What’s New…in New Zealand?

How much newer can New Zealand feel? The fjords have always been pristine, the cities are clean and modern, and the people are full of energy. As if this dazzling destination was not remote enough, imagine what it’s like after two years of pandemic isolation.

With the exception of 90 days of quarantine-free travel [for Australians] from April to July 2021, New Zealand has been closed to international visitors since March 2020. While the country prepares to reopen its borders to vaccinated travelers in 2022, those glorious green shores are patiently waiting for the return of cruise passengers.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging time for the industry and we’re really looking forward to welcoming back visitors with open arms,” says Andrew Waddel, General Manager of Tourism New Zealand. “The pause in international travel has given New Zealand time to breathe and reflect on what the future of tourism looks like. Tourism should enrich our people, culture, environment and economy, and locals and tourists alike have a shared responsibility to ensure this.”

In the indigenous language of Te Ao Māori, this is called “kaitiakitanga” — the principle of guardianship for the natural world.

On top of the preservation of its spectacular landscapes — from the world-famous fjords to Hobbiton, where Lord of the Rings was filmed — there are plenty of new attractions and activities for cruisers to experience.

“While borders have been shut, our tourism operators have been preparing for reopening and are ready to showcase the best New Zealand has to offer,” Waddel tells us.

The most significant development in cruising has been the opening of New Zealand’s first purpose-built cruise ship facility at Lyttelton Harbour, for Christchurch, replacing the old wharf that was destroyed in an earthquake in 2011.

Here’s a preview of the best things to see and do in New Zealand ports of call.

Auckland

Auckland is New Zealand's largest city and gateway to the country
Auckland ranked number one in Lonely Planet’s Best Travel Destinations for 2022/Shutterstock

The only turnaround port in New Zealand, where cruises start and end, Auckland has opened several luxury hotels including Park Hyatt, QT and Hotel Britomart — ideal for pre-cruise or post-cruise stays. InterContinental Auckland is scheduled to be completed soon, with a rooftop bar and almost every room offering views across Waitematā Harbour.

The city has been reshaped by the billion-dollar Commercial Bay development, with a laneway shopping precinct and more than 120 food and beverage options including an equestrian-themed restaurant, Saxon + Parole, led by a Michelin-starred chef.

Lonely Planet’s Best Travel Destinations for 2022 ranked Auckland number-one in its global top ten cities to visit. Beyond the museums, galleries, bars and restaurants, there are black-sand beaches, three wine regions, more than 50 islands and 53 volcanoes, some of which can be climbed on hiking trails.

Wellington

New Zealand's capital city of Wellington
Wellington’s Cable Car, one of the many attractions in New Zealand’s capital city/Shutterstock.

As the capital city, Wellington is home to parliamentary buildings and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, where you can learn about the indigenous people, the Maori, and the unique geology, fauna and flora.

This is also the best port to see a kiwi — not in the wild, because they are so elusive and nocturnal — but in Wellington Zoo. After a brief closure, the zoo has refreshed the kiwi habitat and will reintroduce these endemic flightless birds in late 2022.

A highlight for foodies, Wellington claims to have more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York City, so you’re never far from a good meal using local ingredients, a glass of sauvignon blanc, craft beer or great coffee.

Nelson

Nelson, in central New Zealand
New Zealand’s Nelson/Shutterstock

Small-ship port of call Nelson, in central New Zealand, has been busy.

Nelson City ArtWalk is a new outdoor gallery trail showcasing local artworks from The Suter. The Brook Waimārama Sanctuary has launched glowworm and after-dark forest tours. Nelson Classic Car Museum has rebranded and refreshed its visitor experience, including the Little Engine Eatery. Gravity Vineyard and Unkel Wines are new producers on Nelson Tasman’s wine scene. Skydive Abel Tasman has added a 20,000ft skydive to its offering — the highest in New Zealand — and Helicopters Nelson has expanded its program to bespoke tours, so you can fly anywhere in the area.

Tauranga

Geothermal attractions in Tauranga, New Zealand
Geothermal wonders in New Zealand’s Tauranga/Shutterstock.

Tauranga is the stop for shore excursions to Te Puia, Rotorua’s iconic geysers, crater lakes, bubbling mud pools and steaming rivers. These geothermal wonders can now be explored at night, after the park has closed, which is reason enough to extend your vacation on land. Starting at dusk and armed with a flashlight, you can sneak down a secret passage to see Pōhutu Geyser, the biggest, active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, in the moonlight.

Akaroa

New Zealand’s only French settlement sits in one of the world’s most beautiful harbors of turquoise water, nestled in the heart of an extinct volcano. Be sure to head up into the hills to marvel at the exceptional view. In the village, wander around the quiet streets lined with French colonial architecture, art galleries, museums and cafés serving French cuisine.

A marine reserve has been created for Hector’s dolphins, the world’s smallest species of dolphin, so it’s the best place to swim with them or spot these rare creatures on one of Silversea’s harbor cruises. Akaroa is also home to a large colony of Australasian Little Penguins that can be visited on excursions.

From here, Lord of the Rings fans can journey to Middle Earth, visiting the majestic mountain settings for the movie trilogy on a full-day tour.

Milford Sound

New Zealand's Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the gateway to New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park/Shutterstock

The good news is nothing has changed in the South Island’s Milford Sound, which is sure to rise to the top of your favorite cruising highlights. While relaxing onboard, guests will witness the sheer splendor of Piopiotahi (its Maori name) within Fiordland National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Te Wahipounamu.

As Waddel says: “The region of Fiordland offers visitors the opportunity to see New Zealand’s flora and fauna in all its glory, boasting dramatic cascading waterfalls, seals, dolphins and native wildlife-spotting. It’s a must-do destination, whether it’s your first trip or you’re a seasoned traveler.”