There are many places where whales, dolphins, whale sharks, stingrays etc. can be seen by a guided boat tour, a snorkel trip or even from the costal line.
Kaikoura is a popular tourist destination and the best one in New Zealand for year-round whale and dolphin watching. You encounter resident sperm whales that have a 95 % sighting chance throughout the year. Dusky dolphins, as well as Common and Hector Dolphins, are also spotted year-round. Usually, there are two seasons for whale watching , ut exceptions occur, and you watch an unexpected pod of orcas during the winter. Continue reading our updated 2019/2020 guide to figure out details when to spot the different whale types in Kaikoura and what kind of trips are offered.
2 Whale Watching Seasons | Migrating Whales
Besides the resident sperm whales, which you can spot throughout the year, there are two different whale watching seasons for migrating whales around the Kaikoura Coastline:
- Colder Season: During the colder season from May to October you can spot migrating whales: Southern right whales, humpback whales, pilot whales and sometimes even blue whales. According to experts, the best time to see many species of migrating whales in Kaikoura during the colder season is between June and August.
- Warmer Season: During the summer, usually from November until March, you may spot orcas passing by in pods between 6 - 12 whales. Sometimes you spot blue whales as well. While there are slightly fewer sightings of migrating whales in summer, a whale watching tour during the warmer season is an absolute must-do!
Crowds / Fully Booked Tours
It's a very popular attraction and advisable to book these tours in advance, especially during the peak season in summer. Early morning trips are not always fully booked, but from 10 am onwards the boats fill up pretty fast. However, we would book in advance regardless of the time of day. That being said, book your trip far in advance if you prefer a later tour. One of the best tours is being offered by Whale Watch Kaikoura: Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise (please book in advance otherwise you run the risk of not getting on the tour when you're there!)
Seal Colony in Kaikoura
Temps are pleasant from November to March, often around 20°C during the day. Nights temps are usually around 10°C. From April to October, the temps are on average above 10°C up to 16 °C. Significant rainfall can happen throughout the year. The wettest months occur from March to August. Due to the forecast, tours can get cancelled. Often the wind increases in the afternoon, and it's pretty rough on the boat. Be prepared if you struggle with sea-sickness.
Types of Whale Watching Trips and Prices
- Boat: A boat trip is common and the cheapest option for whale watching. Price per adult roughly $ 150 and child $ 60. The swell picks up in the afternoon. Sea-sickness remedies are helpful. The best boat tour: Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise
- Plane: Nowadays 30 and 40 minutes flights by small planes are offered, When they spot a whale, they circle around 150 meters / 500 feet above. It's much shorter, but the planes are not depending on the sea conditions. Boat trips get more often cancelled due to a rough sea. Price per adult between $150 -180. Excellent flight/tour: Kaikoura - 30 Minutes Whale Watching Flight
- Helicopter: Also, helicopter flights are offered at 150 meters height. You can book trips from 30 minutes up to an hour. It's worth it, but also quite expensive depending on the number of people in your group for two adults more than $300 p.p. You'll love the tour (booking via GetYourGuide): Kaikoura - 30 Minutes Whale Watching Helicopter Tour
5 Great Kaikoura Tips
Very tasty Paua Sandwich!
- Paua Sandwich: Have a look for a snack stall close to the fur seal colony and try a Paua Sandwich (see the picture above). Although the black color looks strange, it is tasty and interesting. The Paua shell is famous for its beautiful colors and sold as a souvenir.
- Morning Tour: The sea is calmer in the morning and before the afternoon breeze gets up, it's a good idea to book a morning tour. It doesn't need to be the first one, though.
- Sea Sickness: If you experienced seasickness before, be sure to take a sea-sickness remedy no matter how calm it looks.
- Tour Cancellation: Tours may get cancelled due to harsh weather conditions. Confirm your trip a day before with your tour operator.
- Highway: Highway 1 south of Kaikoura gets closed in poor weather conditions. Check the weather forecast and get in touch with your tour operator.
The Algarve is a year-round destination with pleasant temps during the winter and hot temps in summer. Anyhow, there is often a breeze in summer. Dolphin tours are offered from March until late November. Although the best months to spot schools of dolphins are from June to September. In spring and at the end of the summer from September onwards it's cold out on the sea in the morning; bring a warm jacket.
Crowds at the Algarve
The Algarve is a popular destination by the Portuguese. They spend their summer holidays here between the end of June until the beginning of September. It's pretty busy and accommodation prices are at a high level. It's almost the same at Easter and Christmas.
Weather at the Algarve
The summer from June to mid-September is quite hot with temps in the high 20s and above while nights are pleasant below 20°C. In spring and fall, the day-temps are between 20°C-25°C and nights are between 10°C-15°C still comfortable for camping. During winter the temps are still lovely below 20°C, but one digit temps in the night. Most precipitation during winter. Summer is almost dry. Rain can occur from autumn to spring, but usually not much.
Ningaloo Reef is most famous for swimming with whale sharks and manta rays. Since 2016 humpback whale tours are also offered from Exmouth. April, July, and late September are the busiest months because of Australian holidays. Continue reading to figure out the best time for your visit to Exmouth.
Seasons | Whale Sharks - Humpback Whales - Manta Rays
The more than 260 km long Ningaloo Reef is an excellent destination for whale sharks and humpback whale interactions. The season starts late March and lasts until October. You always wanted to snorkel with a whale shark, seeing it close and passing by? Then April until July is your preferred time to travel to Exmouth. Coming up close to humpbacks even with a calf August to October are the best months for interactions.
They arrive around mid-March depending on the full moon and stay for feeding until July and some until August. There are even sightings in September and October possible, but it's not any longer guaranteed. The highest chance for interactions and swimming with them is from April to July. The whale sharks are annually close to the reef at this time of the year. The water temperature is pleasant after the summer heat. The reason for the whale sharks coming to Ningaloo is the release of millions of eggs and sperm by the corals, which always happens roughly a week after the full moon in March. Masses of krill are swarming to feed on the spawn that provides a feast for the whale sharks. 200 to 400 whale sharks mostly juveniles come for feeding to Ningaloo each year. Whereas 2019 was different; very few sightings already in August but again in October.
Tours are offered from August to October. One of the largest population migrates from the feeding grounds in Antarctica to their calving grounds in the Kimberley region. Safety always first, but if it is possible, you may experience a truly unique interaction with these magnificent whales. We booked the humpback tour for two days in September, and both days were exceptional. Words cannot describe this mind-blowing days out on the sea. This massive big whales came up close, just below and the baby was watching us. One circled us twice; These were the best whale trips we ever did in our entire life. Humpbacks are peaceful, curious, and often coming up close. The water temp was really cold in the deep sea below 20°C.
Usually, the very best month of the year is August, where you may spot whale sharks and humpbacks as well. However, 2019 was different at Ningaloo. There were just two sightings of whale sharks in the first three weeks.
They are always present at the reef but in abundance from May to September. Only view tours are offered to swim with Manta Rays. Usually, Eco Tours are available in August and September to swim with whale sharks when they are still around. In addition, you get the chance to swim and snorkel with the rays. We spotted several close to our boat, and one was jumping next to the vessel.
It's quiet in March and again in May and June. Try to avoid April, especially if you don't like masses of tourists. It gets busy again in July and becomes quieter at the end of July. If you plan to visit in April or July book the tours and accommodation far in advance. Tours are usually fully booked for weeks. There are limited hotels in Exmouth and prices are at the highest in the peak season. Weekends are more crowded. August until mid-September is quieter until the spring break in late September.
The region of Western Australia has a tropical-hot-desert climate. In autumn and winter from April to September with pleasant temperatures around 25° C and cold night temps between 11 to 13°C on average. This causes an average water temp of about 22°C in the shallow sea. Overall after the "winter", the sea temp is chilly. A wetsuit is essential for snorkelling. It's hot during the summer; expect a daily temp of 35 to 38°C, and the water temperature is around 26°C and higher. It doesn't rain much here; less than 30 days of precipitation with the highest chance for thunderstorms from January to April. Fewer clouds from August to December. Cyclones can occur and are more likely to happen from January to March. In March 2015 Exmouth was hit by the severe cyclone Olwyn. At the end of April 2014; record-breaking heavy rainfall caused flash floods.
Top Accommodations and Camping in Exmouth
Most visitors stay in Exmouth for two or three nights maximum. This is pretty short for all the opportunities in the Cape Range National Park and Ningaloo Reef. We hiked through the Mandu Mandu Gorge and spotted a black-footed rock wallaby. Snorkelling at Oyster Stacks close to the shore shouldn't be missed. Therefore we recommend staying here at least four nights. Due to limited hotel opportunities in Exmouth, pre-booking is advisable. Usually, more than 90 % is booked in advance. Our top accommodations in Exmouth:
It’s a lovely hotel with a sensational restaurant. Getting quality food in Exmouth is not easy, but this kitchen is outstanding. The staff is attentive, and on top, you have free access to the laundry facilities. The pool is overlooking the ocean. You may even spot humpbacks from here or chose a room with an ocean view and enjoy the scenery from your balcony.
The Resort is located a 15 minutes stroll outside of the town centre. The spacious apartments are spotlessly clean; very well equipped even with a washing machine. The large swimming pool is utterly amazing. The Whalers Restaurant is pretty popular for its sumptuous meals. If you don't stay here make a reservation for dinner and call 9949 2416
Sal Salis - Our Pure Luxury Tip
The exclusive eco safari tents are fantastically located next to the white sandy beach and the Ningaloo Reef. Enjoy kayaking and snorkelling directly in front of your tent. The outdoor dinner under the amazing night sky is top-notch. Kangaroos and wallabies are grazing around the tents in the evening. It's an hour away from Exmouth located in the Cape Range National Park. Very view places in the world offer such an outstanding location. The peak season is always fully booked many months in advance.
RAC Exmouth Cape Holiday Park - Our Budget Tip
For those who are looking for budget accommodation, the RAC offers cabins, double rooms, and dormitory rooms with shared bathrooms. The cabins are well equipped and clean. Many campervans come here, but the space for unpowered tent sites is poor. There are plenty of camp kitchens, facilities, and laundries around the huge Holiday Park. Yoga classes are offered next to the swimming pool. If you are seeking a quiet place for camping the Manta Way and the Marlin Stretch are best. Map RAC Holiday Park
The whale watching season starts in November until the end of April. The very best months are March and April for blue whale sightings. The sea is calm in the morning and rough in the afternoon. The whale watching tours start very early in the morning between 6 and latest 7. May to October whales can be spotted, but less in number and the sea can be rough. Anyway, booking is possible at low season, give them a call view days in advance. Be aware May, and June is also the worst time of the monsoon.
At the peak season, the chance for sightings is 90 %. We went there in January and spotted one blue whale a couple of times. We got told that they sometimes spot up to eight in one day. Another good option is Trincomalee from June to October with best sightings in August and September.