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HOME AT FIRST's

NEW ZEALAND

SWIMMING
WITH

DOLPHINS

IN THE

BAY OF ISLANDS

Swimming with Dolphins, Bay of Islands, Northland. Photo © Home At First.

        New Zealand is different. In America we build theme parks. To many visitors, New Zealand IS a theme park. In America, thousands of people each day crowd into Sea World to be entertained as semi-domesticated dolphins jump through hoops and swim with their trainers. In New Zealand, you seek out wild dolphin pods and jump in the water to entertain them. This qualifies as a close encounter of the fourth kind interaction with beings from another world in their element.                                                                              All photos copyright © HOME AT FIRST

 
destination — bay of islands
          The far northern reaches of New Zealand extend into subtropical climes. Palm and citrus trees coexist here with the native kauri and Norfolk pine. The thick, humid air is perfumed with tropical flowers. Unlike other parts of New Zealand, great cumulus-filled sea skies here remind you you’re on an island. Frequent, brief, tropical showers wash away the dust of the last six hours, keeping Northland green and glistening.

Dolphin at play. Photo © Home At First.

        Two oceans nearly touch. But the island is wide enough and hilly enough to ensure differences between its east and west coasts. Prevailing westerlies drive the weather into the scalloped beaches of the west (Tasman) coast. The comparatively protected bays and inlets of the east (South Pacific) coast shelter hundreds of islands in calmer waters. These are friendly seas to great schools of fish and to fishermen. World record marlin are caught here, and wonderfully tasty red snapper by the truckload.
        The fishers of the seas gather here, too. The waters are clear, calm and warm, and food is abundant. Among them, pods of dolphins, often numbering more than a dozen individuals per pod, hunt and play in the sheltered expanse of the Bay of Islands. Fishing boats from Russell and Paihia and Kerikeri cross paths with the dolphins most every day. Their skippers radiophone their position to

other sea captains who are searching for the dolphins. And these skippers gun their water jet catamarans to the spot, scanning the waters for the dorsal fins, spouts, and breaching of the dolphins. On board the boats are dozens of people nervously contemplating the unlikely experience jumping overboard to make contact with hungry mammals twice as big as they are.

 

contact!
         Fullers dolphin boats depart Paihia and Russell at 8AM and 12:30PM noon (not available May-September) for the four-hour cruise of the Bay of Islands. Trained, experienced staff prep passengers of all ages and nationalities for the encounters, which occur, on average, 9 days out of 10. (Rain-checks or partial refunds are issued to passengers on cruises that do not see dolphins.)
        Contact can occur at any time anywhere in the bay, but usually the dolphins are found on the eastern part of the bay, closer to the open ocean than to the port towns. The jet boat cruises slowly to the dolphins, but isn’t concerned with injuring the animals—there are no spinning propellers under the boat.
        At first passengers are reluctant to leave, even in these

Dolphins! Photo © Home At First.

friendly, calm, clear waters dolphins are big animals, wild animals, toothed animals. So they hang over the sides and lie face-down on the boat decks, watching the curious dolphins circle and pass under the catamaran. Someone always breaks the ice maybe a crew member, if the patrons are especially reluctant. Down the rear steps and splash! Then continued splashing and noise-making: yelling, whistling, singing. Dolphins are curious, drawn to humans by our uncommon noises, and not by quiet, uninvasive presence.
        Dolphins who are hungry and searching for food end the contact quickly to get on with the job at hand. Other dolphins can remain playful, and some encounters last an hour or more. Although the dolphins and people swim among one another, there is little touching apparently dolphin skin is tender and they avoid this kind of contact with strange creatures. But they are not necessarily shy. They clearly permit people to swim among them, because when they tire of the contact they disappear instantly so strong can they swim.

 

myth and reality—
        Fullers guides love their jobs. They are good to their guests, and teach them safety and reality. Passengers want to know about the sharks that also fish in the sub-tropical waters of the Bay of Islands. Passengers often ask about the dolphins protecting them from possible shark attack. The guides quickly dispel this myth. Dolphins seem not to concern themselves especially with human safety. There is no apparent inter-mammal loyalty.

Close encounter of the FOURTH kind. Photo © Home At First.

         There may be at least one instance of inter-mammal interest, however. The guides have been noticing that dolphins seem to be interested in pregnant women, and spend more time in their presence than around other humans. A young woman on a March cruise attracted lots of dolphins each time she entered the water. She paled when guides told her of the dolphins’ interest in pregnant people she was sure she wasn’t.
        The reality is that New Zealand is NOT a theme park. It is one of the world’s great exotic travel destinations, to be sure. But it is also the province of many unique animals and environments. As New Zealand

attracts more visitors it becomes increasingly concerned with the protection of its fragile ecology.
        Swimming with New Zealand’s wild dolphins is a much more natural experience than kissing Flipper at Sea World, but it is not necessarily better for both species. Fullers operates their swim-with-dolphins trips as a concession leased from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and it must follow stringent rules of engagement. Fullers crews cooperate fully with scientific research teams who study dolphins and orcas and other marine animals Fullers observes daily. And, a percentage of each passenger fare collected goes toward dolphin research.

 
adding dolphins to your trip—
        You can book your Fullers Dolphin Cruise as part of your Home At First New Zealand trip. Current prices are NZ$109/adult (about US$90) and NZ$54.50/kids (about US$45). Fullers provides swim fins, snorkel & mask, and wetsuits (when necessary).
 

Fuller's Dolphin Adventure — Swim with the Dolphins half-day trip
is easily reached from HOME AT FIRST’s lodgings in NORTHLAND.

NORTHLAND is easily reached in NEW ZEALAND.

NEW ZEALAND is easily reached from HOME AT FIRST.

ASK TO SPEAK WITH A HOME AT FIRST "NEW ZEALAND SPECIALIST"
TRAVEL CONSULTANT CERTIFIED BY THE NEW ZEALAND TOURISM BOARD.

—HOME AT FIRST—
AFFORDABLE DREAM TRAVEL WITH ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME.