So you want to watch dolphins, or swim with them? Tauranga now has four licensed operators, with different boats and approaches.
South Sea Vagabond: Departs Merrilees Road, Sulphur Point, tel 579-6376 or 027-224-2266, http://www.southseasailing.com/ The 18-metre comfy sailing catamaran can carry up to 50 day passengers, and sleeps 14. Skipper (and the boat’s builder) Simon has a vast amount of local marine knowledge (including good snorkelling spots) and offers all-day dolphin trips billed as ‘total marine encounters’. Swim or kayak with dolphins. Cost: (lunch extra on request) adult $120, children under 12, $85, group concessions available.
Butler’s Swim With Dolphins: Departs Pier C, Tauranga Bridge Marina, or Salisbury Wharf, Mount Maunganui, tel toll free 0508-288537 or 578-3197, http://www.swimwithdolphins.co.nz/ Maritime identity Graeme Butler (‘good natured sea dog’) offers a ‘magic and un-intrusive’ insight into the world of the marine mammals. His 60-foot yacht Gemini Galaxsea has plenty of deck space for relaxing. It is equipped with a ‘swim bar’ at the stern Cost: adult $135, child & seniors $110 (under 5’s free). Butler’s offer a second trip free, if you don’t see dolphins or whales.
Dolphin Seafaris: Pier D5, Tauranga Bridge Marina, Harbour Bridge Causeway, Mount Maunganui, tel 575-4620 or 0800-326 8747, http://www.nzdolphin.com/.This long-established eco-tour operator boasts an excellent ‘find rate’ and is Qualmark endorsed. The 50-foot catamaran Guardian (Ex America’s Cup), is a fast, modern boat with a high top deck that offers a great vantage point. Wetsuits, masks and other gear is provided, along with continental breakfast, juices and hot drinks. Trips take 4 hours, and depart Tauranga at 8am. Advance bookings essential. Cost: adult $120, child (5-12) $80. Includes continental breakfast, fruit juice and hot drinks on the voyage.
Dolphin Blue: Departs Tauranga Bridge Marina, Harbour Bridge Causeway, Mount Maunganui. Paul and Alison Aitken, tel 576 4303, http://www.dolphinblue.co.nz/ .A family-run operation providing a ‘sit-back, more relaxed type experience.’ Passenger numbers are limited to 12 on board 54-foot Commander I, an elegant vessel built in the 60's. Skipper Paul Aitken is a seagoing veteran who has skippered private and large commercial vessels. Cost: adult $165, child $120 (3 and under free). The six hour trip includes morning tea, lunch and ‘going home’ refreshments, wetsuits and snorkelling gear, as part of the package.