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 down south – do you even know where that is?! 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 him here and there. 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 modern jetboat 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 favourite from the Far North to the Deep 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 inform you about flora and fauna.
Get up loser 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”.
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 on to less-touristed, 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 Wilmott 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.
Nature guides commentary and after-dinner talk are really interesting.
Take a kayak or small boat 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. Spellbinding!
Inaugural 100% Pure New Zealand Experience Award, Qualmark Awards 2019
Guests on board the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
Exploring Doubtful Sound by tender
Doubtful Sound views
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 awesome. Mataatua, one of the seven waka that sailed from Hawaiiki in the 1400’s, reached here and subsequently Māori tribes made the bay home. The golden sand beaches may not have changed since but there’s now a few flash homes 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 are in Northland, the cruise leaves from Paihia.
Three 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.
Protected in the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand’s largest pristine wetland and a truely 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 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, migratory Bar-tailed godwits and native birds.
With a maximum of twelve on board, it’s easy to ask the guide questions.
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. Cruising on New Zealand’s third largest lake, which scientists have rated 99.9% pure, enjoy spectacular alpine scenery. But it’s not all about the landscape - join a sing-along around the piano, view steam-engines at work or historical 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 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.
MoaTours Guests enjoying a cruise on the Earnslaw
TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu
Guests on the TSS Earnslaw
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, geological. The ticket office is just as interesting displaying shark jaws, model ships and other nautical stuff. There may even be a few stingray hanging around nearby.
Located in New Plymouth, Taranaki, on North Island’s west coast.
Cruise for an hour in Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area.
See uninhabited islands, home to nineteen 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’s a font of information having been doing this for nearly 30 years.
The roofed lifeboat 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".
Guests enjoying Chaddy's LIfeboat Cruise
Chaddy on his lifeboat
Cruising the Sugar Loaf Islands on Chaddy's LIfeboat
Chaddy and friends on land
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 amongst 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.
Awesome scenery - twisting and turning coastline forming secluded inlets and beaches where dense bush grows down to.
Birdlife abounds: little blue penguins, gannets, shags, terns, shearwaters, white-faced herons, kingfishers and oystercatchers.
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 a carved pou whenua (pole) illustrates 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 Category1, Historic Place, New Zealand Heritage List.
Cougar Lines has more than 25 years’ experience in the Sounds and are a recipient of Qualmark Silver Award for Visitor Transport.
Guests enjoying a cruise on the Marlborough Sounds
Dolphin jumping in the Marlborough Sounds
On the beach at Ship Cove, Marlborough Sounds
The Captain Cook monument in the Marlborough Sounds
The Spirit of New Zealand in the Marlborough Sounds
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 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 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. Primeval.
TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence.
Department of Conservation Approved, symbolising the significant contribution made to conservation.
Guests at the Bridge to Nowhere on the Whanganui River
Waiau River Jetboat, 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 mountain scenery.
Maybe spot rainbow and brown trout, recent surveys show 600/kilometre in places.
Learn about Maori culture and European history from passionate guides while having a blast.
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.
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 it.
Kaiteriteri is one hour’s drive from Nelson on Tasman Bay at the top of the South Island.
Spend 2 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.
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.
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.
Our 7 day Stewart Island & Southern Odyssey tour includes a 2 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.
Ulva Island Wharf, Stewart Island
Walking on the beach in Ulva Island
Halfmoon Bay, Stewart Island
What Stewart Islanders really think of New Zealand
Sailing Lake Rotoiti, Rotorua Lakes
Locally owned and skippered yacht Tiua is a 53-foot catamaran, exploring Lake Rotoiti’s green waters. Surrounded by tree-covered mountains, relax on this laidback, graceful journey through paradise. Others must think it is too, with lakeside holiday homes handed down over generations. Pure magic.
Lake Rotoiti is east of Rotorua, connected to Lake Rotorua by the Ohau Channel.
Sail for one and a half hours.
On this thirteen kilometre long, sheltered lake discover secluded bays along green shorelines where rata and pohutukawa blaze red.
Soak in Manupiria 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. Great for rheumatic conditions.
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 them do it!)
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
Getting on on Lake Rotoiti with Matt and the Pure Cruise team is something we have enjoyed for many years, now it's included in our new Christmas in Bay of Plenty tour.
Sailing Lake Rotoiti
Enjoying the hospitality sailing on Lake Rotoiti
Warming up in the hot pools on Lake Rotoiti
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 gotten 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 after running 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.
Thanks for reading and we hope to see you out on the water soon!