miraculously, completely dry inside. So I could even wear clothes underneath and all would remain dry.
It was a strange feeling getting into the water. I had to make sure I'd got all the air out of my dry suit so it was completely flat against me, and then I had to pull the cord tightly around my neck to keep the water out. Once I was bobbing up and down in the water, I experienced a weird sensation. It felt like water was getting inside the suit, and I even had the feeling that I'd wet myself! I hoped I hadn't, but I was too busy getting excited about the prospect of seeing dolphins that I forgot all about it. Soon they were all around us. One, two, three, maybe even four. I saw their grey fins darting past me as I bobbed about in the water. We were told to stay quite close together so they could check us out, but not too close so they couldn't swim between us and around us.
"and the dolphins in Akaroa aren't just your average, everyday dolphin"
The main thing we were also told was to keep them entertained. Dolphins like to play. So if we just bobbed around like big blobs in the water, they'd soon lose interest.
We had to put on a bit of a show for them. We were told they liked the sound of blowing through our snorkel underwater, so we trumpeted as loud as we could to keep them close by.
After having so much fun with our new friends it was time to say goodbye and leave them in their watery playground - well at least until the next group showed up to play that afternoon! And I'm happy to say, that once I got out of the water and peeled off my dry suit, I was completely bone dry. And I definitely hadn't wet myself. Amazing. Even though swimming with the dolphins really had been that exciting. I also had chance to check out an Akaroa Harbour Cruise that afternoon which gave me another perspective of the harbour from the deck of the boat, rather than from the surface of the water. I learnt more about the Hector's dolphins, seals and penguins. We also cruised past volcanic Cathedral Cove, relics of the area's past and even a salmon farm. What a day!
* Black Cat Cruises offers three hour dolphin swimming trips from Akaroa Harbour at 6am, 8.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm (October to April). It costs $139 (child $115).The watching price is adult: $72 child $35. Dry suits are free from May to September, and it costs an additional $15 from October to April. Wet suits are available at no cost any time.
Two hour Harbour Nature Cruises run daily from 11am (October to April), 1.30pm all year, and 3.40pm (December to March). It costs $62.
They also offer Wildlife Cruises from Lyttelton Harbour . Their two hour wildlife cruises depart daily, and they usually see New Zealand Hector's Dolphins, spotted shags, white throated little black shags, black back gulls, red and black billed gulls, oyster catchers and white fronted terns, so heaps of sea birds, that's for sure! The Wildlife Cruises run from 1.30pm until 3.30pm. It costs $60.
If you haven't got a car, you can get from Christchurch to Akaroa with Akaroa Shuttles, which will pick up from central Christchurch , take you for an amazing day out in Akaroa, then they'll pick you up and drop you off safely back in Christchurch at the end of the day. Fantastic. For more details call 0800 500 929.