Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari – setting the standard for marine conservation and tourism in New Zealand.

Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari is a small private family-run company making big waves in sustainable tourism and marine conservation. Operating daily cruises from Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour since 2000, the company’s eco-safaris make it easy for customers – 75 per cent of whom are international visitors – to experience the incredible wildlife of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, New Zealand’s first and largest national park of the sea.

New Zealand is known for its breathtaking encounters with whales, dolphins and seals, with almost half the world’s cetaceans found here. Protecting these awesome marine mammals and sharing inspiring stories has given Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari a unique point of difference in the tourism and environmental sectors.  The company wanted to provide a far richer experience than just whale and dolphin watching. It developed a social purpose business model, where each safari booking contributed directly to protecting the planet’s marine environment.  

Brad Kirner Kylie Bailey GoodSense
Auckland Whale & Dolphin General Manager, Brad Kirner, and Kylie Bailey from GoodSense.

“We want to immerse our customers in a completely unique conservation experience on board an active marine research vessel,” says Auckland Whale & Dolphin General Manager, Brad Kirner.

“We work closely with the Department of Conservation and university research partners which enables customers to interact directly with marine mammal experts and on-board researchers. Having customers actively participate in sample collection and analysis alongside these experts deepens their experience and equips them with knowledge to fully appreciate the wildlife they are seeing,” says Brad.

While Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari privately funds and supports marine wildlife studies through universities, trusts and government departments, it needed to increase its public profile and brand awareness. 

Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari success story
Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari - ATEED success story

How ATEED helped

Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari describes Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) as being central to its growth. 

The company first contacted ATEED, which delivers the Regional Business Partner (RBP) Network programme in the Auckland region, at the suggestion of ethical marketing experts GoodSense. Goodsense is a fellow member of the Sustainable Business Network and a service provider within the RBP Network.

“We identified that to really reach their growth potential it would make sense to connect them with ATEED,” says GoodSense Managing Director Kath Dewar. “That enabled the business to meet other like-minded organisations which have helped them share their story and get the word out there.” 

ATEED’s business advisers helped Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari access capability funding to take their training to another level, working with GoodSense, and connected the company with its own Tourism and Study Auckland teams.

“[Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari staff] have upskilled and become engaging PR storytellers and great at social media. It’s all about getting the word out and moving away from being just a whale and dolphin watching trip to a company that’s actually leading the way in terms of responsible tourism and conservation,” says Kath. 

GoodSense identified an opportunity for Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari to provide high-quality footage filmed on the boat to television news producers. The coverage had the potential to be picked up overseas and screened on television and video channels. It also achieved the company’s education and inspiration objectives.

To achieve this, the two businesses worked on a two-part capability building programme:

•   Discovery – research a target list of television news producers and establish relationships for uploading footage from the boat in a timely manner;

•   Design – create and deliver a story-telling and media training workshop for crew, delivered aboard the boat. Crew members are trained to think like newshounds so they can identify what sightings and images are truly newsworthy, how to capture them and package them so producers want to air them.

GoodSense also supported Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari to set up a web-based process for quickly uploading newsworthy footage so it could be pitched and shared with media to catch their daily deadlines. 

It meant Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari could capture the extraordinary blue whale sightings of April 2018, frame up the story and achieve extensive media coverage.

The RBP capability development funding also enabled Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari to work with Enviro-Mark Solutions, a provider of environmental certification in New Zealand, and help them highlight their commitment to sustainable practices.

ATEED’s Tourism and Study Auckland teams worked closely with the business, enabling Brad and his team to better understand the visitor market and potential opportunities. ATEED is also Auckland’s destination marketing agency, with a vision for a more sustainable future for Auckland. Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari, with its strong quality and sustainability credentials, now features in ATEED’s off-shore tourism campaigns and trade presentations. And media coverage generated by the company helps put Auckland on the global map as a desirable destination and world-leader in sustainable tourism.

“Our whole approach is to not only get people to see and watch whales and dolphins but to learn more about the mammals so they can be motivated and inspired to help protect them,” says Brad. “We are creating a tourism experience that positively contributes to the natural environment that it depends on.”  

At a glance


Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari’s business: An eco-safari company that provides an immersive conservation experience in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. Location: Headquartered in Viaduct Harbour, Auckland, operating in Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, New Zealand’s first and largest marine park.

Export markets: 75 per cent of customers are international visitors to Auckland; company is frequently featured in tourism campaigns in Auckland’s priority target markets.

ATEED assisted by: Facilitating access to Regional Business Partner business capability vouchers; connecting the business to its internal tourism and international student expertise for better understanding of the market and potential opportunities; includes the business in tourism campaigns and media pitching in the promotion of Auckland. 

Website: whalewatchingauckland.com

Regional Business Partner Network providers: GoodSense marketing - Regional Business Partner providers nationwide since 2015, GoodSense works with a range of ATEED clients across the Auckland region to grow their capability in ethical marketing. www.goodsense.co.nz  

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