A new dolphin ‘watching and swimming’ venture in Tauranga is aiming for a particular niche, among the local dolphin tour operators. Paul and Alison Aitken, the owners of Dolphin Blue, aim to stay small-scale in their family-run operation, ensuring that customers enjoy what Paul describes as a ‘sit-back, more relaxed type experience.’
‘We have designed our experience to be peaceful and unhurried. Passenger numbers are limited to 12, so that our customer’s interaction with dolphins and other marine life is greatly enhanced. ’While the aim each day is to locate, interact with dolphins and where possible swim with them, Dolphin Blue also offers other activities en-route – snorkeling, swimming or simply lazing about on board. (Overnight and boat hire options are also available). The vessel lends itself to comfortable seagoing adventures. Commander I, which Paul rightly describes as a classic vessel, is a ‘one-off’ constructed from ‘inch and a quarter kauri strip planking.’
BoTCom was invited on board Commander for a spin around the harbour with some tourist industry people. What we found was a 54-foot craft built in 1967, which conveys instant impressions of a safe and solid craft, but with plenty of style from a past maritime era – in the darkly elegant, varnished woodwork that stands out against lots of smartly-painted white walls, ceilings – even padded white seats.
Commander is not your soul-less modern alloy power boat, with lots of people squeezed onto plastic seats. Onboard, in the airy lounge-galley-dining area are comfortable lounge-type chairs. Paul worked hard to strip the painted walls in this area, to reveal the quality mahogany wood behind it. And unlike many boats of this size and vintage, there are large windows for viewing the marine environment.
If you fancy more breeze, the stern deck has lots of standing room and one or two seats as well. Haul yourself up the stairs to the top deck and covered wheelhouse, and you’re able to chat to the skipper and share a boating yarn or two. There’s comfy seating here for Commander’s best marine-life views.
Paul is a highly knowledgeable skipper, who shares what he knows in a friendly, low-key manner. He has plenty to tell after 40 years of fishing, much of it local but as far away as the icy waters south of the Chatham Islands. The seagoing veteran has skippered both private and large commercial vessels, such as Sanford trawlers. Paul’s wife Alison is on deck to assist passengers who choose to swim with dolphins, and is in charge of the galley, where Dolphin Blue claims another point of difference from other dolphin operators – food aplenty. Passengers don’t go hungry with morning tea, lunch and ‘going home’ refreshments all part of the package.
The couple’s daughters are part in the venture. Kimberley works as a part-time guide in between her Auckland-based role as an ambulance officer, while Chantelle is on-call to handle bookings and enquires.
The family have set themselves some serious environmental targets. ‘We seek to provide our customers with an unforgettable swimming with dolphins experience that has a minimal impact on the marine environment,’ say Paul and Alison, with an 'eco-friendly attitude and approach.'
Kimberley, who manages the sustainability initiatives for the business, says all rubbish produced onboard is recycled when they return from out at sea. 'We make a commitment to using environmentally friendly and where possible biodegradable products, such a dishwashing liquid, hand soap, and cleaning products. Where this isn’t possible we recycle as much as we can.’
The family are also taking responsibility for their boat’s diesel-using carbon footprint – by planting native trees on their private land. Their target is to plant around six trees for every tonne of carbon emission.
The family is setting out to help in efforts to save endangered native Hector’s dolphins, found in the South Island. Dolphin Blue has aligned with WWF-New Zealand’s ‘Adopt a Hector’s’ dolphin programme. To help this fund raising scheme, the Aitkens give away information packs to their clients.
As there’s not much difference in prices, happy dolphin watching is all about choosing the operator, craft, speed and package that strikes the right chord for you. We think Dolphin Blue hits the right formula for those seeking a ‘relaxed type experience’ in extremely capable hands - without too many other shipmates along for the ride.
For more information:
Paul or Alison Aitken
Phone (07) 576 4303