Kaikoura New Zealand
new zealand

Kayaking in Kaikoura: A surprise encounter

It was only my second time kayaking and I was super excited. Bryce and I were in Kaikoura, a small beach town on the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I got suckered into wanting to go on a seal kayak tour after Bryce brought me back a flyer from the lodge we were staying at. (In case that sentence wasn’t clear, the flyer was about the seal kayak tour!)

The tour basically guaranteed that you would see seals.

We had already seen a ton of adult and baby seals the day before on our drive into Kaikoura so it wouldn’t be the end of the world if for some reason our kayak tour fell short.

This would however not be the case.

Going on a kayak tour

We met at the kayak tour’s office a little before noon and there were already a few other tourists waiting. As we waited and applied more sunscreen, a few more people arrived. Mostly couples but there was also one family with two boys and two individuals on their own. Kayaking for seals is an activity for everyone!

After we all signed the waiver — and used the restroom again —  the two guides gave us a quick debrief on logistics and then we caravanned to the beach. Once there, we assembled the kayaks in rows on the beach and made sure everyone had a life jacket.

We practiced how to paddle and get in and out of a two-person kayak.

I was feeling pretty good and anxious to get on the water. My only concern was the two boys. They were being rowdy and did not seem to be paying attention during the safety briefing. At one point the younger one started jumping from kayak to kayak as his mom yelled at him to stop.

I didn’t have anything to be worried about though. The family went with one guide and the rest of us went with the second guide.

Each kayak got a little push in from our guide and off we went!

Bryce and I didn’t have trouble navigating the waters. It wasn’t really sunny out, it was actually a bit grey. None the less, it was nice to be out on the water.

Seal sightings

Our guide took us out past some rocks and as we got closer, we could see a few seals napping. Next to the seals — don’t worry, not too close! — we observed them as our guide talked a bit about them.

We bobbed up and down in our kayak as we watched and listened.

After this stop, our guide looked at his watch and said we had time to kayak even further out in the water.

Bryce and I, and the three other kayaks, followed our guide.


I was feeling very content. This was my first time kayaking in the ocean! (My first ever time kayaking was last year at a lake in Alaska). Being out in the open water wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It was peaceful and nice. I wanted to just stay in this moment and remember it just as it all was.

A surprise encounter

Then all of a sudden there were splashes up ahead of us! Dolphins!

I first saw three dolphin fins moving in union right in front of me. I don’t remember exactly what our guide yelled out but it was something along the lines of “Let’s go!”

He quickly started paddling forward and the rest of us attempted to keep up. We paddled towards the dolphin pod.

They were swimming alongside us! They were doing flips and turns in front of us! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

Our guide was half laughing and half yelling: This never happens here at this time of year! You guys are so lucky! 


We bobbed in our kayaks as 30 or more dolphins put on a show for us. Some were right beside us and others were further out yonder. We watched them for a solid 15 minutes until they swam further away.

Once there were no longer any dolphins in close proximity to our kayaks, we could still make out a few doing jumps way out in the ocean. Finally it got to a point where they were so far out that we couldn’t make them out anymore.

All of us were smiling from ear to ear. It felt like Christmas and your birthday and the last day of school all combined into one day. It was like a dream, that I never even knew was possible. We kayaked with dolphins!

At this point it was time for us to head back to shore. We turned our kayaks around and started to paddle back. I didn’t realize how far away from shore we had gotten! The adrenaline of “chasing dolphins” is real!

Mid-way through, I started to feel seasick. I didn’t know it was possible to feel nauseous on such a small boat, but I was. The waters had gotten really choppy and the ride was far from smooth.

I turned around to Bryce and told him I didn’t feel very well. He ended up doing 80 percent of the paddling back. I closed my eyes on more than one occasion.

Once we were closer to the beach, the waters were calmer and I started feeling better. I was relieved that I made it back in one piece.

We all got out of our kayaks and everyone kept talking about how cool it was to see the dolphins. (Poor seals, forgotten!) One of the tourists in our group even said he had been swimming with dolphins somewhere in the tropics but that kayaking with them was 100 times better. “You can actually see them really well while kayaking!” he claimed.

“I saw dolphins!”

When we returned back from our New Zealand trip, this encounter with dolphins was one of the first things I told people (when of course, they asked me about my trip). I’m not one of those people who goes around telling everyone and anyone about my vacations! Or, at least I try not to be that person!

It was my first time seeing dolphins in the wild. The ones we saw are called Dusky dolphins.

My parents asked me if I was scared to be surrounded by all the dolphins. In the moment, I was not scared or nervous. It was all just so fun and exciting! Looking back on it now, it does seem weird that I wasn’t even a tad bit nervous that they were so close to our kayak.

Then again, dolphins are smart. We respected their space, so they weren’t going to do bother us.

I was already in love with Kaikoura from the moment we drove into this small town. Kayaking with dolphins (and seals) was just the icing on the cake.


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