Welcome to Banks Peninsula, home of The Hector’s dolphins and eco-tourism pioneers Black Cat Cruises

Category Archives: Black Cat News

This Must Be Underwater Love

Black Cat Cruises is the only company in the world that I have taken a day off as holiday to spend….at work!

Well I mean when your company is an eco-toursim operator that offers world class dolphin cruise’s and swimming in the wild with the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin’s set in an extinct volcainc crater…wouldn’t you?

I’ve told friends and colleagues this before much to their amusement and understanding…and it seems it’s not just me at Black Cat that does this.

Last week our dolphin swim skipper Julian arrived at work extra early to join our early morning Swimming WIth Dolphins trip as a guest.

He bought along his GoPro to snap some pictures as he knows first hand how many awesome pictures our photographers and guests can get when out on the water with us.

Julian managed to snap a lot of his pictures underwater and they are pretty darn good…so good we thought we’d give you a little sneak peak at them…..we hope you enjoy them and if you do leave Julian a little comment below 🙂

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The Hector’s dolphins are one of the most playful and enquisitive oceanic species of dolphin

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Here’s looking at you…

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Bathing in sunlight just below the surface as a swimmer looks on from the right hand corner.

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Typically Hector’s swim in pods of between 2 – 12 however can come together to group in 100 at any one time

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The have distinct white bellies (similar to that of an orca)….

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and black rounded dorsal fins that remind us of a Mickey Mouse ear. Can you spot the second dolphin in this image?

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Julian making the most of his day before heading to work…on the boat in the background 🙂

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You can see just how close a Hector’s Dolphin can swim up to you in this picture as it cruises past a swimmer who is treading water. As one of New Zealand’s first ever eco-tourism operators and a certified SMART and DOC approved operator we ensure that our staff educate our guests on how to behave when encountering the dolphins in the wild. We do not track, feed, chase and touch them. We allow them to come to us on their terms and in their time. Its part of the magic of being allowed into their world and experiencing something extremeley special and unique.

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Dolphins, just like us humans, need air to breathe, The biggest threat to their species population is getting caught in fishing nets. We donate a portion from every dolphin swim and nature cruise towards the education and research of Hector’s dolphins to help save them from extinction.

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The image below is possibly one of our favourite shots. Taken just below the surface of the ocean you can see by the bend in the Hector’s dolphins tail that it’s about to take a dive…

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Eruptive Akaroa – Our Volcanic past

Banks Peninsula Volcanoes – Hot or Not?

To many in the area, Banks Peninsula is a beautiful place to relax, soak up a bit of local culture, or spend the day exploring and adventuring around the bays. But there’s more to this iconic part of the country than meets the eye.Akaroa hills

For those into geology, geography, or just good ol’ volcanic eruptions, Banks Peninsula’s Lyttelton Harbour proves to be a point of interest.

Between six and eleven million years ago, volcanic activity formed two volcanic cones that overlapped. After being subject to erosion and rising sea levels, which flooded the valleys of these cones, the harbours of Akaroa and Lyttelton were created. These two harbours are fairly new in the grand scheme of things – having only come to life about 7000 years ago.

The excitement of having a couple of volcanoes in our backyard has often led to many bouts of speculation. With the relative youth of these landmarks and the erratic nature of our fault lines below, there have been many“predictions” about what the future of the peninsula has in store for us. And with the worries surrounding the recent earthquakes in the area, there have been no shortage of such rumours in recent years.

Christchurch’s bout of seismic activity led many to believe that they could have something to do with the volcanoes we have sitting in our backyard. Some had concern

scenery nook akaroa

s that liquefaction was of volcanic origins, while others theorised that the seismic activity was concentrated around the old Lyttelton volcano. There were even several rumours that claimed the water in the harbour was climbing in temperature, reaching points that were too hot to touch anymore.

Although speculation about the status of Canterbury’s volcanic peninsula is nothing new, scientists were pretty quick to settle rumours about the volcanoes once and for all when it came to the quakes.

Scientists pointed out that the volcano has been extinct for many, many years. There are no written records of it erupting, and although it can be difficult to tell the difference between a dormant and an active volcano, the fact that it no longer has a magma supply is a pretty good indicator that it’s going to stay quiet for a while. The closest source of magma is in the North Island, and the likelihood of that managing to travel down south is very slim. In addition to that, the liquefaction and shifting water found during the quakes have been seen in many earthquakes completely unrelated to volcanic activity. And as for the hot springs cropping up around the harbour? Those were just plain, unfounded rumours.

up close in cathedral cave

Lyttelton’s volcanic past does play a huge part in the make up of the place though – erosion over time has revealed beautiful volcanic rock faces, some of which were once climbing hotspots in the area. With these and other landmarks as the only reminders of Lyttelton’s volcanic past, the residents of Banks Peninsula can be rest assured that their cherished bays will stay safe from volcanic harm.

Our Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise is a wonderful way to cruise through the extinct volcanic crater of Akaroa Harbour. Your skipper provides full commentry on the native wildlife, fascinating history and volcanic origins of the area.

anks Peninsula Tourism Operator celebrates 30 years in Business

It’s been a fantastic start to the new summer season for New Zealand eco-tourism operator Black Cat Cruises as they celebrate 30 years in business.

Labour weekend 1985 Ron Bingham and his wife Durelle officially started Black Cat Cruises with a single boat called the Charmaine over in Akaroa. Skip forward to today and they have grown to become the largest tourism operator on the peninsula operating 7 vessels across both Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbour.

This labour weekend if your birthday falls on Monday October 26th (of any year) you can cruise with them for free! 

‘’It’s been a great start to season’’ Paul Milligan, Chief Executive of Black Cat Cruises said.

‘’Over the last couple of weeks we have celebrated 175 years of Akaroa at the bi-annual French Festival, hosted our 30th birthday party with the family and friends of Black Cat, welcomed the first of this season’s cruise ships and to top it off received a new accreditation from DOC as the Peninsula’s first (and the country’s second) ‘SMART’ operator.’’  Milligan said

The 30th birthday party was hosted locally at Mt Vernon lodge in Akaroa where 100 guests including the Bingham family and Real Journey board members, who purchased a 50% share in the business back in 2007, were entertained by the 17 piece Garden City Big Band.

real journeys akaroa birthday partyThe binghams 30th party in akaroa

Garden City Big band in Akaroa

‘’You usually receive gifts on your birthday however as an eco-tourism operator we thought it only appropriate to give back something on our birthday, so we gifted Professor’s Steve Dawson and Liz Slooten from the University of Otago with a brand new boat engine. ‘’ Milligan said

Professor Steve Dawson and Professor Liz Slooten, both of the NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust, were delighted to receive the keys to a brand new Suzuki 90 hp outboard for their research boat. “The new engine is a perfect match for our research boat and will be a tremendous asset to our work. The old engine was 11 years old, so it was high time for an upgrade. It is terrific to see a nature tourism company giving something back – we really appreciate Black Cat’s commitment to the dolphins that support their business” Prof Dawson said.’’

Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson in Akaroa

Over the last 30 years the company has become the leading tourism provider on Banks Peninsula. Re-cognised as New Zealand’s first ever eco-tourism operator they have won numerous accolades and awards including the New Zealand Supreme Tourism Award, Qualmark Enviro-Gold award, the Green Globe award, listed as one of the top 10 marine mammal experiences in the world by Lonely Planet, voted the Number 1 wildlife experience in New Zealand, made it into Trip Advisors Hall of Fame and earned the Moss certification (Maritime Operator Safety System) along with the newly appointed ‘SMART’ operator certificate from DOC.

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‘’Ron and his family had a passion for the peninsula and its marine inhabitants. To this day a portion of all of Black Cat’s ticket sales goes towards the education and conservation of Hector’s dolphins; the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin. We felt it was the right time to throw a party with Black Cat’s friends and family from across our region to celebrate success and look forward to a prosperous and sustainable future.’’ Milligan said

For the month of October you can also purchase an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise ticket for just $30 when a full price ticket is purchased. Use 30birthday as an online code or call and book on 0800 436 574.

Akaroa business a SMART operator

We are over the moon to be awarded the SMART operator certificate from the Department of Conservation!

Akaroa business Black Cat Cruises have become the first business in Banks Peninsula, and the second in the country, to sign up to the SMART Operator programme in an initiative developed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) to increase the protection of marine mammals.

 

SMART Operators, an acronym for “Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism”, lead by example by committing to activities that have minimal disturbance on whales, dolphins and seals. Commercial operators are able to achieve this by undertaking staff training around the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations, guarantee responsible advertising and help educate the public about best practice boating around marine mammals.

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DOC Ranger Derek Cox was pleased to have Black Cat Cruises as the first SMART Operator in Banks Peninsula. “Black Cat Cruises approached DOC earlier in the year requesting that we hosted the SMART training course in Akaroa, and they have now become the first SMART Operator – this really demonstrates to us that they are the right operators to be leaders in this community”.

 

“As more people want to have that special encounter with marine mammals, they are putting increasing pressure on them, potentially to the detriment of the very thing they love. DOC is looking for new ways of reducing this pressure and Black Cat Cruises will be able to assist with that”.

 

Black Cat Cruises Chief Executive Paul Milligan thought becoming a SMART Operator was a “no brainer”.  “We have been operating on Akaroa Harbour for 30 years now and as the largest operator on the harbour, it’s important for us to work with DOC to ensure that we minimise any impacts on our environment and the Marine Mammals we interact with, such as the endangered Hector’s Dolphin.”

 

“The SMART Operator initiative reassures DOC that we are operating responsibly and gives our customers the confidence that we take what we do seriously and strive to be a leader in the eco-tourism space.”

Hector's dolphin akaroa harbour

 

DOC intends the SMART Operator programme to be extended around the country in the future.

BLACK CAT SPONSOR INTERNATIONAL MARINE MAMMAL CONFERENCE

Our work and efforts to sustain and preserve New Zealand’s delicate marine wildlife extends beyond both Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula. As one of New Zealand’s leading eco-tourism operators we are extremely proud to sponsor the 20th International Biennial Marine Mammal Conference, being held in Dunedin this year.

We hereby extend to you, by way of our blog, an invitation to come along to this major international conference. Knowledge is power and what better way to be inspired and educated than by the world’s leading professionals. Over the next three weeks the Black Cat blog will be publishing guest blog posts from the conference so watch this space.

Liz Slooten & a Hector’s dolphin

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Dr Liz Slooten, Chair of the Conference Organising Committee, Otago University has kindly written us an overview of what’s in store and how you can get involved…..

Organising an international conference for more than 1200 Marine Mammal scientists is an intimidating thing. But, what an opportunity to show off our marvelous dolphins, whales, seals and sealions!

The conference theme is Marine Mammal Conservation: Science making a difference.

The conference is five days long, from 9-13 December. It starts with a Plenary Day, with everyone together in the Dunedin Town Hall (one of the few places in Dunedin that will hold 1200 people).

Here, nine international experts will give talks about science-based solutions to global marine mammal conservation problems. The speakers will be emphasising local examples, including Hector’s dolphins,

The worlds most endangered dolphin

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New Zealand sealions and Australian sealions. To help us do a better job of getting science translated into conservation action, we have ex-Minister of Fisheries Pete Hodgson to give us the low-down on the interactions between scientists and politicians.

For the next four days, there will be four conference talks on at any one time, with the audience split over four large lecture theatres on Otago University’s Campus. About 1200 people will be giving and attending talks on almost every aspect of marine mammal science, from almost every corner of the globe.

There will also be two poster evenings, on Tuesday and Thursday night. We have 400 posters in total, with half displayed on the Tuesday and half on Thurday night. This also provides an excellent opportunity for wine and cheese, a bit of mingling, talking and brainstorming about all sorts of issues. This sort of social event is where the real business of the conference is conducted.

”You are warmly invited to come to the conference.”

It is open to the public. All you have to do is come to the Registration Desk in the Link Building at Otago University and sign up. The Link Building is on the corner of Cumberland and Albany Streets.

See: www.marinemammalscience.org For more information about the conference (including registration fees)

THE BREEZE 63

The weather may feel a bit wintery but we’ve taken the last few months to get ourselves ready for the upcoming season. After all, spring is just around the corner. Below are announcements of new projects coming this season and some of the highlights of the winter. Thanks for reading.

Cheers Paul


 

Major Akaroa renovations

Over the winter we have completely stripped and upgraded our two Akaroa shops. There is a whole new feel and look to both the ticketing and the retail presence. We’d love to hear your feedback next time you are in Akaroa. Amongst other things you will see a new layout, new colours, big TV screens, new retail displays and some new signage.

Free dolphins to customers

10,000 fridge magnets are to be given away this season! We have lots of these cute little guys to give away to our customers on Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises. If you can’t wait to see them just reply to this email and we will give the first 50 customers a free one whether you are planning to cruise with us or not.


 

Jetpack flyer

Check out this amazing photo taken in Akaroa recently. Developed in the USA this jet pack involves strapping a giant water hose onto your back and flying around the harbour. Not for the faint hearted!


 

Photo sharing competition

We’ve got a great new promotion going which is aimed at getting our customers to share their top pictures on our website. Every month the photo with the most votes will win the money back they paid for their cruise. Check out the first months pictures here.


 

Top t shirts

Summer is not far away! And we have got some great t-shirt designs lined up for our new shops this year. These t-shirts were voted best by our Facebook fans. They will be selling for about $30. Grab yourself a great look this summer.

 


 

Massive cruise giveaway

We have a big giveaway planned for The Press for September 28 to October 8. We are giving away 20 family passes on both Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruises and Quail Island Adventures. The only catch is you have to be a Press subscriber!


 

Brochures relaunched

Keep an eye out for our brand new brochures. Yeah we know its not that exciting but it’s been about 6 years since we had a complete change of brochure and we know many people use them to decide what to do on holiday.


 

Dolphin protection

A review of the Hector’s Dolphin Threat Management Plan is underway a year earlier than planned. Thanks to Minister David Carter for changing this and we are hoping for more set net bans around Banks Peninsula as we move forward.


 

Mobile website

We’ve gone mobile! Now our website is easily accessed by any smartphone and bookings can also be made on smartphones with our new reservation system.


 

Lyttelton to Akaroa cruise

Father’s Day is set to be a cracker at Black Cat with a special Lyttelton to Akaroa cruise. We only do one of these each year where we cruise around the Peninsula and coach people back to Lyttelton at the end of the day.


 

Xmas time

If you want a unique and special venue for your end of year function then we have a great idea. Charter the Canterbury Cat on Lyttelton Harbour.

Dinner cruise functions are $75 per person including 3 hour cruise and 2 course meal and we will throw in a free drink if you talk to Ali in the next week.

Hurry because some of the best dates are already gone. Email Alison@blackcat.co.nz for more details.


 

Great Feedback

“Best dolphin watch trip in New Zealand”
If you are going to do a dolphin watching trip in New Zealand then this is the one to do. I have done different ones over the South Island including one other Hector’s dolphin watch trip (Akaroa is not the only place to find them at a 98% encounter rate). This trip stands out as the wildlife is exceptional but the history of the area; volcanic activity etc. makes the scenery and history much more interesting. The skipper and mate will cater for everyone’s needs and the boat is very modern and perfectly designed for the cruise. The dolphin guarantee makes it more worthwhile so will definitely be back.

THE BREEZE 62

We are starting to head into our traditional off season but we’ll be out on the harbours every day. Below are some highlights from the season just completed including some of our best photos, a unique marriage proposal and our on going efforts to protect Hector’s dolphins. Thanks for reading.

Cheers Paul


 

Photo of the season

Every day we have cameras out on our swim boats capturing a range of amazing photos and here is a great shot which may very well be the best photo of the season. We took this recently on a late autumn evening, glassy water, soft light and a perfect compilation of swimmer and dolphin….awesome!


 

Will you?

Sisi He from Auckland got a little more than she bargained for on a Swimming with the Dolphins trip with Black Cat Cruises in Akaroa this week. He, from the inbound travel agency General Travel, said yes to a wedding proposal from her partner while still in her wetsuit having just completed a memorable swim with the Hector’s dolphins. It was a special moment for the couple and the crew and a first for Black Cat Cruises.


 

Easter Egg Hunt

2000 Easter eggs were snapped up by over 600 passengers on Quail Island over Easter Weekend. Hunters were given a map and rough directions and the hunt was on. Next Easter we plan on offering even more trips and more options because this year was a sell-out. Some of the eggs not claimed were donated to local children’s home.


 

Cruise Ships will be back next season

The worlds cruise liners have once again decided Akaroa will be their port of call for Canterbury in the 2012/13 season. This was after an announcement that Lyttelton’s cruise ship berth won’t be fixed in time. Cruise ship passenger research from last season rated Akaroa as either the top or second most favourite port call in New Zealand which is high praise. Across the next 12 months we are expecting around 90 cruise ships to call into Akaroa.


 

MD lobbies DOC for protection

Black Cat Cruises Managing Director, Paul Bingham met with Conservation Minister, Kate Wilkinson, and DOC Director General, Al Morrison to ask for more protection for Hector’s dolphins around Banks Peninsula. I think National could gain an easy win by extending the set net bans in the sanctuary without impacting on any commercial fishermen. The government continues to take political heat on the Maui dolphin’s situation in the North Island we want to ensure that our Hector’s are not forgotten.


 

Customers rate us!

Every year we ask our customers to rate our performance across a number of areas and below are the results from this year. As well as this research we use direct feedback and from on-line review sites to evaluate where we can improve.

THE BREEZE 60

Let me be one of the first to wish you a merry Christmas! We are gearing up for our busy season in what will truly go down as a year never to be forgotten. I’d like to thank you for supporting Black Cat over 2011. There has been a lot of TV coverage for Akaroa recently with whales, French rugby supporters, a world famous conservationist and an Aussie weather man all visiting our town. Along with the cruise ships it’s sure to create lots of buzz for our summer season. We are looking forward in a positive manner and proceeding with a staff head count at only marginally behind a normal year. More info here in this link.  We hope to see you out on the water this summer.

Cheers Paul


 

Whales Honeymoon in Akaroa

It was great to see two rare Southern Right whales hang out in Akaroa Harbour for a week. Whale sightings have become more common for us recently but these ones parked up for a 7 days on an apparent honeymoon. Our team thought the male was interested in mating and the female not so much. Her behaviour included tail slapping, and swimming upside down. This behaviour is like saying ‘no thanks’. The male response was lots of breaching (jumping out of the water) and hanging about. Does all this sound familiar?! The whales attracted national media interest and here is TV3’s news report.


 

Cruise ship update

Akaroa has already hosted 20 cruise ship visits out of 80 visits this season including two days where two ships visited on the same day. Customers have commented on how lovely the little township is and our feedback is extremely positive. The town has also done a great job of welcoming visitors and every day there are plenty of operators available to provide things to do. Black Cat has been busy on the water on dolphin watching and swimming cruises and has provided transport to and from the ships some days too.


 

The Small 5

You may have heard of the big 5 in Africa. Well New Zealand has its own version called the Small 5! They are small and endangered species which include Hector’s dolphins, Yellow eye penguins, Kiwi, Kea and Tuatara. Recently Mark Cawardine was in Akaroa as part of an effort to highlight the small 5. Mark is world famous conservationist, a TV and radio presenter and a wildlife photographer. He co-presented the BBC series Last Chance to See, with Stephen Fry. Here is a great picture Mark took while out on one of our cruises and read his positive feedback on his trip to Akaroa at the bottom of this article.


 

The Today Show in Akaroa

Question: what do you do when one of the biggest storms of the year hits the South Island just as you start a live TV broadcast on Australia’s biggest TV network?

Answer: call in the A Team at Black Cat. Last month the popular weather presenter Steve Jacobs from the Today Show was in Akaroa presenting live back to Australia’s channel 9. Here is an image of Steve presenting his weather from Akaroa wharf in one of our dry suits in a good old fashioned Southerly gale.

Tourism NZ said ‘In the toughest of weather conditions your team came to our rescue and I’m pleased to say the segments were fantastic.  Entertaining, engaging and best of all full of Black Cat cruise comments. It was very humbling how the people of Akaroa helped us out on a crazy, last-minute mission.


 

French is the flavour of the month

Vive la France. We’ve been making an increased effort recently to highlight the unique French flavour of Akaroa. Here’s our team uniform for French fest and also we are continuing with this there on every day we have a cruise ship in.


 

World Cup wrap up

The French rugby team certainly turned up for the final in what everyone thought would be a one-sided affair. Prior to the big game we welcomed a number of fans to Akaroa and with that came national media coverage. Here is just one TV piece on the divided loyalty from Akaroa fans.


 

Quail Hunt

The Great Quail Island treasure hunt is on. All you need to do is pick up a treasure map on the ferry on the way over, find the ‘x’ markers and solve a secret word. All correct entries win a $5 prize for the kids with 2 for 1 coffee for the hard working adults at coffee culture.

Departs daily at 10.20am and also 12.20pm during school holidays.

Phone 03 328 9078 for more details.


 

Blogging favourites

Check out this great blog on Akaroa

http://cruisethepacific.blogspot.com/2011/06/akaroa-little-bit-of-france-in-south.html


 

Great Feedback.

Thanks so much for everything you did for me during my stay in Akaroa. It was all much appreciated. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and all your staff, and spending time out on the boats with the dolphins. And, as I said this afternoon, I’m very impressed with your operation. I’ve been on many whale and dolphin watching trips in over 65 different countries – and yours are outstanding. With many thanks, once again, and all good wishes.
Mark Carwardine. www.markcarwardine.com

We went to Quail Island with 40 winners from the Natural Confectionery Company competition. The Black Cat Captain and staff were really friendly, and the trip over was fun. Once we got to the island, we split into two groups, those that wanted to while away the time playing games, swimming and picnic-ing at Swimmers’ Beach and those that wanted an Island walk. The walk around the island was really interesting as the island is steeped in fascinating history. Once back at Swimmers’ Beach we played games and swam and ate – the kids loved the tree swing there too. Everyone was amazed at how beautiful the place was, and Swimmers’ Beach, with its white sand and pretty moored boats, gently sloping grass with loads of shade and amazing views of Lyttelton, is the perfect place to spend a whole day. Everyone I spoke to said they were going back to tell family and friends how fantastic it was. Personally, I thought the place was pure magic. 
Kind regards Rachel

THE BREEZE 57

The shortest day is nearly upon us and whilst many are hoping it’s about to snow the fine weather has been great for cruising. We’ve had some special sightings of whales recently and hosted some VIPs including the former mayor of San Francisco and a NZ sports legend. We’re also looking forward to next summer already with many cruise ships confirming Akaroa as their Canterbury stop and also plans for a huge French Fest. In the meantime thanks for your continued support. We are operating right through the winter season every day.

Cheers Paul

CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE UPDATE

One of the many damaged buildings after the devastating Christchurch earthquake

We extend our thoughts and condolences to everyone affected by the Christchurch earthquake on Feb 22nd.

For the benefit of our passengers and those looking to get away from the city, we want to let you know that everything is fully operational in Akaroa. Businesses and homes were not affected by the earthquake.

Akaroa Cruises and Dolphin Swimming:
Our cruises and dolphin swims are still going ahead as usual. If you are looking for accommodation, Akaroa currently has plenty of availability.

Lyttelton Wildlife Cruise Cancelled:
We regret The Christchurch Wildlife Cruise in Lyttelton has been cancelled for at least 6 months and possibly up to 1 year.

Canterbury Cat in Lyttelton:
We be operating the Canterbury Cat boat in Lyttelton for groups only and charters. Groups in excess of 20+ pax.

Diamond Harbour Ferry Operating:
Ferry services to Diamond Harbour are now back operating, departures from Lyttelton are every 10 minutes to the hour and from Diamond Harbour to Lyttelton on the hour. These ferry services are free until further notice.

Quail Island Ferry:
Quail Island Ferries commence again from the 14th of March.