Planning a New Zealand Cruise

New Zealand has long been the destination of seafaring travellers. From ancient Polynesian explorers to European explorers like Captain Cook, the tradition of visiting via sea is long and hollowed. In these modern times, the opportunities to sail in their wake and explore Aotearoa New Zealand by cruise ship are more available than ever. 

Get the most out of a Kiwi cruise ship adventure

With spectacular coastlines, abundant wildlife, cosmopolitan ports of call and friendly locals, seeing New Zealand via cruise ship is an unmissable experience. Prospective travellers, especially those new to cruising or New Zealand, often find themself curious about what to expect, what to bring and what to get excited about. We're here to help.

Why do a NZ Cruise?

New Zealand is an island nation. The North Island and the South Island get the bulk of the press, but don't forget the smaller southern sibling Stewart Island or the multitude of miniature land masses that dot around the coastlines. Visiting islands via sea go together like fish and chips. 

Several well-regarded cruise brands offer their spin on the New Zealand experience. What you can expect from all of them is well-appointed ships that cater to guests keen to experience both NZ and the onboard amenities. They will differ in route, duration and ports they dock in, but will share one major commonality: the beautiful scenery and wildlife that make New Zealand so special.

What to expect

A New Zealand cruise is all about experiencing the best of New Zealand. This small nation is incredibly accessible by sea. Even at its widest, the opposite coast is rarely more than a few hours' drive away. As a cruise ship traveller, you'll experience the best of the best – not just the best of what's close.  

Ports of call are close enough to one another that you'll get your land legs back on numerous occasions. And while the ship travels around the country, the spectacular coastlines and abundant wildlife will make time on board feel more like a nature cruise than a ship just getting from point A to point B.  

Many cruises leave from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane in Australia, while others depart directly from Auckland, New Zealand. 

Itineraries vary from just a few days to well over a week. Some offer itineraries that concentrate on city stops, while others focus on natural beauty. There are family-friendly adventures and those aimed at a more mature audience. A cruise can be a fun adventure for those who want to experience the best of New Zealand. 

How to pack for a New Zealand cruise

New Zealand is a country of all four seasons – sometimes on the same day! It’s a good idea to pack for all eventualities, particularly if you plan to get out and about in the great outdoors. For urban adventures, the generally casual nature of Kiwis means that you can keep your tux and tails in the cupboard. Smart/casual dress is suitable for most restaurants. 

Essentials include:

  • Mobile phone/camera
  • Rain jacket
  • Comfortable shoes for walking the trails
  • Sunhat and sunscreen
  • Australian travellers will need their passport but won't need a visa

Travel insurance could be a good idea to cover unexpected events like lost property or cancellations.

For more tips, check out our ultimate travel packing checklist. 

Hiking mountain

Activities and shore excursions 

New Zealand has become known for its adventurous activities, and rightfully so! If you are feeling brave, you can bungy jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge. If you're keen on the air, scenic flights abound both in planes and helicopters. And if you really enjoy flying, you could try skydiving. 

If you'd like to keep your feet a bit firmer on the ground, there are countless hikes to tackle and just as many gentle strolls.

Cruises also offer an opportunity to explore New Zealand's culture. You can learn more about Māori culture and history, indulge in world-class dining experiences, sample New Zealand's wine industry and explore art galleries.

Most ships will help organise your in-port activities, and those can vary from cultural tours to fishing, glow worm caves, city tours, gondola rides, jet boat rides, wine tasting and a whole lot more – all tailored to your location.


New Zealand culture

New Zealand is a multicultural blend of its indigenous Māori people, South Pacific communities, European settlers and a wide range of other people making up the community. Experiencing the rich customs and welcoming nature of the Māori people is a highlight for many visitors. On a shore visit from your cruise, there will be opportunities to have authentic cultural experiences with Māori people. Seeing the haka up close, visiting a marae (Māori meeting house), and tasting a meal made in a hangi (earth oven) are all part of the experience and one that will stay with you for a long time. 

Where do cruise ships dock?

Each cruise line varies, but popular ports of call in New Zealand include:



Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, is nicknamed 'The City of Sails' – so it's no wonder that it's a popular stop for cruisers. There was a time when Auckland had the most boats per capita of any city in the world, and that is reflected in the stunning port right in the heart of the city. This cosmopolitan and modern city is flowing with points of interest for travellers. Shopping, dining, sightseeing, or just a walk – Auckland is a world-class city.


Auckland Harbour cruise 

The Bay of Islands

Heading north from Auckland, this short sail brings you to the white sand, tropical temperatures and cultural mecca of the Bay of Islands. While Auckland has a decidedly rapid pulse, the feel up north is much more relaxed. Sprawling beaches give way to swaths or native forests brimming with towering kauri trees and ferns that nearly block the warm summer sun. The sea also has its share of treasures – the abundant dolphin population can often be found surfing the bow wave of the ship or frolicking in the gentle waves.

Ships will often dock near the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the very place where, in 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of New Zealand, was signed. Here, you'll find the Waitangi Marae, a Māori meeting house of immense historical value and a wonderful spot to immerse yourself in local culture.



The southern tip of the North Island is where you'll find the capital of New Zealand, Wellington. This hilly city with a compact and unquestionably cool downtown is a visitor favourite. Some say it's the best coffee in New Zealand, others claim the world, but whoever is correct, we all sip the benefits.

A Wellington top tip is to visit Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. This sprawling complex is home to a formidable permanent collection as well as touring exhibitions, all in a well-laid-out and climate-controlled environment. 



Heading south, this small port near the city of Christchurch is truly unique. Perched on the end of Banks Peninsula, Akaroa is New Zealand's only French community. Embracing its Francophone roots, you'll find French colonial architecture and some of the best French restaurants – and pastries – this side of Paris.    

Inland from Akaroa, a drive over the hills reveals Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. While the 2011 earthquakes changed the landscape, the rebuild is well worth a look. Leaning into creative temporary solutions like container malls and the ephemeral beauty of street art, Christchurch is alive and on the grow. Drinks and dinner along the Avon River form an idyllic way to wrap up a visit to New Zealand's, 'Garden City.'

Milford Sound

Head south, way south, and you will find the best saved for last. This deep fjord on the southwest corner of the South Island is a well-deserved World Heritage Site. Glacial ice has carved a path through granite peaks, and over millennia, the sea crept in, creating a truly jaw-dropping location. The water in the fjord is deep enough to allow the cruise ship to weave under the stone walls that dwarf even the most opulent vessels. Waterfalls sprout seemingly from the heavens, and after rainfall, they turn extra-extra-large, filling the air with mist and mystery. The abundant wildlife, including fur seals, native birds and dolphins complete the picture of a destination that should be on every traveller's bucket list.


Milford Sound waterfall

Your cruise might also stop at Tauranga's stunning coastline, the Art Deco-inspired Napier, Dunedin – a UNESCO City of Literature; or stunning Stewart Island, where kiwi birds outnumber people. 

As a cruise ship destination, New Zealand is tough to beat. It's a short hop across the Tasman Sea for Australian sailors, and once there, there’s plenty to see and do. Explore the country while indulging in fine food and good scenery floating past your cabin – all while never getting out of your comfort zone. Or, take part in wild shore excursions and enjoy an active holiday that scratches that true adventurous spirit – on the sea, in the air and on the land. It can be the best of both worlds. Regardless of who you are, a New Zealand cruise can be the trip of a lifetime.

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