NZ North Island Whale & Dolphin Watching – Auckland (Hauraki Gulf)

Kaikoura might be New Zealand’s most famous whale watching and dolphin spotting location, but another great spot to go on a whale and dolphin watching trip is up at the North Island, just off Auckland at a location called the Hauraki Gulf.

Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is a huge protected area that features more than 50 islands, and covers well over 1 million hectares of water.

The main species you can hope to see on a Hauraki Gulf marine trip are:

  • Common Dolphins
  • Bottlenose Dolphins
  • Killer whales (Orca)
  • Bryde’s whales

There are a host of other whale species that have been sighted in the Gulf over the years, so you never really know what you might get to see on a whale watching boat tour off Auckland.

The waters are between 50 and 70 metres deep, so while not suitable for all whale species, many do pass through the Gulf.

In 2016, the sighting of a Sperm Whale in the Hauraki Gulf made the news.

In 2012 it was exciting when a female Southern Right Whale was spotted in the Hauraki Gulf with its calf in tow. The whales stayed around the waters between Browns Bay and Takapuna before heading back north, and even people on the shore could see them. Being an endangered NZ species, the breeding of southern right whales is known around Auckland but experts noted that it was very unusual for one to move into the more shallow Gulf waters with a calf.

Humpback Whales are also known to pass through the Hauraki Gulf during their annual winter migration.

Common Dolphins in the Hauraki Gulf

This is one of the best locations to see Common Dolphins, and some lucky visitors who are in the right place at the right time get to see large schools of several hundred dolphins.

Bryde’s whales

Considered a resident whale species of the Hauraki Gulf, the Bryde’s Whale is listed as a critically endangered species in New Zealand and there’s thought to be less than 200 of these magnificent whales remaining in NZ waters.

There are potentially four recognised species of Bryde’s whale around the world, with the species Balaenoptera brydei being the one found off New Zealand’s north island. This is actually the most southern part of its range.

Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pataka kai o Tikapa Moana Te Moananui a Toi

This North Island marine park is a New Zealand treasure containing some incredibly unique plant and animal life that is, since the year 2000, protected. Regulations are in place to ensure that uses of the marine park are in line with its purpose for long term conservation.

While many of the islands are able to be accessed by the public, some are strictly for conservation only and a permit is required for anyone wanting to go there.

There are 6 marine reserves within the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

They are:

  • Cape Rodney-Okakari Point / Goat Island)
  • Long Bay-Okura
  • Motu Manawa-Pollen Island
  • Te Matuku
  • Te Whanganui-A-Hei (Cathedral Cove)
  • Tāwharanui Marine Reserve

Activities like diving, swimming and snorkelling are allowed in the reserves.

Currently a major revitalisation of regulations and conservation plans of the Gulf is underway, including the halting of almost all trawler fishing due to depltion of fish stocks and major disruptions caused to the food chain and the wider environment as a result of past intensive fishing activities. This is good news for the marine life of the Gulf.

The government is also looking at adding a further 18 marine protection areas throughout the gulf.

Hauraki Gulf Birds

MAny of the islands of the Gulf are bird havens. Some of the rare species protected on the islands include the Kiwi, Takahe, Brown Teal and Grey-faced Petrel.

Tiritiri Matangi and Little Barrier Island are the primary islands for wildilfe conservation.

Thanks to the lack of predators, the islands have provided the perfect opportunity to reintroduce species that have been sent to extinction locally in the past. Other birds have been naturally able to re-colonise the islands after the removal of predatory pest species.