Welcome to the E-Ko FAQs
What time do I need to check-in for my tour?
If you are swimming with the dolphins you will need to check-in no less than 45 minutes before your scheduled departure.
All other tours please check-in no less than 15 minutes before your scheduled departure.
Where do you depart from?
All trips depart from the Town Wharf in Picton. This is conveniently located just a 3 minute walk to the east of the ferry terminal at the main town wharf. Our office is located on the Foreshore on London Quay and Wellington Street.
Are dolphins and king shags guaranteed?
Wildlife is not always predictable – that’s what makes it wild! We cannot guarantee that you will see Dolphins or other Wildlife on our tours. Our success rate for dolphin sightings per trip is 95%. Our sucess rate on Dolphin swimming is 80%. Those booking the Birdwatchers Expedition have an excellent chance of seeing King Shags.
Do you offer charters or special group rates?
Yes – we can arrange a trip to suit your needs, as there are many options for an enjoyable day in the sounds. Email or call us with your trips details and dates to arrange a quote.
Is the trip suitable for children?
We are a family friendly company - Children of all ages will truly enjoy our tours. Our boat "Delphinus" contains kids colouring ins, toys, books and a DVD players which screens educational wildlife movies. The walk on Motuara Island is a gradual upward ascent in some parts, so most children (or parents carrying children) may not make it to the lookout at the very top. Please also remember that you need to be responsbile for your children.
For our Dolphin Swimming/Viewing Tour, children between the age of 8-12years may swim with the Dolphins if they are competent swimers, confortable in the water and acompanied by a supervising adult. However it is as the destresion of the skipper and subject to sea conditions on the day.
Do you feed the dolphins?
No - All the dolphins in the Queen Charlotte Sound are wild and free and we do not manipulate or interfere their natural behaviors.
Will I get wet?
If you're lucky.
Where exactly are the dolphins?
In the ocean.
What do I need to bring?
For all tours excluding The E-Ko Dolphin Swim and View Tour, you will need to bring, warm cloths (just in case), a water bottle, sun screen and a camera (optional but highly recommended!)
For Dolphin swimming you will need to bring your swimwear, towel, warm cloths, sun screen, water bottle and a camera (cameras are optional but highly recommended!)
What happens if the dolphins don't come over and interact with me?
Viewing dolphins in their underwater world is truly a magical experience and one not soon (if ever!) to be forgotten. It should be noted that open water dolphin swimming operations are not like that of an aquarium type atmosphere. Dolphins are generally very interested in swimmers, however, these are wild animals that are in total control of the situation and we are simply guests in their world. If the dolphins are not in the mood to interact with people, they may simply move on and swimmers should be aware there is the chance that they will not interact with them in the water. If that is the case, we will bring the swimmers back on-board for some awesome viewing from the boat. Please understand that it is the dolphins choice whether to interact with the swimmers and refunds cannot be given if the dolphins are "not interested" for whatever reason.
What happens if the weather gets really bad while we are on the boat?
Like all swim with dolphin operators in New Zealand, this is an open water experience - not an aquarium setup. The Marlborough Sounds are extremely sheltered from the wind and we rarely experience any sea swell that makes swimmers sick in other areas of New Zealand. However, if sea and wind conditions are deemed too severe, all dolphin swimming tours will be cancelled for matters of passenger safety. Your safety is paramount to us and we will not put swimmers in the water if the conditions are unsafe for you to disembark or climb back aboard the vessel. If dolphins are viewed, but weather is not good enough to put swimmers in the water then your fare will reduced.
Do you have to be a good Swimmer to Swim with the Dolphins?
You do not have to be a strong swimmer to participate in the Dolphin Swim as the wetsuits we provide you with keep you very buoyant and floated. We do require you to be able to perform simple breast-stoke though so that you can make your way to and from the ladders attached to the boat. If you have a phobia/fear of open/deep ocean water though, we do not recommend a Swim Ticket.
Do the Dolphins come really close?
It is completely dependent on the Dolphins and their mood. They are wild animals and we cannot control their behaviour. Sometimes they can come very close (cm’s away) if they are seeking an interaction and other times they may just swim past in the distance for a quick look.
Where is parking (cars and camper-vans)?
There is a large car park situated next to the Waterfront Marina (where our Office is located). The turn off to the car-park is along Wellington Street and it is $5.00 for the entire day (the correct money is needed).
Do you supply/use fins?
No, we don’t. This is because we do not want people chasing after the Dolphins or splashing too frequently, as splashing can be a sign of aggression in Dolphin talk.
Do you supply flotation devices?
We can (a life-ring), but we usually don’t have to as the wetsuits we provide will keep you extremely buoyant. It is physical impossible to sink or dive under with the thick wetsuits provided.
How cold is the water?
It is not tropical! In the Winter/Spring it can reach up to 13 degrees (Celsius) and during the summer it is usually around 16-18 degrees (Celsius). We provide thick wetsuits though, wetsuit booties and gloves, and we do have a hot water source on the boat to warm you up if needed!
Is there space for me to put my luggage?
Sometimes people are checking-in or out of accommodation after or prior to our Tours. We do have quite a large boat with spacious forward cabins, therefore you can take most of it on-board with you! But if you have large travel bags/suitcases you can leave them in the E-Ko Office with our office staff for the duration of the tour.
Do you supply underwater cameras for hire? Or do you take photos on-board?
We do not supply cameras and we do not have a photographer on-board. Customers are more than welcome to bring their own under-water devices though!
How old do you have to be to Swim with the Dolphins?
Due to Marine Maritime Legislation and SMART regulations, we can only put children in the water who are 8+ years.
Does New Zealand have any laws to protect marine mammals?
Here at E-Ko Tours we are proud to follow the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978 and the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations 1992. These ensure the marine mammals of New Zealand are protected and that their conservation is a top priority. Our interactions with the marine mammals of the Marlborough Sounds adhere to all regulations and our conservation focused tours, educate and raise awareness.
Does E-Ko Tours support local conservation efforts?
You have made a good choice choosing an E-Ko experience as part of the money you have paid goes back to Dolphin research to support the Marine Mammals regulations locally, Department of conservation upkeep, local community projects and initiatives.
How can I get involved with marine mammal conservation?
By doing an E-Ko tour, you're already being involved in conservation! If you would like to get more activily involved, send us an email or contact the Department of Conservation, Project Nest Egg or Project Jonah.
What safe operating rules does E-Ko Tours follow?
In New Zealand the activity of Dolphin Swimming falls under maritime New Zealand governance and the Department of Conservation. Our vessels are maintained to high standards with a company Maritime Transport Operators Certificate in place and an active Safety system. We spend extensive time training staff on Safety and have an active Safety culture in place in the company.
Maritime New Zealand has developed a Dolphin Swimming code which E-Ko Tours follows and often exceeds as safety and comfort of our customers is a priority at E-ko.
How will I get in and out of the water?
For your safety and the safety of the Dolphins we have fitted easy access ladders that make entry and exit from the water a pleasure with wide steps and handrails. These units where hand designed to reduce exertion required and also they ensure you enter the water feet first slowly. This is very important so your body reacts minimally to the water temperature. These ladders double as propulsion isolation for the dolphins.
What if I've never worn a wet suit or mask and snorkel
To ensure you are comfortable with your swimming equipment we also give a full personal snorkel brief for all the guests to make sure you are comfortable before heading out to see. We also have in place a pre-swim questionnaire which helps us to determine your experience and comfort levels. Medical fitness is required under the Dolphin Swimming guidelines from Maritime NZ (see form attached) Floats are on-board to assist if required as well as the 6mm full wetsuit you will be provided.
Do you complete risk assessments for school groups?
As our company is also active with Education in the Sounds we complete full Risk assessments for each school group and require and supply life jackets for all school children on board to wear.
I've never been on a boat! What should I do when I get on-board?
Upon departure on each trip a full informative briefing is given in our Shop, then a full maritime safety briefing upon departure and a further Swim brief for swimmers doing a Dolphin Swim.
What is your staff to customer ratio?
We are very proud of having a pro-active approach to Safety and training our staff to a high level ensure we provide the BEST customers service levels possible. This is why we have invested quality qualified staff and the highest staff to guest ratio locally ; 1 staff to 10 customers so you can have fun and feel Safe .
What happens if the weather is bad?
The sheltered waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound rarely warrant the cancellation of any trip. When you check in with us we will inform you if the forecast is unfavourable and warrants a trip cancellation.
What happens if I cancel my booking?
Individuals and small groups
You may cancel your trip and be entitled to a full refund by providing no less than 48 hours’ notice prior to your scheduled tour departure. Any customer who fails to comply with this cancellation policy will not be entitled to a refund.
Large Groups and Private Charters
You may cancel your trip no later than 28 days prior to your scheduled departure and receive a full refund of your deposit. If you cancel your trip between 14 and 28 days of your scheduled tour departure you will be entitled to receive a refund totaling 50% of the amount already paid. Any customer/s who fails to comply with this cancellation policy will not be entitled to a refund.
Any refund you believe you are entitled to must be requested from us in writing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Provided your request complies with the requirements outlined in these terms and conditions your refund will be processed and credited to you within 7 days of us receiving your written request.
Do your trips have minimum numbers?
All trips require a minimum equivalent number of 6 full fare adults to cover minimum operating costs. If this requirement is not met 48 hours prior to your scheduled departure, you will be notified and it will be your decision if you wish to; retain your booking and hope minimum numbers are met by the scheduled departure of your trip (if they are not you are entitled to a full refund), cancel your trip and be fully refunded or change your booking date/time to the next available tour.
Do I have to check-in?
On the day of your tour you must report to our office located at The Waterfront, 1 Wellington Street, Picton, NZ at least 45 minutes before your scheduled tour departure. Failure to do so may result in you not being able to go on your tour and not being entitled to a refund.
Do E-Ko Tours have a refund policy if I don't swim with dolphins?
Refund Policy Dolphin Swim – No Swim
If you have paid for a dolphin swim and we are unable to deliver the product due to our permit conditions you will be entitled to a partial refund. This refund is calculated by taking difference in price between a dolphin swim and a dolphin view tour less the cost of your equipment rental.
Adult: total refund $50
Child: total refund $40
Refund Policy Dolphin Swim – No Swim or View
If you have paid for a dolphin swim and we are unable to deliver the product due to us not spotting any dolphins you will be entitled to a partial refund. This refund is calculated by taking difference in price between a dolphin swim and a basic cruise less the cost of your equipment rental.
Adult: total refund $70
Child: total refund $50
Refund Policy Dolphin View – No View
If you have paid for a dolphin view tour and we are unable to deliver the product due to us not spotting any dolphins you will be entitled to a partial refund. This refund is calculated by taking difference in price between a dolphin view tour and a basic cruise.
Adult: total refund $20
Child: total refund $15