Small is beautiful when it comes to summer cruising in New Zealand, with boutique lines such as Affinity Cruises, Fiordland Discovery, and Heritage Expeditions offering Kiwi-only voyages for the 2020/21 season.
Heritage Expeditions' Spirit of Enderby is the first (and so far only) international ship to arrive for the summer season and the company's directors Aaron and Nathan Russ are elated their vessel had once again returned to local waters.
"The arrival of Spirit of Enderby is a huge win not only for us, but also for the country's economy and travel industry, ongoing scientific research and New Zealanders looking for an overseas-style holiday experience without having to leave the country," said Aaron.
Adventurous travellers are particularly well catered for this summer with a choice of tempting itineraries. See in the New Year on D'Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds, or view 30m ice cliffs, the world's largest Adelie penguin rookery and body of floating ice in the world, and Antarctica's only active volcano in east Antarctica.
Foodies can enjoy Fiordland's stunning scenery while the crew catch a live lobster for lunch. Choose your favourite itinerary and get ready to set sail for adventure this summer.
In the wake of Scott & Shackleton
If you want to see the Antarctica you learned about in school and feel what it was like for the early polar explorers, east Antarctica is the place to do it. There are two month-long expeditions departing New Zealand this summer. Along with offering plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities, Antarctica's Ross Sea and Commonwealth Bay regions are home to many well-preserved huts from this bygone era of heroic exploration, including Mawson's Hut and Borchgrevink's Hut, the oldest in Antarctica.
Pelorus Cruise and Walk
Walk the beautiful Jacobs, Archer and Nydia tracks on this four-night round-trip cruise from Havelock. There's no backtracking as the boat meets you at the end of each walk and anchors in a calm bay for a good night's rest. All up you'll hike around 40km, although it's easy to cut this distance down by skipping some of the walks.
In-depth Fiordland Cruise
Explore Fiordland National Park and the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage area with a focus on scenery, history, and nature. After a helicopter flight from Te Anau, you'll board the Fiordland Jewel at Preservation Inlet and spend six nights exploring Breaksea, Dusky Sounds, and Preservation and Chalky Inlets with bush, island and beach walks and the chance to spot plenty of wildlife. The crew also dive for lobster so the chef can create an extra special lunch or dinner.
New Year's Scenic Cruise
Ring in the New Year on this five-night cruise which departs from Havelock and returns to Picton. Along with fishing for tasty Blue Cod, bird spotting at Motuara Island, walking sections of the Queen Charlotte Track and cruising through the Marlborough Sounds, you'll get to raise your glass to 2021 at a dinner on D'Urville Island with new-found friends.
Forgotten Islands of the South Pacific
Fields of mega-herbs sway in the wind, albatross nest in colonies and sea lion pups scamper around their parents on this seven-night wilderness expedition that explores New Zealand's uninhabited Unesco World Heritage-listed Subantarctic Campbell, Auckland and Snares Islands. The wild beauty of this region is breathtaking and has to be seen to be believed.
Top of the South
Experience the top sights of the South Island on this cruise which includes a scenic flight over the Marlborough Sounds, a day trip to New Zealand's largest springs, the chance to visit a king shag colony, and salmon fishing at Anatoki farm. You'll also cruise through all three of Marlborough's Sounds – Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus – on this 10-night cruise.
Unseen Fiordland & Stewart Island
Explore New Zealand's remote southern backyard on this seven-night cruise that includes two remarkable destinations in the one voyage. You'll see glacier-cleaved mountains accessible only by ship, experience the raw beauty of wildlife-rich Stewart Island and sail through Fiordland where dolphins play and clouds soften the jagged peaks.
Galapagos of the Southern Ocean
This 13-night voyage explores New Zealand's Subantarctic Islands then ventures further afield to remote Macquarie Island. This icy spot is the only place in the world where Royal Penguins breed and is home to more than 200,000 rowdy pairs. This time of year is also ideal for observing mighty elephant seals and their impressively large offspring.
Doubtful Sound Discovery
If you're after something short and sweet, this two-night Doubtful Sound cruise is for you. After a boat transfer across Lake Manapouri to West Arm, you'll have time to admire the scenery before you board your 18-passenger catamaran at Deep Cove. Doubtful Sound is 10 times larger than Milford Sound and you'll have two days to explore it by kayak or on a small tender boat as you keep an eye out for dolphins, fur seals and Fiordland crested penguins.
Cruise lines to watch
At the time of writing Ponant was awaiting approval to commence sailings in New Zealand. In February, a 14-night Subantarctic Islands expedition would offer the chance to explore one of the world's least-visited regions in style. Book at au.ponant.com
This story was first published in the New Zealand Herald Travel on 13 December, 2020