New Zealand: Auckland to Milford Sound

Cruising New Zealand's East Coast


New Zealand is a wondrous realm of awe-inspiring landscapes, fascinating Maori culture, and an abundance of unique wildlife. With more than 4,000 miles of meandering coastline to explore, it's expedition cruising country par excellence. Aboard the exploration vessels Coral Geographer or Coral Adventurer, you'll voyage deep into the intriguing history, vibrant culture, and rare wildlife of the South Island. You'll call at the Marlborough Sounds, Fiordland, and Milford Sound, hike through Waimangu Volcanic Valley, journey deep into quiet fiords, and encounter striking Maori traditions at historic Gisborne. You'll also discover the character of east coast towns, from French-influenced Akaroa to Dunedin's Scottish heritage. Throughout, you'll admire lazing seals, pods of friendly dolphins, and perhaps even the rare yellow-eyed penguin. At the end of each rewarding day, you'll return to your ship to sample the country’s famed produce and wine. There's no better way to experience New Zealand's East Coast!

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Day 1, Dec 23, 2023
Auckland / Embark

Board the Coral Adventurer or Coral Geographer (depending on departure) in Queen’s Wharf, Auckland Harbour, at 4:00 pm for a 5:00 pm departure. Enjoy Captain’s Welcome Drinks this evening.

Day 2, Dec 24, 2023
Tauranga & Waimangu

A coach journey takes you to Waimangu, the world’s youngest volcanic valley. Marvel at the gaping volcanic craters, hot water springs and mysterious Inferno Crater. Later, you may have time to stroll through the town of Tauranga.

Day 3, Dec 25, 2023

Maori traditions record Gisborne as the place where the first Maori canoe landed and Captain Cook first came ashore. At Tolaga Bay, you will be met by a Maori family at the Hauiti Marae with a traditional Maori welcome and the opportunity to hear their stories, before a guided viewing of the carved marae. Later, visit the historic Tolaga Bay wharf.

Day 4, Dec 26, 2023

In 1931 Napier was destroyed by an earthquake and the rebuilding created the world’s greatest collection of art deco architecture, surrounded by the award-winning wineries of Hawke’s Bay. At Cape Kidnappers, you will have the opportunity to observe the world’s largest mainland gannet colony, with spectacular coastline views.

Days 5-6, Dec 27-28, 2023
At Sea / Marlborough Sounds

The ancient river valleys that form the Marlborough Sounds are surrounded by forest-cloaked peaks and vineyards, all of which present a breathtaking view from any perspective. This lush region produces much of New Zealand’s seafood and 80% of its wine. After a relaxing day at sea cruising across Cook Strait to the South Island, anchor at historic Ship Cove to spend the day exploring Queen Charlotte Sound. Discover the dolphins and seals of the sounds with marine spotting from the Xplorer and enjoy wonderful birdwatching on walks through Motuara Island birdlife sanctuary. Guided by our expedition team, hike a section of the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track. Visit Ship Cove to learn of Captain Cook’s time here. Finish the day with a scenic cruise of the sound before sailing for the next destination.

Day 7, Dec 29, 2023

Bordered by the impressive Seaward Range, the picturesque town of Kaikoura is one of the few places to observe the sperm whale. Aboard a specialized boat, search for these amazing mammals. Later, enjoy free time in town or join a guided walk on the beautiful peninsula.

Day 8, Dec 30, 2023

Once a busy whaling outpost, Akaroa was the only French settlement in New Zealand. Here, choose between two included excursions: a harbor cruise to spot marine wildlife, or a tour to visit the world’s largest colony of little penguins at Pohatu Bay, with the chance to learn more about the conservation efforts that are protecting them. A variety of short walks are available into surrounding nature reserves, guided by the expedition team.

Day 9, Dec 31, 2023

The Otago Peninsula is an area of exceptional diversity, and you will be welcomed with sights of the world’s only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross and a colony of the rare yellow-eyed penguin. There will be a choice of included excursions with local operators—choose between a coach tour of the Otago Peninsula’s most scenic beaches and Dunedin’s highlights, or take time to explore the city at your leisure: perhaps visit the famous Speight’s Brewery, art gallery, or New Zealand’s oldest botanic gardens.

Day 10, Jan 1, 2024
Stewart & Ulva Islands

Known in Maori mythology as Te Punga o Te Waka—“The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe”—Stewart Island (Rakiura) is New Zealand’s little-visited “third island.” On Ulva Island, a sanctuary for rare and endangered birds, take a guided walk to spot birdlife, including the Rifleman, Weka, and Kereru. Explore the village of Oban and cruise to Prices Point Whaling Station by Xplorer to learn the region’s history.

Days 11-12, Jan 2- 3, 2024
Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park is part of UNESCO World Heritage listed Southland. Carved by ancient glaciers, the fiords’ sheer cliffs and steep ridges are cloaked with rainforest and cascading waterfalls. These mostly inaccessible and awe-inspiring landscapes were the mysterious source of powerful pounamu (New Zealand jade), gathered by Maori from secret riverbeds. Enter Fiordland National Park at dramatic Tamatea / Dusky Sound and cruise among towering cliffs and sheer granite walls to explore the depths of the inlets in the zodiac, spotting Fiordland penguins and fur seals. Early in the morning, a dawn cruise traces Acheron Passage to Te Puaitaha / Breaksea Sound, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes on all sides as you retrace Cook’s journey. Enter Doubtful Sound / Patea, the deepest and widest fiord. The stillness and silence here is compelling and unforgettable. Cruise past the outer Seal Islands, Nee Islets, and through “the Gut,” before entering Te Awa-o-Tu / Thompson Sound. This afternoon, enter Milford Sound / Piopiotahi to a world famous view of Mitre Peak, opposite beautiful Stirling Falls. You may have a chance to feel the spray from the waterfall—according to Maori legend it will make you ten years younger! Cruise to Harrison Cove, where an ancient glacier entered the fiord, and visit Bowen Falls.

Day 13, Jan 4, 2024
Milford Sound / Depart

Disembark at 8:00 am before transferring by coach to Queenstown, arriving at 1:30 pm.



Explore the astonishing landscapes of Fiordland & Marlborough Sounds
Observe New Zealand’s wildlife, including fur seals, penguins, whales, and numerous bird species
Watch sperm whales breach at Kaikoura, one of the very few places it is possible to observe them
Take a guided walk to spot birdlife on Stewart Island, New Zealand’s little-visited "third island"
Experience a traditional Maori welcome before a guided viewing of the carved marae at Gisborne


Length: 13 days
Cost From: $10,720  
Arrive: Auckland, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 12 nights aboard a 120-guest vessel
Meals: All meals included
Activity: Walking, Wildlife and Natural History, Whale Watching, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

12-day cruise, walking tours and cultural explorations