New Zealand: Wellington to Milford Sound

South Island Expedition Aboard the Coral Geographer


With its stunning coastal landscapes, small seaside towns, and abundance of marine life, New Zealand is the ideal country to explore on a small ship expedition. Board the Coral Geographer and cruise to the most wild locations and out-of-the-way places the South Island has to offer. Visit the magnificent Marlborough Sounds and its extensive sea-plunged valleys, Zodiac to the deep lakes and surging waterfalls of Fiordland, and walk along the shores of little known, slow-paced Stewart Island, the only spot where the gentle Kiwi bird is still found in the wild. Get up close to wildlife with your Expedition Team, take guided bush walks, and paddle by kayak to bird-covered beaches. Your adventure begins in Wellington, New Zealand’s colorful capital and ends in Queenstown, set amid the dramatic Southern Alps.

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.


Days 1-2, Jan 23-24, 2022
Depart Wellington and Marlborough Sounds

Board Coral Geographer in Wellington for a morning departure. Take the morning to settle in as you cruise the Cook Strait, ahead of arriving to the Marlborough Sounds.

The ancient river valleys that form the Marlborough Sounds make up 20% of New Zealand’s coastline. The webs of sunken channels 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. The fertile soil in this region supported the country’s first known Polynesian settlement in the late 1200s AD at Wairau Bar.

Here, cruise the fiord-like Queen Charlotte Sound (Totaranui). Follow the path of Captain Cook’s exploratory voyages, including a stop at Cook’s favorite New Zealand base, Ship Cove, where he spent a total of 120 days. 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 the expedition team and lecturers, there will be options to hike a section of the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track, or shorter walks available.  The history of the region is also brought to life with your visit to Ship Cove.

Day 3, Jan 25, 2022

Ringed by a breathtaking snow-dusted Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, the picturesque town of Kaikoura is renowned as possibly the best whale-watching destination in the world. Kaikoura is one of the very few places it is possible to observe the Sperm Whale! Aboard a small specialized vessel, you will explore the ocean in search of these amazing mammals, as well as fur seals, dusky and Hector’s dolphins, and other migratory whales.

Kaikoura means "to eat crayfish," and you may have the opportunity to taste the seafood available here. You will also have the opportunity walk through this small town to visit the museums, galleries, and cafes, before joining the expedition team on a guided walk over the peninsula to marvel at the spectacular scenery.

Day 4, Jan 26, 2022

This morning, sail into the long harbor of Akaroa, formed by the breached volcanic crater that makes up the Banks Peninsula. The village of Akaroa has the unique identity of being the only French settlement in New Zealand, and its charming cottages and French street names still carry that identity today.

Ringed by the pastoral rolling hills of the Peninsula, the scenic village was once a bustling whaling outpost. Here, you have the choice of two included excursions – a harbor cruise with a local operator to spot marine wildlife or a visit to a traditional hill country farm operated by 7th generation descendants of the earliest French Settlers on Banks Peninsula. Guests will also have free time to explore the scenic village, and visit cafes inspired by French cuisine. A variety of short walks are available into the surrounding nature reserves, such as a walk to Newton’s Waterfall, guided by the expedition team.

Day 5, Jan 27, 2022

Dunedin, settled in and around an ancient volcanic crater, is known for its Scottish and Maori heritage. Named after the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the city’s heritage buildings, cathedrals, and charming atmosphere share an old-world atmosphere. Dunedin City is regarded as New Zealand’s architectural heritage capital.

The Otago Peninsula is an area of exceptional diversity, and as you enter the long Otago Harbor, you will be welcomed with sights of the world’s only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross and a colony of yellow-eyed penguin—the world’s rarest penguin—as well as Hookers sea lions, and various other unique species.

You will have time to explore the city at your own leisure: perhaps visit the famous Speight’s Brewery, art gallery, museum, and New Zealand’s oldest botanic gardens. There will also 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 a railway journey through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge.

Days 6-7, Jan 28-29, 2022
Stewart and 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 known "third island." Apart from the communities on the island, many people never venture to remote Stewart Island.  Nearby Ulva Island is also found within the Rakiura National Park, offering a predator-free environment for rare and endangered birds including South Island Saddleback, Kakapo, Weka, Yellowhead, Rifleman, Stewart Island Robin, and the iconic Kiwi; the Stewart Island Brown Kiwi birds are known to venture out in daylight.

On Ulva Island, a guided walk will provide the opportunity to spot a vast array of birdlife and hopefully a few fur seals lazing on the shore during the tour. There will be free time to explore the village of Oban, and a guided Xplorer cruise to Prices Point Whaling Station will unveil the history of the region. For the fit, there will be an opportunity to walk a section of the Iconic Rakiura Track, before heading off to Bluff for a brief stop ahead of your cruise to Fiordland.

Day 8, Jan 30, 2022
Fiordland - Dusky, Doubtful and Thomson Sounds

Fiordland National Park, a World Heritage site once described as the Eighth Wonder of the World, is characterized by 14 fiords carving through just 215km of coastline. These fiords were carved by glaciers over thousands of years, and you will see waterfalls cascading down the sheer cliffs, rainforest cloaking the steep ridges, and granite peaks reflected in the deep shimmering waters.

These mostly inaccessible and awe-inspiring landscapes were the mysterious source of powerful pounamu (New Zealand jade), gathered by Maori from the riverbeds and boulders of the South Island—the only place it occurs. While some European settlers took shelter here, the deep isolation and rugged terrain thwarted all except the toughest from staying. Many of the flora and fauna species have developed in relative isolation, so many of the diverse plants and animals are unique to the area.

Enter Fiordland National Park at dramatic Tamatea / Dusky Sound, and cruise among towering cliffs and sheer granite walls of Facile Harbor, cascading waterfalls, pass some of the 365 small islands, and explore the depths of the inlets in the zodiacs. Inaccessible by road, Tamatea / Dusky Sound is the largest and most complex of the Fiordland Sounds.  It is also a designated Important Bird Area for the Fiordland Penguins that breed here.

You will discover the fur seals of Luncheon Cove and cruise Astronomer’s Point—Captain Cook’s base when exploring Fiordland. You may have the opportunity to visit the site where the scientific team from HMB Endeavour set up their equipment.

In the afternoon, trace Acheron Passage to Breaksea Sound, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes on all sides as you retrace Cook’s journey. It is easy to imagine the small wooden Endeavour being dwarfed by the steep-sided fiords and encircled by the blanketing silence of the fog-cloaked peaks.

Doubtful Sound / Patea is the deepest and widest fiord, flanked by towering cliffs and adorned by cascading waterfalls. The stillness and silence of this Fiord is compelling and unforgettable. You will cruise into Doubtful Sound / Patea, and past the outer Seal Islands, Nee Islets and through "the Gut," before cruising by Blanket Bay. You may spot fur seals lounging on the rocks, pods of dolphins, and the Fiordland penguin. Tonight, enjoy the Captain’s Farewell Drinks.

Day 9, Jan 31, 2022
Milford Sound and Queenstown

This morning at dawn, enter Milford Sound / Piopiotahi to a world-famous view of Mitre Peak, rising some 1682 meters. Its triangular silhouette rises opposite beautiful Stirling Falls, falling from the top of a 162m high cliff between two towering ridges into the inky dark water. You may have a chance to feel the spray from the waterfall—according to Maori legend, it will make you ten years younger! The steep overhanging cliffs are awe-inspiring as you cruise to Harrison Cove, where an ancient glacier entered the fiord, and visit Bowen Falls before disembarking. It is here we say goodbye and disembark at 10:00 am before transferring by coach to Queenstown. The coach arrives in Queenstown in the afternoon. Depart on Day 9.



Experience the remote beauty of Fiordland National Park
Kayak and bush-walk in national parks less accessible by land, including Abel Tasman National Park
Explore the more inaccessible and spectacular areas of the Marlborough Sounds
Visit remote Stewart Island and encounter some of New Zealand’s iconic wildlife
Explore some of the beautiful and historic east coast cities such as Dunedin
Get close to marine wildlife in their natural environment in Akaroa, Kaikoura, and Fiordland


Length: 10 days
Cost From: $6790  
Arrive: Wellington, New Zealand
Depart: Queenstown, New Zealand
Lodging: 8 nights aboard a 120-passenger expedition vessel
Meals: All meals aboard ship included
Activity: Sea Kayaking, Walking, Wildlife & Natural History, Whale Watching, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

9-day cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours