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Cruising The Land Of The Long White Cloud

Joanna Hall

A growing number of ships ply the waters of Australia and New Zealand each year for a season between November and March, including those from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, and Princess Cruises, and hot on their heels, usually in January and February, are visiting ships from the luxury brands Seabourn, Silversea and Regent. Cruising New Zealand presents passengers with a showcase of amazing landscapes and unique experiences, some of which are unique to travelling by sea. Cruising past White Island in the north, New Zealand’s only active marine volcano, is one, and navigating Fjordland in the country’s far south is another. And in between ports of call, you have a floating hotel on which to rest, relax and watch the scenery slip by. So what should you be aiming to do in each port of call? Here’s our top pick for each destination, for staying local, and taking an excursion. 

Highlights Of New Zealand By Cruise - North Island

Waitangi: Starting at the very top of the North Island, Waitangi is a stunning area of islands, bays, mountains, and cool, green mangroves, and it’s also very important in New Zealand history. February 6 is known as Waitangi Day, a peak time for people to visit the historic area, and mark the Treaty of Waitangi. The town of Waitangi is extremely small, and you can see most of it in half an hour or so. As a result, this is the place to get out into the great outdoors and embrace the local environment. A boat tour visiting the islands, landmarks, and taking in the famous Hole in the Rock is a necessity. Located off Cape Brett, the Hole in the Rock is like a deep tunnel which has been carved out by wave and wind. If the tide is right, and you’re boat is small enough, you’ll maybe get an exhilarating ride through it!

Auckland: Next on our list is this scenic and cosmopolitan city, often a jumping on or off point for many New Zealand cruises. There are many things to do in and around Auckland, but if you’re staying near the port, top of our list is getting on top of the Sky Tower. From a height of 220 metres, the observation deck offers panoramic views of the harbour and the surrounding landscape on a good day, and if you’re really feeling adventurous you can go down the quick way - by bungy jump! If you have a hankering to venture further, a tour which takes in Mt. Eden, the pine-clad Waitakere Mountains, and the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves is your best choice. It takes you through some spectacular countryside, featuring famous nearby landmarks.

Tauranga: This is a favourite port of call with many cruisers, a picturesque, easy-going beach community nestling in the Bay of Plenty region, with much to offer visitors who want to get out into the great outdoors, or just chill back. If you don’t want to venture far, but would love to combine jaw-dropping views with some exercise, head for the area’s dominant landmark - Mt. Maunganui. An extinct volcano, it rises up from the water on a peninsula; there are several paths up to the top, for the views, and you can also circumnavigate it comfortably with water level views at every corner. If you choose one excursion here, and you are new to the North Island, head for Rotorua. Located on a caldera on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, it’s famous for thermal activity including geysers, hot thermal springs and bubbling mud pools.

Napier: A quaint city located on Hawke’s Bay on the eastern coast of the North Island, Napier has a long history. It’s famous for a devastating earthquake which levelled it in 1931, and for being an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, the first cultural site in New Zealand to be nominated. As you can see the main highlights of the city easily enough on foot in an hour or so, if you enjoy drinking New Zealand Marlborough wines, an excursion to the wine country is essential. It’s an easy drive from Napier west through stunning landscapes towards the mountains, and a region which is said to be the largest wine producing region in the country. 

Wellington: Located in the very south of the North Island, the capital of New Zealand has many charms, and on a good weather day it can be very hard to choose what to see and do! Staying local, and if you fancy walking off some cruise food, walk the harbour front all the way around past Oriental Bay, then head up through the scenic back streets up to the top of Mt Victoria, just east of the city; the views are sublime. Further afield, a new a highly popular excursion is the famous Hobbit Middle Earth filming locations, which can include the Gardens of Isengard, the River Anduin and the Fords of Isen.

Highlights of New Zealand By Cruise - South Island

Picton: A small, picturesque town close to Queen Charlotte Sound, Picton sits at the very north of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s diminutive size means you can see everything there in a short space of time, so if it’s on your itinerary, add an excursion to your day to get the best of everything. A cruise into Queen Charlotte Sound is the top pick for sheer beauty, scenery and the possibility of spotting all manner of marine including dolphins, and wildlife including birds such as local gannets. If you do decide to stay local, however, there are a number of hiking trails which also offer stunning scenery and views, and which can be part walked in one to five hours.

Lyttelton/Akaroa: Although currently still closed to cruise traffic due to damage from the devastating 2010 earthquake, a new cruise terminal is on the cards for Lyttelton, and it is hoped it will be back on cruise itineraries in the future. The largest settlement on Lyttelton Harbour, it’s on the northeastern coast of the South Island. The primary reason for stopping here in the past was access to the historic city of Christchurch and its many sights, which were severely damaged during the quake. Anyone up for a longer excursion, however, can also venture there from the picturesque port of Akaroa, 75 kilometres south of the city. Akaroa itself, however, is a lovely place to wile away a few hours, a historic former French and British Settlement.

Dunedin: The second largest city in the South Island, surrounding the head of Otago Harbour, this city has a long history and plenty of local sights for cruise fans to enjoy. Often referred to as the “Edinburgh” of New Zealand, it has a rolling landscape reminiscent of the famous Scottish city. Ships dock at nearby Port Chalmers, and if you stay local, head for the Otago Museum to learn about Dunedin’s cultural history, and quench your thirst with a tour of the Speight’s Brewery, New Zealand’s first beer. If you venture further afield, look no further than the Taieri River Gorge Experience, which involves a train ride through the rolling countryside, climbing to the gorge past towering cliffs and ravines flanking the river.

Fjordland: This isn’t a port of call as such, but scenic cruising with a difference, as well as a major highlight on any New Zealand itinerary. Located on the rugged south west coast of the South Island, it’s an alpine area which boasts the stuff of National Geographic magazine. It’s an untouched wilderness where towering mountains plunge into freshwater sounds, where icy water pours off the hillsides in dramatic waterfalls, and where jagged, snowcapped peaks tear through the rain clouds in search of sunlight. The most famous part of this wilderness is Milford Sound, technically a fiord, and one of New Zealand’s most popular natural attractions. The other two areas many ships tend to venture into in this area are Dusky and Doubtful Sounds. What to do here? Grab your camera and a warm coat, hit the deck and click away.


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