New Zealand's best boat cruises
You’ve probably heard about boat tours on Milford Sound or the Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu but I bet you don’t know about Chaddy’s Lifeboat Cruise in New Plymouth, Pure Cruise’s Catamaran trip on Lake Rotoiti or even the Okarito Lagoon Wildlife Cruise on the West Coast. Being an island nation, nowhere is that far from the sea, you can follow in the wake of navigators Kupe and Captain Cook spotting plaques and memorials to them. But it’s not just the coastline where we can get out onto the water. Thanks to Bill Hamilton, a New Zealander, who developed the jet boat we can discover some awesome lakes and rivers. We've been touring all over New Zealand on our small group tours since 1971 and in that time we've lost count of how many amazing scenic cruises and boat trips we've done, here's a summary of our favourites from the Far North to the Far South.
Milford Sound overnight cruise
You’ll probably want rain on this cruise. If it’s fine there won’t be as many waterfalls tumbling down the sheer cliff sides of Milford Sound/Piopiotahi. Staying out overnight allows views of stunning evening and early morning scenery, photos don’t do it justice. The sheltered cove Real Journey’s Milford Mariner anchors in is so quiet and if it’s a clear night, don’t go to bed early, billions of stars twinkle overhead. It’s those same stars that Kupe navigated by to arrive in New Zealand over 1000 years ago.
- Milford Sound is in Fiordland, in the south-west of the South Island.
- Spend approximately 15 hours on-board.
- See Mitre Peak and other mountains, waterfalls and rainforest all the way to the Tasman Sea from spacious viewing decks or the observation lounge.
- You’re sure to see seals. Dolphins and penguins might make an appearance.
- Nature guides explain the history and geology of area and the flora and fauna.
- Get up close to wildlife in a kayak or tender boat.
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2019.
- Real Journeys' activities were assessed by Qualmark and awarded Gold for Sustainable Tourism Business and classified as "Endorsed visitor activity – 2018”.
- UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Milford Sound overnight cruise with MoaTours
Our 6 Day / 5 Night Queenstown New Year's Eve tour includes an overnight cruise on Milford Sound, which is always one of the highlights of the tour
Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
You’ll give this voyage a 10/10 after cruising across Lake Manapouri – arguably New Zealand’s most beautiful lake, with islands, sandy beaches, and encircled by mountain peaks. But that’s just for starters. Continuing onto remote Doubtful Sound you’ll reach the Tasman Sea on the 39-metre Fiordland Navigator. The weather can change quickly - waterfalls come and go, moody clouds hang, shrouding mist turns scenes mystical and mysterious. Wake to mountain reflections on the sheltered waters and breakfast viewing ever-changing scenery.
- Doubtful Sound is located in Fiordland National Park.
- A 45-minute cruise across Lake Manapouri is followed by a 45-minute bus ride through dense rainforest over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound. Join Real Journey’s Fiordland Navigator for an overnight cruise, spending approximately 21 hours on-board before returning via the same route.
- Spot fur seals and dolphins, rainforest-covered mountains, cliffs, valleys and fjords from viewing decks or the observation lounge.
- The nature guide's commentary and after-dinner talk are really interesting.
- Take a kayak or hop in the tender with the nature guide and explore.
- The Māori name for the Sound is Patea, meaning the place of silence and a highlight is the morning’s five minute "Sounds of Silence" – no talking, photos, phones and a silent engine. Soak up the tranquil atmosphere listening to birdsong and waterfalls.
- Inaugural 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Award, Qualmark Awards 2019
Doubtful Sound overnight cruise with MoaTours
Staying overnight on Doubtful Sound is one of the highlights of our 7 day Doubtful Sound & West Coast Odyssey tour.
Hole in the Rock cruise, Bay of Islands
It’s not know as the Bay of Islands for nothing. Taking a catamaran cruise on turquoise waters amongst the idyllic 144 islands is memorable. Mataatua, one of the seven waka that sailed from Hawaiiki in the 1400s, reached here and subsequently Māori tribes made the bay home. The golden sand beaches may not have changed since and you’ll see the 1910 lighthouse at Cape Brett. Bet you’ll be holding your breath through the narrow Hole in the Rock at Motukōkako!
- The Bay of Islands is in Northland, the cruise leaves from Paihia.
- Four hours cruising time.
- See marine wildlife – dolphins, whales, and a variety of birdlife.
- Fun, informative commentary on local history and wildlife.
- The captain manoeuvres the boat so everyone gets perfect views of scenic spots.
- In good conditions, pass through the spectacular 16m-high Hole in the Rock.
- Look out for the plaque marking where Cook anchored the Endeavour.
- Vessels have large outdoor decks for photo opportunities as well as indoor seating.
Hole in the Rock cruise with MoaTours
Guests on two of our Northland itineraries love getting out and cruising in the Bay of Islands to the Hole in the Rock, on our 6 day Christmas in Northland tour and then we run the same trip again a bit later in the summer as our Summertime in Northland tour.
Okarito Lagoon wildlife cruise
Protected in the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest pristine wetland and a truly magical spot. It’s home to 76 bird species, most notably this is the only breeding area in the country of the Kotuku or White Heron. Something else our guests always love about this wildlife cruise are the guides, you’ll learn so much from the passionate guides who live here and know Okarito better than anyone else.
- Okarito is on the South Island’s west coast, around 27 kilometres from Franz Josef.
- Spend two hours exploring some of the 3,000 hectares of waterways.
- On a cloudless day see Franz Josef Glacier and the Southern Alps including Aoraki/Mount Cook reflecting in the lagoon.
- Scenery changes from tidal flats and reeds to rainforest plants and then a thick forest of rimu, rata and kahikatea upriver.
- So many birds! And especially at low-tide when lots feed. Among them are kotuku, royal spoonbills, pied stilts and migratory bar-tailed godwits.
- With a maximum of 12 on board, it’s easy to ask the guide questions.
- Recommended on TripAdvisor.
Okarito Lagoon wildlife cruise with MoaTours
On our 7 day Karamea and Wild West Coast Trails tour and our 9 day Southern Beauty: Aoraki Mt Cook, Milford & Franz Josef tour we make the trip down to Franz Josef and Okarito to experience the lagoon and also discover the amazing heritage of Okarito.
TSS Earnslaw Steamship on Lake Wakatipu
Commissioned to service Lake Wakatipu communities and launched in 1912, TSS Earnslaw is still sailing over 100 years later – the only hand-fired steamship operating in the southern hemisphere. Cruise on New Zealand’s third largest lake, which scientists have rated 99.9% pure, and enjoy spectacular alpine scenery. But it’s not all about the landscape - join a sing-along around the piano, see the steam-engines at work and historic photos.
- One hour, 30 minute return cruise (45 min each way to Walter Peak Station).
- Lake Wakatipu is in the south-west corner of Otago, South Island. Queenstown lies on its banks.
- Views of The Remarkables... are remarkable!
- Watch a setting sun tinge the lake and reflecting mountains orange.
- Enjoy a delicious gourmet barbeque dinner and farm demonstration at Walter Peak Station on the lakeside.
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2019.
TSS Earnslaw with MoaTours
Another highlight of our 6 day Queenstown New Year's Eve tour, we make the stunning journey across Lake Wakatipu on the Earnslaw to Walter Peak for a high country barbeque dinner before heading back to Queenstown to enjoy the fireworks.
Chaddy’s lifeboat cruise, New Plymouth
This cruise around New Plymouth's iconic Sugar Loaf islands, on a 1953-built, classic Liverpool C-class lifeboat with skipper Chaddy, an ex-shark fisherman and boxer, is entertaining, informative and great fun. He’s a teller of tales and history – European, Māori and geological. The ticket office is just as interesting displaying shark jaws, model ships and other things nautical. There may even be a few stingrays hanging around nearby.
- Located in New Plymouth, Taranaki, on the North Island’s west coast.
- Cruise for an hour in Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area.
- See uninhabited islands, home to 19 seabird species with approximately 10,000 birds nesting.
- Visit New Zealand’s northern-most fur seal colony.
- Views of Mount Taranaki, sometimes snow-tipped, are stunning.
- Pull in a cray pot or try fishing.
- Chaddy is a font of information, he's been skippering this cruise for nearly 30 years.
- The lifeboat has a cabin top and is launched from a slipway.
- Voted one of Taranaki’s Must Do’s 2015-16 by Taranaki locals.
Chaddy's lifeboat cruise with MoaTours
We pop in and see Chaddy on our 5 day Christmas in Taranaki tour and leave having learnt a lot and shared a few laughs with the man everyone calls "Happy Chaddy".
Queen Charlotte Sound Cruise to Ship Cove
A favourite of Captain James Cook, Queen Charlotte Sound and tranquil Ship Cove/Meretoto might become one of yours too. The Sounds have many island nature reserves and beaches nestled among dense native bush. With no roads into the area, it’s truly remote, but has been occupied for over 800 years by Māori, the sheltered Sounds providing safe haven for seafarers.
- Queen Charlotte Sound is the most eastern sound of the Marlborough Sounds, situated at the South Island’s northern tip.
- Spend two hours on the water.
- Stunning scenery - twisting and turning coastline forming secluded inlets and beaches surrounded by dense bush
- Birdlife abounds: little blue penguins, gannets, shags, terns, shearwaters, white-faced herons, kingfishers and oyster catchers.
- Perhaps encounter dolphins or spot stingray, blue cod and orca.
- Learn lots from the commentary.
- You’ll stop at the historic anchorage of Ship Cove where a monument commemorates Cook’s visits and carved pou whenua (pole) illustrate the legend of Kupe and the giant wheke (octopus). Kupe chased it across the seas subsequently discovering New Zealand. The octopus was pursued into Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound.
- Ship Cove is listed as a Category 1, Historic Place, New Zealand Heritage List.
- Cougar Lines has more than 25 years’ experience in the Sounds and is a recipient of Qualmark Silver Award for Visitor Transport.
Queen Charlotte Sound with MoaTours
No visit to Marlborough is complete without getting out on the Sounds, as guests discover on our 6 day Christmas in Marlborough tour and our 7 day Early Explorers from Queen Charlotte to Akaroa tour.
Whanganui River Jetboat
Jet boat thirty-two kilometres in this wild, isolated area on New Zealand’s third longest river from Pipiriki, a small riverside settlement, to Mangapurua Landing. You’ll be following in the canoe path of Tamatea, captain of Tākitimu, one of the great waka from Hawaiki. The Whanganui became an arterial route through the central North Island with many pā and villages built on its banks and cliffs. Hear the local history and stories that have been passed on by generations and take an optional walk to the historic Bridge to Nowhere.
- Pipiriki is on the Whanganui River’s east bank, west of Raetihi and 79 kilometres upriver from Whanganui on the North Island’s west coast.
- Spend two hours on the water.
- You’ll pass through areas of rapids and deep river gorges covered in ferns and native vegetation, which in places reflect in the still waters. Spot caves and waterfalls.
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
- Department of Conservation Approved, symbolising the significant contribution made to conservation.
Jet Boat the Whanganui River with MoaTours
One of everyone's favourite activities on our 7 day The Bridge to Nowhere and Forgotten Worlds tour, this is a beautiful corner of New Zealand with a rich history.
Waiau River Jet boat, Te Anau
Take a spin on an exhilarating jetboat tour through wilderness along the largest of Southland’s rivers to Lake Manapouri. This will be one of your trip highlights. No over-tourism on this remotely scenic and serene, 217 kilometre waterway.
- Waiau River is in Fiordland National Park.
- Spend 90 minutes on the water.
- Ancient beech forest lines the river and Lake Manapouri is surrounded by mountains
- Maybe spot rainbow and brown trout.
- Learn about Maori culture and European history from passionate guides.
- Small boats take up to 13 passengers, with Fiordland Jet being the only commercial scenic operator.
- Heated hand rails and blankets or jackets are provided in chilly weather.
- Waiau River is Anduin River in Lord of the Rings. Find out how it was filmed here.
- TripAdvisor five-star rating.
- Qualmark Silver Award for Sustainable Tourism Business.
- Finalist, AWS Legal Fiordland Tourism Operator of the Year Award, 2019 Annual Fiordland Tourism Awards.
Jet boat the Waiau River with MoaTours
Abel Tasman National Park cruise
Cruise from Kaiteriteri, a favourite holiday spot, to Awaroa in Abel Tasman National Park, well known for its golden sand beaches. At 22,530 hectares Abel Tasman is New Zealand's smallest national park, named after the first European to sight New Zealand back in 1642 sailing into this very place. This cruise, combined with a walk from Awaroa back to perhaps Tonga Quarry, is a great way to experience the park.
- Kaiteriteri is one hour’s drive from Nelson on Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island.
- Spend two hours on the water.
- You’ll see fur seal colonies, dense green coastline, bays and islands, passing sweeping sandspits and tidal lagoons and Split Apple Rock, a huge granite formation perfectly split down the middle.
- Common dolphins and little blue penguins may also be spotted in the turquoise waters of the Tasman Sea.
- Abel Tasman Sea Shuttle boats have on-board ramps for easy access onto beaches.
- Indoor and outdoor seating is available on comfortable catamarans.
- Informative commentary.
- Stops at scenic highlights giving ample time to photograph.
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2017 and 2019.
- Voted one of New Zealand’s top 100 bucket list experiences.
- Qualmark Gold Award for Visitor Transport.
- Department of Conservation approved, symbolising the significant contribution made to conservation.
Cruise the Abel Tasman National Park with MoaTours
A scenic cruise of Abel Tasman is always a guest favourite on our 7 day Molesworth Station, Abel Tasman & Golden Bay tour.
Paterson Inlet cruise & Ulva Island, Stewart Island
Learn about Stewart Island’s history, while cruising in the 100 square kilometre, island-dotted Paterson Inlet on a modern catamaran. It’s definitely not what the Polynesians, who had reached Stewart Island/Rakiura by the late 1200s, used, or the Māori, who made regular trips to the island to hunt mutton birds. If you’re into wildlife, you’ll want to stay longer on the easy walking tracks of predator-free Ulva Island where native birdsong serenades.
- Patterson Inlet is on the east coast of Stewart Island, the largest inlet island being Ulva.
- Stewart Island Experience’s tour takes between 2 ½ and 3 hours (includes a 45 minute walk on Ulva Island).
- View hidden coves and unspoilt beaches.
- Part of Patterson Inlet is a marine reserve.
- When waters are crystal clear, see many fish species and seaweeds, including starfish, mussels, paua, kina, sea cucumbers and anemones.
- Fur seals, sea lions, leopard and elephant seals, sharks, bottle-nosed dolphins and penguins hang out here sometimes too.
- Discover the area’s logging, whaling, Māori and European history.
- $5 from each visitor/booking goes towards conservation efforts.
- TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence 2015 – 2019.
- Qualmark Gold 2018 Sustainable Tourism Business, classified "Endorsed" visitor activity.
Stewart Island cruises with MoaTours
Our 7 day Stewart Island & Southern Odyssey tour includes a two night stay on Stewart Island with a day out exploring Patterson Inlet and Ulva Island, as well as a night in the Catlins Coast to complete your Southern Odyssey.
Sailing Lake Rotoiti, Rotorua lakes
Locally owned and skippered yacht Tiua is a 53-foot catamaran that sails on Lake Rotoiti’s green waters. The lake is surrounded by tree-covered ranges and holiday homes handed down over generations.
- Lake Rotoiti is east of Rotorua, connected to Lake Rotorua by the Ohau Channel.
- Sail for one and a half hours.
- On this 13 kilometre long, sheltered lake discover secluded bays along green shorelines where rata and pohutukawa blaze red in the summertime.
- Soak in Manupirua Hot Springs, outdoor thermal pools on the lake’s southern side, only accessible by boat and used by Māori and Europeans alike for nearly 200 years.
- Hear Māori legends of how the lake was discovered and its thermal activity source.
- Help the crew raise the sails (or sit back and watch),
- Nominated for World's Leading Private Cruise Company 2019, World Travel Awards, recognised globally as a sign of industry excellence.
Sailing Lake Rotoiti with MoaTours
Sailing on Lake Rotoiti with Matt and the Pure Cruise team is something we have enjoyed for many years, now it's included in our Christmas in Bay of Plenty tour.
New Zealand's best scenic boat trips & cruises
Over the years guests on our tours have experienced and enjoyed these cruises and boat trips and we have come to know the operators very well and they're all friends now. Exploring the coastline, lakes and rivers of New Zealand is something we all think about for the great Kiwi holiday and these are our favourite scenic boat trips and cruises we've discovered while operating our small group tours all over New Zealand since 1971. We love the off the beaten track nature of these smaller experiences which can only be visited on small group tours like ours and we know you will too.
Our tours are all inclusive, small group experiences designed for mature travellers to all the favourite spots in New Zealand we loved as kids. For more information about us or our trips please get in touch or request a brochure now.
We hope to see you out on the water soon!