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The Best Ways to Get to Antarctica & the Subantarctic Islands from New Zealand

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Cruises to Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands

You won’t find New Zealand’s southernmost islands in any brochures or guidebooks. Get well and truly off the beaten track to the remote southern oceans! New Zealand might be one of the main gateways to Antarctica for scientific expeditions, but there are very few ways to you can explore New Zealand’s most protected islands and even Antarctica itself for leisure. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Once or twice a year each New Zealand summer, a couple of cruises depart taking a limited number of passengers to the Subantarctic Islands and Antarctica to observe a vast array of wildlife and see extreme landscapes. We list some of the top (but limited) cruises available to Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands from New Zealand!

For more places to visit from New Zealand, check out the 10 Countries Easy to Visit from New Zealand.

5 Reasons to Make New Zealand Your Departure Point to the Antarctic & Subantarctic Islands

  • New Zealand is super easy to access through the international airports available in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin
  • Get a taste for the Subantarctic before you leave! New Zealand is also the habitat for penguins, albatross and sea lions that also inhabit the Subantarctic Islands
  • There are multiple departure cities, such as Invercargill, Dunedin and Christchurch (the latter if you’re lucky enough to be taking a flight). Check out the must-do experiences for Invercargill, Dunedin and Christchurch!
  • Get easy access to New Zealand’s closest Subantarctic island, Stewart Island! All you need to do is catch a ferry from Bluff with Real Journeys (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) then start doing the 10 Incredible Things to Do on Stewart Island.
  • Visit areas that are already on the tours, such as Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, as featured on the Subantarctic expedition with Zegrahm Expeditions (see below).
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Ross Sea Antarctic Cruising: In the Wake of Scott & Shackleton Cruise

Exodus Travels and Heritage Expeditions offers the ultimate adventure out at sea exploring the subantarctic islands on the way to Antarctica on a month-long excursion. Wildlife, dramatic landscapes and historic sites are the themes of the Ross Sea Antarctic Cruising tour, which includes visiting historic Antarctic huts and modern scientific bases, visiting penguin rookeries and peering at the grand Mt Erebus and Mt Discovery. A stop at The Snares, Auckland, Macquarie and Campbell islands break up the long journey down to the Ross Sea and Antarctica.

Accommodation is on the Spirit of Enderby, an ice-strengthened expedition vessel carrying 50 passengers in twin-share cabins. On-board is also a bar, dining room, library, lounge area, sauna and a lecture room. The tour departs and ends in Invercargill, with the cruise departure from the Port of Bluff.

Tour Highlights

Duration: 30 Days
Maximum Group Size: 48
Destinations: Invercargill, Bluff, The Snares Islands, Auckland Islands, Macquarie Island, Ross Sea, Franklin Island, Possession Islands, Ross Ice Shelf, Ross Island, Campbell Island.
Age of Passengers: 18+ years old

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Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand Cruise

A small-ship cruise operating in January annually, the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand cruise with Zegrahm Expeditions gives passengers a unique look at New Zealand’s far-flung islands. The 18-day excursion takes around 100 guests on Caledonian Sky expedition vessel, kitted out with luxurious cabins and public spaces including a dining room, lounge with a piano, a bar, viewing deck, sun deck, a library and a small gym.

Starting from Dunedin, the Zegrahm Expeditions cruise sails to the Auckland Islands, Macquarie Island, Cambell Island and The Snares Islands to observe multiple albatross and penguin species. The cruise then loops back to New Zealand, stopping by Stewart Island then through Milford, Dusky, Breaksea and Doubtful Sounds to embrace the scenery of the glacier-carved fiords. The tour then comes to a close in Queenstown.

Tour Highlights

Duration: 18 Days
Maximum Group Size: 100
Destinations: Dunedin, Auckland Islands, Macquarie Island, Campbell Island, The Snares Islands, Stewart Island, Ulva Island, Dusky Sound, Breaksea Sound, Doubtful Sound, Milford Sound and Queenstown.
Age of Passengers: 40-80-year-olds

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Forgotten Islands of the South Pacific

Departing twice a year, in January and December, Heritage Expedition’s Forgotten Islands of the South Pacific cruise takes you to some of the most remarkable wildlife reserves in the South Pacific, stopping by a selection of Subantarctic Islands. The eight-day cruise departs from the Port of Bluff near Invercargill, stopping by The Snares, Auckland and Campbell islands for some serious bird-watching. Think penguins, fernbirds, tomtits, albatross, teals and snipes!

Like the tour mentioned above, the Forgotten Islands of the South Pacific uses the Spirit of Enderby, which carries up to 50 passengers across 28 twin-share cabins. Guests have access to a bar, dining room, library, sauna, lounge and lecture room.

Tour Highlights

Duration: 8 Days
Maximum Group Size: 48
Destinations: Invercargill, Bluff, The Snares Islands, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island.
Age of Passengers: 18+ years old


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Laura S.

This article has been reviewed and published by Laura, the editor-in-chief and co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. Laura is a first-class honours journalism graduate and a travel journalist with expertise in New Zealand and South Pacific tourism for over 10 years. She also runs travel guides for five of the top destinations in the South Pacific and is the co-host of over 250 episodes of the NZ Travel Show on YouTube.

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