The northern part of the North Island is geographically sub-tropical and the southern part of the South Island is very close to the Southern Ocean and the sub-Antarctic islands. For this reason, New Zealand offers a unique cruising experience contained within only 1000 miles of coastline between the two islands.
The main port of entry for most superyachts visiting New Zealand is Auckland. The vessel can re-provision here, with access to all the provisions, wines and delicacies that the chef needs to be able to provide the owner.
Repairs and maintenance can also be carried out in Auckland. Often the superyacht has just finished a Pacific Island cruise from Tahiti to Fiji with numerous owners or charters on board, so the superyacht and crew will also be ready for some R&R. From Auckland, the itinerary could take the vessel north to the Bay of Islands and Whangaroa Harbour.
Some yachts enter New Zealand at the Bay of Islands and have their R+R there before heading down to Auckland, a distance of 120 miles.
New Zealand’s weather systems predominantly come from the south-eastern corner of Australia; a strong south-westerly flow is usual over the spring months of September through to December. Tropical cyclones occasionally get down to New Zealand from the Coral Sea area during the summer months, but they are not regular events.
For the New Zealand summer – December though to April – large high pressure systems tend to dominate the country, giving settled weather with light north-easterlies. Most superyachts plan to move north during May and often make Fiji the first port of call, as it’s only 1250 miles away. With a good weather forecast, it is usually a comfortable trip
New Zealand cruising grounds
The cruising grounds of New Zealand can be divided into three main areas: North and east of Auckland; Marlborough Sounds, including Golden Bay and Abel Tasman National Park; the west coast of the South Island, Fiordland, south to Stewart Island and Banks Peninsula on the east coast.
From the northern tip south down the east coast to Auckland and east to Great Barrier Island and the Mercury Islands. This is a vast area with numerous excellent anchorages and places to explore. It really deserves two different cruises. Travelling at a leisurely pace, it’s a three-week cruise from Auckland up the coast to as far north as Whangaroa Harbour, a unique land-locked anchorage with many bays opening up inside offering a quiet remote anchorage.
The second cruise south with possibly a second set of guests would re-visit the Bay of Islands and then, on departing head overnight to Great Barrier Island – excellent anchorages, walking tracks, diving, beaches and exploring. From there, the Coromandel Peninsula is just 10 miles away with golden sand beaches and remote anchorages.
The third cruise, after another guest change at Great Barrier Island if necessary, could take you further south, again down the east coast to the Mercury Islands with excellent fishing for the enthusiast, diving and the small town of Whitianga, where re-provisioning and shore excursions organised are possible.
From Whitianga, the cruise back to the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula is a few hours with perhaps an overnighter in the historic gold mining town of Coromandel. From here, steam across the Firth of Thames to the island of Waiheke, where vineyards, white sandy beaches, and restaurants await you. This island is only 10 miles back to Auckland, so makes a good final destination before heading back into Auckland and preparation for the adventures of the South Island.
Give careful consideration to your route south. The most obvious, looking at a chart, would be down the east coast, but this can be a big mistake. Once around East Cape, the trip down to the Cook Strait can be notoriously bad. The distance to steam north around Cape Reinga and then down the west coast of the North Island is actually about the same. With the correct weather pattern, the west coast choice is preferable to the east coast.
While the boat transits, approximately 48 hours, guests can move ashore and explore the interior of New Zealand, with its top quality hotels and lodges, trout fishing and many other activities that can beenjoyed while the yacht makes it way to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.
There are excellent provisioning facilities in Wellington and fuelling is available. Guests can re-join the yacht here.
Picton Harbour, which is a small seaside township at the top of the South Island, is aptly named “the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds.” The port where inter-island ferries commute to and from Wellington, it is an easy place to get to.
Blenheim is a 25-minute drive away, set amongst the best-known wine-growing area in New Zealand. Helicopters can land close to the marina and Blenheim Airport can accommodate private jets.
Guests may choose to see other areas in this region, such as the west coast of the South Island, Nelson or Kaikoura, well-known for whale watching, which is its major attraction. If the guests decide they would like to start their charter in the privacy of one of the outer islands in total seclusion, the helicopter is ideal for this purpose.
The Marlborough Sounds comprises over 1760km of coastline. The Sounds are a remarkable visual fusion of land, native bush and sheltered waterways and blessed by the sunniest climate in the country. There are three main sounds: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Pelorus. At the outer edge of these sounds there is a lovely island called D’Urville, which has two natural harbours. If guests wish to really extend themselves, from D’Urville Island to Tasman Bay is a sail of approximately four hours, which is quite adventurous given that you go across a large bight, but always within sight of land. Tasman Bay is famous for its golden beaches, warmer waters and the Abel Tasman National Park walkways.
In the Queen Charlotte Sound, there is a lot of history. Captain James Cook, who claimed New Zealand for England in 1769, came to Ship’s Cove five times to clean and provision his ships. A memorial monument now stands in the cove. There are several bush walks around this area, some short, while others can be up to 4-5 hours.
Next to Ship’s Cove is Motuara Island, which is a bird sanctuary with a lookout at its highest point, giving excellent views of the sound, while on a clear day you can see the North Island. Motuara has a high abundance of bird life, including nesting penguins.
Next to this island, there is a fish sanctuary called Long Island, and if one is keen on diving or snorkelling this is a must.
If guests decided to go in to the other two sounds, they also have lots to see and do. A large proportion of New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are grown in this area and there is good fishing in the outer reaches of these sounds as well.
If one was designing an itinerary for seven days and given suitable weather conditions, a charter could cover all areas of the Marlborough Sounds, D’urville Island and Tasman Bay. However, this would involve more travel time, whereas one could equally spend seven days in Queen Charlotte Sound alone and be fully occupied.
Diving – An interesting dive is the Russian cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, which was a regular cruise ship visitor to New Zealand waters. She sank on 16 February 1986 at Cape Jackson near Picton due to a piloting error, with the unfortunate loss of one person.
Walks – Track conditions vary, so sturdy, comfortable boots or shoes that have been well broken-in are a must. A guide can be provided to accompany guests on shore if so desired.
West coast of the South Island
The run from Picton down to Milford Sound is approximately 350 miles; often, guests go ashore and explore the interior of the South Island while the yacht makes the ocean passage for this leg. There are many up-market lodges to choose from and things to do, from fishing, walking tracks, golf, vineyards, horse riding and many other activities.
The most spectacular way to re-join the yacht in Milford Sound is by helicopter. This takes you over the Southern Alps, alongside glaciers and then down into the Milford Sound. After leaving Milford Sound, the remote and wild Fiordland stretches to the southwest corner of New Zealand.
Cruising in this region demands careful planning and great respect. The deep narrow sounds and extensive valleys surrounded by glaciers are an incredible sight. The area has abundant spectacular waterfalls and sometimes the yacht can get under the actual fall! This area is totally inaccessible by road – again as in Milford – the use of a helicopter to meet you on one of the secluded beaches and take you exploring through the mountains is an experience that will stay with you, then re-join the yacht at a different location up one of the many fiords and continue down the coast.
On rounding the southern tip of the South Island, the cruise across to Stewart Island is 70 miles. As this area can be the roughest, wind-torn space of water in the southern hemisphere, it is important to pick the weather for the crossing. Most of the time, it will be a southwesterly air flow, but often these fronts come up from he southern latitudes and can be very fierce.
Stewart Island is very quiet, and as 85 per cent of the Island is National Park, its clear, green waters and lush rainforest, sweeping sands and unique flora and fauna provide a protected experience for all to enjoy. Numerous parts of the island are bird sanctuaries and the Stewart Island little spotted kiwi can be found here.
The area has an abundance of wildlife, walking tracks and fishing. Bird watchers from all corners of the globe visit Stewart Island for its uniqueness. The main harbour and town is Oban, a very quiet little fishing village that has all the necessities for a short stay on the island, and there is a regular air and sea service to the town of Bluff on the mainland.
From Stewart Island, the really adventurous could head south into the ‘Furious Fifties’ and New
Zealand’s sub-Antarctic Islands. Sitting below 50-degrees south and approx 200 miles south of Stewart Island, this is truly an adventure for the experienced yachtsman. The area has abundant sea life and it has been described as the ‘Galapagos of the Southern Ocean’.
The anchorage in the Auckland Islands is completely land-locked with excellent protection.
For the treasure hunter looking for the shipwreck full of gold, this is the place. The wreck of the General Grant, a fully rigged ship of 1,103 tons, London-bound from Melbourne in May 1866, lies here after she crashed into the towering cliffs on the west coast of the main island of the group. Her manifest included wool, skins, pelts, and spelter, but it was gold bullion in her cargo that persuaded shippers to insure the ship for £165,000…
From Stewart Island heading north, it is 150 miles to Dunedin and then a further 150 miles to Banks Peninsula, and the harbour of Akaroa.
This is a one-hour drive from Christchurch, which is an attractive city with lots of festivals, art galleries, museums, and yes, churches.
Akaroa was first settled by the French in the 19th Century before New Zealand was officially claimed by the British. Even today, you find the main streets retain their French heritage and some of the early forms of architecture relate to those early days. Often regarded as the Riviera of Christchurch for its bays and cobalt-blue waters, Akaroa is a major vacation and weekend retreat.
The final destination for the guests could be Stewart Island or Christchurch – providing the weather is settled, the run up the east coast from Stewart island to Akaroa can be very enjoyable. Private jets can land at most of the major airports in the South Island and there is regular air service to Auckland.
This article courtesy of GSR 2010-11, Ocean Media, Australia. Written by Jeanette Tobin