FAQs: everything you need to know
Answers to all the most common questions about our New Zealand whale watching tour, departing direct from downtown Auckland.
Booking | Changes | Cancellations | Charters
Do you charge additional fees?
We do not charge a booking fee and we do not charge a transaction fee for using a credit or debit card.
Do I need to book in advance?
You can book right up until shortly before check-in closes (around 20 minutes before departure). However, we do sell out at times, especially over summer, so we recommend that you book in advance.
Do you sail every day?
Do I have to pay for my infant?
All children, from zero to 15 years inclusive, must pay the child price. There is no free admission for infants. It is very important that you include all children, including any infants, accompanying you when you make your booking.
Do you offer family discounts?
Do you offer senior discounts?
Do you offer birthday or local resident discounts?
Sorry, we don’t offer birthday or local residents discounts.
Do you sell gift vouchers?
Gift vouchers for the tour may be purchased by phone or by email.
Do you charter the boat for private hire?
Directions | Public Transport | Parking
Viaduct Harbour is located at the western end (left as you are looking at the water) of Quay Street in downtown Auckland. When you arrive, look for our boat directly opposite the entrance to the New Zealand Maritime Museum. Check in with our crew at the top of the boarding ramp by the boat.
We strongly encourage the use of public transport (bus, ferry, train) into Auckland city centre for your safari. You can see the public transport options and a journey planner on the Auckland Transport website.
If you choose to use your own private transport into Auckland city centre, there are plenty of car parks around the city which you can use. You can see the available car parks and their prices on the Auckland Transport website.
If you are driving a campervan we recommend you use an open-air car park. You can see the available open-air car parks and their prices here.
Checking in for your Auckland Whale & Dolphin Watching Safari
All passengers must check in with our crew at the top of the boarding ramp by our boat, no later than 15 minutes before the tour departs. Please be aware that your allocated seats may be released to stand-by passengers if you do not check in by this time. There is no refund available for those passengers who arrive late and additional fees may apply should you wish to reschedule.
The Tour | Things to Know Before you Come
What are your COVID-19 safety measures?
Please check in on board using the COVID Tracing App or manual sign-in.
Masks and face coverings are not required, but we do recommend wearing them during your safari. Please visit covid19.govt.nz for information about checking in, masks and face coverings.
Our crew are taking extra hygiene precautions on board Dolphin Explorer to ensure your safety.
How long is the trip?
The trip generally takes about 4.5 hours, including 4 hours on the water, but this can change depending on conditions. If the sea and wind conditions deteriorate too much while we are on safari, the skipper may occasionally make the call to return early. Our passengers’ safety and comfort are always our priority. In the rare event of an early return, our crew will advise you of the options available.
What should I bring with me?
- We recommend you wear layers of clothes, including something warm, as it can be colder on the water than in the city. A shower-proof jacket is also a good idea. You must wear flat-soled shoes for your safari – anyone wearing heels will be asked to remove them.
- We highly recommend bringing a sun hat (or beanie in winter), sunglasses and sunscreen
- Please bring any personal medication with you, including any seasickness medication you require, as we are not able to sell medicine on board.
- Don’t forget to bring your camera! Binoculars are also handy if you have them.
- Help us keep the Hauraki Gulf islands pest-free by checking your bags and shoes carefully for pests, soil or plant matter before you come on board.
Will I / my clothes get wet on this trip?
Most people prefer to sit in our outdoor viewing areas while on the boat. In this case, there is a strong possibility that you may get wet, so please bring a shower-proof jacket.
If you prefer to stay dry, the boat does have indoor seating, but please note the only indoor seating area that offers reasonable animal viewing is upstairs.
Do I need Travel Insurance?
We do not sell travel insurance for our tour. It’s always a good idea to have insurance when travelling, so we recommend you speak to your provider about travel insurance and what is/isn’t covered by your policy.
Is the tour dangerous?
The safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority at all times. While travel on the open water always carries a small element of risk, our experienced crew are fully trained in emergency and first aid response. We do not operate on days when we judge that the weather or sea conditions are unsafe.
Can you guarantee to return on time?
On occasion, trips may be slightly longer than the scheduled 4.5 hours (normally by 15—30 mins). This is usually because we have found something special on the way home. We need agreement from all passengers on board to spend additional time on the water, and there is no extra charge if we do. If you must be back in Auckland on time, please inform the skipper when you come on board and we will do our utmost to achieve that.
About The Boat
How big is the boat? How many passengers can it hold?
Our vessel, the Dolphin Explorer, is a 20-metre (65-foot) Powercat. The boat was purpose-built to maximise our passenger viewing experience while making the trip as comfortable as possible. Dolphin Explorer can carry up to 100 passengers.
How fast does the boat travel?
Our cruising speed is generally around 20 knots.
Are there toilets and inside seating?
There are two unisex toilets on board the boat and there is a limited amount of seating available indoors.
Is the boat available for charter?
Can I smoke or vape on board?
No. Smoking or vaping is not permitted at any time on board the boat.
Is food or drink included in the tour price?
Food and drinks are not included in your tour price but may be purchased on board. We have a licensed café selling a selection of drinks and snacks.
From 2 July our tour departure time is changing to 10.30am and we will be offering a lunch option when you book your cruise. You are also welcome to bring your own food and drinks on board (see below).
Can I bring my own food or drink on board?
You are welcome to bring your own lunch, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks on board. Our liquor licence does not permit you to bring your own alcohol.
Please ensure that you dispose of any rubbish in the correct bins on board.
Can I bring my own reusable coffee cup or water bottle?
Yes, absolutely – you rock star! We can refill your water bottle for no charge and you will receive 25% off hot drinks if you bring your reusable coffee cup.
I have dietary requirements. Can you accommodate my needs?
If you have specific dietary needs, we recommend you bring suitable food on board with you.
Do you have life jackets on board? Are there enough for everyone?
Adult and child life jackets are available on board for every passenger and crew member. The crew will demonstrate how to put these on during our safety briefing. We do not require that lifejackets be worn on board except in an emergency, but please let the crew know if you would feel more comfortable wearing a life jacket at any other time. Many parents prefer that their young children wear a life jacket at all times, and these are always available on request.
Do you have life jackets for children?
Child life jackets are available on board. These may be worn for the duration of the trip, upon request.
The Tour Experience | What will I see?
What will I see on my tour?
Each 4.5-hour safari in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is a unique experience and the sightings vary. A typical safari will encounter common dolphins and Bryde’s whales. Sometimes, we find sharks, orca, bottlenose dolphins, blue, humpback, minke, sei, pilot, beaked, sperm or southern right whales. Also, leopard and fur seals, turtles and manta ray. There are 24 species of seabirds confirmed breeding in or near the Marine Park including the Northern Blue Penguin.
When is the best time of year to see whales and dolphins?
We are very fortunate that the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park has dolphins and whales resident year-round, so any time of year is a great time to join us on safari. We’re more likely to see very large pods of dolphins banding together in winter, which is a great reason to brave the cold instead of waiting for summer!
How often do you see orca? When is the best time to see orca?
Orca pass through the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park throughout the year, which means we could see them on any safari. However, it’s worth noting that there are estimated to be less than 200 orca around the coast of New Zealand.
Can I go swimming on the tour?
Sorry, we do not stop ashore on the tour or have swimming stops. Swimming is not permitted on the tour.
Can I swim with the dolphins?
Swimming with the dolphins is not permitted on our tour.
What birds am I likely to see?
We encounter many seabird species, most often Australasian gannets, shearwaters, terns, storm and diving petrels and little blue penguins. We also occasionally see rare seabirds including giant petrels and albatross. Find out more about birdlife in the Hauraki Gulf.
Where does the tour go?
Our search area encompasses pretty much the entire Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, all the way past Kawau Island and towards Little Barrier Island. Exactly where we go within the Hauraki Gulf varies from day to day, depending on the wildlife.
Do you stop on any of the islands?
Although you will have the opportunity to enjoy views of many of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park’s islands, we do not stop or go ashore on the tour.
Medical | Mobility | Sea Sickness
Before you make any booking, you must tell us if you or any other passengers in your booking suffer from any illness, disease or other mobility or medical condition which may make it impracticable or unsafe for you or other passengers to participate in the tour, or if you think you could be affected by adverse sea and weather conditions.
I have medical requirements. Can you accommodate my needs?
Our crew are trained in first aid, but are not able to act as general caregivers or administer medication. We do not have sharps disposal available on board.
Is the tour safe for me if I’m pregnant?
The tour may be unsuitable for pregnant people in their third trimester, depending on the conditions on the day. If it is a wet day or the seas are a bit rough, moving around the boat can be more difficult when pregnant. In terms of safety in less than ideal weather conditions, the final call remains with the Skipper on the day. If the Skipper deems the weather unsuitable, a choice of a full refund or option to reschedule will be offered. We also advise you to consult a doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Is the tour wheelchair-accessible?
People in light wheelchairs with some mobility can generally be accommodated. Our vessel has two stairs in the boarding area that passengers must be able to navigate (with carer support if required). Not all areas and viewing decks are wheelchair accessible. Our main level indoor area has a 15cm door sill. The bathrooms have a 15cm door sill and limited space inside. Heavy or motorised wheelchairs are not suitable, as they are too large and heavy to be lifted onto the boat. The maximum width of a wheelchair able to be brought on board is 67cm.
I am using crutches. Is it still possible/safe for me to come on the tour?
The tour may be unsuitable for people on crutches, depending on the conditions on the day. If it is a wet day or the seas are a bit rough, moving around the boat on crutches can be inadvisable. In terms of safety in less than ideal weather conditions, the final call remains with the Skipper on the day. If the Skipper deems the weather unsuitable, a choice of a full refund or option to reschedule will be offered.
Is the tour suitable for people who are elderly, frail or have mobility issues?
We operate our safari on the open seas. The water can be a bit rough at times, which can make moving around the boat or maintaining balance more difficult. If you or a member of your party has mobility or balance issues, or is frail, we recommend having an accompanying caregiver to assist. While our crew is happy to help when they can, they are not able to act as caregivers during the safari.
I’m afraid I’ll get seasick – what should I do?
If you are inclined to seasickness, or are concerned that you may be, we highly recommend you take appropriate medication at least an hour before boarding. Seasickness medication is available from most pharmacies, and a pharmacist will be able to advise you on the best option for you. We do not carry any medication on-board, but we do have Sea-Bands available for purchase as well as ginger tablets and ginger beer. If you do begin to feel nauseous or seasick, please follow crew member instructions, as they will endeavour to help you feel better.
Drones | Cameras | Video
Can I bring my own drone on the trip?
Drones are not permitted at any time on the tour. This is due to the various laws and special permit requirements related to drone use around marine mammals, as well as health and safety issues.
Can I put my GoPro in the water?
No, you may not put a GoPro, or anything else, in the water during the tour.
Images and the Internet
Due to the nature of this tour, there will be a lot of photography and video being taken. By travelling on this tour, you have accepted that images of all passengers will be taken and will potentially be used on social media platforms as stated in our terms and conditions. If you have young children and have specific concerns, you must raise these with the Captain and Crew BEFORE departure.
The nature of nature. We are very lucky to enjoy one of the highest marine-mammal viewing rates in New Zealand and rest assured our expert crew are always working tirelessly to find you some whales and dolphins. However, we are working with wild animals in their (rather large) natural environment, and unfortunately sometimes they just do not want to be found.
If you are one of the few (less than 5%) unlucky passengers who doesn’t get a chance to view dolphins or whales, we will issue you and your party a Complimentary Voucher to come out and try again absolutely free. This complimentary voucher is open-ended, no matter how long it is until you visit us again.
Why don’t we refund? We offer complimentary vouchers rather than refunds because it allows us to provide better value for a far higher percentage of our passengers. We issue these vouchers even if we do see wildlife but the overall experience hasn’t been up to our usual high standards. If we had a ‘refund for no sightings’ policy, it could produce scenarios where we saw a dolphin in the distance for 30 seconds, so even though the experience wasn’t great, no refund would be issued.
Using the vouchers allows us to invite customers back for free if the trip hasn’t been absolutely outstanding, rather than refunding a small number of people who have been unlucky.
Please note: Vouchers are not transferable to another party and cannot be redeemed for cash. Travel on Complimentary Vouchers is on a standby basis.
I have a complimentary voucher. When can I use it?
Our Complimentary Vouchers never expire. You can use your voucher as soon as you like, or as far in the future as you wish. Please note that travel on Complimentary Vouchers is on a standby basis.
I have a complimentary voucher for [X] people, but not everyone wants to rebook. Can I get a refund for the people not rebooking?
Complimentary vouchers are non-refundable. If the entire party is not able to rebook for the same date, we will issue you a new complimentary voucher for the rest of the party to use at a later date.
Can I give my complimentary voucher to someone else?
Our Complimentary Vouchers are not refundable or transferable, and can only be used by the person specified on the voucher. The original voucher and matching photo ID must be shown at check-in. Your voucher can be used at any time in the future, as it does not have an expiry date. We hope to have you on board again in the future.
I’ve lost my Complimentary Voucher. Can I still go on the trip?
The original voucher must be presented at check-in, sorry.
I have a complimentary voucher, can I bring an extra person with me?
It’s not a problem to add an extra person to your booking. We will only charge for the additional person/people.
We reserve the right to cancel or change a tour at any time in the interests of passenger safety. Weather and sea conditions can change quickly, and this may alter the status of your tour at any time. We will inform you of any cancellations by the contact details you have provided, before 10am on the day of departure.
In the event of such a cancellation, we will refund passengers if they are unable to come on another day. Those passengers who have booked online or through third-party booking agents please refer to the booking confirmation documents they have provided for details on how to claim your refund.
Please note that it is the responsibility of the customer to check that their tour is running. Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari will not be held liable for any costs incurred because of the customer not being aware of a cancelled safari.