Curious orca pod greets Akaroa tour boat

The first orca pod for 2017 has been spotted off the coast of the South Island. 

About 80 local and international passengers got the trip of a lifetime on a Black Cat Cruise on Tuesday when a pod of 10 orca, including two young calves, came to check out the boat. 

tourists watching whales on cruise boat in akaroa
Tourists getting a taste of New Zealand wildlife (Supplied)

The boat's skipper Julian Yates said the younger orca were curiously approaching and hanging around the boat, while the older males hung back and led the pod in to Daemons Bay. 

"Orca whales are very intelligent animals that are well-organised and follow highly complex social structures within their pods which often consist of large groups of family members that can span several generations," said Mr Yates.

New Zealand is home to an estimated 150-200 orca, which tend to travel long distances along the country's coast.  

While there is not a typical orca migration season in New Zealand, the Akaroa-based cruise company usually spots several pods around Spring each year. They believe that these orca were in the bay to hunt stingray. 

Black Cat Cruises photographer Jono Hithcox described the encounter as "the best orca sighting we've ever had" with the viewing lasting about 20 minutes.