How to see dolphins in Curio Bay – New Zealand must do

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Swimming with dolphins has to be on everyone’s bucket list because who doesn’t want to swim with the most playful animal in the world?! New Zealand is home to the smallest but also most rare dolphin species; the Hector’s Dolphin, and we can assure you that they are very playful. In this blog post we’ll tell you all about our encounter with these dolphins in Curio Bay, and how you can have the same experience.


Where is Curio bay?

Curio Bay lies in The Catlins, the southernmost area of New Zealand’s South Island. The Catlins are a thinly populated region full of forest covered rolling hills, and it feels like you’re somewhere very remote when driving over its gravel roads. The Catlins are mainly known for its unspoilt nature with many beautiful waterfalls, rugged coastlines full of impressive cliffs (and picturesque lighthouses on them), and its unique and abundant wildlife. Curio Bay is where the best of The Catlins comes together in one location, making it a guaranteed highlight of your trip.

HOW FAR IS Curio Bay

From Dunedin: It is 179 km from Dunedin to Curio Bay, and takes 2,5 hours

From Invercargil: It is 88 km from Invercargil to Curio Bay, and takes 1,5 hours.


Dolphins in Curio Bay

We were told that Curio Bay is one of the best spots in New Zealand to see the Yellow Eyed Penguin and the Hector’s Dolphin, so when we were driving through the Catlins, Curio Bay was on the top of our must visit list in the area. On the cliffs between Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay lies the Curio Bay campsite, making it the most convenient spot to spend the night. But when we arrived at the Curio Bay campsite and found our spot for the night it was already getting dark meaning that we had to delay our attempt of seeing the dolphins as going into the bay wasn’t a safe option anymore. Instead we went down to the petrified forest hoping to spot the extremely rare Yellow Eyed Penguin, but that’s another story.


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Porpoise Bay

The next morning I (Tom) went to the Porpoise Bay side of the campside to catch up with some friends, and as I glanced over the bay I saw something pop out of the water. I grabbed the binoculars to have another look and realised that what I saw are some dolphins jumping in the waves. Excited to see them up close I called Zi to get our van to this side of the campside so we could get changed and go into the water. By the time Zi got out of bed and moved our van to Porpoise Bay (she is slow in the morning) a bunch of other people had spotted the dolphins too and ventured into the water. We started pumping up our paddleboards – because swiming with dolphins is awesome, but paddleboarding with them is even cooler!

Picture by  Find Away Photography
Picture by Find Away Photography

Getting in the water

Half an hour later the paddleboards were pumped up and our wetsuits were on. Wetsuits? Why do you need wetsuits in summer? The water in New Zealand is always cold, like I’m not sure if my balls are still attached to my body kind of cold, so bring a wetsuit (can get it pretty cheap at The Warehouse) or you won’t last more than 10 minutes in the water.

There were multiple groups of people in the water and about a dozen dolphins playing around them and surfing the waves. We took our paddleboards into the water a bit away from them. You shouldn’t directly approach dolphins as they are still wild animals and disturbing them can cause them to get stressed and flee from their feeding area. If the dolphins are interested and want to play, they will come to you.

Swim with Doplhins Curio Bay New Zealand Travel


Paddling with dolphins in porpoise bay

About five minutes in we were calmly paddling just behind the break of the waves and watching a group of dolphins do flips around the people near the shore as we see a shadow glide underneath us, and then another one, and another one. A group of dolphins had come to have a look at us. Before we had time to take the camera out even more fins came our way. We could hardly believe that this was happening, the dolphins were way more interested in us on the paddleboards than in the people swimming and we counted at least eight of them tumbling around us. How cool is that?! They would usually swim away for a bit after a few circles around us, but no matter where we went in the bay, they always came back to us.


Bucket list; check

This went on for about 45 minutes and by the end we grouped up with the people swimming close to shore and all the dolphins were gliding in between us. We made sure not to touch them and to keep our paddles out of the water when the dolphins were nearby, but that didn’t stop them from nudging our boards and stroking against our legs as they passed by.


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Travel New Zealand Must Do Swim With Dolphins Curio Bay

Then the wind picked up and started to blow us towards open sea. This made it a good moment to get out of the water and leave the dolphins be. Back at the van we sat down and that’s when reality really hit us. We had just paddled with wild dolphins, no dolphin watching tour could ever beat this. Completely amazed we sat there thinking about how awesome this experience was. Curio Bay really is the best spot to swim with dolphins in New Zealand!

Bucket list; BIG FRICKIN’ CHECK!



Have you ever been in the water with wild dolphins yourself? Or is it on your bucket list? Let us know!

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Tom & Zi
Tom & Zi

Tom and Zi are the creatives behind Craving Adventure. In 2018 they chose to wander, to explore and to show others how to follow their path. That’s how Craving Adventure, a travel blog with a strong focus on adventure, offbeat travel and authentic experiences, was born. Through their in depth and easy to follow travel guides & itineraries they help you travel more, travel better and always encourage you to take the path less travelled.


    • Thanks for replying Sarah! It was such an incredible experience, and the best thing was that they came to us!

  1. This is really cool! Your pictures are wonderful! I’ve added this to my bucket list!!

    • Thank you Melissa! New Zealand is incredible for seeing rare wildlife. You can truly find it everywhere in this country!

  2. That sounds such an amazing experience being with the dolphins, good tips about waiting for them to come to you. Most people I am sure would want to approach them.

    • Thank you Beverley! Swimming with dolphins is incredible but only if we play by some safety rules can we assure that the dolphins are still there for future generations.

  3. Wow! This sounds like such an amazing experience. Definitely adding it to my bucketlist. New Zealand looks gorgeous

    • These dolphins are so cute and playful! Definitely worth checking out if you go to New Zealand

  4. Hello, when you have been there? 🙂 I would like to ask you if there is possibility to borrow dry suits and paddleboards there? Thank you, Anna

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