Back in 2002 the NZ movie 'Whale Rider' was released, and Keisha Castle-Hughes found her way into international limelight. However, this movie wasn't just a fictional tale – instead it showed the world how the majestic mammals are part of New Zealand's history and culture. Is it any surprise that there are so many great opportunities to get out on the ocean with them? All from the safety of a boat of course…

Here are our three favourite locations to go whale spotting in New Zealand. Pack your camera into your Auckland hire car, and go check them out yourself!

1. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, Auckland

The first choice on offer is within Auckland itself. With the skytower never far from the horizon, beaches scattered in every direction and islands strewn across the blue waters, don't forget to keep an eye out for our water-loving mammalian friend!

Hauraki Gulf Marine park covers 1.2 million hectares and contains 50 islands. Consider taking a whale-watching tour to go cruise these waters, and encounter a massive range of marine life. This park is one of the most diverse and thriving stretches of marine habitats in the world. Both whales and dolphins make this spot their residence year-round, so as long as your willing to brave the varying types of weather you can head out to see them whenever you come over to explore NZ

Part of what makes this spot so special (other than the other points already mentioned) is that the whale you're most likely to see is Bryde's whale. These surface feeders are critically endangered, so seeing so many of them throughout Hauraki Gulf is something special to enjoy. 

2. Kaikoura

Between November and April, consider taking your Auckland hire car for an extended trip down to New Zealand's South Island. Here, on the east coast, you'll find a spot for whale watching that offers something that almost no other one in the world does – a chance to easily see and admire sperm whales. 

While you may not get to see the marine landscape from on top of the water, it's the world beneath the waves that makes this location an area that whales love. The continental shelf rapidly drops into deep canyons off the coast, but these cold expanses are stirred by a warmer current that comes from the north. The interaction carries nutrients up near the surface creating the perfect environment for marine life. Plus, it's not only the underwater ranges that add to this location. Visible from the ocean, white-tipped mountains create the perfect backdrop for your whale-watching pictures.

3. Marlborough Sounds

If you're travelling down to the South Island, the ferry carrying you and your hire vehicle crosses over the Marlborough Sounds. Not only is this region worth visiting in its own right, it's also a great place for whale-watching in New Zealand. 

Once upon a time the Marlborough Sounds was well-known for its whaling, but luckily this history hasn't stopped whales from still using the migratory route between the two islands. Here you'll find baleen whales, or even be lucky enough to spot an orca. Don't hold your breath though for the elusive panda of the oceans – while much loved, orcas are shy around their fans. 

As well as everything New Zealand has to offer on land, you'll find that it provides you with the opportunity to experience marine life up close and personal as well. Don't wait to explore the land of the long white cloud – book your Auckland hire car today.