Big things come in small packages. This is especially the case when it comes to New Zealand's scenery; it's one reason the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed there.
Cruise lines strive to 'wow' their passengers by offering itineraries that include the Sounds, massive fjord-like formations found on the southern end of New Zealand's South Island. The largest, Milford Sound, was described by Rudyard Kipling as the eighth wonder of the world.
At the other end of the country is the equally spectacular Bay of Islands, a subtropical micro region comprising 144 islands with stunning scenery and an abundance of wildlife.
New Zealand isn't all about scenery, and many of its municipalities can be described as quaint. Auckland, New Zealand's largest city (pop: 1.4 million), is known as the City of Sails and overlooks beautiful Waitemata Harbour, while Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of the South.
For many cruisers to New Zealand, their journey wouldn't be complete without a trip to Hobbiton, the Hobbit village movie set from "Lord of the Rings," and "The Hobbit." It has been turned into one of New Zealand's most recent -- and now most popular -- attractions. There, visitors are able to view Hobbit holes up close and enjoy a drink in the Green Dragon pub, which also appeared in the movies. Not surprisingly, many cruises include Hobbiton as a shore excursion.
--By Giulio Saggin, Cruise Critic contributor
Auckland might be New Zealand's biggest city, but it's not the capital (that would be Wellington). Known as the 'city of sails', Auckland has a fabulous harbor, which is best viewed from the top of Mount Eden or Sky Tower (pictured). The tallest free-standing structure in the southern hemisphere, Sky Tower is one of Auckland's most popular tourist attractions, and for those brave enough, a highlight is walking around the outside of it, 192 metres above the street. Adrenaline junkies can also leap off it, via SkyJump -- New Zealand's highest base jump, and the only one doable by wire.
Set on picturesque private farmland near Matamata in the North Island of New Zealand, Hobbit holes can be found at Hobbiton, the fictional Hobbit village used in "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" movie series. Take the two-hour guided tour and see The Green Dragon Inn, The Mill, a double-arched bridge and other structures and gardens built for the films. A complimentary glass of ale or ginger beer at The Green Dragon Inn is part of the tour.
Akaroa: The Port
Akaroa is a delightful small town located on the shores of a beautiful natural harbour. It has a highly visible French influence, from the shops to the street names. Why? Despite the British claiming much of New Zealand in the 1800s, the French arrived in Akaroa in 1840 and established a settlement here. Akaroa became a popular port of call after Christchurch -- located around 80 km (50 miles) away -- was largely destroyed by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.
Akaroa: The Harbour
Akaroa's harbour is deep enough to accommodate cruise ships of all sizes. Steep hills rise out of the waters, and as the sun drops in the afternoon, the shadows grow long on the undulating hills.
Dunedin Train Station
The train station in Dunedin, New Zealand's oldest city, is a lovely building that dates back to 1906. It's especially lovely when the flowers bloom in front of the terminal. The station boasts the country's longest platform, extending about 500 metres (550 yards).
Dunedin's First Church of Otago
The First Church of Otago (the city's primary Presbyterian church) has stood in the Dunedin city centre since 1873. Built by hundreds of convicts, it took six years to construct. The Oamaru stone used in its construction can be seen on many of the grand public buildings across the southernmost region of New Zealand’s South Island.
The first rays of the sun light up clouds in Dusky Sound, on the southwest coast of New Zealand. The fjords are among the country's most spectacular natural wonders and many cruise ships visit three of the sounds -- Dusky, Doubtful and Milford -- over one day. New Zealand might be a small country but the fiords are truly big scenery.
The joy of approaching Doubtful Sound is the tantalising possibility of what lies ahead. What's around the next corner? Can the scenery get better? The answer is invariably, yes.
Doubtful Sound (Continued)
Spectacular scenery surrounds cruise ships as they slowly glide up to Doubtful Sound. A noticeable hush falls over the ship as people photograph, film or simply admire these wonders of nature.
Milford Sound is the 'big daddy' of the three fiords. It is truly wondrous and every cruise ship -- no matter how big -- is dwarfed by the scale of the landscape. Sheer cliffs rise on either side, while waterfalls cascade from great heights. The landscape takes on a different personality according to the conditions, be it rain, hail or shine.
Milford Sound (Continued)
The scale of Milford Sound makes the size of even the biggest cruise ship pale into insignificance. The interior of the ship becomes a ghost town as everyone heads to the decks, looking on in awe.
Milford Sound (Continued)
Some of the smaller boats are able to nudge the falls in Milford Sound, getting so that the passengers need to wear raincoats or bring out their umbrellas. Big cruise ships, with a masterful captain, have also been known to spin around and sail up close to the waterfalls.