tree swing on beach along Queen Charlotte Drive, New Zealand

Cruising New Zealand

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

From steep cliffs and stunning coastline, to famous wine regions, New Zealand offers a colorful variety of surprises.

New Zealand doesn’t get the credit it deserves. As a vacation destination, most folks don’t have pre-conceived notions about any big ticket items, or automatic must-dos while there. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just means that New Zealand good at keeping secrets.

Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was my first glimpse of New Zealand. I was on a cruise with Holland America Line, onboard the Noordam.

There are two main islands: the North Island and the South Island. Today, I’m writing about the South Island. We spent an entire day, sailing our way through three different sounds in Fiordland National Park: Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, and Dusky Sound. It’s the type of day where you just keep turning your head, never quite sure which way to look.

Monarch Cruises in Port Chalmers, Baby New Zealand Fur Seal

New Zealand easily lends itself to cruising itineraries, and for the most part, we arrived in a new spot every day, with each location offering something a little different. Waters in Port Chalmers are loaded with New Zealand Fur Seals, and the skies above are popular with a number of oceanic birds. In less than an hour my guide with Monarch Wildlife Cruises was able to point out four species of albatross. Back on solid ground, Port Chalmers downtown is mere blocks, but worth exploring.

waterfront in Akaroa, New Zealand

Also easy to walk and explore is the tiny town of Akaroa. A former French settlement, it still has that French charm. Its street names are French, and about 700 people call it home. It has a nice beach that sits just off the main drag that’s lined with restaurants and shops.

Akaroa is also home to a unique spot called The Giant’s House. The owner is an artist named Josie Martin, and she’s created the terraced gardens and all of the mosaic sculptures that surround the property. There’s something whimsical and colorful at every turn that just makes you smile. About a 10-minute walk from the center of town, the house is also a bed and breakfast if you’re lucky enough to be staying in town for a while.

Garden and art at The Giant's House, New Zealand

Marlborough wine country is one of New Zealand’s best-known wine regions. Home to dozens of wineries where you can stop by for a taste. Some wineries offer complimentary pours, others have fees.

tree swing on beach along Queen Charlotte Drive, New Zealand

Picton is the harbor town that serves as the gateway to wine country, but it’s also home to a coastal route called the Queen Charlotte Drive. It’s a curvy, slow going road, but it’s all about the views. There’s water every shade of blue, open stretches of coast with boats and beaches, scenic lookouts, and hiking trails that lead to vista points and secluded beaches.

Days in port in Picton tend to be long, I had more than 12 hours, so you have some time to explore.

The base cruise price for a 14-day sailing roundtrip out of Sydney starts at $2000. That may sound pricey at first, but keep in mind that includes all your lodging and food. I’ve seen airfare to Sydney recently in the low $800.

Dana’s trip to New Zealand was hosted by Holland America Line, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. All photos by Dana Rebmann.

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