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

Category Archives: Wildlife Spotting

Kids Cruise Free in Akaroa

akaroa dolphins

Kids cruise free in Akaroa these April school holidays with us at Black Cat Cruises*.

We are setting sail every day, twice and day and you and the whole whanau are invited!

Join us in Akaroa for our multi-award winning Akaroa Nature Cruise. Cruise through a majestic extinct volcanic crater on board our large double decker catamaran.

As we cruise through this geological wonderland we’ll go in search of native wildlife such as the worlds rarest and smallest dolphin, the Hector’s dolphin, along with New Zealand Fur Seals, Little Blue Penguins, and many types of coastal birds. With unimpeded 360 degree viewing platform, a large inside cabin complete with free tea and coffee for mum and dad and coloring activities for kids, this is a wonderful way to spend a few hours of your holiday.

Each cruise lasts two hours, and we even offer a Hector’s dolphin guarantee. If you don’t see a dolphin you can cruise again for free!

Simply book directly with us online.

When booking use code FREEKIDS to receive your discount

*1 free child per full paying adult

april school holiday activity


April School Holiday Fun – Quail Island’s Big Beautiful Bird Trail

april school holiday activity for kids

School holiday fun is here on Quail Island!

If you are looking for a school holiday activity in Christchurch then look no further….
Best of all adults cruise at kids prices throughout the April school holidays ($15 return per person).
So what’s it all about?
Well, six native New Zealand birds are hiding around Quail Island.
These Big Beautiful Birds have been painted in watercolour by a local Lyttelton artist. Each piece of art has been blown up and printed on very large boards, so they look amazing and will be hard to miss. You will also be given a map to help you locate all of the birds. Each bird is accompanied by some facts to help teach our younger generation about our native wildlife.
So we invite you to come and explore Quail island and find them all, whilst learning about each bird.
Complete our fun fact sheet and we’ll reward you with surprise treats on your boat ride back to Lyttelton.
A boat ride, fresh air, education, exercise, nature and fun all rolled into one!
The April school holiday starts on Saturday April 17th and goes through to Sunday May 2nd, 2021
Boat departs twice daily from B Jetty in Lyttleton harbour.
10.15am and 12.15pm
12.30pm and 3.30pm
Online booking is recommended which you can do right here

Mena The Penguin Dog

penguin dog lyttleton

Penguins in Christchurch?

Yep, we have penguins in Christchurch peeps.

Whilst you are probably aware that we have an abundance of wildlife around Banks Peninsula…did you know White-Flippered Little Blue penguins inhabit Otamahua / Quail Island….

A sub-species of the Little Blue penguin, the White-Flippered Little Blues are only found around Canterbury. How special is that!

A Penguin Dog?

That’s right a penguin dog! Well that is what we have lovingly named her. And just what is a penguin dog, you ask?

Well let us explain…but first we’ll fill you in on why we came to meet her.

The White-Flippered Little Blue penguins are ‘acutely-threatened’ and as such Black Cat Cruises sponsored Mena The Penguin Dog to make a visit over to Quail Island to locate and record the penguins.

penguin dog lyttleton
Mena and her handler waiting to catch the ferry to Quail Island

Meet Mena…

Mena is a trained penguin detection dog! Mena was accompanied by her handler Alistair Judkins of the Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute.

They arrived in Lyttelton harbour and took the 10 minute boat ride over on the Quail Island ferry to start their detective work.

quail island
On the look out for penguins on Quail Island

She visited Quail Island for two days on the 23rd and the 24th of October.

Mena covered lots of ground in order to try and locate the penguins’ nests.

Once a nest was located Mena would also locate the route the penguins would take from the sea to their nests.

quail island penguin nest
Bingo! One of the penguin nests Mena located

Mena managed to locate 6 active nests and was able to find the routes that the penguins traveled from sea.

This now means that they can keep an eye out for the penguins and help to assist their progression.

penguin nest
Mena doing her job well!

Far From Where We Need To Be…

The finding of six nests was an improvement on 2017 with 2 more nests then last years result when only 4 were found.

Whilst its a small improvement we are still well below the peak of 41 nests just in 2007.

Do Not Disturb

It is imperative that if you visit Quail Island and notice or discover a penguin nest..or even a penguin itself that you respect their space and do not come into contact with them or their home.

Enjoy the natural interaction of simply seeing a rare species in it’s natural habitat. Remember our latest post of the #tiakipromise? Lets help to protect the environment we all live in.

little blue penguins
A pair of White-flippered little blue penguins

A Rare Species…

 IUCN (The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) and Birdlife International classified White-flippered penguin as “Endangered”, and D.O.C. (Department of Conservation, New Zealand) as “Acutely-Threatened”. There are only approximately 4,000 pairs with around 2,200 of those found around Banks Peninsula…the rest on Motunau Island.

We were so pleased to be able to sponsor Mena’s visit and we will continue to make efforts to protect our surroundings and it’s inhabitants.

Find Out More And Visit Quail Island

If you would like to learn more about the White-Flippered penguin click here

If you would like to find our more about Otamahua / Quail Island click here .

Did you know you can now book your ferry tickets online with us…and you can spend the night on the Island in Otamahua hut!

Quail Island Christchurch


Akaroa Activity For Kids

Kids cruise free october 2017

With the October school holidays just around the corner we wanted to let you know that from Saturday September 30th – Sunday October 15th kids can cruise for free with us in Akaroa! We will offer a free space to a child aged between 0 – 15 with every full paying adult

Akaroa Wildlife

Our multi-award winning Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise will take you and your family out on the water for two magical hours. We’ll go out in search of Hector’s dolphins, one of the worlds rarest and smallest dolphins and only found in NZ….along with fur seals, penguins and an array of coastal birds. We even offer a dolphin guarentee so if you don’t get to see the Hector’s dolphin you can all come again another day for free!

Akaroa History

Your experienced skipper will also tell you fascinating stories of Akaroa’s French and Maori history as you cruise along in your luxury catamaran….and we can’t promise anything but you may hear the odd dad joke thrown in along the way! Read more about Akaroa here.

Hector’s Dolphins

We donate a portion of all ticket sales back to the education and research of the endemic and endangered Hector’s dolphin.To find out more about the Hector’s dolphins have a look at our web page dedicated to this magnificent marine mammal. Click here

Family First

Did you know that all year round we offer free cruising for children under 5? That’s right. If you have little ones under 5 years old they can come on board for our Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise for free, all year on all departures. We also offer a family pass special. To find out more check out our specials page here.


We will be cruising every day in the school holidays at 11am and 1.30pm. To book simply call the Akaroa reservations team on 0800 436 574


As the first day of winter arrives today we look forward to the crisp cool season full of optimism and enthusiasm….

Now although our guests mostly join us for a varied wildlife experience on Akaroa Harbour with the highlight of course to encounter the endangered Hector’s dolphins, every now and again we have a rare and surprise visit from a rather larger marine mammal. In the last few weeks we have had a couple of sightings of Humpback whales….yes big, beautiful Humpback whales, right here on our door step (well the door step to the harbour!)

The good news is that we are now cruising twice a day at 11am and 1.30pm, AND we are now swimming all year round so for the first time in five years we will be swimming right through winter again!

Here’s a little update of what we’ve experienced….


A large humpback whale was spotted by passengers and tourists aboard Black Cat Cruises’ Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise at about 1pm.

“This was the first sighting we have had of a humpback whale this year,” said Black Cat Cruises skipper Chris Jenkins.

Jenkins was skippering the Swimming with Dolphins cruise when the Black Cat skipper running the Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise radioed in the sighting of a ‘rather large marine mammal’ outside the Akaroa headlands. The swimmers jumped back on board and Chris guided the vessel to the location so guests could watch the large humpback whale from a safe distance.

“For the last few years, we haven’t run our dolphin swim experience in the cooler months so we would often miss humpback whale sightings,” he said ‘We are so happy to have experienced this rare sighting and look forward to many more as they start to migrate north from Antarctica towards Tonga for winter.”

Black Cat Cruises Marketing Manager Natasha Lombart was aboard the boat and described the encounter as “simply amazing”.

“We watched in awe as this beautiful whale cruised past. We couldn’t predict his age but we could tell from his distinct markings that he was not a juvenile humpback whale,” she said.

“We also had the most dolphins I’ve ever seen on a swim experience in four years. This coupled with the humpback whale and an albatross sighting on a warm autumn day was just the best we could ask for.”


Check out this great little video stuff.co.nz made



They were first spotted by our crew and passengers aboard the Black Cat 1 mile (roughly) off scenery nook, whilst out on their Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise.

To their delight two humpback whales were spotted this time, believed to be mother and her calf but this could not be confirmed. ‘We saw them doing side rolls, deep dives and breaching” said crew member Daniel, ‘We viewed them for roughly 15-20 mins on the Black Pearl towards the end of our swim. so roughly 1:30 pm, at this point there were heading north towards Damons bay”

Later that day on our second Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise of the day the Black Cat and it’s passengers confirmed they once again saw the Humpback whales. They believe it would have been the same two whales however this time they were accompanied by multiple dolphins!

This sighting took place up towards Flea Bay and they were heading north and away from the coast.


Humpback whales are frequent visitors to New Zealand’s coastal waters. They migrate between summer feeding grounds in Antarctica and winter breeding grounds in tropical waters.

The Oceania population of humpback whales has been classified as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature since 2008.

Humpback whales have a small dorsal fin with a distinctive hump at the front, and knobbly protuberances on the head, tip of the lower jaw and leading edge of extremely long flippers. Their tail flukes are broad and have a unique black-and-white pattern, which allow individuals to be identified. They have a variable colour, but are generally black with white on the underside and on the flippers.

Newborn humpback whales are between four and five metres in length, while adults range between 11.5 to 15 metres, according to the Department of Conservation.

The Akaroa Harbour Swim with Dolphins experience, hosted by Black Cat Cruises, was recently voted the number one wildlife activity in New Zealand by Experience Oz + NZ.

Highlights include sightings of the extremely rare and endangered Hector’s Dolphin, as well as penguins and other sea birds. Cruises depart every day, weather permitting.

The Hector’s Dolphin is grey with distinctive black and white markings and a round dorsal fin. It is native to New Zealand waters.

Practice Safety On The Water

Did you know that DOC recommend a viewing distance of at least 50m when observing whales in the ocean…and that if there is a calf present with its mother this distance increases to 200m

DOC Have some fantastic guidelines for safe practice on the water. We encourage you to please familiarise yourself with them. You can find these here https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/marine-mammals/sharing-our-coasts-with-marine-mammals/


Black Cat Cruises was started by a family, the Bingham family to be precise, who loved the harbour and it’s inhabitants so much so that they wanted to share their little slice of Banks Peninsula paradise with those who came to visit Akaroa.

A mecca for native wildlife from the Hector’s dolphins to the little blue penguins, the majestic extinct volcanic harbour lends itself not only a visually captivating experience out on the cool harbour water, but an educational one for all ages.

Back then the Bingham family were pioneers of eco-tourism as they first set about organising and running Akaroa’s first ever daily Akaroa harbour nature cruise, and it’s in that same family spirit that we offer free kids cruising for under 5’s on every single Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise, every single day of the year…BUT WAIT…..during the July School holidays all children when cruising with an adult can cruise for FREE.

Yep the ticket for a child is $0 when they travel with a full paying adult ($75)….time to pack the car and head over the Banks Peninsula hills for a Christchurch winter holiday adventure not to be forgotten.

To view more info visit our page on the Kidsfest website https://www.kidsfest.co.nz/event/kids-cruise-free-in-akaroa-with-black-cat-cruises-2/

Kidsfest is organised by the Christchurch City Coundil and they have a lot of awesome activities for children if you are looking for things to do over the Christchurch school holidays! Coolstuff 2017 scooterWe recommend self driving to Akaroa (the kids scooter may take you the whole two week holiday!) or if you want to make a really relaxing day of it why not jump on the Akaroa French Connection shuttle and let them seamlessly transport you and your wee ones over to Akaroa and back in a day.

They will drop you right at the end of the main wharf in Akaroa where you will find us located in the big blue building!

You can find out more information about their transport to Akaroa here on their website https://www.akaroabus.co.nz/

If you want any pic-sparation (i think we just made up a word) check out our latest shots from our Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise here

*offer is for 1 free child per full paying adult in Akaroa. Child age is 5 -15. Kids Cruise free for under 5’s all year round


New Zealand has over 86 types of breeding seabirds. This has given us the title of ‘Seabird capital of the world’, and a number of these birds can be found in and around Banks Peninsula. We’re celebrating by launching an exclusive special offer for the month of May.

The Akaroa Department of Promotions recently launched their new brochure-‘A Guide to Marine Birds of Akaroa Harbour’ to co-incide with Seaweek.

Whilst Seaweek gives us all an opportunity to celebrate and educate over a nationwide week long promotion this wonderful new Marine Bird brochure will be a fantastic tool for years to come.

The brochure showcases nineteen descriptions and images of different marine birds found in and around Akaroa Harbour. Each image has a little tick box alongside it so you can tick the marine birds off as you go along.

Whilst we see birdlife on every single Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise some are more rare than others…

The nineteen different species are organised in the following categories.

Often seen (Such as the Norther Royal Albatross)

Sometimes Seen (Such as the Southern Giant Northen Petrel)

Rarely Seen (such as the yellow eyed penguin)

Make sure you pick up a copy before heading out on our Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise. We’d love to hear back from you as to how many you spot?
It’s also a great little guide for any bird enthusiasts.
This brochure sits alongside another Seaweek brochure that launched 2 years ago, ‘Why is Akaroa Harbour so Special?’

Copies of both brochures can be picked up from our Akaroa stores on the main wharf or at Beach Road….here’s how to find us https://blackcat.co.nz/akaroa-harbour-nature-cruises/how-to-find-us or visit here http://www.akaroa.com/node/641

Marine Bird Offer

Book your Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise with us today and use the code ‘akaroamarinebirds’ to recieve $10 off your ticket! This discount is valid for both adult and child tickets.

This code will be valid throughout the month of May 2017 and cannot be used in conjunction with another offer.

Hector’s Dolphin Research; Best Summer Day So Far……

World leading marine mammal experts Professors Steve Dawson and Liz Slooten are currently in Akaroa carrying out Hector’s Dolphin research. They have given us an exclusive sneak peak into what daily life is like for them on the peninsula….

”After a summer of unstable weather, the day has dawned calm and sunny, and promised to stay that way. We hit the water soon after seven, and head out of the harbour towards Birdlings Flat, where Banks Peninsula meets the Canterbury plains.

Our aim is to cover the south coast, so we barely slow for the dolphins we see in Akaroa harbour. Once at the heads, we’re “on effort” travelling at a slow planing speed in our 6.6m rigid-hulled inflatable, and stopping for any dolphins we see.

It’s flat calm. Virtually no swell, and perfect sighting conditions. The first group, off Squally Bay, is diffuse – spread over a couple of hundred metres. They’re busy – feeding, but still coming over to the boat occasionally. With them is a large bunch of spotted shags. The dolphins and shags are diving steeply, probably for the same prey. There’s a dark mark on our echsounder showing a dense prey aggregation at 15-20m deep. The dolphins prey mostly on small fish – surprisingly small, in fact most fish taken are only a few cm long.

Identifying Hector’s Dolphins

We are here to photograph dolphins that have individually distinctive natural marks – usually nicks from the dorsal fin. We use these like tags, they tell us who is who, and of course who goes where, with whom. More importantly resightings tell us how often females breed (every 2-3 years), and how long the live (25-30 years). Indeed monitoring change in survival rate is the main way that we keep tabs on whether the poplation is doing okay. These dolphins had a very tough time in the 1970s and 80s, when many hundreds were caught in gillnets and trawls. Thanks to inshore restrictions on these fishing methods, they are doing much better now, but still too many are caught for the population to recover. The population is about a third of its original size.

The next few groups also have shags in attendance, and are busy feeding. There have been only a few marked dolphins so far, but we manage to get their pictures. Dolphin photo-ID is a bit like photographing sport. The dolphins move quickly and erratically, and the dorsal fin is above the surface for about a second. If you haven’t had your coffee, you’ll miss the shot.

Since the dolphins are often found very close inshore, we go into each of the small bays. In one of the bays, we find a shag behaving oddly. Mostly, they fly off when you get close. But this one was preoccupied. It had caught a decent-sized banded wrasse, and spent the next several minutes trying to swallow it. Successfully! Noteably, it didn’t fly off, instead it slowly swam to shore. I doubt it could have flown at all.


The next few dolphin groups are harder to work with. They’re in stealth mode, not really very interested in the boat. When close, they seem to like to surface at bad angles – we need our pictures to be side-on. Our strategy here is to stop, and have a break. Often, they’ll get curious and come over. So far we have pictures of several individuals with rather subtle marks, but this way we get the picture of the best ID of the day. It’s a dolphin we’ve known since 2007, when we noted (from its size) that it was then at least 2 years old. So it’s 12 or 13 years old now – about 40 in human years. We don’t know what caused the large cut in its dorsal fin, but this mark has not changed in a decade.

The number of dolphins we see on these alongshore surveys is very variable. Small changes in distribution, as they follow their food around, mean that some days we can see 200 or so, but the next day, just a few. While Hector’s dolphins have small home ranges for a dolphin, they still move around over tens of kilometres. That’s why we measure population change via measuring survival rate.

We eventually get to Birdlings Flat, at the base of the Peninsula. We turn for home, about 19 nautical miles away (35km). It’s still flat calm. It’s been a great day. Now we go back to sort out the data and get prepped to do it all again.”

Prof Steve Dawson & Prof Liz Slooten

ORCASOME! Wild Orca in beautiful Akaroa

First orca pod spotted in Akaroa Harbour for 2017

Our guests and staff were delighted to spot a pod of 10 orca including two young calves in Akaroa Harbour this time last week.

This was the first reported sighting of orca off the coast of the South Island so far this month.

More than 80 local and international passengers aboard the 1.30pm Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise rushed for their cameras after our skipper Julian Yates sighted the pod near the Akaroa Lighthouse.

“The pod of orca we came across included one alpha male, a second male with a damaged dorsal fin, four females, two juveniles and two calves that were approximately one or 2-years-old,” Yates said.

“The younger orca were curiously approaching and hanging around our cruise boat while the males stayed distant and led the pod into Daemons Bay. It was here that we found the second male that was missing part of his dorsal fin. Dorsal fins provide stability to orca when swimming but it didn’t seem to be affecting him.”

Orca whales are very intelligent animals that are well-organised and follow highly complex social structures within their pods which often consist of large groups of family members that can span several generations.

While there is not a typical orca migration season in New Zealand, Black Cat Cruises usually report a number of sightings each year in Akaroa Harbour with the majority occurring in spring.The first orca of the 2016 season were sighted in Akaroa Harbour by Black Cat Cruises in October.

Our staff can determine the sex of orca by analysing the mammal’s physical characteristics. Males typically grow between seven and eight metres long and weigh up to 5.5 tonnes whereas females are smaller reaching approximately six metres in length and up to 3.6 tonnes in weight. Males also have a distinctive dorsal fin up to 1.8 metres tall. The fin of females is shorter (about 0.9 metres) and more curved.

Our Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise on board photographer Jono described the encounter as “the best orca sighting we’ve ever had” with the viewing lasting about 20 minutes.

“We imagine the orca went into the bay to hunt stingray. On our return trip we saw a second pod that had been spotted by another boat. We weren’t sure of the size of this pod as they were travelling north very quickly. Our passengers also saw the Endangered Hector’s Dolphin on the tour so they got to see the world’s smallest and largest members of the dolphin family.

Multiple Orca Sightings In Akaroa

Black Cat Cruises’ passengers aboard the following 3.40pm Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise saw two pods of orca, along with a second alpha male. The pod was described as being “even more inquisitive and playful, interacting around the boat”.
Our skipper Julian recognised the second alpha male from the earlier orca sighting due to his distinct dorsal fin markings. This pod was returning to Akaroa Harbour.

Viewing Wildlife Safely

Black Cat Cruises was the first eco-tourism operator in Canterbury to receive a Sustainable Marine Mammal Actions in Recreation and Tourism (SMART) certification from the Department of Conservation (DOC) in 2015.

SMART is a voluntary collaboration between commercial boat operators and the DOC for the protection of marine mammals in New Zealand. It aims to promote responsible behaviour around dolphins, whales and seals by boat operators.

To ensure the viewing was safe and unobtrusive, Julian slowed down the catamaran at the first sighting and turned off the engines in Daemons Bay so passengers could view and marvel one of the world’s largest apex predators.

The engines were also turned off when orca approached the back of the boat.

To learn more about responsible actions around marine mammals we urge you to read the following link….


What do we know about Orca?

• Orcas – often referred to as killer whales – are one of well-recognised animals in the world due to their large size and distinct black and white markings.
• Orcas are the largest animal in the dolphin family and one of the only known cetaceans to attack sharks, whales and other large marine animals.
• Having no known predators, orcas are known as an apex or alpha predator, which means it is able to hunt freely without fear of being attacked by another marine animal.
• Orcas are protected in New Zealand waters under the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, administered by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
• DOC is beginning to understand that there are different types of orca throughout the world, and work on defining these types is currently underway. Even within New Zealand it has been proposed that there are three different types, based on observations of different food preferences.
• New Zealand is home to an estimated 150–200 orca which travel long distances throughout the country’s coastal waters.

$50 Seaweek Special Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise This Weekend….

“Toiora te Moana – Toiora te Tangata – Healthy Seas, Healthy People”.

The theme for this year’s Seaweek celebrations

NZAEE Seaweek logo TM

To celebrate we have two fantastic events happening with the first kicking off this Sunday….

The Blue Cruise

For $50 you can join us for a special Seaweek ‘Blue Cruise’ this sunday Feb 28th…with Black Cat Cruises donating 100% of the proceeds to New Zealands Whale and Dolphin Trust

The Blue Cruise is an Akaroa Harbour Cruise with a little ocean themed twist….complimentary blue buttercream cupcakes and a surprise gift!

To book simply call us on 0800 436 574 to secure your space.

#AkaroaNZ InstaMeet

Following our Blue Cruise we will then be co-hosting Akaroa’s first ever official InstaMeet in partnership with Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism on Saturday March 5th.

Join us in Akaroa for a beautiful sunset cruise along with epic NZ instagrammer Kyle Mulinder @bare_kiwi for a 90 minute harbour cruise. Refreshments will be served at the wharf pre and post cruise, and with a little luck we’ll be able to showcase not only our stunning volcanic harbour, but the rare and infamous Hector’s dolphins for some awesome photographic opportunities!

Best of all – it’s ABSOLUTELY FREE

Spaces are limited and so an RSVP is essential. You can RSVP to emma.oreilly@christchurchnz.com

In the meantime follow us on Instagram to see our edit of our favourite Akaroa and Banks Peninsula pics! #blackcatcruises and we may just feature yours…