It’s impossible to truly do New Zealand in just 15 days, but Holland America Line’s New Zealand Discovery cruise allows you to see some of the top highlights of this ridiculously beautiful country. HAL is an amazing cruise company, with true dedication to comfort, safety & sustainability – you can read more about the Holland America cruise experience HERE.
The journey out of Circular Quay is a wonderful way to start any cruise. I’d recommend spending at least a couple of days in Sydney before boarding, especially if you’re travelling from afar. For a few ideas on how to spend your time in Sydney, click HERE.
Having 2 days at sea before arriving in New Zealand gives you ample time to explore the ship and everything it has to offer its guests. The ms Noordam is simply stunning – it’s elegant, bold & luxurious, as well as comfortable & welcoming. Whether you choose to relax in your cabin with a choice of over 1000 movies or join in the activities put on by the crew, you’re sure to have fun as you settle in.
Seasickness happens to the best of us, but the staff onboard are always happy to help. I swear by Travacalm (ginger based tablets to calm the stomach), as well as green apples & crackers, which are available 24 hours a day from the room service menu. I was a little sick on the first night of our Tasman crossing, but by midday the following day I was feeling 100%.
FJORDLAND NATIONAL PARK
Milford Sound is the perfect welcome to New Zealand. Be sure to catch the stunning sunrise over the mountains as you enter the Park – it’s truly unmissable. Also make sure to set multiple alarms – in my sleepy and “shit I overslept I need to go NOW!” delusion, I found myself standing on the bow of the ship in my PJs and a Holland America robe. A few compliments and many judgemental looks, but hey, it was worth it.
The day is spent cruising through the calm waters of the National Park; welcome relief after some rocky days in the Tasman! You’ll find yourself surrounded by rolling hills, waterfalls, lush green and snow capped mountains. It’s really just a wonderful way to spend the day.
The first port of call is the university town of Dunedin. Unfortunately I didn’t get much time to explore the town itself, but I did see the beautiful New Zealand countryside on the Taieri Gorge Railway. Staffed by volunteers full of information, it’s an interesting ride. I cannot recommend this train trip enough!
Dunedin is a beautiful place to walk around, with plenty of shops and eateries around for you to enjoy. The town centre is known as the Octagon, and is a hub of activity. Other highlights of Dunedin include the Cadbury Tour, as well as ventures slightly out of town such as the wineries.
As we cruised around the harbour at Akaroa, I clearly remember thinking “Are you fucking kidding me?!” – Akaroa is possibly the most picturesque place I’ve ever seen. The rolling green hills are complemented by the clean blue water, with sheep dotting the hillsides in true New Zealand fashion. It is just so perfect, we were all truly in awe of Mother Nature’s work.
While Akaroa is a small town, there is plenty for you to enjoy. I loved just wandering through Akaroa, stopping in at a few shops as I went. As pleasant as Akaroa is, many cruise guests opt to head up to Christchurch and spend the majority of the day there.
The drive between Akaroa and Christchurch is around 1.5 – 2 hours, depending on the route you take and any stops you make along the way. Some stops I’d recommend are the Brian Bay Cheese Factory (for cheese and other snacks to take back onboard), Cheskin (an orchard full of deliciousness) and Little River (free wifi at the library as well as road trip snacks). Weather permitting, also head along Summit Road for a spectacular view of the bay and hills. While there are larger bus tours that go along this route, we opted for a private tour. This means you can be much more flexible with any stops you want to make and how long you spend at each place, making it a more personal experience.
Once in Christchurch, we headed for the Cathedral that was severely damaged in the earthquake a few years ago. It’s quite harrowing to see the destruction from the quake, and yet Christchurch is still a vibrant city as it rebuilds. The Restart container mall is a unique shopping experience, located within walking distance of the Cathedral. The stores stock mostly clothing and gifts, and there’s also an abundance of food options.
Picton is a charming seaside town on the South Island. While my parents went off on a couple of wine tours in the region, I stayed in town soaking up the sun on the foreshore. Picton is a very relaxed town with super friendly locals, making it a wonderful place to spend your time.
After abusing the free wifi available at the public library, I headed over to the arts & crafts market on the foreshore. The market runs on cruise ship days, and has a selection of New Zealand made goods for you to browse through. I came away with a handmade necklace, a natural lemongrass moisturiser and a few boxes of liquorice & nougat.
Wellington certainly lived up to its reputation as a windy city while I was there. Windiness aside, Wellington is a beautiful place to walk around. Our first actual stop in Wellington was the tram, which gives amazing views over the city & bay – highly, highly recommend. Other than that, we didn’t do much in Wellington apart from just walking around and enjoying this wonderful city.
Napier is definitely the art deco capital of the world. I was amazed at the locals’ commitment to preserving their town’s vibrant heritage, with endless art deco styled homes and even people! There are plenty of art deco shops in town, stocking fashion, accessories, books and gifts.
While art deco is a major drawcard for Napier, it is a truly beautiful town with a stunning waterfront vista. Gardens, sculptures and public gathering areas span the foreshore. Amongst the art deco shops, there are modern clothing stores as well as cafes & restaurants.
We took a bus tour around town to look at some of the best examples of art deco buildings, and also went up to Te Mata Peak. This gave us amazing views of the area, with rolling hills and a beautiful blue sea. Our bus tour was with Hawke’s Bay Scenic Tours – I definitely recommend them!
As we’d booked a tour through Holland America that took the whole day, we unfortunately weren’t able to see really any of Tauranga or Rotorua themselves. The tour was to 2 geothermal parks, Waiotapu and Orakei Korako. The smell of sulphur definitely wasn’t great, but it was absolutely amazing to see the geothermal activity – bubbling mud pools, geysers, hot springs. Walking around the parks was also welcome exercise after heavy abuse of the room service menu onboard! For more info on the geothermal parks, click HERE.
First and foremost, I would like to give Auckland a shoutout for having the best free wifi access I found in all my New Zealand travels. On our first of 2 days in Auckland, we took a ferry over to Waiheke Island for the day. Waiheke is absolutely stunning, and it was wonderful to take a bus around the island, hopping off at the main village and a few beaches. If you’d like to know a little more about Waiheke Island, click HERE.
On our second day, we began by heading up to the Skytower for the view over Auckland. Being too chicken to do the bungee jump, we were all happy enough to watch other people do it instead! After spending a while up there, soaking up the view and the free wifi, we walked over to K’ Road. The area has a lot of vintage shops, op shops and eateries – making it perfect for a bit of exploring. I wish we’d been able to see more of Auckland, but the parts we did see were amazing!
WAITANGI (BAY OF ISLANDS)
Waitangi is both beautiful and interesting. Our first stop of the day was to the Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the British and the Maori in February 1840. This Treaty aimed to bring peace between the two parties by protecting Maori interests while allowing the British to have government in New Zealand/Aotearoa. The Treaty Grounds are beautiful to walk around, with gardens complementing the beautiful buildings. After leaving the Treaty Grounds we headed over to the main town on a mission to find our last wifi before two days at sea. Waitangi was absolutely beautiful, and I loved learning a little more about New Zealand’s history here.
While cruising isn’t conducive to full-on, in-depth explorations of the places you visit, it provides you with a snapshot of wherever you go. It’s full of amazing experiences, and always makes me want to return for more! Thank you to Holland America Line for another wonderful cruise. I cannot recommend the New Zealand Discovery cruise enough – I absolutely adored my two weeks in New Zealand.
Over to you! Have you been to New Zealand? Where were your favourite places and experiences? Let me know in the comments below! xx