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

Category Archives: Wildlife Spotting


With a coastline of approximately 15,000 kilometres New Zealanders have always had and continue to have a close affinity with the ocean. Working within a company whose occupation it is to take passengers out on harbour cruises and swimming with the dolphins we the staff at Black Cat Cruises are at the heart of it all and have been fortunate to have had special encounters with some of the less common, larger marine creatures.

The latest exciting visitors to the peninsula waters have been the migrating Humpback whales. During the summer months the Humpback whales are down in their feeding grounds in Antarctic waters but during the winter months they make their way to their tropical South Pacific breeding grounds. Passing by in New Zealand’s coastal waters provides opportunities for Kiwis and ocean-goers alike to have close encounters with these whales. Humpback whales are easily identified by their distinctive knobbly dorsal fin, large pectoral fins (their scientific name Megaptera novaeangliae means big wings of New England) and heads covered with bumps (tubercles). They can grow to lengths of 15 metres, weigh between 30 – 40 tonnes and are known for their ‘singing’ and playful acrobatics. They are a baleen whale feeding by surging through the water with an open mouth then filtering the krill and fish from the water through their baleen (long keratin plates hanging from the top of the mouth).

Humpbacks are a stocky whale, meaning they are generally slow moving which not only makes them perfect for whale watching but made them a popular target for whalers in New Zealand waters during the 1800 and 1900’s. The Humpbacks were such an easy target that the reduction in their population reached a point that there were no individuals seen passing through the Cook Strait; normally a regular path made annually on their way north. Whaling stopped in New Zealand in 1964 and since then their population has been increasing with as many as 43 individual Humpbacks seen during a four week survey in the Cook Strait in 2010 and a record number of 73 for the 2011 survey.

Whale Watching in Akaroa

Before the whalers and settlers came to New Zealand, Maori already had traditional, cultural and spiritual connections to whales of all kinds, including the Humpback. To some iwi or tribes whales were considered kaitiaki, guardians, guiding their ancestor’s canoes safely across the oceans to New Zealand. But they were also a source of food and materials used for creating jewellery or utensils, often making use of the resource when they became stranded on nearby beaches. Because of these connections the whales are often found in their myths, legends, carvings and songs.

These connections with the whales still hold true today and there are very few moments that can compare with being gently approached by a wild, 15 metre long whale and being so close that you feel the droplets of spray move across your skin and your hair being tussled by its breath as the whale exhales. There is nothing more pleasurable than introducing visitors to New Zealand and locals alike to our wildlife, each experience unique and special. So far this winter season we have been fortunate enough to have spent 5 days with different pods of whales varying from solitary individuals up to pods numbering 4. Behaviour differed amongst the pods with some of them steadily travelling north set on the warmer waters, while one curious individual spent it’s time visibly relaxed swimming on it’s back, waving it’s fins and even entering the harbour where it repeatedly approached our harbour cruise boat, Black Cat, in Akaroa, seemingly just as curious about the boat as the harbour cruise passengers were about it.

With the numbers of Humpback whales increasing in our waters we look forward to our future experiences with these seasonal visitors and are elated at the thought that this time next year, along with our passengers, we get to do it all again!


Welcome to Christchurch!  We live in a diverse and scenic city, and while many visitors are attracted to the South Island for Alps and fjords, don’t discount the

Sumner Beach Christchurch. Photo credit: Flickr


city of Christchurch for some excellent sightseeing options.  New Zealand’s second largest city and the biggest on the South Island, Christchurch has plenty for you to do and see during your stay.

A charming coastal city surrounded by scenic hills…  It doesn’t get much better.

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Here are a few of our top picks for sightseeing in  the Christchurch area:

Downtown Christchurch Sightseeing


Hagley Park Christchurch. Photo credit Flickr


Even after the damage caused by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in September 2010, downtown Christchurch is a showcase for beautiful gothic architecture.  You could hop on board the red and gold tram that snakes through the city, or simply design your own walking tour, but definitely take some time to explore downtown.  Highlights include the elaborate Arts Centre complex and, of course, the postcard perfect Christchurch Cathedral.

And while you’re in the area, swing into the Botanic Gardens at Hagley Park.  The Botanic Gardens take up 21 hectares (75 acres) of the massive Hagley Park just west of the city centre.  The Gardens were founded in 1863 and features collections of plants from all over the world, as well as a large selection of New Zealand natives.  You can take a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens on a quirky green ‘caterpillar’ shuttle.

The Best View in Town


Cathedral Square Christchurch. Photo Credit Flickr


For a unique view of the busy city centre, you can’t beat the scenery from the Cathedral tower.  A $7 admission gives you the chance to climb the tower’s steep 133 steps to the alcoves at the top.  You’ll have a fantastic panoramic view of downtown Christchurch!

While the Cathedral offers a great view from the middle of the city, the Port Hills offer another worthwhile vantage.  To get to the top in a memorable way, take the gondola that transports you through the air to the top of the hills: 500m above sea level.  From the top, you’ll have a stunning view every way you turn: admire the spread of the Canterbury Plains to the foot of the Southern Alps on one side and the photogenic hills and blue-green harbours of Banks Peninsula on another.

Heritage and Cultural Tours


Maori cultural tours at Willowbank

If you’re looking to add ‘time travel’ to your Christchurch sightseeing to-do list, pay a visit to Ferrymead Heritage Park.  This park is located on the site of New Zealand’s first public railway and celebrates life in the early 1900s with a recreated township and functioning train as well as an informative museum.

For a cultural tour that introduces you to pre-European life in New Zealand, Ko Tane Living Maori Village at Willowbank is the perfect spot.  An evening at Ko Tane includes a guided tour of the village, demonstrations of traditional lifestyle and hunting techniques of the Maori people, and a presentation showcasing the traditional dances performed by Maori men and women.

Wildlife Encounters


Black Cat Wildlife Cruises


Even though it’s an urban area, there are several Christchurch sightseeing options for wildlife lovers!  Willowbank Wildlife Reserve boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of New Zealand native animals in the country.  The kiwi house is especially popular—a great opportunity to see New Zealand’s most famous birds up close and personal!

And don’t forget the marine life!  Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours are home to some of New Zealand’s most interesting and unique animals, like the friendly Hector’s dolphin, tiny White-Flippered penguin and the graceful albatross.  You definitely don’t want to miss a chance to see these animals—many of them are only found in Banks Peninsula. Blackcat wildlife cruises are the best way to catch a glimpse of these cool creatures in their natural habitat.

Seaside Sightseeing


Quail Island

Christchurch is a coastal city, with several great options for beach activities.  Sumner beach, home to the iconic cave rock, is fairly sheltered from wind, making it a favourite among families and sunbathers.  New Brighton beach has its own charms and boasts along pier extending into the ocean.  The surf at New Brighton is better than at Sumner, and the shores are filled with people taking advantage of the waves.

And for a more remote coastal adventure, Black Cat runs a ferry from Lyttelton to uninhabited Quail Island in the middle of the harbour. It takes about 2.5 hours to walk to circumference of the island, and along the way you’ll be treated to views of pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs and even a few shipwrecks along the way!


Black Cat may be well known as a tourism operator, but did you know that we’re also a leader in environmental management?  From reducing energy consumption to donating a portion of every passenger fare to dolphin conservation, Black Cat takes extra measures to ensure the preservation of our environment.

New Zealand’s first eco-tourism operator

Established in 1985 as Akaroa Harbour Cruises, we can claim to be New Zealand’s first eco-tourism enterprise.  We launched with the intention of showing off Hector’s dolphins as well as the other creatures and scenery of Banks Peninsula.  Naturally, such a reliance on the natural environment encouraged Black Cat to foster a keen interest in maintaining the health and beauty of Akaroa Harbour right from the start.

Actions to protect the environment

Black Cat works hard to protect the environment.  First, we reduce our energy consumption (we aim for an annual reduction of 1% per person) through actions such as:

    • Maintaining our vessels for maximum efficiency
    • Encouraging our staff to walk or bike to work
    • Monitoring fuel usage
    • Using energy saving light bulbs and efficient heating

We also take care to minimise the by-products from the energy we do use.  By recycling and using biodegradable cleaning products, Black Cat is able to reduce the amount of waste resulting from our operation.

Education and advocacy

Black Cat takes pride in giving back to the environment and the community through advocacy, education and sponsorship.  Each year we donate at least $70,000 to programmes that support causes like marine mammal research and education, Quail Island restoration and penguin predator trapping.

We also provide sponsorship to projects that raise awareness of issues important to the community and the environment.  For instance, early in 2010 Black Cat supported Christchurch teenager Aescleah Hawkins undertake a 42km walk to raise funds for the endangered Hector’s dolphins, an event that gained national media attention.

Positive Feedback

Black Cat’s efforts to protect and preserve the natural environment have been recognised with a number of international eco-tourism awards including a Green Globe 21 Award and a Skal International Eco-Tourism Award.  With such positive response from the local and international community, we are confident that Black Cat will continue to set the standard for responsible engagement with the environment.

Book a place on a Black Cat cruise and see why we are one of top Christchurch attractions.

Christmas Cruising 2010 Schedule & Prices

Our Christmas day schedule is as follows:

Akaroa Harbour Cruises

Dolphin swimming
9am, 12noon
$174/$144 (watching $144/$44).

Christchurch Wildlife Cruise (Lyttelton)
$85/$35 (includes free shuttle)

Diamond Harbour Ferry is a normal Saturday timetable with nothing after 6pm.


Southern Right Whale Spotting in Lyttelton

Recently we were lucky enough to see a southern right whale in Lyttelton which appeared very relaxed and was even seen to rubbing itself up against the rocks near a beach.

It seems it is not the first time this whale has done this because the attached video shows the same whale two years ago doing something very similar to what we witnessed. Clearly it’s on the way to the Antarctic and sees Lyttelton as a great place to take five.

One in a Million Experience Swimming with Dolphins

Black Cat Cruises guide Laura Hansen captured this amazing photo of a dolphin ‘spy-hopping’ in Akaroa Harbour.

Jason Hagedorn, from Chicago, was swimming with dolphins when the dolphin raised vertically out of the water for an eye to eye encounter.

Spy-hopping is the term given to a dolphin or whale raising its head vertically out of the water. The animal rotates slowly to view the surrounding area, before sinking quietly back below the surface.

“The dolphin did a couple of spy-hops and was really into this swimmer. The dolphin also did some ‘logging’ which is coming to a complete halt in the water and eyeballing the swimmer which is quite unusual behaviour.”

Thar she blows

Visitors on board a Christchurch Wildlife Cruise in Lyttelton Harbour in October had the privilege of seeing a very relaxed southern right whale. The whale was sighted at Breeze Bay inside the harbour and we spent about 45 minutes with it, even turning off the engines to watch it roll around in a friendly manner. These whales were very common before whaling out of Lyttelton decimated their population. It’s likely this one is en route to feeding grounds of the Southern Ocean and was resting en route.


We’ve been cruising for nearly 25 years and over the last 12 months have seen more varieties of whales than ever before, including last weeks Blue Whale (pictured) and also Fin, Orca, Curviars beaked, Humpback, Pilot and Southern Right Whales, as well as the world’s smallest whale – the resident Hector’s dolphin. The blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on earth and is found in all major oceans of the world. Its population has been severely depleted to commercial whaling. Today estimates have their population at between 500 and 2000 in Southern Hemisphere waters.


Orca have been making regular visits to both Akaroa and Lyttelton Harbours recently. It’s thought pods range up and down the South Island. Orca are a natural predator of the Hector’s dolphins so though it’s an awesome sight its also good they move on! This shot was taken just outside the Akaroa Heads.