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  • Writer's pictureJulie Prusak

Exploring New Zealand: Cruise, Self-Drive, or Land Tour?

Much like J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece paints an enchanting world of fantasy, New Zealand unfurls an equally mesmerizing tapestry of stunning landscapes, merging serenity, adventure, and luxury accommodations. For those with a penchant for high-end journeys, be it onboard the elegance of a cruise ship, the unbridled freedom of a self-drive road trip, or the relative ease of a guided land tour, the 'Land of the Kiwis' holds an unhurried allure.


photo: Lupin season in New Zealand


Whether you prefer commanding the seas, being the master of your journey, or letting an expert guide your exploration, New Zealand, a land of unending beauty, offers three incredible experiences - via cruise ship, a self-drive road trip, or a guided land tour. Each holds a unique perspective and way to absorb all the treasures New Zealand offers down her coastline and across vast landscapes. In this blog post, we'll dive into the advantages and disadvantages of these three modes of travel, the exclusive destinations each one offers, and the prime times to visit.


Cruising New Zealand


Cruising brings you an unrivaled level of comfort and leisure, allowing you to see multiple destinations without packing and unpacking your suitcase. Luxury cruising is akin to navigating through C.S. Lewis' 'Narnia', where magical views sweep across your suite's window. Cruise ships often cover a vast coastal area of New Zealand, offering picturesque views of the Fiordland National Park and Marlborough Sounds. However, the drawback is its seasonal nature. Optimum cruising is usually between October and April, the New Zealand summer, a perfect time for whale watching but could also limit your immersion with the local culture and inland destinations.


On a cruise most of the traveling from one place to the next happens while you sleep. Even if you do travel during the day, you will have a very comfortable floating hotel with a permanent sea view and a variety of relaxation, spa, and entertainment options to keep you occupied. You will never have to think about where or when your next meal will be served.


On our 14-night cruise on Regent Seven Seas’ Explorer, we stopped at 11 different locations as well as a full day of scenic cruising through some of the more remote and inaccessible fjords of the South Island. At every port there were several different shore excursions available, offering a wide variety of activities from sightseeing to hikes, kayaking, museums, catamaran trips, wine tastings, and more.


However, there are some disadvantages of visiting a country like New Zealand on a cruise ship, one being that it makes visiting inland resorts logistically difficult, if not impossible. The remote South Island resort town of Queenstown is far from the nearest cruise ship port and can only be visited on an overnight excursion. Popular tourist destinations such as Mount Cooke, the glacier lands and gorgeous inland lakes are also unreachable on cruise itineraries. Another disadvantage is the long drives from some ports to the attractions, making tours long with considerable transit time on a luxury coach.


photo: Seven Seas Explorer and Crystal Symphony docked in Port Chalmers (near Dunedin), New Zealand


Self-Drive Adventure


Summon your inner 'Frodo', grip that steering wheel, and decide your narrative with the freedom and flexibility of a self-drive trip. Venture into the heart of 'Middle Earth,' visit Hobbiton in Matamata at your leisure or pause to marvel at the ethereal Lake Tekapo's pristine beauty while making your way along your personalized itinerary.


New Zealand boasts excellent roads which beckon adventure any time of the year. Remember to account for considerations such as travel planning, rental car insurance, long distances between services, enforced speed limits, and driving on the left side of the road.


photo: self driving around the shores of New Zealand


Guided Land Tour


Guided land tours blend the convenience of a planned itinerary with insightful local knowledge. It's an all-season, all-access pass to New Zealand’s hotspots like the thermal wonderland of Rotorua and the Māori cultural hubs. Guided luxury tours offer a curated journey on a luxury coach through a 'Middle Earth' that thrives beyond the silver screen, offering you top-rated accommodations, gastronomic wonders, and intuitive local guides. Guided tours eliminate many self-travel hassles; however, they are less flexible towards impromptu site-seeing decisions or extending stays at desired locations.


Whilst driving through New Zealand offers stunning scenery, driving many miles each day can became a little tedious, as a passenger or a driver. Also consider the added stress of packing and unpacking on a frequent basis.



The celestial landscapes of New Zealand offer year-round adventures that cater to cruise enthusiasts, freedom-seeking self-drivers, and tourists who prefer the completeness of a guided tour. By identifying what you expect the most from your New Zealand escapade, be it the vibrant coasts, the freedom of the road, or the all-encompassing curated tours, you can make an informed choice. The grandeur and allure of the Kiwi nation await, promising a picture-perfect holiday for every type of traveler. In New Zealand, you aren’t just visiting a destination; you’re stepping into an epic tale awaiting its next chapter.


Let's get started planning your vacation! Reserve your complimentary consultation call with me to begin!


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