A holiday in New Zealand wouldn’t be complete without a day out on the water. Not only is the South Pacific country surrounded by the stuff, it also boasts more than 4000 lakes and over a dozen maritime fiords. Whether you want to spot wildlife, be active, take the helm or just sit back and enjoy the scenery, New Zealand’s best boat tours offer all that and more. We have compiled the definitive list for you.
Queenstown: Jump On Board a Vintage Steamship
TSS Earnslaw Queenstown. Credit: Real Journeys
Home to three Millennium Hotels and Resorts properties, Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations. The compact town is surrounded by mountains and overlooks the uniquely shaped Lake Wakatipu. Climb aboard the TSS Earnslaw, also known as The Lady of the Lake, and step back in time. This century-old steamship is so much a part of Queenstown’s history, it’s like a floating museum. During the 90-minute trip across the lake and back, pore over old photos and memorabilia, visit the engine room, stroll the deck, photograph Queenstown’s famous mountain range, The Remarkables, have a meal or glass of wine at the Promenade Cafe and Bar or join in a sing along at the piano. Tours depart throughout the day and are suitable for all ages. The TSS Earnslaw operates year-round but is itself on holiday in May/June each year.
Te Anau: Be Awed by Milford Sound
Cruise Milford heading towards Mitre Peak Milford Sound. Credit: Cruise Milford
Te Anau is best known as the gateway to Fiordland National Park, which attracts half a million visitors each year. If you could pick only one place to see by water, Milford Sound would probably be it. Cruise Milford is one of the many companies offering tours of the famous fiord. Its vessels are smaller, which allows for lesser crowds and more personal service. The one-hour-and-45-minute cruise will show you waterfalls and sunbathing fur seals and give you a splendid opportunity to get a photo of Mitre Peak. If you’re lucky, you may even see dolphins. There are three departures daily and transportation is available from your Millennium hotel in Te Anau or Queenstown. Prices start from $80 NZD ($53 USD) and children aged four and under sail free.
If you’re up for a more adventurous day on the water, book a trip with Rosco’s Milford Kayaks. Don’t worry if you’ve never paddled before, all skill levels are catered for and every tour is led by an experienced guide. Kayaking Milford Sound is an unforgettable experience that just may be the highlight of your holiday. Trips run year-round. Minimum age is 14.
Dunedin: Photograph Fascinating Wildlife
Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Credit: Chris Stephenson
Explore New Zealand’s beautiful Otago Penisula with Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours. Just a 45-minute drive from your Dunedin accommodation at Kingsgate Hotel Dunedin, you’ll board the MV Monarch at Wellers Rock Wharf. Each tour goes in search of the wildlife that call this region home: New Zealand fur seal pups, sea lions, dolphins, yellow-eyed penguins and more than 20 different bird species, including the fascinating and very large seabird, the albatross. Tours sail past the world’s only mainland nesting area for the Northern Royal Albatross. The Otago Peninsula can be cool and windy even in the middle of summer, but that’s the best time to see the animals at play. Travelling without a warm jacket? No worries, jackets are provided on the tours. Some tours are suitable for all ages. Children under five years old sail free.
Taupo: See Maori Rock Carvings by Yacht
A trip to the Maori Rock Carvings with Sail Barbary. Credit: Sail Barbary
Lake Taupo is said to be the largest fresh water lake in Australasia and is often referred to as the Great Lake. The Millennium Hotel and Resort Manuels Taupo offers stunning lake views but there’s no better way to learn about the local history than a cruise to the Maori Rock Carvings. The unique carvings are only accessible by water and Sail Barbary has been leading the way for more than 30 years. Bring your own food and drinks on this two-and-half-hour scenic cruise that offers you the opportunity to see Taupo’s history close up.
Have a group of eight or fewer? You can charter Barbary for a special movie night cruise. New Zealand’s only floating cinema is available December to March.
Auckland: Get Your Own America’s Cup Sailing Experience
America’s Cup is an international, prestigious yacht race loved by New Zealanders. When Sir Peter Blake took home the trophy in 1995, his win was described by Governor-General Catherine Tizard as New Zealand’s proudest day since Sir Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Everest in 1953. Auckland is known as the ‘City of Sails’, which makes it the perfect place to learn to sail a real America’s Cup yacht. Take a 10-minute stroll from Copthorne Hotel Auckland City to Viaduct Harbour where you’ll board a former racing yacht with Explore’s America’s Cup Sailing Experience. Their professional crew will guide you through the duties of a champion yachtsman. Take the helm or get on the grinders for a hands-on racing experience. If that’s not for you, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Sailing around Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour is a great way to see the city’s skyline and get some salt air in your lungs. The two-hour trip departs every day and is suitable for aged 10 and older.
Bay of Islands: Spend a Day on a Working Tall Ship
It’s a hands on experience aboard this Tall Ship in the Bay of Islands. Credit: R Tucker Thompson
Dreamed of being a sailor? Ever wanted to hoist the sails of a tall ship or take charge at the helm? The R. Tucker Thompson is a working tall ship in the Bay of Islands that lets you have a go at being a crew member. But it’s not all work (and there’s no obligation to participate). You can choose to relax on deck with freshly baked scones and a cup of tea or take in the scenery and snap a few photos. After the barbecue lunch, take a swim or walk along the beach during an island stopover. This full-day sail is more than just a scenic cruise, it’s an adventure and fun for all ages. Tours depart just a five-minute walk from Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge Paihia and run from November to April; after that the ship is used for youth development voyages.
No matter where your New Zealand holiday takes you, the sea, lakes, rivers and fiords will never be far away. This is a stunning country made even more so when viewed from one of these beautiful boat cruises.
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