Black Cat Group is one of the success stories of the New Zealand tourism industry. From humble beginnings carrying a few hundred people per year, the company has grown to be one of the largest cruise companies in the South Island. More than 120,000 people will experience a Black Cat Group cruise this year in a fleet of modern catamarans.
The company gets its name from New Zealand's national colour - 'Black' - used by the national rugby team, the All Blacks and the Americas Cup winning team called 'Black Magic'. The word 'Cat' is a shortened version of the word 'catamaran'.
Established in 1985, the company can claim to be the first true eco-tourism operator in New Zealand. Akaroa Harbour Cruises was first launched with the intention of showing off Hector's Dolphins as well as the other scenic and historic highlights of popular Akaroa Harbour.
The aptly named Canterbury Cat - a 15-meter catamaran, replaced the first vessel 'Charmaine' in 1988. The company quickly recognised that the twin hulled catamarans provided a better way to view dolphins because dolphins are more visible from the numerous viewing points. Catamarans are also more stable and have more room for passengers than single hulled vessels.
In 1989 a marine mammal sanctuary was put in place around Banks Peninsula. This sanctuary banned commercial set netting altogether and restricted recreational set netting. Set nets had been identified as the major threat to the Hector’s Dolphin population, which was decreasing at an alarming rate. Black Cat worked closely with renowned marine biologists Dr. Steve Dawson and Dr. Liz Slooten and continues to contribute to the preservation of this rare species.
Swimming with Dolphins was launched in 1990 to meet demand from an increasingly international audience.
Over the next six years there was steady growth in passenger numbers, mostly accommodating local New Zealanders on their journey around Akaroa Harbour.
In 1999, the company was renamed Black Cat Group and cruise services were launched on Lyttelton Harbour. Christchurch Wildlife Cruises repeated the successful formula from Akaroa Harbour Cruises on a harbour just 15 minutes from Christchurch.
Black Cat Charter Cruises were created to cater for the evening dinner cruise market.
In 2000 Black Cat expanded further with the purchase of Lyttelton Harbour Cruises and the rights to operate the Diamond Harbour Ferry. The ferry service has been operating between Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour since 1888. The Black Diamond catamaran was launched in May 2001. Regular trips to Ripapa Island and Quail Island are also part of the group's services.
Over the last nine years Black Cat has been recognised nationally and internationally with numerous tourism and eco-tourism awards, including the Supreme Award at the New Zealand Tourism Awards in 2003, the Green Globe 21 Award, and a Skal International Eco-Tourism Award in 2004. The Black Cat Group has also reached the finals of the host section of the Champion Canterbury Awards three years running.
In October 2007 we acquired Dolphin Experience Ltd and the ability to operate eight additional ‘swimming with dolphins’ cruises per day, along with three additional vessels and a retail booking centre on Beach Road.
Shortly afterwards Real Journeys bought 50% of Black Cat Group. Real Journeys is one of the largest tourism operators in NZ, operating 22 vessels in Fiordland, Queenstown, Te Anau and Stewart Island.
In 2008 the company launched two new purpose-built dolphin swimming vessels in Akaroa and invested in dry suits for swimmers over the cooler May to September period.