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If you’ve been looking at tours in New Zealand, then the name RealNZ has probably cropped up during your research – and if it hasn’t yet, it definitely will!
RealNZ is one of the biggest and best-known tourism companies in New Zealand. They run tours all over Otago and the South Island. But before you book with them, you should know what they’re all about.
I’ve lived in Queenstown since 2018, and I’ve done many tours with RealNZ. I’ve had experiences with them in lots of different places, including Queenstown and Milford Sound, which is one of my favorite places on Earth! So if you’re thinking of doing a RealNZ tour, then stay tuned. I’ll give you my full review of the company so that you can book with confidence.
Don’t have time to read the full article? RealNZ is a tour company offering guided excursions through the South Island. They tend to go in larger groups but have a great reputation and support local conservation efforts. They also have many fun tours that you can book through Viator, like this Milford Sound cruise and this Cardrona Mountain Carting tour.
- Who is RealNZ? (Real Journeys)
- Is RealNZ a reliable company to book with?
- What are the pros and cons of RealNZ?
- What are the best RealNZ Tours available?
- TSS Earnslaw Cruise
- Cardrona Mountain Carting
- Milford Sound Cruise
- Milford Sound Cruise from Queenstown or Te Anau
- Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise from Queenstown
- Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
- Queenstown Jet 25-minute Jet Boat ride
- Queenstown Jet 1-hour Jet Boat ride on Lake Wakatipu and Kawarau River
- Stewart Island: Village and Bays Tour
- Would I book with RealNZ?
- Thanks for reading!
- Why I Book Tours with Viator
- Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
- Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Who is RealNZ? (Real Journeys)
RealNZ is a large tourism company in New Zealand. They operate tours all over the South Island, including the Otago Region and Milford Sound cruises. They’re super well known, so pretty much all Queenstown locals have heard of them, as has anyone who’s been exploring the country for a while.
RealNZ used to be called Real Journeys, and they’ve been around since 1954. The company actually started when a local couple, Les and Olive Hutchins, bought a pre-existing tour company with the mission to help more people explore Doubtful Sound, which is famously difficult to get to.
One of the best things about RealNZ is that they’re not just serious about sharing the beauty of the South Island with visitors today. They’re also very involved in protecting it for the future. For example, Les and Olive were heavily involved in the efforts to save Lake Manapouri from hydropower expansion.
This campaign actually launched the conservation movement in New Zealand, and RealNZ has been committed to that cause ever since. The company invests time, as well as tens of thousands of dollars, in local conservation and restoration projects every year. Les Hutchins was even awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his conservation efforts in 1998.
Another cool fact about Les and Olive is that they were the ones who bought and restored the TSS Earnslaw. The ship was due to be scrapped, but with a lot of time and effort, they brought it back to its original condition – and now visitors can enjoy riding it across Lake Wakatipu to visit Walter Peak High Country Farm.
So basically, RealNZ is definitely a company you can feel good about booking a tour with.
Note: RealNZ is the same as the company Real Journeys – they used to be called Real Journeys a few years ago and have since changed the name to RealNZ.
Is RealNZ a reliable company to book with?
Yes! RealNZ is very reliable and professional. I’ve booked tours with them many times and never had any issues. They’ve got a very customer-first approach, and they’re a safe choice when booking tours in Queenstown.
What are the pros and cons of RealNZ?
RealNZ is a big tour company with a great reputation, so you can book their tours with confidence. They have a ton of options available, from nature cruises to jet boat rides, and you can explore many different places all over the South Island with them.
I also like the fact that you can find a lot of RealNZ’s tours on Viator. I find this to be a big advantage as you often get free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance, and Viator also offers buy now, pay later. This means that if you need to cancel your experience later on, you won’t lose money. Plus, Viator allows you to book in your own currency, so your bank won’t charge you foreign transaction fees.
As great as booking online is, it’s also reassuring to know that RealNZ has offices in Queenstown, Manapouri, Te Anau, Bluff, Oban, and Stewart Island. If you need to speak to them in person for any reason, you can definitely go and do that!
RealNZ tends to run tours for pretty big groups, so they’re not as personal as small-group tours. It can be harder to chat with your guide and connect with other travelers, and it may also be more intimidating for solo travelers.
The company also has a large market share, so when you book with RealNZ, you don’t support smaller operators who might really need the business!
Related Read: If you want to take to the sky for epic birdseye views, check out the best helicopter flights from Queenstown!
What are the best RealNZ Tours available?
TSS Earnslaw Cruise
The TSS Earnslaw Steamship is the last remaining vessel from the Gold Rush and is somewhat of a historic experience in Queenstown. The TSS Earnslaw is a traditional coal-powered ship where you can actually observe workers shoveling coal into the burner as you cruise along Lake Wakatipu.
There is a bar onboard where you can enjoy snacks and refreshments (I always get a glass of wine) and enjoy those spectacular views of Queenstown and the surrounding area. The cruise travels all the way to Walter Peak High Country Farm, where some get off (more on that below).
In total, the cruise is around 90 minutes long and costs only $99 NZD (food and drink are paid out of pocket). There are several departure times daily between 11 am – 7 pm, and you should arrive at the dock 30 minutes beforehand. Trust me, this cruise really is a novel experience, and if it sounds like your thing, don’t hesitate to book it online.
However, I highly suggest looking at one of the extra options you can choose that includes the cruise. This way, you can enjoy the historic boat and views along with some fun perks!
If you really want to spoil yourself, you can also do this TSS Earnslaw cruise with a gourmet BBQ lunch or (my favorite) this sunset cruise with a buffet dinner with both meals at Walter Peak High Country Farm. Both tours are great value for money because they include your cruise, a farm tour, and lunch/dinner. The food on both the lunch and dinner cruise is one of the best meals you can have in Queenstown – trust me on this!
It really comes down to whether you want to enjoy lunch or dinner! You really can’t go wrong with either, and there’s plenty of incredible food, including veggie options. After your meal, you can tour the Walter Peak Farm on your own or watch their sheep-shearing show.
The cruise, meal, and entertainment are included, but you’ll need to pay extra for alcoholic drinks. There are also several departure times for each tour, and they last 3.5-4 hours. But again, you should arrive at the dock 30 minutes prior.
I’ve done all the cruises in Queenstown and honestly can say this is the best one! I even wrote a whole review on the TSS Earnslaw lunch and dinner cruise in case you want to learn more. But overall, this boat is unique in the fact it is coal-powered, but the only downside is it’s also always a lot busier onboard. That being said, I still consider it one of the best RealNZ tours, especially if you go for the lunch or dinner options!
You can book the TSS Earnslaw cruise with a gourmet BBQ lunch here for $175 NZD or join the sunset cruise with a buffet dinner for $189 NZD.
Cardrona Mountain Carting
If you love a unique activity with an adrenaline rush, Cardrona Mountain Carting is for you! Mountain carting is still a pretty new pastime, and there aren’t really that many places in the world where you can do it. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a 3-wheeled cart designed purely to take you zooming down mountains for fun!
To try this unique activity, you’ll need to make your way to Cardrona Alpine Resort. This all-season resort has multiple trails you can race down, and with this mountain carting tour, you get 2 hours to squeeze in as many rounds as possible.
Don’t worry if you don’t have prior experience – few people do! You don’t need anything other than comfy clothes and appropriate closed-toed shoes (I wore runners when I went). The tour company will give you a briefing before starting, and they provide full-face helmets and overalls – which you’ll need with all that dust you kick up!
They also cover your lift tickets, so you can bring the cart and yourself up to the top for another round. Yes, you carry the cart back up with you, and I was surprised to learn just how lightweight they are. And although carting gives you a thrill, it’s also quite safe. Kids as young as 8 can go when supervised, but they’ll need to be at least 12 to go alone.
Although the carting experience is run by Cardrona, Cardrona is actually owned by RealNZ. I loved my experience with them and even wrote a blog all about mountain carting in Cardrona. Overall, I’d say my highlight was definitely flying down their longest course, which is over 3 km (1.8 mi) long! And after all the adventure, I also loved grabbing a refreshing beer at the resort’s lounge.
The exact dates that mountain carting is available vary according to the season, but you can usually book online between mid-December and early March. There are multiple time slots available throughout the day, and you can come as late as 6 pm on a Friday! Tickets cost $163 NZD and cover everything I mentioned.
So if you’re looking for an epic day on the mountain, book your Cardrona carting experience right here!
Milford Sound Cruise
One of my favorite tours that RealNZ operates is this Milford Sound cruise. The 2-hour boat journey will show you the incredible beauty of Milford Sound (which is so stunning that I’ve been there at least 10 times!).
It’s one of the best tours of Milford Sound because you’ll cruise through the fiord, admiring the dramatic cliffs and dark waters and all of the wildlife that calls them home, including dolphins, seals, and Fiordland-crested penguins (which are super rare, just FYI!). You’ll also get to see lots of gorgeous waterfalls and enjoy fantastic views of Mitre Peak, which is so named because it’s shaped like a bishop’s hat.
The cruise costs $145 NZD per person. The price doesn’t include food and drink, but it’s available to purchase on board. The tour runs daily, and you can choose from multiple departure times. However, you’ll definitely need to book in advance during the summer because cruises of Milford Sound are very popular.
Also, remember this is the self-drive option, so you’ll need to allow time to drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau. Although it’s further, you can also take a road trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. You should get there an hour before your departure during the summer to make sure you have time to check in and find parking – as I said, this cruise is really popular!
Milford Sound Cruise from Queenstown or Te Anau
Milford Sound is famous for being remote, so it’s not the easiest place to get to. Luckily, RealNZ can take care of that for you because they run a tour that includes transport from Queenstown or Te Anau.
I definitely don’t recommend driving yourself to Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown, because it takes about 3.5 – 4 hours each way. However, when you go with RealNZ, you’ll be in a comfy tour bus, so you can nap on the way home rather than worrying about falling asleep at the wheel. When I did this tour, I was so thankful not to have to drive all the way back to Queenstown at the end of the day.
Plus, whether you’re coming from Queenstown or Te Anau, booking this tour ensures that you won’t miss any of the awesome scenic stops on the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound. You’ll get to see the beautiful Eglinton Valley, which appears in the Lord of the Rings movies, and take a quick walk around the beautiful Mirror Lakes.
Once you arrive in Milford Sound, you’ll get to enjoy the same nature cruise that I talked about above. All in all, you’ll have plenty of time to marvel at the fiord’s incredible beauty.
This tour costs $215 NZD from Te Anau and $255 NZD from Queenstown. It’s very well-rated, and it’s an especially good choice if you’re visiting Milford Sound from Queenstown because it’s such a long journey by road.
If you’re coming from Queenstown, you’ll need to be at the meeting point at 6:30 am and expect a full, 12-hour day. However, if you’re joining your tour at the Te Anau meeting point, you’ve got a bit more flexibility. You can choose from a few different departure times throughout the morning since it’s so much closer to Milford Sound, and the tour should last at least 7 hours.
If you don’t want to worry about driving, you can reserve your Milford Sound tour with transportation online here.
Related Read: Lord of the Rings fans should also check out the best LOTR Glenorchy tours from Queenstown.
Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise from Queenstown
Now, let me tell you, the journey to Doubtful Sound from Queenstown is a LONG one. It takes just over 2 hours to drive from Queenstown to Manapouri, which is where the ferry port is. Then, you need to ride across Lake Manapouri and change to a bus which will take you over Wilmot Pass and finally to Doubtful Sound, where you’ll finally board this wildlife cruise – it’s my pick for the best Doubtful Sound cruise available so you won’t be disappointed!
Luckily, RealNZ makes all of these transfers super easy, so it’s not stressful at all, and the wildlife cruise through the fiord is spectacular. Compared to Milford Sound, the Doubtful Sound fiord is much larger, it’s even more remote, and it receives a lot less boat traffic, so it’s almost unbelievably quiet. You’ve got a good chance of spotting wildlife along the way, including dolphins, fur seals, penguins, and even whales at the right time of year.
The catamaran cruise lasts for almost 3 hours, and then you’ll head back to Queenstown. It’s a long day for sure, but so worth it because you get to see a part of the world that very few other people will ever visit.
This tour costs $479 NZD per person, which includes transport from Queenstown and your knowledgeable guide. However, food and drinks aren’t covered, and you do need to find your own way to the meeting point in Queenstown. Also, I highly recommend booking at least two weeks in advance, if not more. The demand for Doubtful Sound cruises far outweighs the supply, so tours here sell out fast. It’s available every day, all year round.
If you’re coming from Queenstown, book this Doubtful Sound cruise before it sells out!
Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
If you’ve got more room in your budget and are looking for the experience of a lifetime, RealNZ also offers an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.
You’ll leave from the Manapouri Visitor Center in the early afternoon on day 1. If you’re staying in Queenstown or Te Anau, coach transfers are available for an extra fee. Then, you’ll travel across Manapouri Lake and over Wilmots Pass to Doubtful Sound, where you’ll board your overnight cruise. The boat itself is designed to look like a traditional scow, which is a type of boat that was used to transport goods back in the day.
Once on board, you’ll begin your nature cruise and marvel at the majestic natural beauty of Doubtful Sound. Your expert guide helps you spot wildlife and learn more about their behavior.
One thing that I love about this overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound is that you also get the chance to go kayaking in the fiord, which you can’t do on a day trip. This lets you get so much closer to nature, and the calm waters are perfect for paddling.
In the evening, you get a 3-course buffet dinner. When it’s time to go to bed, you’ll do so in your own private cabin, although the bathrooms are shared. You also get breakfast in the morning, and I definitely recommend waking up early to watch the sunrise! If you want even more recommendations, read my blog about what to know before booking the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise.
This overnight cruise costs $799 NZD per person when you book a private twin-share cabin. It’s also possible to book a private single cabin, but this will set you back significantly more at $1,479 NZD. The price includes roundtrip transport from Manapouri, the cruise, dinner, and breakfast. Any alcohol is extra and can be purchased on board.
There will be a maximum of 28 passengers on board, which makes the experience super special. However, it also means that you really do need to book this tour in advance!
Queenstown Jet 25-minute Jet Boat ride
Jet boating is one of the most exciting things to do in Queenstown, and RealNZ offers a 25-minute jet boat ride for $99 NZD, so this is one of the cheapest options around. It’s perfect for those traveling on a budget who want to experience a little adrenaline rush!
What I like about jet boating is that although it definitely gets your heart racing, it’s family-friendly, and kids as young as 2 years old are welcome on board. Don’t worry, everyone gets a lifejacket, and while you might be doing 360-degree spins, it’s all very safe!
There are several departure times between 11 am – 3 pm daily. Plus, the boat leaves from the jetty on Beach Street, so this is a super convenient option because it’s so easy to get to. And once you set off across Lake Wakatipu and down the Kawarau River, you’ll reach speeds of up to 95 km/hr (59 mph), so it’s definitely a hair-raising adventure!
You also get beautiful views of snow-capped mountains and river canyons along the way, so this is also a great way to appreciate Queenstown’s natural beauty. And since it’s 25 minutes long, it’s a great introduction if you’ve never gone jet-boating but want to try.
Queenstown Jet 1-hour Jet Boat ride on Lake Wakatipu and Kawarau River
Jet boating is a lot of fun. In fact, it’s so much fun that if you have the budget for it, I’d recommend booking an hour-long ride, which is what I did when I went.
Fortunately, RealNZ offers a 1-hour jet boat ride. Not only does this give you more time for thrilling twists, turns, and 360-degree spins, but you also get to see even more scenery because you venture further along the Kawarau River. You’ll admire the Remarkables mountain range and cross some river rapids, which is a fun experience.
There’s also guided commentary interspersed with all of the heart-pumping action, so you get to learn about what you’re seeing. It was basically an hour-long adventure with some education and some Queenstown sightseeing sprinkled on top.
This tour costs $139 NZD, and you can choose from several time slots between 11 am – 3 pm. You’ll meet your group at the pier 20 minutes before departure. They’ll fit you with a life jacket and give you a short briefing before setting off for an hour of pure fun!
I was personally really glad that I opted for a 1-hour ride. Time flies when you’re out on the river – in fact, it goes even faster than the boat does! For an hour of jam-packed adrenaline and beautiful views, book this jet boating tour right here!
Stewart Island: Village and Bays Tour
Stewart Island is an unspoiled island where the kiwi birds outnumber the locals – 50 to one!
Unfortunately, kiwis are nocturnal, so you’re unlikely to see many on this Stewart Island tour, but it’s still an awesome way to get to know a pretty remote part of the country. The tour is a quick introduction to Stewart Island, so it’s the perfect way to kick off a couple of days here.
Stewart Island feels very wild, and there’s lots of rugged scenery to explore. You’ll visit Half Moon Bay, Lee Bay, and Horseshoe Bay to admire the dramatic coastline. As you explore, your local guide will teach you more about the history of the island, which is super interesting. It’s actually thought that the oldest cottage in New Zealand is here on Stewart Island, which is surprising since it has such a tiny population.
Your guide will also take you on a guided walk up to Observation Rock for gorgeous views of Paterson Inlet. You’ll also explore some of the island’s exposed beaches, where you’ll often find whale bones. The island is also known for its abundant birdlife, so don’t forget to cast your eyes to the sky every now and then.
Exploring Stewart Island is definitely a unique experience, and this tour is an awesome introduction. I took this tour when I first arrived here and was super grateful I did. It’s such a good way to figure out where you want to explore during the rest of your time on the island and learn more about its history.
It costs $50 NZD per person and lasts for 1.5 hours, and you can go at either 11 am or 1 pm. Tours take place on a minibus so you can save your energy for hiking later on. If you’re heading to Stewart Island, book this sightseeing tour in advance! Trust me, there’s no better way to get to know the area.
Related Read: If you want to see even more of New Zealand, read about the best road trips on the South Island.
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
Check out the Viator website here!
Would I book with RealNZ?
Yes – in fact, I’ve booked lots of tours with them before!
RealNZ is a great tour operator in Queenstown, and their tours are run really well. I especially loved RealNZ’s Doubtful Sound overnight cruise, which is one of the only ways you can see this stunning area.
I also really enjoyed their Milford Sound tour from Queenstown. No one should miss out on Milford Sound, so I like that they make it so easy to visit on a day trip.
With that being said, I do prefer booking RealNZ experiences with Viator rather than directly. I especially recommend it if you’re booking in another currency because Viator allows you to pay in your own currency, so you save money on bank fees. Plus, if you do need to cancel and get a refund, you won’t face any conversion issues or lose money if the exchange rate changes. I always think it’s best to know what the tour costs in your currency, otherwise you might accidentally spend a lot more than you planned to!
Finally, no shade to RealNZ, but I do find that the Viator website is more user-friendly.
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!
You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:
- Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
- Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
RealNZ has some incredible tours on the South Island. Having lived here for several years, I’ve taken many of their tours and have great things to say. Although they tend to have bigger groups, they’re well organized and care about the environment. However, I definitely recommend booking their tours through Viator since it’s more user-friendly, and you can pay in your own currency.
If you’re been curious what RealNZ is all about, I hope this article answered all your questions! And for even more info about New Zealand, feel free to check out my blog. I cover a wide variety of topics, from road trips to destination guides. To get started, just click on one of the links below.