11 Best Backpacker Cruises in New Zealand


Backpacker Cruises in New Zealand You Can’t Miss!

Just try and keep us out of the water! Staying out of the water is just not the Kiwi way. With loads of islands, sounds and lakes to be explored, there are plenty of reasons to hop on a boat. Some intriguing New Zealand landforms can only be seen from the water. With all that in mind, we have conjured up this list of some of the best backpacker cruises in New Zealand. They are affordable and great for backpackers!

New Zealand’s waters are also filled with unique and endangered wildlife. The best way to see these species, like dolphins, whales and seals, is by cruising with the professionals.

1. Milford Sound Cruise

This unmissable cruise through the “8th 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 11 Stunning Sights Seen From a Milford Sound Cruise. Rain or shine, this backpacker cruise is an experience every backpacker should have.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
Book with: Southern Discoveries (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Go Orange (on Viator and Tripadvisor), Real Journeys (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Jucy Cruise (on Viator and Tripadvisor).

Tourism NZ© Tourism NZ

2. Marlborough Sounds Mail Cruise

Deliver mail to isolated houses in the Marlborough Sounds, while cruising through deep blue water, past luscious rainforest, and golden sand beaches. Mailboat cruises depart from Picton and Havelock.

Location: Havelock and Picton, South Island
Book with: Beachcomber Cruises (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor), Cougar Line (on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Pelorus Mail Boat (on Viator and Tripadvisor).


3. Whale Watching Cruise in Kaikoura

Spot whales, and most likely 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 see the magical moment of the whale fluke rising in the air as the whale dives.

Location: Kaikoura, South Island
Book with: Whale Watch Kaikoura (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

4. Cook Strait Ferry

Another “unmissable cruise” is actually your most affordable chance to cross the ditch between the North and South Island. Plus, with views of the Marlborough Sounds along the way, it makes for a pretty scenic cruise.

Location: Picton, South Island or Wellington, North Island
Book with: Interislander Picton to Wellington (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Interislander Wellington to Picton (on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

5. Maritime Museum Cruise

The cheapest cruise you’ll find in Auckland, pay a little extra at the Maritime Museum and you can be sailing the Auckland Harbour in one of the heritage sailing boats.

Location: Auckland, North Island

Maritime Harbour Cruise, Auckland©

6. Bay of Islands Overnight Cruise

There are many cruises to choose from to explore the Bay of Islands, but a great one for backpackers is The Rock Adventure Cruise. This boat meets backpacker accommodation is packed with backpacker dorm rooms, plus, there are heaps of adventure activities to have along the way. Go snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, hiking on islands and more!

Location: Paihia, Bay of Islands, North Island
Book with: The Rock Adventure Cruise (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

7. 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.

Location: Bluff, South Island
Book with: Real Journeys Ferry to Bluff (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

8. Paihia Dolphin-watching Cruise

144 islands are scattered around the Bay of Islands. Their waters are populated by playful dolphins, as well as dramatic coastal and island scenery. Jump on a Bay of Islands cruise to experience the region’s iconic sights. [Update: dolphin swimming is now prohibited with bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands. Cruises still operate to view the dolphins in the afternoons].

Location: Paihia, North Island
Book with: Explore NZ (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) or Fullers GreatSights (on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

9. Doubtful Sound Cruise

Often overlooked due to being less accessible than Milford Sound, the Doubtful Sound cruise is a great insight into the real New Zealand wilderness.

Location: Fiordland National Park, South Island
Book with: Real Journeys (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

10. Waiheke Island Ferry

Leaving the downtown Auckland ferry terminal multiple times a day, the ferry will transport you to a totally different atmosphere far from the city. Dolphin pods are regularly seen from it too.

Location: Auckland, North Island©

11. Akaroa Wildlife Cruise

Akaroa outside of Christchurch is famous for the abundance of wildlife, especially little blue penguins and dolphins. Check them out by taking a wildlife cruise, sailing cruise, jet boat and more!

Location: Akaroa, South Island
Book with: Black Cat Cruises (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Akaroa Dolphins (on Viator and Tripadvisor).©

[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©

There’s More on the Water!

Choose from these other methods of taking to New Zealand’s waters:


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in New Zealand over 10 years ago and with a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to travel New Zealand. She knows Aotearoa inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience New Zealand’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides and is the co-host of NZ Pocket Guide’s live New Zealand travel Q&As on YouTube.

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