The 5 Best Kaikoura Whale Watching Tours [2024 Reviews]

Kaikoura is a magical place with a canyon system found deep underwater, creating the perfect environment to host all kinds of marine life!

Known as the whale watching capital of New Zealand, it’s not uncommon to see everything from giant sperm whales and blue whales to dolphins and the endangered wandering albatross! However, the best way to see these gentle giants is to go on a proper whale watching tour.

I’ve decided to carefully select the 5 top Kaikoura whale watching tours that are worth your time and money, that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Let’s jump right in!

Best Whale Watching Tours in Kaikoura


Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated Kaikoura Whale Watching Tours For 2024

  1. Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat
  2. Kaikoura: 40-Minute Whale Watching Flight with Commentary
  3. Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise
  4. Kaikoura Whale Watch Day Tour from Christchurch
  5. Kaikoura: Premium Whale Watching Flight

Kaikoura Whale Watching Tour Reviews

1. Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Departure: Whaleway Station Road, Kaikōura 7300
  • Departure Time: 7:15 AM, 10:00 AM or 12:45 PM
  • Includes: Tours operates all year round, Modern fleet of purpose built catamarans 95% success rate backed up by an 80% refund if your tour does not see a whale, Experienced knowledgeable staff providing a running commentary throughout your tour, Award winning onboard animations, Bus ride to and from marina

While I love each of the tours on this guide, this excursion for me is the ideal length: 3 hours and 30 minutes. It’s not too long nor too short, yet still easy to fit into even the busiest of itineraries.

The Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat tour takes you through one of the most special places in all of New Zealand, which is really saying something considering its insane landscapes and rich history!

There are tons of different tour start times available, so you get to select the time that works best for your schedule. Just make sure to head to the Whaleway Station Road location, where they offer a bus ride both to and from the marina.

Once you arrive to the marina, your guide will escort you onto a top-notch catamaran, that has everything you could want out of a boat.

As we cruised along, we were able to see native sperm whales, dolphins, and seals, along with a special guide commentary who told us all about their natural habitat, their habits, and much more.

It was really cool to be able to see something that looked like it was right from National Geographic, right before our eyes, while the guide answered our questions and help point out different sea animals.

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The fact that they offer an 80% refund if you don’t see a whale only added to the level of trust we had, though we saw plenty.

Aside from the wildlife, I got to learn plenty about the town of Kaikoura, as we learned all about its original buildings which now house restaurants, hotels, cafes, and more.

It also boasts some of the best seafood I’ve had the privilege of trying, so if you get a chance, definitely give it a go. This tour is one of the most comprehensive, and given the managable tour length, I’d recommend it to anyone.


More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

2. Kaikoura: 40-Minute Whale Watching Flight with Commentary

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Departure:  Black building and hangar by Kaikoura Airport
  • Departure Time: Between 9:00 AM & 3:00 PM
  • Includes: 40-minute flight, listening headsets for commentary, window seat for every passenger

Perhaps you’re looking to explore Kaikoura and see some amazing wildlife, but don’t have the time to do a longer tour. If that’s the case, you can’t go wrong with the Kaikoura: 40-Minute Whale Watching Flight with Commentary tour!

Clocking in at less than an hour, there are a bunch of different start times, making it so easy to fit into any schedule.

Start out by heading to the black building and hangar right by the airport, which is easy to find and access. Upon arrival, we checked in with the staff, who were super friendly and answered all of our questions before offering a safety briefing.

The organization and smoothness of everything already provided me with positive foreshadowing as to what we were to experience throughout the entire experience.

This was my first time doing a tour of this type, as I was convinced that whale watching from the air wasn’t going to be as impressive as from the sea – boy, was I wrong.

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In fact, it was an amazing perspective, as we. were able to fully appreciate the absolute giant sperm whales! It’s simply breathtaking to see, and as each one of us had window seats, no one was missing out.

We not only saw sperm whales, but dusky dolphins, and humpback whales, in the midst of these amazing landscapes, like bright blue ocean reefs! You could tell that the pilot knew the area like the back of their hand, finding the best spots for sighting these amazing animals.

This is simply a tour you have to experience in person to believe, so please don’t let this one pass you by!


More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

3. Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Departure: Whale Watch Kaikoura Offices
  • Departure Time: 12:45 PM
  • Includes: 2-hour cruise, narration by expert crew, award-winning animation

Next up is another 3.5-hour experience that will take you up close and personal with some of the most captivating creatures on the planet.

The Kaikoura: Whale Watching Cruise is perfect for nature enthusiasts and marine life aficionados, and if it’s your first time here, I highly recommend this unforgettable excursion!

Whether it’s just you or the entire family, this experience is a must-do for anyone who wants to see all that New Zealand has to offer!

If you’re looking to really learn from the experts, you’re in the right place, as the staff here are so well-versed in the animals found locally.

Transport is very well-organized, and the boat we cruised around on is also clean, fast, and easy to maneuver at a moment’s notice so you don’t miss out on any sightings. The crew is also super friendly, and made sure everyone was taken care of and safe throughout the cruise.

We also learned that our catamaran features engines that produce minimal noise so as to not harm the whales and other sea life, along with nonpolluting toilets, which makes a big difference.

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I felt that it was the perfect vessel for spotting whales, thanks to the spacious outdoor decks, as well as the climate-controlled interior viewing areas with comfy seating and screens that show marine life animations.

Thanks to the staff keeping their eyes peeled, we got to see giant sperm whales, along with fur seals, and a massive pod of dolphins (likely over 100!).

We had a guide who told us all kinds of interesting scientific info and indigenous cultural facts relating back to the animals and their natural environment, which was very fascinating, too!

Overall, this is an enriching tour that is sure to teach you things you never knew about the ocean and its inhabitants!


More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

4. Kaikoura Whale Watch Day Tour from Christchurch

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 11 hours
  • Departure: Hotel pickup and drop-off included
  • Departure Time: 7:00 AM
  • Includes: Air-conditioned vehicle, Live commentary on board, Whale watching tour by boat, Lunch (if option is selected), Fur seal colony viewing, North Canterbury vineyard visit and wine tasting (time permitting)

Now we have the longest tour on this entire guide, which is perfect for those who want to really do a deep dive into the local environment and marine wildlife!

The Kaikoura Whale Watch Day Tour from Christchurch takes you on an adventure into the midst of crazy scenery, where you’ll learn about the history and marine life. If you have an entire day free and want to gain insight that most visitors don’t get the chance to, look no further.

The tour starts out bright and early in the morning, with a convenient hotel pickup right from your hotel lobby by air-conditioned, spacious coach.

This is a small group tour, so you don’t have to worry about there being a ton of people or not receiving attention from your guide.

On the contrary – our guide was so friendly and attentive that it felt like we were being taken around by a longtime friend who just happened to be an expert on the area!

Once we finally reached Kaikoura, we boarded our boat for the day, as the staff greeted us and answered all the questions we have.

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As we cruised along, the staff regaled us with interesting anecdotes, funny stories, and plenty of historical accounts regarding the local whaling history and the native wildlife found here.

The real crown jewel is the Hikurangi Trench, which is where you can find all kinds of animals, such as massive blue whales, pilot whales, humpbacks, and even orcas!

After, we enjoyed a filling, tasty lunch at a local restaurant while we soaked up some breathtaking views of the surrounding Kaikoura Mountain Range! After that, we headed back to our coach to catch some local fur seals at a colony before making a stop at a vineyard to try local wines.

This tour was a great way to learn all about the local history and culture, offering lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom.


More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

5. Kaikoura: Premium Whale Watching Flight

Tour Highlights:

  • Duration: 40 minutes
  • Departure: Log cabin terminal at Kaikoura Airport
  • Departure Time: Between 9:00 AM & 4:00 PM
  • Includes: Informative wildlife and safety briefing, Premium 40-minute scenic flight, Real-time tracking of aircraft, Free tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, Audio visual presentatio, Top of the line life jackets and safety equipment, Courtesy vehicle transfers from your accommodation available – please call staff to arrange

I know that when you think of whale watching, you probably first imagine heading onto a boat for an up-close cruise of some kind. However, if you’re a whale lover like I am, or simply enjoy jaw-dropping views of beautiful landscapes, you can’t miss out on this next tour.

The Kaikoura: Premium Whale Watching Flight tour is brief enough to fit into even the busiest of schedules, but is so fulfilling that I think everyone should try it!

There are tons of different start times available, making it that much easier to accomodate in your itinerary. We picked an earlier option, making our way to the log cabin terminal at Kaikoura Airport, where we met the staff for the flight.

You can choose to take a taxi or rent a car and drive yourself there, as they do have spacious parking areas that will keep your vehicle nice and safe.

The electronic check-in process was super simple and seamless, before listening to an interesting whale briefing presentation, complete with some amazing visuals!

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After that, we kicked back in their nice little lounge area, complete with neverending free coffee, tea, and hot chocolate! They also had a little snack bar with extras that you can purchase separately, should you get hungry.

We then made our way out to the amazing Kaikoura Whale Sanctuary, where we kept a lookout for some whales and dolphins, and were not disappointed.

The pilot made the experience that much more special, by including an informative commentary about each of the animals we saw. Seeing these massive animals from so high up was really humbling, and as we all got our own window seats, we all had some great photo ops!


More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience

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The Whale Watching in Kaikoura by Boat is our Editors Choice for the best Kaikoura whale watching tour

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Robert Baker

Robert is a content writer and editor at World Guides to Travel where he shares his love for the great outdoors. He also writes in-depth travel blogs for other websites around the world. Robert is passionate about the environment and uses his writing to educate people about the advantages and importance of sustainable living. Robert enjoys creative writing. In 2009, his children’s novel Sally Hemings & the Good Associates won the Children’s Fiction section of the You Write On Book of the Year Award.
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