Take a look at a map of New Zealand and you’ll notice right away that it’s surrounded by blue - we’re an island nation and all our ancestors travelled here by boat (outrigger canoe for the Maori, sailing ships for the Europeans), so we’ve got the ocean in our blood. As well as the sea, we’ve got glaciers and volcanoes doing their thing, carving out lakes both big and small from the landscape, with rivers long and short flowing just about everywhere you look too. So if you want day cruises and boat trips to be a part of your New Zealand ’Trip of a Lifetime', then you are in the right place matey!

From the open seas of Cook Strait, a day cruise in the Bay of Islands, cruising the fiords of the deep south, exploring alpine valleys by jet boat to sailing on extinct volcanic lakes, in every corner of the country there’s a Kiwi with a boat waiting for you to show up and jump onboard! We’ve all got a real affinity with the water, ask any Kiwi about their favourite holiday memories and everyone will tell you about holidays at the beach, lake or discovering rivers with their family! Kiwis love nothing more than sharing their favourite stretch of water with you when you’re visiting, just don’t ask us about the 2013 Americas Cup, that one still hurts!

So if you’re coming out to visit us here in New Zealand and want to jump on a few boats in different spots on your way round, here’s our guide to the best day cruises and boat trips to fit into your New Zealand ‘Trip of a Lifetime’.

Auckland Day Cruises & Sailing

We live in the ‘City of Sails’ and what we love most about our home is being able to get out on the harbour any time we want to - if the Southern Alps are South Islander’s playground then the Hauraki Gulf is ours, and yours when you come and visit us. We tell everyone who comes to visit us to stay downtown (in the Viaduct even) is because the water is right there and all the best cruises and boat trips are right out your door.

So here’s our local JAFA’s (Just another friendly Aucklander!) pick for the best Auckland day cruises and boat trips, to start off your New Zealand holiday.

America’s Cup Sailing - Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour is New Zealand’s home of the America’s Cup (we need to win that thing again!) and you can join a ‘crew’ for an afternoon sailing and some light hearted racing. No experience necessary and lots of fun!

Whale & Dolphin Safari - Did you know that the Hauraki Gulf, right off Auckland, is home to whales and dolphins and you can go out and see them any day you want to! As well as whale watching, these guys are also research partners with the universities working to protect the wildlife, which is cool.

These are our favourites, but you’ve also got harbour sightseeing cruises and the ferries to Waiheke, Rangitoto, Tiritiri Matangi and the other islands as well.

Our JAFA tip for Auckland Day Cruises: For cruising and wine - go to Waiheke Island. For cruising, wildlife and some easy hiking - Tiritiri Matangi. Short on time - head across to Devonport on the ferry. Make an evening of it, jump on a dinner or wine tasting cruise.

All these cruises and tours leave from either Viaduct Harbour or the Downtown Ferry Terminal - which is why we always tell friends to stay downtown!

Twilight sailing on Auckland harbour - Boat trips and day cruises NZ

Hokianga Harbour Cruise

Here’s a little trip out on the water that not many people know about and a real ‘Kiwi’ experience that we absolutely love - jump on the Hokianga Express from Omapere with our mate Pete. He’s an ex fisherman and was bought up in lighthouses all around the New Zealand coast, so has got a few stories to tell. Take your togs for a swim and borrow one of Pete's sandboards for a slide down the dunes, that’s what we always do when we’re up visiting.

Kiwi tip for the Hokianga Harbour - make the effort to climb to the top of the sand dunes on the far side of the harbour, you’ll have the place to yourself and can see for miles.

A little more about the Hokianga - this is the spot where the first Polynesian navigators arrived in Aotearoa, making it the last major landmass on earth to be discovered by mankind!

A lot of people think that ‘Northland’ is just the Bay of Islands and rush through the Hokianga quickly, don’t make that mistake!

Bay of Islands Day Cruises

Another spot where getting out on the water is a must, you won’t need much convincing when you’re up there! So many Kiwis have awesome holiday memories from the Bay of Islands, it’s where Aucklanders love to escape the city during the holidays and long weekends. From the main wharf in Paihia you’ve got heaps of choice for getting out on the ocean, we always tell friends to try the Hole in the Rock cruise, the dolphin swim or a day out sailing. Even the short hop across to Russell on the ferry is a great way to get out on the water for a little while, the 30 minute trip from Paihia on the original ferry, the Bay Belle.

When I was a kid I tried to win a holiday to the Bay of Islands because I’d never been ‘overseas’ before, it always sounded so exotic to us I thought it was a different country!

Day cruise boat at the Hole in the Rock, Bay of Islands - Day Cruises and Boat Trips NZ

Better than Rotorua Cruises? Sailing on Lake Rotoiti!

We always love staying right down by the water in Rotorua, making it really easy to get out on Lake Rotorua on the classic old paddler, New Zealand’s only stern driven paddle vessel. But our favourite boat trip near Rotorua is something a little different, it’s sailing on Lake Rotoiti on the yacht ‘Tuia', with our mate Matt and his crew. Of course gliding along under wind power is so much fun, but what makes this trip even better is that you sail across the lake to a private jetty, jump in for a swim and there is even a natural hot springs, only accessible by water so you’ll be the only ones there. That’s our favourite lake trip around Rotorua, one we’ve done heaps of times and can’t wait to do again!

Relaxing on a sailboat on Lake Rotoiti - Boats and Day Cruises NZ

The Cook Strait Ferry Crossing

When I was a kid growing up in the North Island, and we always called it the ‘Picton ferry’ and when I went to the South Island for the first time I was surprised to hear them calling it the ‘Wellington Ferry’, how could it be the same ferry, I thought? New Zealand is such a small country, that when you hear someone talk about ‘The Ferry’ there’s only one ferry that Kiwis think of, the Cook Strait ferry between Picton and Wellington (or Wellington and Picton, depending on where you come from). If there’s one boat trip in the whole country that all Kiwis think of as part of their holiday memories, it’s this one.

Crossing from North to South, you’ll get onboard right in downtown Wellington and the first half and hour or so is out through beautiful Wellington harbour, round past the airport and out into the Cook Strait. She’s the open ocean out there and the wind will remind you of that, but make sure you get up on the observation deck and look south, and you can even see the snowy peaks of the Kaikoura mountains and fishing boats out on the horizon. The ferry heads into the Tory Channel, the entrance of the Marlborough Sounds as you cruise through the sea drowned valleys past some of New Zealand’s most remote outposts. You’ll see signs of civilisation, but the outposts on the Sounds are places that most Kiwis have only read about.

You’re on holiday, so take your time and go ‘Cruising on the Interislander’ (for some great 1990 Kiwi music, check out the ‘Sailing to the Other Side’ video by the Waratahs! Views still the same, just the clothing has changed, thankfully!

The Cook Strait Ferry - Day Cruises and Boats Trips NZ

Abel Tasman Cruise

Take a look at Abel Tasman on Google Earth and you’ll see golden sandy beaches, lush green forests and beautiful looking ocean. Search for a Abel Tasman image and you’ll see the same, that’s why both Kiwis and overseas visitors love getting out on the water here. It’s not just the beautiful bays and beaches, you’ve also got the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, making this the perfect place to combine a cruise and a walk on one of New Zealand’s ‘Great Walks', this is the only Great Walk in New Zealand that you can do this! What we always do is head into the park nice and early, jump on a cruise from Kaiteriteri out to Awaroa Inlet, spend the day walking on the track before getting picked up again by the friendly Kiwi skipper for a bit more cruising the coastline before dropping you back off where you started. Seals and dolphins are pretty common in Abel Tasman, but I always remember being surprised to see a little blue penguin here when I was on holiday once as a kid, I didn’t associate the warm sandy beaches of Abel Tasman with penguins, but they’re here too!

Kaikoura

When you’re in Kaikoura, going out on the water has a real purpose, to see the marine life that lives here and only here. On the land in Kaikoura you can see the connections Kaikoura has to whaling, nowadays they’re like the VIPs of the town, in fact, there’s a rumour that a whale is going to run for mayor and is polling higher than the other candidates! But serious facts, there’s a very deep ocean trench just of the shore here in Kaikoura, making the surrounding sea very rich in food for the Sperm Whale, which lives here all year. You’ll also see migratory humpback whales and even Blue Whales have been spotted. Whale Watch Kaikoura has a really cook local story behind it also, it was started by local Maori families in a bid to bring some prosperity back to the town after lots of jobs were lost when the railways closed in the 1980s. As well as Whale Watching, people also love the Dolphin Swimming or Albatross Encounter, getting out on the water in Kaikoura is all about the wildlife!

Kiwi Trip for Whalewatching - If you get seasick out not he open ocean, be prepared, there is a bit of bobbing up and down while you’re watching the whales. You wouldn’t be the first person to feed the fish here!

Queenstown Boat Trips

Land locked and surrounded by mountains, boats may not be the first thing that spring to mind when you think about Queenstown, but then again, there’s the huge lake and all the rivers flowing into it! In fact, one of the most iconic Queenstown images is the 1912 steamship the Earnslaw plying the lake to the backdrop of the Remarkable Mountains. That’s Queenstown right there. Mention Queenstown to Kiwis and many of us think about jet boats, and that’s another ‘boat trip’ we always tell friends to check out when they’re visiting. You’ve got the big red boats of Shotover Jet, which is a thrill ride whizzing down the Shotover Canyon, but the jet boat trip we never miss is up the Dart River, departing from Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu on the edge Mount Aspiring National Park. This is what jet boats were invented for, getting into the New Zealand back country where there are no roads. You’ll come back from this with a big grin on your face, guaranteed!

Jetboat by the willows, Dart River - Boat trips and day cruises NZ

Milford Sound Day Cruise

Ask someone in a faraway land to name one place in New Zealand and top of the list would be Milford Sound. Which is why a day cruise on Milford Sound is a ‘Must Do’ for so many people, both Kiwis and overseas visitors. Read recent reviews of anyone who’s been on a Milford Sound cruise and they all say things like ‘we were blown away’, ‘never seen anything like it’ and tell of encounters with dolphins, penguins, seals and even whales!

Kiwi tip for your Milford Sound Cruise - Go on a smaller boat - the big boats can get pretty packed with tour groups, you won’t get to chat to the crew and the smaller boats can nose up into little nooks and crannies the bigger ones can’t. For a really memorable day and to cut down the travel time from Queenstown, travel one way on the Milford Road but take a scenic flight back after your cruise, that’s what we always do.

Okarito Lagoon

Here’s a little off the beaten track spot that you may not even know about, but somewhere we’ve been going since we were kids and never miss when we go down the coast. There’s a cool little boat trip out on the lagoon run by our Okarito mate Swade, he'lll take you right across the lagoon and up the forested tidal creeks, tell you all about the amazing wildlife here and help you get those special wildlife photos you’ve been dreaming of. It’s just such a laid back spot, it’s a breeding ground for some of the rarest wading birds in New Zealand and the views of the Southern Alps from the middle of the lagoon are unbeatable. If you love your nature and wildlife photography this one is for you!

Here’s a little off the beaten track spot that you may not even know about, but somewhere we’ve been going since we were kids and never miss when we go down the coast. There’s a cool little boat trip out on the lagoon run by our Okarito mate Swade, he'lll take you right across the lagoon and up the forested tidal creeks, tell you all about the amazing wildlife here and help you get those special wildlife photos you’ve been dreaming of. It’s just such a laid back spot, it’s a breeding ground for some of the rarest wading birds in New Zealand and the views of the Southern Alps from the middle of the lagoon are unbeatable. If you love your nature and wildlife photography this one is for you!

Kayaker on Okarito Lagoon - Boat trips and day cruises NZ

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