We are so so pleased to confirm that Black Cat Cruises has just had its Qualmark Gold award renewed. This award is reviewed annually, and is something we are proud to maintain as we continually strive to be a sustainable, world class operation.
” Your award can be proudly displayed as evidence that Black Cat Cruises is committed to protecting our beautiful natural environment, enhancing connections with our local communities, whilst also delivering a quality, safe experience for all visitors.”
Thank you to Qualmark for renewing our
QUALMARK GOLD AWARD
We are whole heartedly grateful for this continued recognition, and would like to shout out to our dedicated crew and team both in Akaroa and Lyttelton that all work so hard to deliver our experiences, whilst caring for both our environment and it’s inhabitants.
When and what is Gold awarded for?
Gold Sustainable Tourism Business Award
A Gold Award recognises the best sustainable tourism businesses in New Zealand, with the delivery of exceptional customer experiences an integral part of everything they do. A Gold Sustainable Tourism Award identifies those businesses leading the way in making the New Zealand tourism industry a world class sustainable visitor destination.
The process to obtain an award be it bronze, silver or gold is extremely thorough and covers four key areas in depth, These are…
Social & People
Environment & Culture
Health, Safety & Wellness
So the next time you are considering a tourism activity in New Zealand we recommend looking for the Qualmark seal.
If you’d like to understand more about who Qualmark are and how they work you can find out more information here.
The top free things to do in Banks Peninsula are listed right here.
No one gets through a holiday richer than they were before. Here’s the dilemma; you have time off work and want some quality time with your family. Well, look no further than Banks Peninsula.
The place is brimming with things to do, and many of them are free activities. All you’re going to need is to pack some snacks for the roadie and you’re set to go….
Honestly, there must be a thousand places to walk on Banks Peninsula. It doesn’t matter what level of fitness or experience you’re at, there’s a walk for you!
The Children’s Bay Rhino Walk is a fun one in Akaroa. It’s perfect for families, with a few special surprises along the way (look out for the giraffes and giant rhino).
Walking up Stanley park can be steep, but it’s nice and short with a stunning view over Akaroa’s township and beyond. Plus you’ll pass some grazing sheep, and who doesn’t want to see that! Bring some food up here and have a picnic.
If Akaroa is too far, walk up to the PackHorse Hut from Gebbies Pass and have some lunch there.
The quaint hut sits in a small valley with absolutely stunning views all around. This one is a little bit steeper but still achievable within a couple of hours, and a great daywalk. Book the hut on the doc site here.
There’s also the Godley Head walk in Christchurch with the old gun emplacements at the end.
On a good day, the walk will give you sparkling oceans, classic NZ bush, and views over both Lyttleton and Sumner along the way.
Iconic Landmarks and historic sites
Last I checked, looking at beautiful cultural landmarks and sites was a completely free but rewarding way to spend part of your day. Banks Peninsula is full of great sites. Maybe you’ll see a good photo opportunity and finally be able to change your Facebook profile picture from six years ago.
Check out the iconic Akaroa lighthouse. From there, it’s not far to the Catholic and Anglican Cemeteries on the hill above. They are full of beautiful headstones of marble, and many are still endowed with new flowers.
Visit the Onuku Marae. The local Iwi does a fantastic job with the maintenance of the building and surrounding area. They invite all to share in their heritage and experience their culture.
In the small, hidden town of Birdlings Flat, there’s a really cool gemstone and fossil museum that’s totally free! Located next to Canterbury’s largest lake, the small town is known for gemstone hunting and they’ve built a really impressive collection over the years.
There are also plenty of beautiful natural landmarks in Banks Peninsula, like Newton’s Waterfall. It’s just 7 minutes away from Akaroa centre. I find the waterfall provides the perfect snapshot of New Zealand before humans arrived; it’s honestly very refreshing.
Experience the local food
I know what you’re thinking, “food costs money, what kind of blog is this?” Well, there are few ways to taste amazing food whilst maintaining the option of walking away as rich as before. It’ll be a challenge, but you might be able to pull it off…..
Pot Pourri is a general store nestled in the heart of Akaroa’s township. They also happen to have an amazing selection of homemade fudge. They’re always willing to part with two or three free samples, but I have yet to walk out of the store without a slice of fudge in tow.
On the way to Akaroa, in Barry’s Bay, is a cheese factory aptly called ‘Barry’s Bay Cheese’. They make a huge variety of top-quality cheese. They ship to cheese-lovers all over Canterbury and beyond. Anyone can pop into the shop in the front and try a few cubes of cheese, and learn more about the rich history of local cheese-making.
Lyttelton also has plenty for you, if you’re looking for something closer to home. Every Saturday from 10-1, the main street comes alive with stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables, free-range eggs, bread, meat, fish, cheese, juices, herbs, and plants to name a few. This is one of the best farmers’ markets around, set in the backdrop of the surrounding mountains and harbour. I’m sure you can find a free sample or two along the way.
Adventures with nature!
The final idea we have for you is to use the forces of nature to your advantage.
For as long as humans have lived in New Zealand, we’ve used the ocean and gravity in a variety of ways to create thrills.
Here are some ways you can do this for free:
Go surfing or boogie boarding in one of the many beaches or bays of Banks Peninsula. Taylor’s mistake near Sumner, or Hickory Bay an hour out of Christchurch are standout spots. Don’t own a board? Go body surfing instead. It’s a lot of fun in its own right, simply swim with a wave and let the energy carry you to the shore.
If you own a mountain bike, explore one of the many tracks at a level suited to you and your family. Haven Mountain bike park is just 30 minutes from Christchurch in the beautiful Banks Peninsula. These guys are passionate about pest control and restoration and it shows in the park’s stunning views. In the hills above Akaroa are the trails of Akatrax park. Their website has a detailed map with trails ranging from a wee beginner to an advanced veteran.
By the beach
Ever jumped off a wharf before? Either you have and need no more convincing, or you haven’t and this is the sign to do it this summer! Akaroa has a couple of wharves that are perfect. I’d recommend the one right by the beach, as it’s not too high and you can chill on the sand after your adventures. If you’re feeling brave though, there’s always the much higher main wharf you can send it from. Just take care where you jump, and assess the conditions first.
A personal favorite thing to do in Akaroa though is crab spotting! Along Akaroa, where the water meets rocks a little bigger than your fist, are thousands of little crabs. Walk along, lift the rocks, and watch the crabs scuttle away. I’ve been crab spotting in Akaroa for as long as I can remember. The trick to picking them up is to avoid the claws by picking them up from behind! Be sure to be gentle with the crabs and put them down in the water after a few seconds.
Kids Cruise Free In Akaroa
And this school holiday 2 kids cruise free (valued at $40 each) with 1 full price adult ($95). This saves at least $80 per family. Simply enter the code ‘FREEKIDS’ at the checkout between now and the end of the April school holiday (Sunday May1st), and your children’s rate will be $0!
We still offer free spaces to under 5’s and our Hector’s dolphin guarantee, so there’s no better time to get out and Do Something Autumn! Find out more here.
How much do you know about the seas surrounding our little Island?
Are you aware of just how important the ocean is to us humans, no matter where you live?
Whether you know very little or a lot, you’ll learn something valuable through the NZ Association for Environmental Education’ Seaweek event.
Every year, in the lead-up to Sea week, Black Cat Cruises pro-actively contribute to the cause in a variety of ways. Over the years we’ve hosted scientific nature cruises with leading marine mammal experts from the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust, offered special discounts to encourage more people out on the water, and even had a kids song written about the Hector’s Dolphins. We aim to reach all ages and inspire a love and promote a connection to the oceans that surround us. If we can teach just one person something about our ocean and the life within it, and convince them to take action in some way, we’ve achieved something worthwhile. That’s what we aim to do every day with our nature cruises and swimming with dolphins experiences, and that’s what we hope to do with this blog.
Aotearoa is the seabird capital of the world. Of the 360 seabird species found worldwide, 86 breed in New Zealand, including 38 which breed nowhere else.
Akaroa is home to many, such as the: variable oystercatcher with their distinctive long orange beaks. We often encounter them on our cruises, looking rather mischievous!
The white-fronted tern is noble and elegant, with a black cap and forked tail. These photogenic birds’ population has declined massively over the last 40 years and are now considered endangered!
The fluttering shearwater makes a distinctive noise with their wings; it’s just as likely you’ll hear them before you see them coming! Even more so because they often move in large flocks, ranging to over a thousand, feeding on fish or krill at the ocean’s surface.
And who could forget the world’s rarest penguin, the Yellow-eyed penguin? Only found in New Zealand, there are only 4000 yellow-eyed penguins left in the wild! Reaching a weight of 8.5kgs and height of 79cms, they’re about the size of a one-year-old child!
There are tons of fish in Akaroa Harbour. Fish keep the ocean birds’ and mammals’ bellies full, making them an essential part of the ecosystem. Professional and recreational fishers need to know the areas where they can fish, how they can fish, and which should be kept or thrown back into the ocean.
Spiny Dogfish are a type of small shark commonly found around New Zealand, including Akaroa Harbour. They also taste quite nice and are sold by fishers in Akaroa. The fillet is white with a mild, sweet flavour. The dogfish is a small but mighty predator, not afraid to take a jab at a passing fish.
Ever heard of a Red Gurnard? No? I hadn’t either, but here it is. It’s unsurprisingly quite red. Their redness has a use, they can startle predators by flashing their fins at them. They are known to grunt when caught by fishers hence ‘Gurnard’ which is old French for ‘grunter’.
Native to New Zealand waters are the Blue Moki. They can live for up to 30 years and grow up to 10 kg. Blue Moki are caught year-round off the east coast, by trawl and set nets. They feed on a variety of crabs, shellfish, and worms, which they suck from the sandy or muddy seafloor.
There’s also the distinct looking barracouta. Not only do they attack fishers and break lines, but they also contain many small bones and are embedded with long white parasitic worms.
If you’ve ever been to the Akaroa Fish n chip shop, you’ve surely heard of blue cod. Only found in New Zealand waters. Blue cod are easy to approach for divers, however, they are known to nip fingers and even ears. They can change sex from female to male and males are generally larger than females.
Finally of course, we have the animals most closely related to us humans; the different mammals that call Akaroa their home.
These warm-blooded creatures are different from birds because they produce live-offspring, as opposed to laying eggs.
The New Zealand fur seals are often found on our Black Cat nature cruise chilling on the rocks. They dive deeper and longer than any other fur seal. Female fur seals are known to (occasionally) dive deeper than 238 m, and for as long as 11 minutes. Males fight for territory and the ability to mate the females of the area. Their young are called “pups” which sounds an awful lot like “puppies” in case you needed any more proof that seals are the ‘dogs of the sea’. Check out this DOC article for more on fur seals, including a sound clip of fur seals during mating season.
And of course, this wouldn’t be a Black Cat Cruises blog without talking about the number one natural attraction of Akaroa- The Hectors Dolphins. The world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, only found in New Zealand. Their calves are the size of a rugby ball, and we take care to leave these young families alone as they have lots of important work to do. The Hectors dolphins are iconic for their rounded “mickey mouse” fins. They are curious and playful creatures when they’re not busy hunting in pods for squid, fish, and crustaceans. The Hector’s Dolphin populations declined hugely following the human occupation of New Zealand. And though things are getting better, more needs to be done.
Playing Our Part
Not only is it fascinating to learn about the ocean’s habitats, characteristics, and inhabitants, it is also extremely important. The vast majority of our oceans are open for exploitation by fishing, mining, oil, and gas companies. Seabird and marine mammal by-catch, habitat destruction, and overfishing are destroying our coasts. Notice I referred to the ocean and coasts of New Zealand as “ours”. It is part of humanity’s vanity to assume the environment we live in is owned by us. This thinking runs so deep it’s become a natural part of our language.
It is time we switch courses and help repair the damage we’ve caused. Organisations like Forest and Bird dedicate themselves to improving the situation and have played a part in advocating for full camera surveillance of all fishing boats operating on our coasts. This has just recently been proposed by the MPI. Check out their website, scroll to the bottom, and see all the ways you can help (there’s plenty to choose from).
Free Black Cat Cruises Seaweek Event
Last Year for Sea Week, we worked with local children’s music legend Music With Michal to write a song about Hector’s dolphins. A way to inspire the future generation of kiwi’s, and teach them about how rare, special and important they are. We launched them over a series of sold out Seaweek themed ‘Music with Michal’ cruises on board the Canterbury Cat.
We planned to repeat the same again this year, however with the current rise in Omicron across New Zealand we’ve opted for the safety of the families wishing to attend and moved the our event to a one off free live streamed concert. We are also excited to announce we have turned the song into it’s very own book!
The book is available to purchase online now and we are donating $2 from every book sold to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust. BUT IT HERE
Seaweek is always a great event, and each year they explore a cool theme. Last year was “Connecting with our Seas; Toi Moana Toi Tangata – highlighting the diverse connections and interactions we have with the sea.” They sell some pretty cool merchandise, 100% of which will go to supporting their cause. It’s a great way to help, and raise further awareness which is what sea week is all about! Check it out on this link here. While you’re there, check out the cool events they’ve got lined up on the main page!
Lastly, we recommend following these awesome organisations to keep up-to-date with conservational efforts:
Black Cat is proud to release this personal recollection of the key events and people that built the business into what it is today.
The idea for the video came about when Black Cat tragically lost one of its finest in a car accident. This video is dedicated to the entire team; past and present.
The Black Cat Cruises story officially started in 1985, but the founding family traces its Banks Peninsula roots back to the 1920s with a close connection to the Diamond Harbour ferry.
This video documentary traces the story from the early days when founders Ron and Durelle Bingham started with just one boat, taking 8 customers out for an Akaroa Harbour cruise, and charts the key moments over the following four decades.
Black Cat weathered the storm of engine breakdowns, devastating earthquakes, painful personal losses, and global pandemics to grow into one of the top cruise operations in New Zealand.
We delve into what it was really like in Akaroa in the 1980s. A time when much was unknown about how a year-round tourism business would even survive, a time of very few international visitors and interest rates of over 20%!
The 80s were also important because it marked the start of a journey to increase awareness of Hector’s dolphins. Whilst everyone knows how precious they are today, back in 1985 no one cared. That changed thanks to the efforts of companies like Black Cat and marine pioneers like Professors Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson.
We also look at the expansion into Lyttelton in 1999, the heart-breaking marina storm and the early days of running the iconic Diamond Harbour ferry, and the unique challenges of the 2011 quakes and 2020 pandemic.
Today as we head towards 40 years in business the family and team reflect on the journey they’ve taken together. The one thing that stands true is the importance of the people. Our vision has always been to deliver the highest quality of experiences, a culture of excellence, education, entertainment, and safety……and we recognise that we do all this thanks to our extremely passionate and dedicated team.
We hope you enjoy learning about the good times and the bad, and the story that shaped the company.
Today we continue to advocate for the Hector’s dolphins. They are the world’s rarest and smallest oceanic dolphin, and only found around the shores of New Zealand’s South Island. You can find out more about our work and how you can help on our dedicated Protect Hector’s page.
Every year Black Cat Cruises join in with the national celebration of Seaweek.
Seaweek is an opportunity to celebrate connecting with our seas….and what better way than instilling that connection with our youngest generation from the very start? So read on and discover the link to our free live concert…and our brand new book dedicated to non other than the wee Hector’s Dolphins.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC…
You may or may not know that last year we worked with local legend Music With Michal – a fantastic performer who writes and sings fun and (very) catchy tunes for little kids. Michal not only performed some Seaweek themed concerts on our boat, but we also asked her to write a wonderful song dedicated to the Hector’s Dolphins. It was soooo good we even made a wee music video.
Thanks to Michal and her super talented friend illustrator Andy Knopp the song has been turned into a fantastic children’s book which is now available for pre-order.
we are hosting a Live from Lyttelton free & streamed concert with Music With Michal.
JOIN THE SEAWEEK LIVE STREAM ON WEDNESDAY MARCH 9TH STARTING AT 9.30AM UNTIL 10AM WITH THIS LINK
This wonderful new book is available on the Black Cat website and priced at $22.
$2 from every book printed goes to the New Zealand Whale and Dolphin Trust. So in turn we are not only offering education but we are able to further support scientific research and protection for New Zealand’s native and endangered dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin.
KIWI OF THE SEA – HECTOR’S DOLPHIN
If you’d like to check out the Hector’s Dolphin song you can watch the video right here… Share this with your friends and family who have a little one 🙂
Another great way for little ones to get involved is by becoming a Protect Hector’s member. Membership includes a personalised certificate, Hector’s fact sheet and a plush Hector’s dolphin toy. Memberships are just $30 and available to purchase directly from our website here
We all know Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to spoil your loved one and create great memories together. Whether you’re looking to impress a new date or do something different for your 10th Valentine’s Day together, look no further than this blog! We’ll give you the perfect plan to make your special day an unforgettable romantic trip.
First: Swim with the Hector’s Dolphins
Book a morning swim with Black Cat Cruises at our website. Get over to Akaroa nice and early, enjoying the scenic views of Banks Peninsula along the way.
Maybe even stop for a coffee at the Hilltop Tavern, which looks out over the harbour. Once you arrive at the main wharf, our friendly team will suit you both up and take you out for a magical encounter with the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins.
There’s a high chance you and your loved one will be within touching distance of these curious and intelligent marine mammals. At this point, you’ll both understand the hype- the early morning, the tight wetsuit, the jumping in the ocean- will all be worth it. Plus, you’ve now experienced something special alongside your partner, and we’re just getting started!
Second: Romantic lunch
By now it’s lunch-time, and we all know it’s essential to keep the belly full to avoid any unnecessary ‘hangriness’. We have a few ideas on how to spend the next couple of hours in Akaroa, the choice is yours:
There are two stunning vineyards in Akaroa owned by lovely locals. Both ‘Meniscus Wines’ and ‘The Akaroa Winery’ are great choices. They’re always eager to host couples, just get in touch with them in advance as it’s sure to be busy on Valentine’s Day.
The Little Bistro has a great romantic atmosphere and is suited to a dine-in experience for two.
Ma Maison Restaurant and Bar is located right on the beachfront. Seafood is their specialty and they’ve been described as Akaroa’s ‘Hidden Gem’.
The HarBar next door has an open view of the ocean complete with a fresh sea breeze. This is a really cool place for a drink.
Try the Mandela Restaurant if you’re looking for some quality Indian Food which is sure to keep you both smiling.
Go for a picnic
Perhaps you’re after a quiet, secluded spot for some one-on-one with your partner. Pack a blanket, basket, and some glasses, dip into the Four Square in town for some food and try one of these places below:
Walking up Stanley park can be steep, but it’s nice and short with a stunning view over Akaroa’s township and beyond. Plus you’ll pass some grazing sheep, and who doesn’t want to see that! There are heaps of flat spots to set up too.
If you aren’t opposed to the hubbub of others and enjoy an energetic backdrop, take your picnic to Akaroa beach instead.
Third: Do something fun on land
Now is the time to do something spontaneous for an hour. Go for a walk along the water, check out the ‘Giants Garden’ or ‘Garden of Tane’, impress/scare your partner by flipping some rocks over and picking up a crab or two. If you want more excitement, play a friendly competition of mini-golf. Whoever wins gets a free backrub later that night!
Check out some of the local shops. There’s a couple of gemstone shops that are always worth checking out. Pot Pourri is a general store nestled in the heart of Akaroa’s township. They also happen to have the best selection of homemade fudge I’ve ever seen. Plenty of jewellery stores around too, and it’s the perfect day to convince your partner to buy you something special.
If you aren’t sick of the water yet, and you’re an adventurous couple, jump off the wharf! Akaroa has a couple of wharves that are perfect. I’d recommend the one right by the beach, as it’s not too high and you can chill on the sand after your adventures. If you’re feeling brave though, there’s always the much higher main wharf you can send it from. Just take care where you jump, and assess the conditions first.
Fourth: Akaroa Harbour and Nature Cruise
Book an afternoon cruise with us and we’ll show you the rest of the harbour you missed in the morning. You’ll realise there’s even more to this beautiful harbour than just dolphins (but you’re sure to see them again too). Relax with your partner with the gentle rocking of waves, or hunt for the picture-perfect background for Instagram.
Our experienced skippers know how to balance fascinating commentary with periods of silence to let you soak in the rocky cliffs and blue water. Along the way, you’ll encounter Little Blue Penguins, Fur Seals, and maybe something even bigger than a dolphin if you’re lucky!
Turn your romantic break into a romantic getaway by staying the night away from Christchurch.
Tree Crop farm has a collection of ‘Lover’s retreat’ huts which are perfect if you’re looking for something rustic and private.
Te Wepu stays have a collection of Luxury Pods, complete with a personal spa out the front. It’s a little more expensive but well worth the treat for Valentine’s Day.
You and your partner will make unforgettable memories together if you choose Akaroa this Valentine’s Day. We’ve given you some ideas, but it’s only a template. Pick and choose what sounds good to you and what you can afford. Still, splashing out every once in a while with your partner is well worth it, and you can’t go wrong with Black Cat Cruises. Book with us now, on our website.
We know how much Kiwis love playing in and around the water in the summertime.
We flock to our favorite beaches to swim, surf, paddle board, kayak, sail, water ski and more so it’s safe to say we are a nation of water lovers.…we may even do a once-in-a-lifetime swim with a certain marine mammal found here on Banks Peninsula. But whatever it is we like or want to do……..
Nothing is more important than safety when it comes to our oceans in Aotearoa.
So we have filled this blog with heaps of helpful tips. Water safety comes in two forms that we’ll cover: safety for you and safety for our ocean environment.
Safety for you on the water
When you’re on your vessel, you have sole responsibility for yourself and others’ marine safety. If your vessel is smaller than 4.8 metres, everybody on board must wear a lifejacket at all times. Make sure everyone’s life jacket fits using the graphic pictured here. Even on bigger vessels, make sure you have plenty of life jackets for every size to hand. Lifebuoys are also great when someone goes overboard, as pictured below.
Another extremely important aspect of boat safety is obeying speed limits. You must only go 5 knots when:
within 200m of the shore
within 200m of any structure
within 200m of a boat displaying a diver’s flag
within 50m of any other boat
within 50m of a person swimming
on a powerboat, if any person has any part of their body outside the rails or edge of the deck.
It’s good to know that when you’re aboard a Black Cat vessel, you’re in the safe hands of a MTOC accredited operator. What does that mean? We’ve been through the rigorous process of gaining certificates of approval from Maritime NZ. That means they’ve agreed we have a capable and well-trained crew, we have managed risk hazards, our boats are running smoothly, and we know what we’d do in an emergency.
It’s a very good idea to keep clear of large vessels. They aren’t any good at quickly moving out of your way.
The Maritime website has everything you need to know about boat safety if you want to know more and here is a great visual guide on how to fit a life jacket safely.
General water safety rules you should always follow
Whatever you’re doing on the water, there are some universal tips to keeping safe.
Assess the conditions before heading out there.
Plan ahead and check the weather and wind forecast. It’s usually the WIND AND SWELL that can cause the biggest problems. A great free website or app for this is Windy. If it’s stormy or super windy, and the water is really choppy, don’t go out. If it’s getting dark, don’t go out there.
A great option is to GO WITH A FRIEND and have some way of communicating some-one on land. If you are going out alone tell someone responsible where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
You should also DRESS APPROPRIATELY, WEAR AN OCEAN FRIENDLY SUNSCREEN….and when taking part in any water sports ALWAYS WEAR A LIFEJACKET. Even in summer, hypothermia can still happen. New Zealand’s water isn’t tropical and the water gets colder the further out you go, or when you’re in the water for long enough.
If you ever get caught in a strong current or ‘rip’ DO NOT PANIC. Let yourself be carried by the rip as it won’t go forever. This way, you won’t exhaust yourself fighting against it. Once you stop getting carried, you can swim or paddle around the tip and safely get to shore. If you are swimming on a beach that is patrolled by lifeguards try to raise your arm if you can so you can hopefully get spotted and have one of the amazing New Zealand Surf Life Savers come to your rescue.
To upskill yourself in and around the water you could always join one of your local Surf Life Saving clubs. They have regular training sessions and best of all children can enroll from the age of 7 so they can help educate the next generation of young Kiwi’s on water safety. They even have a great page on how to stay safe at the beach any time of year which you can find here.
Safety for the environment
New Zealand is a beautiful country, and we’re pretty good at keeping it that way. But we all need a reminder every now and then, and we have to keep at it every time we’re outside. Black Cat Cruises is also a SMART operator, and that’s not just us tooting our own horns. It means we are part of a voluntary collaboration between DOC and commercial vessels that are involved with marine mammals. DOC gives us guidelines to make sure we minimize our impact on their natural processes. The principles are carried to all marine life in Akaroa, from the little blue penguin and the fur seal to our beloved Hector’s Dolphins (and any other visits we get from Orcas or Humpback whales!)
You can also follow these guidelines.
If you see another vessel near a marine animal, keep clear and wait for them to leave before approaching.
NEVER feed a marine animal.
Move very slowly and do not circle.
Don’t swim with dolphins that have juveniles (half the size of an adult or smaller).
Onshore, keep dogs on leashes near seals and give them space.
Don’t get between a seal and the sea.
Also, keep a lookout for any vessel (fishing, commercial or private) which looks like it’s breaking the rules. You can report anything suspicious to 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Black Cat Cruises welcomes Glenn and Andrew Ritchie of RTH International as new investors.
Paul Bingham says, ‘We are delighted to welcome Glenn and Andrew Ritchie into the Black Cat Cruises business as we embark on a new chapter.’
This is only the second time in 36 years that Black Cat Cruises shares have changed hands. RTH International will now hold a 50% shareholding in Black Cat Cruises, having purchased the shares previously owned by Real Journeys since 2007. Bingham will continue to retain the further 50% of the company.
Both Glenn and his nephew Andrew will bring a substantial amount of knowledge and experience to the board. Whilst most well-known for transport line Ritchies, which has been in operation for over 80 years, they also own 47% of Entrada Travel Group whose portfolio includes an impressive array of tourism businesses across both New Zealand and Australia. These include activities, ferries and on land transport such as Intercity, Auckland’s Whale and Dolphin Safari, Northland ferries, Port Douglas Daintree Ferry (North Queensland) and multiple Cairns based Great Barrier Reef cruise and dive operations.
‘We are looking forward to working together to both strengthen our recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and launch future projects such as the new ferry for Lyttelton.’ Bingham says.
‘We have admired Black Cat Cruises since it launched as a leading eco-tourism operator. We’ve seen it grow from a dedicated local experience to a world class brand. It’s local heritage, family values, and commitment to conservation and customer experience is tremendous, and as such we saw the opportunity to come on board and invest as a perfect alignment.’ Glenn Ritchie says.
The acquisition comes at an exciting time for the company whose operations include the Diamond Harbour ferry service as well as iconic Akaroa Nature Cruise, Swimming with Dolphins experience and Quail Island and Ripapa Island ferries based in Lyttelton. Despite the lack of international visitors, the company has enjoyed strong support from New Zealanders. They are recognised as being one of the first eco-tourism operators in New Zealand and have been operating for over 36 years.
Paul Milligan, Chief Executive of Black Cat Cruises looks forward to embracing the future. ‘Navigating through the pandemic, has been our biggest challenge to date. We have remained steadfast in our approach, and our approach has always focused on our customers. Whether we focus on local or international guests our mission has always remained the same; to continue delivering world-class experiences here in Akaroa and Lyttleton, whilst supporting conservation work for the Hector’s dolphins. There is power in partnerships and surrounding yourself with a great team…and that is even sweeter when a partnership is born from your own home-grown turf right here in Canterbury.’
How much do you know about the different Hector’s Dolphin populations around the country? Where exactly do they live? As an ecotourism operator local to Canterbury, we are obviously guilty of focusing on the 1000 or so dolphins that live around our harbours. Banks Peninsula is of special importance to us, being our home for nearly 40 years. Fortunately, Hector’s Dolphins can be found all around the waters of New Zealand. Today’s blog aims to help you understand a little more about other populations of Hector’s Dolphins beyond the Banks Peninsula area.
NORTH ISLAND DOLPHINS
You may not be aware of an incredibly rare subspecies of the Hector’s Dolphin known as the ‘Maui Dolphins’. They are very similar, but are thought to have been isolated from each other for around 16000 years. Māui dolphins have very slightly larger skulls than Hector’s dolphins and a longer, wider rostrum or snout. With only 56 individuals alive today, they are the rarest marine mammal on the planet. They live in a very small area on the western side of the North Island. The entire species’ survivability rests on 9 female dolphins of calf-rearing age.
Hector’s Dolphins are rarely sighted in the North Island. This is why it’s so important we look after the Maui’s Dolphin subspecies. They are only found on the west coast of the North Island from the New Plymouth area to Maunganui Bluff. Despite their extreme rarity, Maui Dolphins are still in huge danger of being caught in nets from commercial fishers. Bans only exist a few kilometres off shore, but Maui Dolphins go far beyond this area. With the Maui dolphins being even rarer than the kākāpō, should we be risking the death of a single animal, when each one is essential to the overall survivability of the species?
WEST COAST DOLPHINS
As seen in the map on the right, Hector’s Dolphins can be found almost all around the coasts of the South Island.
Black Cat Cruises have always pushed for more protection in our local waters from fishing nets. But we’re still leagues ahead of the West Coast. Namely, nothing in the recently released TMP addresses the areas along the West Coast. Whilst this area has a lower concentration of Fishers, it is unacceptable that they can still operate here almost unhinged. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl netting on the West Coast. This will remain completely unchanged following the integration of any of the proposed Threat Management Plan’s options. This area is the least documented area when it comes to Hector’s Dolphins. However, it doesn’t take a marine biologist to see that there are massive areas where Hector’s Dolphins are threatened by trawl netting. Set net bans are only enforced a few kilometres offshore, and don’t go far enough to cover the dolphin’s habitat.
NORTH OF THE SOUTH ISLAND
The Northern tip of the South Island is also home to a large proportion of our remaining Hector’s Dolphins. Alongside Akaroa and Kaikoura, this area provides the best chance for one to encounter a Hector’s Dolphin. However, net-fishing is also common in this area. Pictured below are the current areas which ban trawl net fishing (blue is permanent and red is seasonal). The seasonal ban is an interesting compromise between fishers and conservationists; It protects Hector’s Dolphins in the times they are most likely to be in those areas, whilst still giving Fishers a chance to make a livelihood. The seasonal ban could be an immediate but temporary solution for waters which are currently open to fishers all-year round. This would reduce the chances of Hector’s dolphins being caught as New Zealand gradually transitions to complete bans in waters less than 100M deep. This is what the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has recommended, and we currently remain within the 8% of countries which have ignored their advice.
THE SOUTHERN TIP
The bottom of the South Island is home to the smallest population of Hector’s Dolphins, possibly in the low hundreds. However, fishing is a popular industry in Southern towns, and dolphins have certainly been caught in fishing nets in these areas. The Northern and Southern tips of the South Island have had some expansions to restrictions, similar to what will happen around Banks Peninsula. Further restrictions to Trawl-netting (such as smaller net openings and a slower speed) may be enforced in additional areas.
Globally, scientists are saying we need to put aside 30% of our oceans for biodiversity to remain. Only 0.4% of the ocean New Zealand control is protected, according to Livia Esterhazy (WWF NZ). Hector’s Dolphins are far more than a beautiful animal for humans to enjoy. They are an apex predator and without them, the entire ecosystem of New Zealand’s coasts would crumble. If states like California and countries like Finland can fully ban set-nets, what’s New Zealand’s excuse?
WHAT CAN YOU DO RIGHT NOW?
Did you know that there is less than a week left for public submissions to the Ministry for Primary Industries? Please click on this link, follow the instructions, and in less than 3 minutes, YOU can make a difference. If enough like-minded people email their opinions on their Threat Management Plan, (we have a template you can use) the MPI will have to listen and make positive changes.
Fair to say, the Hector’s and Maui dolphins are still in need of urgent help.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has recently asked the public to help them decide how Hector’s dolphins can be further protected from fishing nets around the South Island. They’ve outlined 4 options, and in this blog we will explain why option 4 is the best for saving lives, whilst also asking for additional measures to be added.
Anyone, including you, can submit which option they support and why. It is due by 6 December 2021 and can be submitted via email dolphinTMP@mpi.govt.nz or by this survey.
If you want more information on the four options, you can read the Ministry for Primary Industries 50 page report, or watch this video (starts at 5.15) but we’ve summarised it below.
We’ve been advocating for additional protection for the dolphins for some time. Some new fishing restrictions were brought in last year, but they were far from perfect. You can read more about our take on the 2020 protections here.
In particular, we were very concerned that the plan opened up a ‘death zone’ off Akaroa Harbour. As of now, fishers can use nets outside of Akaroa Harbour. And is some months inside the harbour too.
The Options from Ministry for Primary Industries
Do nothing. The Ministry themselves accept this is not an option.
A plan to ‘work together’. Fishers will try to stop catching dolphins, and when they do, they must report it. This involves the use of monitoring cameras on fishers’ boats. If they keep catching dolphins, the ministry will give advice and maybe suggest some extra preventative measures. The issue here is that there are no enforced obligations to change fishing habits. It might take years for real change to take place. In the meantime, dolphins will continue to die. It’s like choosing not to install fire alarms in your first home. Then, only after it burns down, do you decide it’s a good time to take some preventative measures. It’s too little, too late.
Will look at making some changes to trawl fishing in certain areas of the South Island. Namely, reducing the speed of boats with nets attached (to 4kph), and making the net opening smaller (1M height). These measures, as admitted by the report itself, may not even make a difference. The success of these supposed ‘preventive’ measures are all based on seven anecdotes from fishers. This is an extremely small sample of evidence, which also has no scientific backing. We’d rather not put our faith in a maybe.
Not only this, but option 3 keeps the death zone right outside of Akaroa harbour open. Look at the maps below. The yellow areas on the left map show the current areas where trawl fishing is banned. The map on the right shows orange areas where extra restrictions will be imposed, but the gap between the orange creates another death zone. Given what we’ve said about the doubt we have of these restrictions, this option has few merits overall.
Increases the areas which ban set nets, as seen in the figure below. This means larger areas where dolphins are safe from set-nets, which can make an immediate difference to the number of dolphins caught. The extended areas can be seen in the dark blue areas highlighted in the map below. This is good news and one which Black Cat Cruises and the Ministry for Primary Industries support. While it’s the best option of the four, it is still lacking. For a start, it makes no changes to trawl-net fishing, which is just as dangerous. Trawl-fishers will continue operating right outside of Akaroa harbour.
What we’re going to ask for on top of Option 4
All four options are written on the basis that a certain amount of ‘by catch’ is acceptable to New Zealanders. We don’t think that’s right. The plan calls for a goal to catch/kill around 33 dolphins a year on the East Coast of the South Island each year. It’s claimed that’s a sustainable goal and it will maintain the population of dolphins to 80% of historic levels. We want to stop the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of dolphins, and in doing so make the population soar back to 100% of historic levels.
If we’re serious about making a real positive impact on the dolphins, there should have been an additional option….
The International Union for conservation of nature (ICUN) made a clear recommendation years ago. They called for consistent protection throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep; a ban to set and trawl net fishing in these areas. The map below shows what they have in mind, with red being areas that can be net-fished commercially, and green being areas where net fishing is banned.
At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021, the Director General said that the vast majority of IUCN Resolutions have been acted on. Only 8% of the Resolutions are being ignored by the relevant countries. Unfortunately, New Zealand is part of this group of 8%. This is an embarrassment.
We will ask for the ICUN’s option to be added to the proposed list, as the other options do not make enough of a difference. Also, the plan is completely silent on the ability to be able to set nets in the upper parts of Akaroa and Lyttelton harbours, Pigeon Bay and Port Levy from April to September which we know are a clear threat to dolphins. That is very disappointing, and we will ask for these areas to be specifically banned to all net-fishing.
Whilst we appreciate the ability to engage further on dolphin protection, the options (with the exception of closing the death zone) won’t have much impact on dolphin protection.
We have chosen to focus this blog post primarily on the areas surrounding Banks Peninsula. This is because it’s the area directly relevant to Black Cat Cruises, and where we have the most experience with the current issues of ‘bycatching’. Continue to follow our social media for a blog post in the future which addresses bycatching nation-wide.
We need a future-focused conservation option. We need more significant protection. We need the population of Hector’s Dolphins to soar above the endangered level. We need the option to implement full protection out to 100m in depth (where Hector’s Dolphins live).
What would we like you to do now?
If you’d like to consult on the plan, please go ahead. Add your voice to the conversation. Black Cat Cruises will be supporting option 4, and asking for additional protection in line with the IUCN option – limiting nets throughout NZ waters less than 100 m deep.
We understand that fishers need to catch fish. However, putting bans in these small areas, which are already so close to the shore, will keep our beautiful native dolphin species alive.