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New Zealand Cruises: the Ultimate Guide for a Remarkable Trip


This island nation located off the eastern coast of Australia offers expansive bays, dramatic fiords, and a scenic coastline– perfect for exploration by hundreds of New Zealand cruises every year.

Massive city-size ships and smaller, expedition cruises embark along New Zealand’s dramatic coastlines of both North and South Island for an intensive New Zealand experience. Stick around to learn about all the ins and outs of New Zealand cruises.

New Zealand cruises

 When is the Season for New Zealand Cruises?

Cruise lines most consistently visit New Zealand on their best New Zealand cruises between the months of early October to late April. This means that it can be pretty challenging to narrow down your choices as many cruise lines have dozens of New Zealand itineraries operating a month.

With so many must-see spots in New Zealand, the most popular months for New Zealand cruises are December, January, and February. This is when the temperatures are the most comfortable and enjoyable with sunnier days.

A handful of cruise ships visit New Zealand between May and September, with no New Zealand cruises operating during July (New Zealand’s first month of winter).

How is the Weather on New Zealand Cruises?

While spring, summer, and early fall in New Zealand on a cruise can be fabulous, you should always come prepared.

This means to pack various layers to stay comfortable on your New Zealand cruise. The average temperatures in the southern region of the country are vastly different than the weather you will experience at the northern end. For the best chances of warm and pleasant weather, plan your New Zealand cruise during the months of January and February.

It also rains a lot in New Zealand, so make sure to bring your best rain jacket and umbrella. New Zealand has a high annual rainfall spread pretty evenly throughout the year. The weather on a New Zealand cruise can also change in an instant. Locals aren’t joking around when they say they sometimes experience all four seasons in one day!

When in the northern area of the country, you can expect subtropical weather during the summer, while the alpine areas of the South Island can reach as low as -10 Celsius. The average temperature gradually decreases as your New Zealand cruise travels south.

cruising to New Zealand

How Do I Plan a New Zealand Cruise?

If you have never been on a cruise before, you may have some questions about the logistics and how to plan your cruise.

First, you will want to get an idea of what your must-see attractions are. Most New Zealand cruises follow the popular itineraries of either departing from an Australian port, New Zealand-only, South Pacific Islands, and Repositioning cruises.

After you determine the itinerary you would like, then you need to focus on a specific cruise line for the best New Zealand cruise ever. Each cruise line offers a unique experience for every type of cruiser. Then, you can select a date with that perfect cruise line and itinerary to book and mark in your calendar!

I highly recommend booking a balcony or higher stateroom on your cruise ship as you will not regret waking up to the breathtaking New Zealand cruise landscape from your own private balcony. Also, make sure to avoid the loudest staterooms onboard to completely relax on your New Zealand cruise.

Once booked, you will receive access to more booking options like onboard packages, shore excursions, and stateroom upgrades. I highly suggest taking advantage of these pre-travel opportunities to have your vacation planned out before you leave on your New Zealand cruise!

What are the Different New Zealand Itineraries?

The majority of cruises visiting New Zealand are roundtrips from one of the popular Australian ports of Sydney and Melbourne. These New Zealand cruises tend to be more cost-effective, however, there are also opportunities to see New Zealand through cruising on longer voyages of 10+ days or shorter four night cruises.

NCL New Zealand Cruise

12 Day NCL Australia and New Zealand Cruise

Cruises from Australia

By far the most popular itinerary for New Zealand cruises are those leaving from Australia. Itineraries typically leave out of either Melbourne or Sydney, Australia on these New Zealand cruises. 

The most popular of these cruises are roundtrip, including stops at the most popular New Zealand ports of Auckland, Wellington, Akaroa, Tauranga, and Dunedin. There are other opportunities for New Zealand cruises on longer voyages of 10 days or more that will explore further, less-visited ports like the Bay of Islands, Napier and Picton, and scenic cruising at the nearby Fiordland.

Some of these New Zealand itineraries will also tack on some Australian ports to your New Zealand cruise like Melbourne, Newcastle, and Hobart. Others will visit the popular South Pacific ports of Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia.

Cruise from Australia Reasons

Nature lovers, sports enthusiasts, and those who would just love to relax will fall in love with this itinerary. They all head out on New Zealand cruises for fishing charters, wildlife-watching trips, Lord of the Rings expeditions, trek hiking, and much more!

Book a stateroom overlooking New Zealand’s magnificent mountains, gushing waterfalls, rugged cliffs, fjords, and rolling hills. If you are looking for marine wildlife, you are in luck. You will more than likely spot an abundance of whales, porpoises, Royal Albatross colonies, yellow-eyed penguins, dolphins, and fur seals.

Shore excursions and onboard lectures are a must-do as they will go in-depth into the rich history of New Zealand. You will want to learn about the cultures of the indigenous people of New Zealand on your New Zealand cruise and about more recent inhabitants. The Maori culture found in New Zealand is one of the strongest in all of Polynesia and if you are a fan of the Lord of the Rings series, you will be far from disappointed.

Cruises from Australia Ports

The most popular cruises from Australia ports are Auckland, Wellington, Akaroak, Dunedin, and Tauranga. Most New Zealand cruises also pass by the breathtaking sights near Fiordland and Doubtful Sound.

A perk of New Zealand cruises traversing the ocean from Australia is calm waters. If you are prone to seasickness, this may be the itinerary for you, versus one that transits over open, rougher waters.

cruising to New Zealand

16-night Azamara New Zealand cruise

New Zealand-only Cruises

If you are looking for a New Zealand cruise solely in New Zealand, I highly suggest booking a New Zealand only cruise. This way, you will enjoy all the best ports of the cruises from Australia and its ports while hitting other, less-visited cruise destinations on North and South Island.

In general, these roundtrip itineraries depart from Auckland. Many of these New Zealand sailings are shorter, however. They typically run for around three to five nights, but you may be able to find other, longer New Zealand cruises after diligent research.

New Zealand-only Cruise Reasons

You will have up to two days at sea perfect for scenic cruising as you enjoy the views of the landscape passing by. This may sound boring at first, however, these days at sea are completely different from others, as you will see some incredible sites. These include the breathtakingly rugged landscape found at Fiordland.

The New Zealand-only sailings can experience rough waters when sailing further into the ocean during the outside section of the voyage.

New Zealand-only Cruise Ports

The most popular cruises from New Zealand tend to visit more ports than those leaving from an Australian port. This means they reach the popular New Zealand ports of Auckland, Akaroa, Wellington, Tauranga, and Dunedin, while adding some other, lesser-known destinations.

These include Picton, Milford Sound, and Dusky Sound. These beautiful ports of call on a New Zealand cruise are some of the best sights in New Zealand.

New Zealand cruises Repositioning

New Zealand Repositioning Cruises

If you are looking for relaxing longer cruise that visits New Zealand, I highly suggest booking a New Zealand repositioning cruise. This way, you will enjoy all the best ports of the cruises from Australia and its ports while spending more time at sea and potentially linking up other must-see destinations.

Typically, these repositioning cruises are seen on Transpacific itineraries taking place at the beginning or end of Austrasia cruising season. Check out the larger cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian Cruise Line to explore these itineraries.

New Zealand Repositioning Cruise Reasons

You will have plenty of days at sea for scenic cruising as you enjoy the views of the landscape passing by in New Zealand and the other countries you pass. This may sound boring at first, however, these days at sea are completely different from those on other itineraries, as you will see remarkable sights around the Pacific Ocean. 

Since these New Zealand repositioning cruises sail across the open waters on the Pacific Ocean, you may want to pack some seasickness medicine if you are susceptible to motion-sickness.

New Zealand Repositioning Cruise Ports

The most popular repositioning cruises that visit New Zealand typically visit less New Zealand ports than the other itineraries.. This means they won’t reach the lesser-known ports, however they will choose a couple of New Zealand ports to visit like Auckland, Akaroa, Wellington, Tauranga, and Dunedin.

Popular repositioning routes include cruises from Honolulu to Auckland or Honolulu to Sydney, and the reverse. Of course these South Pacific cruise itineraries will stop in New Zealand to explore its breathtaking natural beauty.

New Zealand cruise ship

New Zealand Cruises to the South Pacific Islands

New Zealand cruises visiting the South Pacific are the perfect way to explore the neighboring islands around this breathtaking country.

This New Zealand cruise itinerary is very popular amongst the locals as they typically leave from Auckland. The waters can be quite rough during these itineraries, however, if you are sailing during the summer months, you should not have anything to worry about.

Some highlights of the longer 7+ night New Zealand cruises include ports of call in New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Others add on other South Pacific islands like Tonga, the Cook Islands, and Fiji.

New Zealand Land and Sea Tours

On a New Zealand cruise, you can expect to journey along the state’s southeastern coast aboard your cruise ship. However, if you are looking to spend more time exploring inland, you may want to consider extending your vacation with a cruisetour.

Many smaller cruise lines like Grand Pacific Tours offer these itineraries. These options were created by popular demand as you can combine a simple New Zealand cruise with an exhilarating land tour. These are typically booked through the cruise line where you can stay in authentic lodges and hike on some of the world’s best treks.

Most of these Land and Sea Cruise-tours are guided by locals. This means you will get to know the land and culture with deep connections to the local communities once you get off your New Zealand cruise.

New Zealand cruise

Types of New Zealand Cruise Lines

No matter what cruising experience you are looking for, I guarantee you will find it in New Zealand. Nearly every major cruise line has cruises to New Zealand every year.

From 3-day weekend trips to 180-day world cruises, these New Zealand cruises are absolutely stunning. There are plenty of New Zealand cruise deals available for eager cruisers booking through a travel agent or directly with the cruise line. Make sure to research diligently to find the best New Zealand cruise for you!

Mainstream and Family Cruise Lines for New Zealand Cruises

Just about all the main cruise lines offer sailings to and from New Zealand:

  1. Royal Caribbean International — Royal Caribbean offers spectacular itineraries up to New Zealand’s North and South Islands at extraordinarily low prices. With this cruise line offering countless amenities for all types of cruisers, Royal Caribbean offers dozens of New Zealand cruises every year.
  2. Norwegian Cruise Line — Norwegian (NCL) offers unique itineraries visiting New Zealand, boasting new discoveries around every turn. NCL prides themselves on offering exhilarating wildlife and cultural shore excursions during their NCL New Zealand cruises.
  3. Celebrity Cruises — Celebrity Cruises offer their passengers a slightly more luxurious experience tailored to each guests’ dream New Zealand cruise. This cruise line is popular for it’s over-the-top vacation experience traveling to the soaring mountains of New Zealand.
  4. Carnival Cruise Line — Carnival offers very affordable New Zealand cruises for the average cruise enthusiast. Their popular cruises typically leave from Sydney when they sail to the Bay of Islands and through the beautiful fjords at Fjordland National Park.
  5. Holland America — Holland America offers cruises to New Zealand and the South Pacific throughout the New Zealand cruising season. Whether cruising by Milford Sound or traversing the New Zealand ocean landscape, you are guaranteed to enjoy their luxurious experience on your New Zealand cruise!

Small Cruise Lines and Expedition Sailings to New Zealand

Active travelers may be looking for expedition-style voyages or cruises on a smaller ship to enjoy more time in the New Zealand ports.

  1. Silversea — Silversea offers stylish and intimate New Zealand cruises. Their smaller ships visit plenty of New Zealand’s hidden waterfalls and silent fjords on their journey. They pride themselves on their crew to guest ratio of almost 1:1 creating a personalized New Zealand trip for every passenger.
  2. Seabourn — Seabourn Encore sails New Zealand every Australasia cruising season. This stunning cruise ship brings its guests to the sweeping landscapes of New Zealand. Popular shore excursions include kayaking to waterfalls and hiking the breathtaking New Zealand mountains.
  3. Regent Seven Seas — Regent Seven Seas explores the geothermal wonderlands found in New Zealand through numerous Australia & New Zealand cruises. This cruise line balances cultural, active, and foodie activities.
  4. Zeagrahm — This tour company offers a variety of intimate New Zealand expeditions on their cruise ships. Some past expeditions include visiting the sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand and exploring the Southern Alps and Queenstown on South Island.
New Zealand cruise ports

Top Ports for New Zealand Cruises

No matter which cruise line and itinerary you ultimately decide on, you will likely visit a mix of these fabulous New Zealand ports. 

Many cruises to New Zealand offer trips to these popular ports of call that are consistent with most itineraries. Like Caribbean cruise ports, these ports cater to the New Zealand cruise market. If you are looking for more than touristy attractions and activities, make sure to get out of the main port area and explore.

Auckland New Zealand cruise port

Auckland, New Zealand

This port is known as New Zealand’s most populated urban center. Auckland is a proper maritime city boasting welcoming a plethora of cruise ships and yachts year round.

Visitors will find world-renown museums and galleries, in addition to great shopping and tasty wines during their time in port. Many New Zealand cruises will embark from Auckland, so make sure to arrive a day or two early to explore this fantastic city!

What to do in Auckland:

The main draws to this popular New Zealand cruise port include the Auckland War Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki

Families will enjoy exploring the numerous family-friendly attractions in Auckland like the famous Sky Tower, the Auckland Zoo, and the Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary. Nature enthusiasts will love the awe-inspiring landscapes explored through shore excursions to Mount Eden, Waiheke Island, and Rangitoto Island

If you are in port for an extended period of time, venture a few hours outside of Auckland to some of the epic Kiwi attractions. These include the Hobbiton Movie Set and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.

Wellington New Zealand cruising

Wellington, New Zealand

This exhilarating New Zealand port is actually the country’s capital! Once debarking your New Zealand cruise, stroll along the waterfront in Wellington where you will find several museums, retail stores, and restaurants to get to know the city. If you are looking to get out of the city for a while, head out of town to one of the New Zealand’s most famous wine districts!

What to do in Wellington:

You will enjoy one of Wellington’s top attractions Mount Victoria— offering incredible panoramic views located on an inner-city public parkland. Explore this cruise port’s famous historic landmarks like the Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington Museum, and the Parliament House

Stroll the quirky Cuba Street, home to some of the city’s best cafes, bars, and markets with its stylish bohemian flair. For nature lovers, head out to Zealandia Wildlife Reserve. This reserve protects New Zealand’s natural wildlife through an enclosed urban ecosanctuary– the very first of its kind in the world.

Some other fun activities to enjoy in Wellington on your New Zealand cruise include riding the Wellington cable car system. These cable cars transport visitors and locals between the city’s top attractions like the Botanic Garden, the Cable Car Museum, and the Carter Observatory.

Dunedin cruise port

Dunedin, New Zealand

As a little piece of New Zealand’s Scottish heritage, Dunedin is nestled on South Island. Dunedin was named after the famous Gaelic for Edinburgh, “Dun Edin”, founded by the Presbyterian Scottish immigrants.

Dunedin is characteristically hilly as the city lays claim to the steepest residential street in the world. The town center itself is simple enough to navigate on foot, with many beautiful late 19th-century architecture still very well maintained.

What to do in Dunedin:

Look out for the gorgeous Larnach Castle when in the Dunedin port on your New Zealand cruise. This top attraction is New Zealand’s only castle, originally constructed by a wealthy banker during Otago’s gold rush years.

Learn more about Dunedin’s rich history at the Otago Museum, Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, and the Olveston Historic Home. These historic buildings offer glimpses into Dunedin’s past.

If you are looking for some outdoor attractions during your New Zealand cruise to Dunedin, check out the Dunedin Botanic Garden, Taiaroa Head & The Royal Albatross Center, and nearby Tunnel Beach. If you are spending a good amount of time in port, consider a day trip to the famed Moeraki Boulders found on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki.

Akararoa cruise port

Akaroa, New Zealand

Located on Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury region of South Island, Akaroa has turned into a haven for artists, gardeners, and vacationers alike. This is also known as the best spot to reach the historic nearby city of Christchurch as the previous port of Lyttleton was damaged badly in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Whether you are spending the day exploring the inner workings of Akaroa or venturing further out into the countryside, this city is a fabulous port on New Zealand cruises.

What to do in Akaroa:

Head into the heart of Akaroa to discover the Giant’s House— a historic homestead that has since been transformed into an artsy attraction. Learn about Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula’s history at the Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum.

Another spot to explore the beautiful history and art of the area is the Akaroa Museum Te Whare Taonga. Here you will learn about the history of the Banks Peninsula by viewing an extensive collection of historic artifacts.

Head out of the city through a wildlife cruise to Akaroa Harbor to catch rare glimpses of Hector’s dolphins, penguins, fur seals, and other native animals. Alternatively, book a shore excursion kayaking in the Pohatu Marine Reserve to discover white-flippered penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, seals, Hector’s dolphins. and orcas.

Tauranga cruise port

Tauranga, New Zealand

Tauranga is technically the largest city in the Bay of Plenty on North Island. This New Zealand cruise port is one of the fastest growing population centers in New Zealand.

Downtown Tauranga is home to numerous historically significant areas– perfect for a scenic walk around the area. This port is a popular stop for New Zealand cruises heading into the Tauranga harbor, a popular spot for fishing, diving, sailing, and dolphin tours.

What to do in Tauranga:

Head over to Tauranga’s beautiful coastline once you step off your New Zealand cruise. Tauranga is home to white sand beaches and a plethora of water adventures destined to please every type of cruiser!

Another great outdoor adventure is hiking up Mt Maunganui. As an intermediate-level hiking spot, Mt Maunganui offers expansive views of the harbor below as a fantastic reward for tackling the rugged landscape.

The Tauranga Art Gallery provides a expansive collection of high-quality art from international street style to contemporary pieces. If you are in port for a while, book a tour to the Hobbiton Movie Set to learn about the creation of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

a day trip to explore the bay at the Hole in the Rock. This natural wonder was carved by the sea creating a 240-foot wide hole.

Bay of Islands cruise port

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Located on the northwestern coast of North Island, the Bay of Islands is an amazing port offered when cruising to New Zealand.

The Bay of Islands is frequently compared to Rio de Janeiro as its home to the second bluest sky in the world. 144 subtropical islands are nestled in this gorgeous area filled with Maori cultural sites and stunning turquois waters.

What to do in the Bay of Islands:

Check out the Bay of Islands Maritime Park featuring a lovely lighthouse, Cape Brett, and the infamous Hole in the Rock formation. Explore this top New Zealand cruise attraction which was carved by the sea and weather creating a 240-foot wide hole.

The nation of New Zealand was formed here in the Bay of Islands with the signing of the Waitangi Treaty between the British and the Maori in 1840. Make sure to visit the on-site Te Kongahu Museum and the intricately carved meeting building where you can enjoy Maori cultural performances.

Head out to explore areas outside of the Bay of Islands at Cape Reinga located on the northern tip of New Zealand. This scenic outlook is where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet and combine together.

cruising to New Zealand

Top Cruise-by Ports on a New Zealand Cruise

If you are planning to go on an Alaskan cruise, you can more than likely expect to have a couple days at sea cruising by some of the state’s top natural wonders. This alone is reason enough to splurge on that balcony cabin you have been debating about as you can sip on your morning coffee while watching whales and glaciers pass by.

Milford Sound cruise

Milford Sound

While there may not be a dock or really any port, Milford Sound is truly a treat on any New Zealand cruise situated on the western coast of South Island.

 Famously stated as the ‘eighth wonder of the world‘ by Rudyard Kipling, Milford Sound was originally carved by glaciers during the ice ages.

Most cruises to New Zealand feature this cruise-by port which is absolutely stunning in any weather. The fjord’s cliffs feature a steep edge, as they rise from the dark waters. Milford Sound offers mountain peaks scraping the sky and waterfalls thundering downwards from over 1000 meters.

Dusky Sound cruise New Zealand

Dusky Sound

Dusky Sound lies amongst plenty of other grandiose fiords at Fiordland National Park in the southwestern area of New Zealand’s South Island.

Originally named by Captain Cook as he sailed by around dusk during his 1770 voyage to the area, Dusky Sound is home to one of the area’s largest fjords.

If you are cruising during the rainy season, you will luckily get to witness hundreds of waterfalls gushing down from the green hills above. Keep an eye out for sleeping seals on Dusky Sound’s Seal Rock and Astronomer’s Point— a historic observatory dating back to 1773 overlooking the dramatic fjord.

Doubtful Sound cruises New Zealand

Doubtful Sound

Frequently referred to as the “Sound of Silence”, Doubtful Sound is a classic cruise-by sight on New Zealand cruises. Similar to Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound was named by Captain James Hook who decided to not sail into the narrow inlet as it looked a bit tight.

Similar to other fiords in the area, Doubtful Sound features two distinct layers of water that won’t mix. While the top few meters contain fresh water, the remaining water underneath is salt water from the sea.

Look out for the Hall Arm, Browne Falls, and Helena Falls at Deep Cove on your New Zealand cruise. These towering waterfalls are particularly strong during the wetter months of the year. Also watch for the area’s natural wildlife including fur seals, penguins, and bottlenose dolphins.



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