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Cruise on a small ship through New Zealand's most remote islands brimming with wildlife and spectacular scenery. Explore the ports of AucklandWellington, and stunning Milford Sound as you cruise around NZ. As the temperatures drop, the adventure rises! The Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand will not disappoint. Your cruise may take you to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Southern Islands, like Auckland Islandsthe SnaresCampbell Island, and the Antipodes Islands. Each of these destinations hosts fascinating bird species, such as the Royal penguin, endemic parakeet species, and a menagerie of other birds, plus native mammals like elephants, fur seals, and sea lions. NZ also serves as a doorway to the frigid Antarctic. Contact our New Zealand experts to assist in planning your adventure in the Southern Ocean!
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10 Best New Zealand Cruises for 2024-2025

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Top 6 Small Ships Cruising New Zealand in 2024-2025

Ship NameMax PassengersFromSummary
Le Jacques Cartier188$6960Indulge in an intimate cruise with the opportunity to visit an ever-expanding choice of destinations in an ethnic-chic ambiance with luxury service. …
Heritage Adventurer140$3750Heritage Adventurer is a true pioneering expedition vessel of exceptional pedigree. Often referred to as the 'Grande Dame of Polar Exploration' due …
Le Soleal264$8700Cruise the polar regions in luxury aboard the Le Soleal. This small ship carries 224 passengers in luxurious accommodations with first class …
Scenic Eclipse II228$23590Scenic Eclipse II is the sistership of Scenic Eclipse I, which is launched in 2023. Eclipse II continues to take ocean cruising to a whole new …
National Geographic Orion102$15610The creation of the National Geographic Orion in 2003 heralds a new breed of expedition ship: a state-of-the-art vessel which combines the latest …
Heritage Explorer18$2595A new era of exploration along the New Zealand coast has begun with the addition of the Heritage Explorer to Heritage Expedition's small ship fleet. …

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How do I get to New Zealand?

Check out New Zealand's advice and requirements for travel.

The United States - There are 1 stop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York to the capital city of Auckland. Other than that there are many 2-3 stop options to many New Zealand cities. Check the United States government advice for international travel.

Australia - There are non-stop flights from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane to Auckland. Other than that there are many 2-3 stop options that are also more economic. Check Australia's government advice for international travel.

The United Kingdom - Currently there is only 1 stop flight available from London to Auckland, other than that there are many 2 stop flights from different cities to New Zealand. Check the United Kingdom's government advice for international travel.

Top New Zealand Islands for a Wildlife Cruise

Follow in the footsteps of legendary explorers like Shackleton as you journey through the Subantarctic Islands aboard a luxurious cruise ship. Along the way, you will encounter a veritable rainbow of wildlife, including entire "penguin cities," an aviary of native and endemic bird species, and the lounging elephant seals. Your New Zealand excursion will bring you to the most popular and even some of the more hidden islands in this part of the South Pacific.
  • The Snares – You will see millions of sooty shearwaters and petrels and also the famous crested penguin along the steep cliffs of this small chain.
  • Auckland Islands – Land and sea birds abound in these islands, which were formed by two long-extinct volcanoes and broken apart by glaciers. This is also home to a stunning 19 endemic invertebrate species. 
  • Macquarie Island – Here, you will see the exclusive breeding spot of the royal penguin, along with three other species of penguins.
  • Campbell Island – This ruggedly steep island forms an important part of the UNESCO protected area of the southern islands, and with such biodiversity, you will see why!
  • Antipodes IslandDespite being an isolated destination, the Antipodes host the endemic pitpit & snipe among other curious bird species.

Iconic New Zealand Wildlife

Admire some of these awe-inspiring species during your New Zealand wildlife cruises and tours.
  1. Kiwi: This nocturnal and flightless bird native to New Zealand is an iconic symbol of the country and significant in Maori culture. Known for its small size, distinctive beak, and brown, shaggy feathers, the Kiwi is elusive and primarily active at night. With its keen sense of smell, it forages for insects and worms.
  2. Kea: This large, intelligent parrot is endemic to the South Island's alpine regions. Recognized for its olive-green plumage, orange underwings, and curious nature, the Kea is known to interact with humans. Its mischievous behavior, including dismantling rubber parts of vehicles, has earned it a reputation as the world's only alpine parrot.
  3. Hector's Dolphin: One of the world's smallest and rarest dolphin species calls the coastal waters of New Zealand home. Known for its distinctive rounded dorsal fin and playful antics, these dolphins are often spotted close to the shore. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect their populations, as they face threats from human activities and fishing gear.
  4. Tuatara: Often referred to as a living fossil, the Tuatara is a reptile endemic to New Zealand. Possessing unique features such as a "third eye" on the top of its head, spines along its back, and a slow metabolism, the Tuatara is the last surviving member of its ancient reptilian order. 
  5. Takahe: This large, flightless bird with striking blue and green plumage was once thought to be extinct. Rediscovered in the remote Fiordland National Park, these herbivores now benefit from dedicated conservation initiatives.
  6. Kaka: This endemic forest parrot is recognized for its vibrant plumage, including shades of green and crimson. Often heard before seen, the Kaka's harsh calls echo through the native forests. Its intelligent and social nature makes it a captivating species.
  7. Morepork: Also known as the Ruru, the Morepork a native owl with a hauntingly beautiful call that resonates through the New Zealand night. Revered in Maori mythology, the Morepork is considered a guardian of the forest.

New Zealand Cruises Top Ports of Call

  • Auckland: Known as the "City of Sails," Auckland is New Zealand's largest city and a vibrant cultural hub with stunning harbors and numerous attractions.
  • Wellington: The capital city of New Zealand, Wellington offers a blend of arts, culture, and natural beauty, with attractions like Te Papa Tongarewa (the national museum) and the iconic Wellington Cable Car.
  • Tauranga: Located in the Bay of Plenty region, Tauranga is known for its beautiful beaches, Maori culture, and proximity to attractions like Rotorua's geothermal wonders and Hobbiton Movie Set.
  • Christchurch: Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and is known for its English heritage, beautiful gardens, and nearby attractions such as the Banks Peninsula and Akaroa Harbour.
  • Dunedin: Known as the "Edinburgh of the South," Dunedin is renowned for its Scottish heritage, Victorian architecture, and access to wildlife-rich areas like the Otago Peninsula.
  • Fiordland National Park: While not a traditional port of call, many New Zealand cruises include scenic cruising through the stunning fjords of Fiordland National Park, including Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.

Unmissable Visitor Sites during a New Zealand Cruise

  • Te Papa Tongarewa (Wellington): New Zealand's national museum, offering exhibits on Maori culture, natural history, and art, located in Wellington.
  • Rotorua Geothermal Area: Known for its geysers, hot springs, and mud pools, showcasing the unique geothermal activity of the region.
  • Milford Sound (Fiordland National Park): A stunning fjord featuring sheer cliffs, waterfalls, and wildlife such as seals, dolphins, and penguins.
  • Hobbiton Movie Set (Matamata): A guided tour through the iconic movie set from "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" films.
  • Waitangi Treaty Grounds (Bay of Islands): The site where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, offering cultural performances, historic buildings, and beautiful grounds.
  • Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Centre (Wairarapa): Home to native wildlife including kiwi birds, kaka parrots, and tuatara lizards, with opportunities for guided tours and conservation education.
  • Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour (Dunedin): A chance to see native New Zealand wildlife such as albatrosses, penguins, and seals in their natural habitat.
  • Art Deco Historic District (Napier): Renowned for its well-preserved Art Deco architecture, visitors can explore the unique aesthetic of the city through guided walks or self-guided tours.

Best New Zealand Small Ship Cruise Lines for 2024-2025

  • Ponant boasts of a butler service reserved for passengers traveling in one of the suites situated on Deck 6 aboard Le Boréal, L'Austral, Le Soléal, or Le Lyrial, as well as all the Owner suites, Deluxe Suites, Privilege Suites, and the Prestige Suites situated on Deck 6 aboard the explorer ships. Attentive and discreet, your butler provides fully personalized service, ensuring a bespoke and carefree voyage. Join Le Laperouse on Oceania and Pacific islands cruises that provide exceptional snorkeling and admire some of the most beautiful seabed environments in the world. 
  • Lindblad Expeditions is a 100% carbon neutral company committed to green business operations and preserving our planet for future generations. Explore dramatic peaks, scenic fjords, and white-sand beaches of New Zealand aboard the National Geographic Orion, experiencing a wide array of natural wonders, wildlife, and culture along the way
  • Heritage Expeditions. A cruise operator based in Christchurch, New Zealand, ambassadors for conservation, pioneers of discovery, and leaders in expedition travel to the world's best-kept secrets. Perfect for small-ship expedition cruising, Spirit of Enderby and Heritage Explorer explores New Zealand's awe-inspiring fiords, gold-sand beaches, hidden coves, tranquil waterways, native forests, and marine reserves.
  • Coral Expeditions is Australia's pioneering expedition cruise company, sailing for nearly four decades. New Zealand's 15000 km of meandering coastline makes it uniquely suited to small ship expedition cruising. Coral Adventurer takes you deep into the intriguing history, vibrant culture, and rare wildlife of South Island. 


New Zealand Travel FAQs

Do I need a visa to travel to New Zealand?
Up to three months, you do not need a tourist visa, however, your passport must have validity beyond three months from your departure date.
Is tipping customary in New Zealand?
For servers: 10-15 percent.
At hotels: You can give porters $1 per bag, the concierge $10-20 for a favor, and housekeeping around $1.
Guides & Drivers: Tip $5-20 based on if it was a private tour or ride or if they did a particularly wonderful job.
Tipping is a relatively new (and spreading) trend in New Zealand, so be discreet when offering the tips and expect that some might refuse it.
What is internet access like in New Zealand?
You will be able to connect to the internet at most hotels and maybe restaurants, but when you are on open water on a cruise or at a lodge there probably won't be an accessible signal.
Can I use my cell phone while in New Zealand?
If you purchase a local SIM chip for your smartphone, then you might get a signal while you are in the more developed regions of New Zealand, but once you are in the more isolated areas, it's not likely that you will get a signal.
Do I need power adapters?
New Zealand has 220-240v power and AS-3112 outlets (three flat slanted prongs), which means that if you have a 110v device that is not compatible with this, you will need both a plug adapter and a step-down converter.
What are the toilets like in New Zealand?
New Zealand has modern flushing toilets. If you are in a more isolated area, then you may encounter a latrine.
Can I drink the water in New Zealand?
Yes, New Zealand has safe tap water. There will also be bottled water available to you as well.
Are credit cards accepted in New Zealand? Will I be able to find ATMs?
You will be able to find ATMs and businesses that accept credit cards while you are in the more developed parts of New Zealand. Not so much in the more rural areas, but fortunately, your trip is all-inclusive and there aren't that many things to purchase in these remote parts of the itinerary.
Should I purchase travel insurance?
Yes, purchasing travel insurance is a responsible way to travel on any vacation. Our associates, TravelGuard, have some great deals on the Once You're Booked page.
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