New Zealand’s finest cities

From city ports to the Bay of Plenty, you’re spoilt for shore-excursion choice: tear through the Southern Alps by train, trek up volcanoes, taste fine cool-climate wines or take five in a stylish cafe – it’s all here. 


Water, water everywhere: that’s the perfect way to sum up Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. Located on an isthmus, the city of about 1.4 million is lapped by two harbours, Waitemata in the north and Manukau to the south. The former is huge, at 180 square kilometres, and is dotted with islands and more than 13,500 yachts and private boats, giving rise to Auckland’s nickname, the City of Sails. There are also some 50 volcanic hills including Mount Victoria and North Head, providing fantastic views of the city and the iconic volcano island, Rangitoto.


Viaduct Harbour, the former commercial wharf revamped for the 2000 America’s Cup challenge, has more than 20 hip restaurants and cafes. The Skycity Auckland complex and Sky Tower, that lofty needle that hovers over the city, houses 11 eateries including Orbit Revolving Restaurant, 190 metres above the ground, and the exclusive dine by Peter Gordon. The stylish suburbs of Parnell and St Heliers have many fine eateries, too.

Must do

Explore the harbour by ferry, sailboat or kayak. Ferries run to the quaint north shore village of Devonport and to fascinating Waiheke Island, home to 7,000 residents, 20 wineries and dozens of restaurants and cafes. There are boat trips to Rangitoto Island for visits to the lava fields and caves. Another must-see is Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World.


Explore NZ offers just about every water-based activity from America’s Cup sailing experiences to dolphin-spotting and whale-watching cruises. More:

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Folk are fond of saying that ‘The Garden City’ of Christchurch is the most English city outside England. Its Gothic Revival architecture, beautiful parks and long tradition of punting on the Avon River contribute to the legend. Established in the 1850s as a planned community for the Church of England, the city of more than 350,000 is the largest on the South Island. A hike or gondola ride to Port Hills provides sensational views to the snow-capped Southern Alps, while the famed Waipara wine region is a short drive from the city. Ships dock at the old port of Lyttelton, 12 kilometres away on the Banks Peninsula, and also at the former French settlement of Akaroa.


For a quintessential English-style experience, have lunch or afternoon tea at historic Mona Vale Homestead, set on 5.5 hectares of landscaped gardens beside the Avon River, then enjoy an afternoon’s punting. The Arts Centre incorporates several restaurants and cafes; behind it, a collection of ‘food caravans’ sell ethnic dishes. Enjoy fine food in a tranquil setting at the Curator’s House Restaurant in the Botanic Gardens.

Must do

Take a tram-ride, go punting, visit Cathedral Square to see the amazing Chalice sculpture and, if time permits, take the gondola to Port Hills. The 19th-century Gothic Revival Arts Centre, once the University of Canterbury, now houses galleries and artists’ studios.


Discovery Travel runs trips to Hanmer Springs, whale-watching tours at Kaikoura and trips on the TranzAlpine train to Arthurs Pass. More:


Situated on the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga is New Zealand’s largest export port and is home to about 118,000 people. While it has several interesting sites, including the Elms historic house museum (formerly the Te Papa Mission Station) and Te Puna Quarry Park outdoor art gallery, most cruise passengers bypass the city and head straight to Rotorua. But for those who’ve already seen that geothermal wonderland, you’ll find plenty to do in the resort town of Mount Maunganui, a short walk from the Tauranga cruise terminal. Maunganui (meaning ‘big hill’) is the name of an extinct volcano and the town itself, and is known as one of the most sacred spots in the Bay of Plenty.


Tauranga’s eateries are located along the Strand and the Tauranga Bridge Marina; good restaurants include the Bridge Waterside Bistro & Bar and Gold Mela. Mount Maunganui’s cafe scene is lively: two of the best venues here
are Zone Cafe & Wine Bar, and Volantis. Colourful vans parked along Main Beach sell snacks throughout the summer months.

Must do

Walk around Mount Maunganui on the three-kilometre base track, or hike to its 232-metre summit. There are excellent rockpools that are perfect for swimming at the foot of the mountain, and two long, sandy beaches. To ease tired muscles, have a soak in the commercial Mount Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools: temperatures range from 32 to about 40°C. You can also indulge in a massage here.


Mount Classics Tours runs individual and group tours to Rotorua and around Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. More:


Often called ‘Windy Wellington’, the nation’s capital clings to steep, forested hills surrounding a brilliant harbour. Nowadays, the city of 195,500 people is known for its cosmopolitan style and cultural pursuits. It’s said to have more than 400 restaurants, cafes and bars, giving it more eateries per capita than New York City. Cruise ships dock just 20 minutes away from the revitalised Wellington Waterfront, an interesting precinct that is made up of restored 19th-century wharves, heritage boat sheds, Art Deco buildings, modern sculptures, funky bridges and the acclaimed Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa. The steep hills provide excellent exercise for those checking out the streetscapes of colourful timber houses or hiking to the top of Mount Victoria, where scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy were filmed.


The city’s restaurants are located in four areas – bustling Cuba Street, the Courtenay Quarter, Lambton Quay and the Wellington Waterfront. For award-winning cuisine, try Matterhorn in Cuba Street and the Boulcott Street Bistro at Lambton Quay. For a step back in time, have a meal at the restored 19th-century Shed 5 Bar & Restaurant. St John’s Heineken Hotel has taken over a 1920s building in Wellington’s CBD that once housed the ambulance headquarters.

Must do

You could spend all day in Te Papa Tongarewa but if time is limited, make sure you visit the Maori displays, then check out The Map – an interactive floor map of New Zealand. Ride the red Wellington Cable Car from Lambton Quay to the Botanic Gardens and wander back to the city on foot, passing the 1970s Parliament building nicknamed the Beehive. Take the train or drive to the Wairarapa wine region, an hour north, to taste the region’s signature pinot noir.


Wild about Wellington is run by Jennifer Looman, who is passionate about her city. Her small-group excursions include Sights and Bites, Wild about Chocolate and Boutique Beer Tastings & Tours. There are also tours designed for cruise passengers. More:

Who goes there?
Azamara Club Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America, P&O, Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Norwegian Cruise Line.

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