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Our Story

The life and times of over 30 years of sharing dolphin encounters with guests from across the globe. Photos by Dennis Buurman unless otherwise stated.

Encounter Kaikoura History

Encounter Kaikoura History

Marine mammal tourism started in Kaikoura in the late 1980's with the advent of whale watching. The novel idea of swimming with dolphins became a reality in the summer of 1989/90 and was the brain wave of Ian Bradshaw and Rik Buurman.

In 1990 Rik and Ian are issued with New Zealand’s first specific dolphin swimming and watching permit by the Department of Conservation

The photo taken by Barbara Todd (Nature Watch Charters) in 1990 is of Rik and Ian's first boat, a 6 metre catamaran, surveyed to carry 9 passengers, named  the Dolphin Mary.



History 2

The first passenger carrying vehicle, 1990.

History 3

Rik’s brother Dennis Buurman and his wife Lynette join the partnership in 1991 and the company is renamed, Dolphin Encounter. 

The new base for Dolphin Encounter located at 58 West End in the town centre of Kaikoura, late 1991.

History 4

Late 1991 our new purpose built 9 metre catamaran, named Dolphin Encounter, arrived for the 1991/92 summer season. 

History 5

By now there were two further dolphin swimming operations in Kaikoura and one of these operations was bought out by the partners in Dolphin Encounter in 1992. The boat that came with the permit was a 6 metre Stabi Craft pictured here with Rik Buurman skippering on a dolphin swimming tour. The photo was taken by the renowned nature photographer Flip Nicklin.

History 6

Rik Buurman with the first Flying Kiwi Bus to come to Kaikoura in 1993.

History 7

Trends in time! The Dolphin Encounter colour scheme 1993/94

History 8

Time for the photo session when the swimming section of the tour is finished and it's time to get out the camera and capture photos of the dusky dolphins. 

History 10

In 1994 our operational base was revamped with somewhat of a more modern look.

History 11

1994 replaced our 6 metre Stabi Craft with a larger 8 metre Stabi Craft on our second dolphin permit.

History 12

Crossing the street at base in the West End to board our bus, which takes them to South Bay, then onto the boats.

History 13

1998 the arrival of our latest vessel, a 13m catamaran built in Auckland named Lissodelphis.

History 14

Lissodelphis out on a 5.30am dolphin tour.

History 15

1999/2000 season Rik Buurman leaves the business to pursue other business ventures. 

In 2000 Dolphin Encounter purchases a third dolphin swimming permit (including boat) from New Zealand Sea Adventures.

The Dolphin Encounter fleet now included the vessel Kotuku.

History 16

Our latest vessel nearing completion in 2003, built in Invercargill by Stabi Craft, a 14 metre mono hull.

History 17

Our latest vessel, Delphindae on the water swimming with the dusky dolphins.

History 18

In 2004 we began the project of moving our location from the town centre in the West End, to the new location at 96 Esplanade in the site that had prviously been the East End Supermarket.

History 19

The project of transformation from a Supermarket to the new Dolphin Encounter base begins in April 2004.

History 20

Progress to June 2004.

History 21

September 2004.

History 22

Project completed October 2004. As the operation now included a new cafe called Encounter Cafe and also our other sea based operation, Albatross Encounter, the business was renamed 'Encounter Kaikoura'.

History 23

Encounter Kaikoura 2022.

History 24

Dolphin swimming vessel Kotuku after remodeling and new paint. 

History 25 Earthquake

On the 14th of November 2016, at 12.01am a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake centred west of Kaikoura caused massive damage within the Kaikoura and outlying districts. Kaikoura was cut off from all road access for a number of days, before the Inland Road route was opened up allowing convoys through to Kaikoura.

History 26

Massive slips and landslides cut the main road access north and south of Kaikoura township.

History 26

Inside the Encounter Kaikoura building.

History 27

The earthquake caused an uplift of between 1 to just under 6 metres along the Kaikoura coastline leaving thousands of paua, crayfish and fish to perish as they were stranded and unable to get back into the water. 

History 28

The South Bay Marina was impacted by a 1 metre uplift which seriously affected the launching of all commercial and recreational boat launching activities. Tour boats were only able to operate when the tide was an hour either side of high tide, which had significant consequences on marine mammal watching tours.

History 29

Digging out the channel at the South Bay Marina January 2017.

History 30

Construction of the new Dolphin Encounter jetty at the South Bay Marina, August 2017.

History 31

Progress at September 2017.

History 32

Almost completed October 2017.

History 33

To lengthen the launching ramp at South Bay a bund had to be constructed in order to allow for the pouring of new concrete at the bottom of the existing slipway in November 2017.

History 34

Our new vessel Moana Nui, which had arrived (after being built in Auckland) in May of 2017 and Lissodelphis (on the right) on our new jetty on the 14th November 2017, exactly a year after the 2016 earthquake. 

History 35

Meanwhile the road south of Kaikoura had been open by Christmas of 2016, suffice to say there were massive road construction projects between Kaikoura and Cheviot which would be ongoing, however the road north was a different story and required major reconstructions in many places. This photo at Ohau north of Kaikoura was taken in November 2017. Amazingly enough the north road was re opened to traffic on the 15 December 2017, one year and one month after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake cut the link between Kaikoura and Picton.

History 36

Dolphin Encounter vessels ready for launching.