Swim into the crib of wild dolphins
Fun fact: Dolphins aren’t the smartest animals in the world. We humans are.
But what we don’t have is a home covering more than two-thirds of the globe. Which means there’s room for these extremely social creatures to swim in groups of over 1,000 in natural environments.
Thankfully, we don’t need to limit the wild world of dolphins to our imagination. I’ve discovered that there are places where you can not only sight but swim with these graceful creatures. And it doesn’t have to be far across the globe or at an unworldly cost – it starts from only $5. Read on to be wow-ed like I was that this deal is real!
1. Kaikoura, New Zealand
One of the best places in the world to swim with dolphins is found in Kaikoura. This won’t be like your ex-boyfriend who always breaks his promises. Unlike many dolphin tours that guarantee sightings and yet disappoint with only 1-2 dolphins popping out for only a split second, here you’ll almost definitely catch HUNDREDS of dusky dolphins parade in the sea.
Just a 2.5 hours drive north of Christchurch, Dolphin Encounter offers dolphin tours 3 times daily all year round. Plus, your interaction won’t be limited to a 10-metre sighting from afar. Instead you’ll get the most unforgettable experience playing with dolphins in the wild.
You can also spot the Orca, or Killer Whale. Source: @dolphinencounterkaikoura
Check out reviews by visitors if you still need convincing.
Address: 96 Esplanade, Kaikoura, New Zealand
Price: Swimmer: $170 NZD (approx S$163) | Spectator: $90 NZD (approx S$86)
Contact: 0800 733 365 | [email protected]
2. Bunbury, Australia
Amongst the different types of dolphins, the bottlenose dolphin is perhaps the most affectionate – so loving that one was recently spotted to spit out water in the shape of a heart! For those curious souls hoping to catch a similar sight, Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery Centre along Koombana Bay is one of the few places where you can meet and swim with these curious creatures.
A 2 hours drive from Perth, the centre provides a Dolphin 101 experience. The experience includes everything you’d want to know about dolphins – from the world’s first digital dolphinarium, to an education centre, a shore-based interaction zone where wild dolphins regularly visit, and even boat tours to watch and snorkel with dolphins in their natural environment.
Address: Lot 830, Koombana Drive, Bunbury, WA 6230
Price: Discovery Centre: $10 AUD (approx. S$10) | Swimmer: $165 AUD (approx. S$170) | Spectator: $85 AUD (approx. S$87)
Contact: +618 9791 3088 | [email protected]
3. Lovina Beach, Bali
Banish all misconceptions that you’ve to be super rich to sight dolphins! This is one for the broke kids out there.
At ONLY $5 – that’s cheaper than 2 plates of the Michelin starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle – you have the chance to see hundreds of dolphins dance just 1km offshore in Bali. While it’s hard not to be skeptical, these 5-star reviews say it all.
Due to its accessibility, dolphin tours at Lovina Beach are more touristy than those in Australia or New Zealand. So skip this if you’re only looking for a quiet escapade with the dolphins. At Lovina, a large number of boats congregate and begin their chase from 6am every morning.
It’s a magical sight – and only a 2.5 hours drive from Ubud – to catch schools of dolphins twirl in the air as if they’re showing off. With good weather, you’ll also catch a spectacular sunrise from the ocean.
Address: Lovina Beach, Kalibukbuk, Bali, Indonesia
Price: Boat tour pricing is negotiable approx S$5-10
4. Pamilacan Island, The Philippines
You wouldn’t have imagined that dolphin tours were possible at Pamilacan Island in the early 1990s. What used to be a hardcore whaling community that hunted dolphins and whales has made a 180 degree transformation today. They now consider themselves as “caretakers of the sea” and use dolphin tours to provide an alternative livelihood. Kudos to them!
While there are other opportunities for dolphin watching in the Philippines, Pamilacan Island in Bohol is the only place for year-round chances. A haven to over 11 species of dolphins and whales, they’ll ride alongside your boats whether you like it or not. It’s also a paradise for beach lovers, with alluring white sand beaches – I’ll say an up-and-coming honeymoon destination.
Tips for getting there: From Cebu, take a ferry to Tagbilaran port. From Manila, take a plane to Tagbilaran Airport. From there, it’s just a short 45min boat ride to Pamilacan Island.
Address: Pamilacan Island, Baclayon, The Philippines
Price: From S$70
Contact: (038) 540-9280 | [email protected]
5. Rockingham, Australia
It’s about time there’s a dolphin pokemon. If there was, Rockingham will surely be a Pokestop to farm and stock up on dolphin candies. Where the coast comes alive, the reefs of Shoalwater Islands Marine Park is home to more than 200 dolphins!
An easy 40-minute drive south of Perth, the dolphins have been known to interact with humans since the 1960s. You don’t have to be an Olympic swimmer and no snorkelling experience is required, so go ahead and dive into a swim tour. With huge pods of dolphins regularly visiting the coastal waters, you’ll be promised the closest encounter to dolphins as you can think possible.
Best time to visit: September to May
Maldives is one of the top holiday destinations for Singaporeans. And it’s no wonder, given the beautiful bungalows in the midst of the coral waters. No thanks to Instagram, that’s the first and perhaps only image that’ll pop into your mind. If you thought Maldives’ just one of those places to chill at the resort and do nothing all day, think again.
Maldives ranks among the top 5 places in the world for dolphin watching. You don’t even need to search for the best spots to view these amazing creatures, as dolphins are EVERYWHERE. They congregate in hundreds and even thousands. With many popular feeding areas, you and your bae can score a chance to swim with them together.
7. Port Stephens, Australia
Swimming with wild dolphins won’t just be a faraway dream at Port Stephens – home to over 140 bottlenose dolphins and a short 2.5 hours drive north of Sydney. At Dolphin Swim Australia, you can get up close and personal with pods of dolphins in their natural habitat that it’ll be like being part of their squad!
As the only permitted wild dolphin swim in NSW, Port Stephens is one place you won’t need to fear even if you aren’t a fantastic swimmer. A unique safety system is used and all necessary equipment from wetsuits, to masks, snorkels and a safety harness will also be provided.
Beyond water activities, make sure you check out the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere while you’re there too!
8. Akaroa, New Zealand
There’s only one place on earth where you can swim with the Hector dolphin – the world’s smallest dolphin. And that’s Akaroa Harbour in New Zealand’s South Island. They’re named “panda of the seas”, because of distinct 3-colour markings on their body.
It’s hard to tell whether you’ll still be able to seethem 100 years from now, as the Hector dolphin is amongst the rarest dolphins in the world and listed as “endangered”. Plan for a visit to swim with these rare babies before it’s too late!
Note: Swimming is closed for the winter from June to August.
9. Monkey Mia, Australia
It’s not often that wild dolphins swim to shore. At Monkey Mia in Western Australia, you get just that. Famous for their daily ritual of swimming up the shore to interact with humans for more than 50 years, this rare encounter attracts over 100,000 visitors each year.
With a 99% dolphin attendance rate, around 4 to 7 bottlenose dolphins visit for daily. This can go up to 20 occasionally, and you can up your chances by checking out the beach in the morning. You might also be one of the lucky few to feed the dolphins personally by hand, as visitors are randomly selected to feed small amounts to the dolphins.
Note: Feeding will occur within the Dolphin Interaction Zone, where swimming with the animals is not allowed. But they may approach you in the swimming areas outside of the zone.
10. Ningaloo, Australia
Ningaloo Reef single-handedly puts poolside villas to shame. Located along Western Australia’s Coral Coast, you can snorkel right off the beach. Not only will you be immersed in clear blue waters, you’ll also enter into a whole new world of the marine life. This includes not just dolphins, but dugongs, turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks.
You can swim with huge whale sharks Source: @hilly_5life
While the region is most famous for whale shark swims, lucky travellers may also encounter schools of Bottlenose, Spinner and Indo-Pacific dolphins racing toward the boat. This is something among the tops on my bucket list, and should definitely be on yours. It’s an experience of a lifetime; something you can look back on when you’re old and say, “been there, done that”.
Dive into an adventure of a lifetime
Living in a city like Singapore, I sometimes forget all that there is to explore beyond our shores. There’s a world out there and underwater that’s beyond our imagination – if you thought the animations in Finding Dory was amazing, seeing the expanse of the seas, millions of different colourful fish and swimming amongst wild dolphins will put you in awe.
Until Singapore changes her mind to offer wild dolphin tours, these are my top destinations around the region for a dolphin encounter in their natural habitat. I’ve already started saving up for a trip to Ningaloo!