The world’s best cruising regions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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