The Boat Cruises in New Zealand You Just Can’t Miss!
Just try and keep us out of the water; staying off the water is just not the Kiwi way. With “heaps” of islands, sounds and lakes to be explored, there are plenty of reasons to hop on a boat while visiting New Zealand. Some intriguing New Zealand landforms can only be seen from the water, as well as some of the most memorable wildlife encounters. With all that in mind, we have conjured up this list of some of the best boat cruises in New Zealand.
1. Milford Sound Cruise
Many would agree that a Milford Sound cruise is an unmissable boat cruise while visiting New Zealand. The sailing through the “Eighth Wonder of the World” will get you up close to waterfalls, wildlife and the towering mountains of the Fiordland National Park – see what to expect in the 11 Stunning Sights Seen from a Milford Sound Cruise. Rain or shine, this boat cruise provides some of the most awe-inspiring glacier-carved landscapes in the country. There are many options when it comes to cruises, so compare them all in the 7 Best Cruises in Milford Sound.
Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island.
2. Marlborough Sounds Mail Boat Cruise
Deliver mail to isolated houses in the Marlborough Sounds. Throughout the experience, you’ll cruise through deep blue water, past luscious rainforests and golden sand beaches. Mailboat cruises depart from Picton with Beachcomber Cruises (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Cougar Line (on Viator and Tripadvisor) and from Havelock with Pelorus Mail Boat (on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook).
Location: Havelock and Picton, South Island.
3. Kaikoura Whale Watching Cruise
Spot whales, as well as dolphins, seals and albatross, in one of the world’s best places to see whales. Sperm whales are seen year-round in Kaikoura and cruises almost always witness the magical moment of the whale fluke rising in the air as the whale dives. Book your boat cruise in Kaikoura with Whale Watch Kaikoura (more info on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday).
Location: Kaikoura, South Island.
4. Akaroa Wildlife Cruise
Akaroa outside of Christchurch is famous for its abundance of wildlife, especially little blue penguins and Hector’s dolphins. Check them out by taking a wildlife cruise, sailing cruise, jet boat, dolphin-swimming cruise or something else! With vividly blue waters and towering cliffs from the crater of an ancient volcano, there are many amazing features to see on a cruise in Akaroa. Compare all of your options in the 15 Best Things to Do in Akaroa.
Location: Akaroa, South Island.
5. Cook Strait Ferry
Another “unmissable boat cruise” is actually one of your most affordable chances to cross the ditch between the North and South Islands. With views of the Marlborough Sounds along the way, the ferries between the North Island and South Island make for a pretty scenic cruise. Learn more about them in The Ferry Between the North Island and South Island: Full Guide.
Location: Picton, South Island or Wellington, North Island.
6. Bay of Islands Cruise
There are many cruises to choose from to explore the Bay of Islands, ranging from dolphin and sight-seeing cruises to overnight adventures. There are opportunities to enjoy snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, hiking on islands and more! There’s not enough room to list them all here but take your pick from the 10 Best Cruises in the Bay of Islands.
Location: Paihia and Russell, Bay of Islands, North Island.
7. Abel Tasman Sailing or Boat Cruise
The waters of the Abel Tasman National Park are so inviting! Accept the invitation and get out on the water with one of the many boat trips going into the Abel Tasman National Park. Try a sailing trip for something quiet and relaxing, available with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. Alternatively, we like Abel Tasman Eco Tours to learn about the fascinating flora and fauna of the national park while beach-hopping. Wilsons Abel Tasman or Abel Tasman Sea Shuttles also have some amazing options. Discover more activities in the area in the 15 Best Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park.
Location: Kaiteriteri and Marahau, South Island.
8. Dunedin Wildlife Cruise
Go sailing or wildlife cruising from the Dunedin Harbour! Wildlife cruises, such as Port to Port and Monarch Wildlife Tours, will take you alongside the Otago Peninsula to see a wealth of seabirds, seals and sea lions, while dolphin cruises will take you further out in search of the ocean’s cutest and most playful marine mammals. Find out more about cruises with Port to Port on Viator and Tripadvisor and Monarch Wildlife Tours on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, find out more about what to do in Dunedin in the 15 Best Things to Do in Dunedin.
Location: Dunedin, South Island.
9. Doubtful Sound Cruise
Often overlooked due to being less accessible than Milford Sound, the Doubtful Sound cruise has you experiencing the fabulous fiords of the Fiordland National Park for much longer. The experience is not just a fiord cruise but a lake cruise across the inky black waters of Lake Manapouri, then a coach journey along one of the most remote roads in the country, and finally, a relaxing cruise along the glacial fiord of Doubtful Sound. Plan and book your cruise with RealNZ on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday.
Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island.
10. Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown) Cruise
There are a couple of cruises to experience on Lake Wakatipu, the magnificent lake of Queenstown, from a historic steamship cruise to onboard a modern catamaran. The TSS Earnslaw is a popular option, offering multiple sailings throughout the day. Watch the stokers feed the coal fire, visit the onboard museum and lap up the surrounding lake scenery. Find out more about the TSS Earnslaw on Viator, Tripadvisor, Klook and KKday. Alternatively, get around the lake further and faster with Southern Discoveries on their catamaran. Get gorgeous views of the lake and beyond while listening to informative commentary and relaxing with a treat from the onboard cafe. More information on the Southern Discoveries’ cruise can be found on Viator, Tripadvisor and Klook.
Location: Queenstown, South Island.
11. Auckland Sailing Cruise
In the “City of Sails”, it’s almost mandatory to experience sailing on the Auckland Harbour or Hauraki Gulf. Enjoy dinner with a tremendous view by embarking on an Auckland Harbour dinner cruise with Explore Auckland – more information on Viator and Tripadvisor. Alternatively, pump up the adrenaline by taking the helm of an America’s Cup sailing yacht – find out more on Viator and Tripadvisor. See more activity recommendations like this in our 20 Best Things to Do in Auckland.
Location: Auckland Central, North Island.
12. Stewart Island Ferry
Make it to New Zealand’s third island by, well, we would say by cruising but it is more like bobbing, from Bluff to Stewart Island. On the way, you may see Dog Island Lighthouse and many smaller islands. See The Complete Travel Guide to Stewart Island for advice on how to take the ferry to Stewart Island.
Location: Bluff, South Island.
13. Lake Rotoiti (Rotorua) Sailing Cruise
Offering bespoke experiences on Lake Rotoiti, Pure Cruise provides sailing charters on a luxury catamaran yacht. You and your group get exclusive use of this vessel, where you’ll sail the sparkling waters of one of Rotorua’s lakes and visit sandy coves, hot springs and cultural sites explained by your skipper and guide. Charters can also be complemented with onboard dining, while New Zealand wines, beers and other beverages are available to purchase from the bar. See how this compares to the 5 Stunning Places to Go Sailing in New Zealand.
Location: Rotorua, North Island.
14. New Zealand Maritime Museum Cruise
One of the cheapest boat cruises in New Zealand and in Auckland, pay a little extra at the New Zealand Maritime Museum and you can be sailing the Auckland Harbour (Waitemata Harbour) in one of the heritage sailing boats. Boat cruises typically last about one hour and provide awesome views of the Auckland skyline and Harbour Bridge.
Location: Auckland, North Island.
15. Waiheke Island Ferry
Leaving the downtown Auckland ferry terminal multiple times a day, the Waiheke Island ferry will transport you to a totally different atmosphere far from the city. Look out for dolphins, snap up the Auckland city skyline and get awesome views of Waiheke Island itself as you approach and depart. Book your ferry tickets with Fullers on Klook or KKday.
Location: Auckland, North Island.
[UPDATE] White Island Cruise
[Update: Following a major eruption, tours on White Island have been suspended until further notice.]
One of the most fascinating and accessible volcanoes on Earth, White Island is New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. You can walk along the crater of this volcano once you make the cruise across from Whakatane.
Location: Whakatane, North Island.
More About Boat Cruises in New Zealand
That’s it for our list of the best boat cruises in New Zealand. For more types of boat tours, such as jet boating and sailing, take a look at our alternative lists:
- 20 Places to Jet Boat in New Zealand
- 10 Places to Go Sailing in New Zealand
- 10 Best Kayak Tours in New Zealand
For more amazing experiences across the country, look no further than the 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List!