All ship­shape

The world’s best cruis­ing re­gions

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

FRENCH POLY­NE­SIA: The fa­bled isles painted by Paul Gau­guin can be viewed and vis­ited, with great com­fort, from the small cruise ship that bears his name. The 332pas­sen­ger M/S Paul Gau­guin departs weekly from Papeete on seven-day cir­cuits, much in the style of the mail steam­ers and cargo ships of long ago that pro­vided let­ters and life­lines to scat­tered com­mu­ni­ties. There is noth­ing work­man­like about this ves­sel, how­ever, with its priv­i­leged ex­tras for pas­sen­gers, such as ex­clu­sive beach days on pri­vate motu and wa­ter­sports equip­ment lined up at a drop-down ma­rina on the stern. Typ­i­cally there is one stop each day and sail­ing by night, pro­gress­ing around the So­ci­ety Is­lands from Huahine to Taha’a and on to Bora Bora and Moorea. Longer itin­er­ar­ies take in des­ti­na­tions such as the Tuamo­tus, the Mar­que­sas, Cook Is­lands, Tonga, Fiji, Pa­pua New Guinea and In­done­sia but it’s the self-con­tained ease of the clas­sic sched­ule that truly ap­peals. Un­like longer cruise itin­er­ar­ies that skip be­tween con­ti­nents and cli­mates, the pack­ing list is a breeze (a straw hat and change of sarong, ba­si­cally) and the feel is of a float­ing house-party, with al­most ev­ery­thing cov­ered, in­clud­ing drinks. This is the true art of do­ing French Poly­ne­sia in af­ford­able style. More: pgcruises.com; wiltrans.com.au.

SU­SAN KUROSAWA

KIM­BER­LEY COAST: If my own sun were set­ting and I could choose just one re­gion, it would be our glo­ri­ous Kim­ber­ley coast aboard Sil­versea’s ex­pe­di­tion ship Sil­ver Dis­cov­erer. If there’s an ocean-go­ing ver­sion of ul­tra high-end glamp­ing, this is it — get­ting close to stun­ning and remote land­scapes and amaz­ing crea­tures (crocs, dugongs, mud­skip­pers) via short for­ays from your air-con­di­tioned, but­ler-at­tended suite. On board, it’s lux­ury and indul­gence from dawn (keep­ing lim­ber in the gym or walk­ing the deck be­fore break­fast) to dusk (din­ing on the pool deck at The Grill with vol­canic rocks siz­zling my steak or prawns, or in the fine-din­ing Restau­rant, where open seat­ing means I can pair up with my new cruise friends). In be­tween, cock­tails in the ship’s ocean-wa­ter pool, high teas and, of course, lunch. We even fit in the ex­pe­di­tions. A team of ge­ol­o­gists, nat­u­ral­ists, or­nithol­o­gists and marine bi­ol­o­gists guides us on Zo­diac trips up the rivers and creeks of the Kim­ber­ley to view true won­ders of the world, such as the slightly scary tidal power of the Hor­i­zon­tal Falls and the wildlife pageant at Mont­gomery Reef. Add one plane wreck with a happy end­ing, two in­dige­nous rock art gal­leries and abun­dant rare birdlife and you’re ba­si­cally sail­ing in one of David At­ten­bor­ough’s doc­u­men­taries, with lav­ish cater­ing and a dream­ily com­fort­able bed each night. More: sil­versea.com.

JANE NI­CHOLLS ANTARC­TICA: Let me sleep for two days and wake up in Antarc­tica, obliv­i­ous to the rough cross­ing of the damned Drake Pas­sage. Don’t tell me where I am. Let me peer out the port­hole to glimpse the white­washed won­der­land of this un­earthly moon­scape. Let me be­lieve, just for a mo­ment, that we have ar­rived via rocket on an­other planet. The pos­si­bil­ity is not so ab­surd in this age of space travel. When the clumsy pen­guins ap­pear, lum­ber­ing through the snow, it will start to make sense in the most mag­i­cal way. The Antarc­tic Penin­sula is as oth­er­worldly as this great globe gets, yet there are un­ex­pected moun­tains that seem grander than the Rock­ies, glaciers glassier than Alaska’s, and ef­fort­less dis­plays of wildlife be­yond a doc­u­men­tary-maker’s dreams. I’d be­gin the day kayak­ing un­der the sil­very light of sun­rise, while nav­i­gat­ing big, blue ice­bergs in pro­tected har­bours. Then take a ride on a Zo­diac to spy or­cas, leop­ard seals and the South­ern royal al­ba­tross, be­fore a snow­shoe hike and a snow­ball fight. Com­ing back to the warmth of Akademik Ioffe (or a more lux­u­ri­ous ship will do), end the day sight­see­ing from the top deck in the hot tub with a hot toddy. Rinse and re­peat in­def­i­nitely. More: oneo­cean­ex­pe­di­tions.com.

LOUISE GOLDSBURY

AMALFI COAST: Awestruck, we gaze up at Capri’s ver­tig­i­nous lime­stone mas­sifs while Royal Clip­per eases into its an­chor­age and we go ashore by ten­der boat to this play­ground of em­peror Tiberius and the literati and glit­terati ever since. We take the ca­ble car to the Pi­azzetta too early for celebrity-spot­ting and day-trip­ping hordes. In­stead we win­dow-shop Capri’s chic streets — prices are not for the faint-hearted — then aim for Anacapri’s Villa San Michele to peer over the gar­den’s para­pet to our splen­did tall ship far be­low. The air is redo­lent of citrus blos­som and in­tox­i­cat­ing limon­cello liqueur. Across the Bay of Naples, Mount Ve­su­vius watches and waits, im­pe­ri­ous one minute, sullen the next. Still, cruis­ing the Amalfi Coast wouldn’t be com­plete with­out vis­it­ing Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum. Other op­tions are culi­nary vis­its to the Cam­pa­nian coun­try­side, ram­bling sunny Sor­rento’s streets mar­vel­ling at volup­tuous dis­plays of red cap­sicums and pyra­mids of le­mons (real and ce­ramic). From Amalfi, ex­cur­sions to pic­ture-book Posi­tano and the hill town of Ravello are es­sen­tial. Posi­tano is an erup­tion of gelati-coloured houses, tum­bling bougainvil­lea and fash­ion­able fish restau­rants, whereas Ravello is classier and more re­strained (Gore Vi­dal once lived here). From the ter­races of Villa Ru­folo, there are quin­tes­sen­tial views of the coast; the villa’s jaw-drop­ping set­ting, with glit­ter­ing Tyrrhe­nian Sea and um­brella pines as back­drop, in­spired Wagner’s Par­si­fal. It is now the site of Ravello’s an­nual clas­si­cal mu­sic fes­ti­val. Back on board, we skirt Faraglioni, the three rocky pin­na­cles known as the “cus­to­di­ans of Capri”, and sail south. More: star­clip­pers.com.

MAGGY OEHLBECK

MENTAWAI IS­LANDS, SUMATRA, IN­DONE­SIA: It’s a surfer’s ver­sion of desert is­land dream­ing — end­less waves wrap­ping around palm-fringed points and a hand­ful of other surfers in the line-up. Plus, a live-aboard cruise boat or a shore­line re­sort await­ing you after a wave-sated day of wicked tube rides. Add cold beer, clean sheets and good grub. Does it re­ally hap­pen like this in the remote Mentawai Is­lands off west Sumatra? For more than 20 years, this clus­ter of marginally de­vel­oped is­lands has been lur­ing surfers to char­ter boats that prowl the ar­chi­pel­ago’s reefs in search of the day’s best waves and to its up­mar­ket surf re­sorts such as Kan­dui Vil­las and Mac­a­ro­nis. One se­duc­tive ad­ver­tise­ment de­clares the Mentawais of­fer “more per­fect left and right-han­ders in one re­gion than any­where on Earth”. And they just might be right. The wave height ranges from fun to fear­some, av­er­ag­ing a beau­ti­ful 2m, and the swell hap­pens year-round, with March-Novem­ber the most con­sis­tent pe­riod. If this all sounds too per­fect, it must first be earned by an epic, planes-buses-and-boats jour­ney via Jakarta and Padang, fol­lowed by a four-hour speed­boat ride (or a much slower lo­cal ferry) to the is­lands. At which point your desert isle dream and its re­al­ity check be­gin. More: atoll­travel.com.

JOHN BORTH­WICK

IRRAWADDY RIVER, MYAN­MAR: Glid­ing down the wide, shal­low wa­ter­way Rud­yard Kipling dubbed “the road to Man­dalay” on the teak river­boat Ori­ent Pan­daw

Pride of Amer­ica in Hawaii, top; Royal Clip­per cruise, top left; Sil­versea ad­ven­ture in the Kim­ber­ley, above; Amalfi coast in Italy, be­low

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