From Scenic Fjords & Rare Wildlife, To Lush Rainforests and Sub-Antarctic Islands
There’s a noticeable difference between regular cruising and expedition-style cruising. If you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of the adventure that the early explorers experienced, an expedition cruise around New Zealand offers a chance to explore pristine wilderness and see species of exotic wildlife many people have never even heard of.
But taking a New Zealand cruise doesn’t mean sacrificing on creature comforts or modern conveniences. Zegrahm Expeditions’ cruise to the country’s Sub-Antarctic Islands offers a nice blend of charming towns and remote wild landscapes to experience. Each day offers new surprises and destinations that very few people ever get the chance to see with their own eyes. In fact, Zegrahm is among a small, exclusive number of operators that hold permits to travel to the far-flung isles of Macquarie, Campbell, Auckland, and The Snares.
A journey to this remote corner of the world is a great opportunity to leave behind the chaos of your everyday life. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should make the effort to experience New Zealand and its many islands on a small-ship cruise.
1. See Scenic Fjords
Fiordland National Park is New Zealand’s largest, and home to some of the country’s most prized natural wonders.
The country’s South Island is home to over a dozen dynamic fjords, including the Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Dusky Sound. Snows blanket distant peaks while the area’s heavy rains bring life to towering waterfalls such as Stirling Falls and Lady Elizabeth Bowen Falls.
Stunning scenery continually passes before your eyes from the comfort of the Caledonian Sky’s decks and private suites. Travelers also get the chance to see the fjords in finer detail on excursions with Zegrahm’s knowledgeable field staff aboard zodiacs.
A visit to the Milford Sound Discovery Centre & Underwater Observatory brings you face to face with an underwater world filled with rare fish and black coral. Back on land, you’ll have the chance to see rare birds such as crested penguins and the takahē (a flightless swamp hen from the rail family).
2. Stroll in Intriguing Cities
New Zealand’s coast and islands offer well-preserved historic towns dating back to the time of Queen Victoria. Travelers have a chance to explore a rich cultural heritage along with relaxation, adrenaline-pumping adventures, and rich wildlife.
Visit Dunedin to take a ride on the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, or see nesting seabirds such as albatrosses and little penguins as well as New Zealand fur seals at Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve on the Otago Peninsula. Challenge your legs to a climb up the world’s steepest pedestrian street, or browse the Otago Museum to explore its rich collection of natural history artifacts (which includes an incredible exhibit on the extinct moa, a large emu-like bird).
Queenstown offers the chance to experience a wide range of outdoor adventures. Or you can choose to relax in beautiful gardens, spas, and wineries. Explore the real-life locations from The Lord of the Rings films and enjoy gondola rides over the region. Those looking for fast-paced fun can also experience jet boat rides.
3. Watch Rare Wildlife
New Zealand is home to a wide range of endemic species. This is a land largely dominated by its intriguing birdlife, as well as rich marine life along its shores.
Because New Zealand is geographically isolated, lots of unique flora and fauna evolved there. So you can find flightless parrots like the extremely rare kakapo, as well as the adorably strange-looking kiwi birds.
The flightless moa may have gone extinct, but countless other bird species remain in abundance. You can see three different species of penguin, the beautiful tui, and the mischievous kea.
Search the land for the ancient, lizard-like tuataras and keep your eyes peeled on the seas, where nearly two dozen species of dolphins and whales can be seen. You may also see the New Zealand sea lion, which has made a conservation comeback in recent years.
4. Explore Lush Rainforests
New Zealand protects one-fifth of its total land area with national parks and reserves, which are mostly home to native flora.
On the North Island, you’ll find sub-tropical rainforests, while the South Island is home to temperate rainforests. Podocarp hardwood forests (which can be traced back to thetime of Gondwana) are home to giant trees such as the Kahikatea and Tōtara. These forests provide sanctuary for New Zealand’s many rare and endangered birds.
These largely impenetrable seas of green are fed by up to 14 meters of annual rainfall in some parts of New Zealand. This rainfall creates incredible waterfalls that descend off steep cliffs as they pass by silver ferns, mosses, and crimson red rata flowers. At the forest edges, the beautiful yellow flowers of the Kōwhai trees come into view.
5. Offshore Islands
Located off the coast of New Zealand’s North Island, the Bay of Islands is rich in wildlife and Māori culture. Off the southern tip of the South Island you’ll find New Zealand’s third largest island, Stewart Island, along with the nature sanctuary of Ulva Island.
Rakiura National Park makes up most of Stewart Island, where you may spot kiwis in the wild as well as hear the calls of the morepork owl. Fully immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty by hiking segments of the three-day Rakiura Track, and be sure to check out the Rakiura Museum to learn about the island’s history with whaling and muttonbirding (the seasonal harvest of petrel chicks for food, oil, and feathers).
Uninhabited by humans, nearby Ulva Island boasts a predator-free environment. Here, birds like the South Island saddleback and weka are allowed a chance to thrive. Large rimu trees and seasonal orchids grace the small network of trails. Thorough biosecurity checks help ensure the island will remain a protected sanctuary free of invasive plants and animals (such as the Norway rat).
6. Sub-Antarctic Islands
Designated as a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands offer the chance to see iconic animals such as king penguins and elephant seals. You may also see rare species that are endemic to specific islands, like the crested penguin and the Campbell snipe.
Millions of sooty shearwaters breed in the Snares Islands, while the remote and rugged Campbell Island is home to the world's most remote tree as well as half a dozen species of albatross.
The Auckland Islands are the primary breeding location of the New Zealand sea lion and offer a chance to see rare yellow-eyed penguins as well as beautiful red-fronted and yellow-crowned parakeets. These islands are also home to a wide variety of invertebrates, including the weta and flightless weevils.
The true highlight of New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands is Macquarie Island, which boasts a sort of Galapagos-type experience in the far southern seas. There, thousands of giant elephant seals and Antarctic fur seals mix with millions of nesting seabirds. Colonies of royal, southern rockhopper, gentoo, and striking king penguins can all be seen on the island as well.
7. Adventurous Days at Sea
Wildlife watching doesn’t stop even as you leave the sub-Antarctic islands behind for the open seas. Keep your binoculars handy for spotting petrels, albatrosses, flying fish, and whales. You may even be lucky enough to catch sight of sperm whales, orcas, and breaching humpback whales in the area.
It is an incredible experience to sail the very same seas that Abel Tasman and Captain Cook navigated when they first laid their eyes upon New Zealand. And Zegrahm’s New Zealand cruise makes it easy to take in the ocean’s endless blue beauty from the windows of your suite or private balcony.
Days spent at sea provide an adventurous spirit mixed with a bit of relaxation, allowing you to reflect on all the incredible experiences you have witnessed along your journey.
8. Epic Shore Excursions
New Zealand is one of those diverse destinations that offers just as much fun and excitement on land as you’ll find on the sea. Having ample opportunities to go ashore and fully explore New Zealand’s incredible landscapes and scenery makes it certain you’ll never have a dull moment.
You can go sightseeing in many of New Zealand’s greatest cities. You’ll see the lush rainforests and fjords, and hike through pristine wilderness and shorelines to encounter wondrous wildlife. Then sample delicious local wines.
Feel the sea spray on your face on jet boat rides, and watch the landscape peacefully go by on once in a lifetime rail journeys. With so many activities to enjoy, the only difficult problem is choosing which to experience.
9. Knowledgeable Guides
Seeing is one thing, but fully understanding your travel experiences are priceless. Zegrahm boasts an expedition team filled with highly knowledgeable guides at your disposal, allowing guests to get the most out of their cruise around New Zealand.
Through onboard lectures and presentations, you’ll get daily briefings to learn what to expect from your journey and recap the events of each day. Each one helps travelers to fully understand and appreciate the things they have experienced. Guides combine years of education and first-hand experience to make the journey both safe and illuminating.
Cruise ship teams usually consist of skilled Zodiac drivers, ornithologists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and adventure travel professionals. Their years of study and field experience allows them to know when and where they’ll find the best chances of seeing wildlife, as well as making sure the welfare of both passengers and the natural environment are looked after.
10. Luxury New Zealand Cruise Ships
Early explorers had to endure rough and dangerous conditions when sailing in and around New Zealand. Today, our ships are fitted out with all the latest advancements in construction, navigation, and communication abilities. While giant cruise ships do visit New Zealand, small ship cruises provide a more intimate, personalized service.
While expedition-style ships may be smaller, that doesn’t mean you have to compromise when it comes to your cabin. Zegrahm’s 100-passenger Caledonian Sky offers luxurious suites with an ocean view, sitting room, en suite bathroom, flat-screen television, spacious wardrobes, and dressing table.
Shared public areas include a large lounge with piano, fully stocked bar, enclosed panoramic viewing deck, sun deck, library, and small gym. There’s also a single-seating dining room, where guests will enjoy delicious meals prepared by talented chefs. In short, it’s a splendid base for your 18-day cruise exploring the best New Zealand has to offer.
BIO: Megan Jerrard is an Australian Journalist and the founder and Senior Editor of Mapping Megan, an award-winning travel blog bringing you the latest in adventure travel from all over the globe.