This week’s Avid Cruiser Voyage revolves around a destination that is frequently grouped alongside another, but one that truly needs to be considered on its own merits. We’re talking, of course, about cruises to New Zealand.
Frequently coupled with Australia on many cruise search and booking engines (as well as itineraries), New Zealand features heaps of natural beauty and an abundance of deep-water ports that help to make this country of more than 4 million inhabitants an avid cruiser’s dream.
That said, New Zealand cruises are largely dependent on Australia. Many cruises to New Zealand depart roundtrip from Sydney, Australia. Royal Caribbean, for example, offers voyages aboard Radiance of the Seas, and those offer an overnight stay in the Australian capital before heading across the Tasman Sea for a voyage that focuses on New Zealand ports.
Other lines, like ultra-luxury operator Silversea, routinely offer voyages that begin in Australia and end in New Zealand, or vice-versa. Most often, these either begin or terminate in the port of Auckland, a city of 1.4 million that also features one of the country’s largest international airports, with nonstop flights to North American cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver.
Regardless of how you get there (or what departure port you leave from), once your ship has sailed to New Zealand, a wealth of beauty awaits.
One of the most spectacular sights New Zealand has to offer is Milford Sound. Writer Rudyard Kipling referred to it as “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” and perhaps with good cause: This 15 kilometer long stretch of inland waterway rivals the fjords of Norway and Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park in terms of raw, untouched beauty.
Running from the Tasman Sea, it is dominated by massive cliff faces, some of which rise as high as 1,200 meters or nearly 4,000 feet into the mist. Anchoring the sound is Mitre Peak, rising 5,500 from sea level.
But it’s not just natural beauty that provides New Zealand’s cruising allure: The capital city of Wellington is home to just under 400,000 inhabitants, yet still manages to offer that “big city” feel, with plenty of historical sights intertwined with modern architecture. The local tourist board even markets the city as “the Coolest Little Capital in the World.” On any visit here, a trip up the funicular railway known as the Wellington Cable Car is a must for the vistas it offers overlooking the city and beyond. It’s also recognized as one of the city’s top tourist destinations.
Other notable Kiwi ports of call include Tauranga, a city nestled within the region’s Bay of Plenty that has made a name for itself as one of the premier business centers in New Zealand, with international trade, fashion, and horticultural science being the primary economic drivers. But it is the natural beauty of the region, as well as its access to Rotorua, with its thermal springs and Maori culture, that make a call in Tauranga so appealing.
Another picturesque port of call frequently offered on expedition and luxury cruises is Akaroa, which is Maori for “Long Harbor.” Located along a peninsula formed when the wall of an extinct volcano collapsed into the sea, Akaroa is characterized by its lush countryside appearance, nestled in among the many bays that dot the coastline. This is where the locals go to relax, which makes it one of the best ports to escape the more traditional “touristy” activities and just do as the Kiwis do. If you’re scheduled to visit here between December and February (New Zealand’s summer, the Northern Hemisphere’s winter), keep in mind: probably half of Christchurch will be here.
Other significant ports include Picton, in the heart of New Zealand’s wine country; Napier, the self-proclaimed art deco capital of the world (and where we visited the Mission Estate Winery, the birthplace of New Zealand wines); and Dunedin, where we rode the rails on a “gorgeous” train trip on a half-day excursion that began pierside and took us past some of the country’s best scenery.
There are voyages that sail to both Australia and New Zealand on a single 14-day long cruise, but we’d recommend first-time visitors find a voyage that concentrates solely on New Zealand. Like the country itself, it will be a voyage that long remains in your memory.