It almost takes your breath away. It’s that magical whale watching moment when you notice a distant waterspout and the boat turns towards it. Having never seen a whale before, you are not sure, so you rely on the experts. Excitement wells up as the seabirds collectively take flight. A critically endangered Bryde’s whale breaks the ocean surface, her back gently gliding just above the water before returning under. Now, you realise whale watching is one of the best Auckland activities.
It all starts as you are met by one of the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari (AWADS) crew and taken aboard the 65-foot Dolphin Explorer, a modern, purpose built, luxury, powercat designed for comfort, exploration, and research. Before leaving the Viaduct Harbour, the boat pauses as Wynyard Crossing drawbridge rises. Passing under, the 4.5-hour whale watching eco-safari is under way in the Hauraki Gulf marine park, the portion of ocean hugging the city’s northern coastline. As you stare at the deep green water, it is difficult to comprehend how many marine mammals live here. It is this green phytoplankton that draws the mammals in, making whale and dolphin watching ideal Auckland activities. The Hauraki Gulf is home to 25 species of marine mammals, representing one-quarter of the world’s whales and dolphins.
As the search begins, sit inside or out, stand at the rails, enjoy a drink, or snack from the on-board café, or learn more about the wildlife and conservation efforts from one of the on-board marine researchers. As both a tourist and research vessel, the crew is skilled at spotting, identifying, and sharing information. The dual purpose of the day’s exploration allows AWADS to get close access to the marine mammals.
Captain Andy is a knowledgeable, entertaining, and brilliant commentator, having lead whale watching expeditions for over 20 years. He explains that the crew search for large grouping of diving gannets (seabirds). Their feeding frenzy will attract dolphins, and whales will generally follow. The whale watching boat moves quickly when looking for birds, slowing on approach. Passengers move about, as the best viewing spots change with each find.
Often, dolphins swim with the powercat. First one and, then before long, there are a dozen dolphins leaping and frolicking alongside the pontoons. You choose to sit when the boat moves quickly. You giggle as the teenagers standing at the very front are splashed as you drift through a swell. However, you are glad to have brought a light jacket, advised for any Auckland activities, especially those out on the water.
At some point you lost count as to how many magnificent marine mammals you have seen. Dolphins are spotted on 90 percent of sailings, whales on 70 percent, and sightings are guaranteed. For some, whale watching is a once in a lifetime experience, while for others, it happens at every opportunity. Either way, a day out with Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari will be a New Zealand highlight.