A rare encounter with an inquisitive whale has given a group of kayakers the experience of a lifetime.
The five kayakers were part of an excursion aboard the Bay Explorer Island and Wildlife Cruises yesterday when it anchored offshore from Tauranga for lunch.
Bay Explorer owner Brandon Stone said the whale was first spotted by the skipper preparing the barbecue for lunch. He yelled out "whale", but was the only one to see it.
"Then the kayakers were about 10m from the boat and, next minute, the whale surfaced next to them. It just swam around us - under the boat, under the kayakers, it swam out and back again."
Stone was watching along with the rest of the passengers from the top of the viewing rooftop. The kayakers stayed still and close to the boat as Stone and passengers told them where the whale was going to pop up next.
"It swam around us for a good 10 minutes," Stone said.
The encounter was a rare event and Stone said he had not seen anything like it in his years of running the Bay Explorer.
The company has had amazing experiences with leatherback turtles, sharks and sunfish but this was the first time a whale had come so close, he said.
"It was really interested in the boat itself. It was very inquisitive. It would swim out and then come right back past the boat. That's a brilliant example of being in the right place, at the right time," he said.
Stone said he believed the whale was minke. "It was over 6m. It was a small whale."
Stone said there was a migration of whales travelling back from the Equator at this time of year, and there had already been sightings of humpback whales and orca in Tauranga waters.
"I'd really love people in Tauranga to know this stuff is going on in their backyard. We just need to look after their habitat."
British tourist Hayley Power had only been in New Zealand for four days before seeing the whale from the kayak.
"We were checking out fur seals and these guys started shouting out and we could see this whale was just surfacing," she said.
"It quite clearly wanted to play with us, it was going in and out and around in the water."
Power rated the experience as one of her top 10 moments of a lifetime.
"It's incredible. It's the thing you expect to see on YouTube, you don't expect to experience it yourself."