Coronavirus: More Kiwis than ever exploring New Zealand as limits on overseas travel force many to adapt plans

Being trapped at home means Kiwis are exploring their own backyard more than ever, and many have adapted their plans for certain major life milestones.

Fiordland has been capturing the hearts of visitors for decades, but now the visitors are all New Zealanders - including some who've never visited the South Island.

According to research from Tourism NZ, more than 60 percent of Kiwis have visited somewhere new in the past year, and that includes thousands on Real Journeys' winter cruises.

One visitor is Rotorua man Viv Mathews, whose plan to propose to partner Ash Pillay on an overseas trip was thwarted by COVID.

The keen hunter decided to instead pop the question aboard a Real Journeys cruise in Doubtful Sound on their two-year anniversary, enlisting the help of the crew to find the most romantic moment.

Skipper Blake Reid says Doubtful Sound is definitely romantic.

"Whether it's raining or blue sky it's remarkable, and it's a place of many moods," Reid says.

"If you want to bank on somewhere that's gonna be special, Doubtful Sound, Fiordland is the place to be because no matter what it's going to throw at you, it's incredibly special."

Mathews chose his moment on the final morning of the cruise during the 'Sound of Silence', which is when the skipper turns the engine and generators off, letting the boat drift and the guests soak up the absolute stillness.

An oblivious Pillay snapped photos of her partner against the backdrop of mist-cloaked rainforest and snowy peaks.

Then she turned around to find Mathews on one knee and the other guests burst into applause.

Despite the fatefully named location, there was no doubt about her answer.

"Well the pressure's off, I can enjoy my holiday now," Mathews joked.

"Yeah, we can relax now," Pillay laughed.

"I wondered why he asked me if I wanted to straighten my hair this morning."

The crew brought two glasses of champagne for the newly engaged couple, while Reid nudged the boat under a small waterfall to let nature guide Courtney Dorrington collect some "Fiordland champagne".

Glasses were handed out to the other guests and a toast was announced by Dorrington.

"Cheers to Ash and Viv, a lifetime of happiness, adventure, and checking out new places."

The two-night cruise is tailored to the Kiwi market and it's a better deal than the pre-COVID one-night trip, which targeted overseas visitors ticking off New Zealand's iconic spots.

And although not as lucrative for the company, the staff and guests say they love sharing this very special corner of their homeland with other Kiwis.