The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
The best way to see Australia? From the deck of a ship
For wine, wildlife, wilderness and culture, take a cruise down under, says James Litston
Known for its epic road and rail trips through the vast, open countryside, Australia is often overlooked as a cruise destination. Yet the world’s largest island has more than 37,000 miles of coastline fronting the Southern, Pacific and Indian Oceans, plus various smaller seas. Even the locals know the appeal of the sea, with 85 per cent of Australians living within 30 miles of the coast.
As a result, almost every kind of cruise can be found here: be it on a mega-ship with stacks of facilities, a boutique brand with a more refined air, a luxurious riverboat, or an expedition ship that can venture to truly out-of-the-way places. And with most of Australia’s key attractions and cities scattered around its fringes, explorations by cruise can pack any number of down-under wonders into a single trip. Here are some of the best.
Remote, isolated and with little infrastructure for land-based journeys, there are few parts of the world as suited to expedition cruises as the Kimberley. Explore it with Coral Expeditions – the pioneers of cruising in the region – on a formula perfected over four decades of operations. Itineraries are timed to experience key sites at optimal tidal phases: expect to see Montgomery Reef being drained by dozens of miniature cascades, and Horizontal Falls at its powerful best.
Ten-night cruises between Darwin and Broome with Coral Expeditions (coralexpeditions.com) operate between April and September and cost from £3,965pp; excludes flights
Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef are two of Australia’s most recognisable icons. Experience both with Princess Cruises, whose journeys up the eastern seaboard from Sydney to tropical North Queensland stop in Cairns for reef and Daintree Rainforest excursions, and Airlie Beach, gateway to the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands.
A 16-night Sydney & Queensland Showcase cruise-and-stay from Cruise Kings (0800 197 8050; cruisekings.co. uk) includes an 11-night round-trip cruise from Sydney aboard Majestic Princess and three nights in Sydney from £2,799pp. Departs January 26 and March 26 2024; includes flights
Make the festive season extra-special on a cruise along Australia’s entire south coast, taking in nine ports of call. Esperance, Adelaide, Cape Le Grand National Park and Kangaroo Island are among the highlights, with shore excursion that include wine tastings and local wildlife sightings. Better still, spend Christmas Day at sea before arriving in Sydney for a two-night stay that coincides with New Year’s Eve.
The 14-night Australia Intensive Voyage from Perth to Melbourne with Azamara Cruises (0344 4934016; azamara cruises.com) departs on December 21 2023 and December 20 2024 and costs from £2,859pp; excludes flights
OVER THE TOP
Nobody is more qualified to share Australia’s stories than its traditional owners and custodians. On a voyage through remote Barrier Reef islands en route to Cape York and Arnhem Land, you will meet indigenous Torres Strait islanders and other Aboriginal peoples to experience their culture, art and homelands, including Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. Along the way, spy dugongs, turtles, saltwater crocodiles and the birdlife of Kakadu’s wetlands.
A 13-night Australia’s Top End cruise from Cairns to Darwin with Scenic (0808 273 6069; scenic.co.uk) departs on April 28 2024 and costs from £11,108pp; excludes flights
MURRAY RIVER FLOW
River cruises are rare down under, making an active experience on the mighty Murray – the nation’s principal waterway – all the more remarkable. Murray River Trails offers short cruises aboard a 12-berth houseboat, with a daily programme of guided walks and activities. The small-group, intothe-wild nature of the experience lends itself to wildlife encounters, with sightings of echidnas, emus, koalas and unusual native birds all possible. It is a fascinating insight into authentic inland Australia.
The three-night Murray River Walk (murrayrivertrails.com.au) departs May-September and costs from £1,500pp; excludes flights
KIM AND SWIM
The Kimberley may have beguiling blue waters, but dips in the sea are foolhardy (and forbidden) due to the dangerous saltwater crocodiles that call the region home. Sidestep that inconvenience on a voyage with Ponant, which combines classic Kimberley elements (Montgomery Reef, Horizontal Falls) with the little-visited Rowley Shoals – one of the world’s most sensational snorkelling and diving destinations. Located west of Broome, in the Timor Sea, these croc-free coral atolls brim with colourful sea life.
An eight-night cruise round-trip from Broome departs on September 8 and costs from £11,835pp through Mundy Adventures (020 7399 7630; mundy adventures.co.uk); includes flights
Take a deep dive down under on a Great Barrier Reef & Beyond itinerary with Windstar Cruises. This holiday is particularly good for wildlife-lovers. Look out for wedge-tailed shearwaters, sooty terns and noddies while passing Willis Island; spot dingoes on sandy Fraser Island; and cuddle a koala at Australia Zoo (established by the late Steve Irwin). Show-stopping Whitehaven Beach is an unforgettable trip highlight.
An 11-night sailing from Cairns to Melbourne with Windstar Cruises (0808 178 2233; windstarcruises.com) departs on December 6 and costs from £7,499pp; includes flights and pre-cruise overnight in Cairns
Unlike the Barrier Reef, which clings to the continental shelf, magnificent Ningaloo Reef fringes Western Australia’s coast. Discover it and the archipelagos of Abrolhos, Monte Bello and Dampier on a small-ship expedition that mixes snorkelling and shipwrecks with whale-watching and indigenous rock art. Enhance the experience by foraging and fishing for mud crabs and oysters, or take sightseeing to new heights in the ship’s helicopter.
The 10-night West Coast Explorer cruise with True North (truenorth.com. au) sails from Fremantle to Dampier on March 7 2024 and costs from £12,208pp; excludes flights
Raw nature meets colonial history and premium produce in Tasmania, not to mention one-of-a-kind wildlife such as white wallabies and Tasmanian devils. Sip local cool-climate wines and visit the likes of Bruny Island and Wineglass Bay while sailing from Hobart. The cruise is complemented with a self-drive exploration of the island’s west and north coast regions.
A 17-night holiday with Tasmanian Odyssey (01534 735449; tasmanian odyssey.com), combining Coral Expeditions’ 10-night Coastal Wilds or Coastal Treks cruise with a sevennight self-drive land tour, costs from £5,475pp. Departs January-February 2024 and 2025; excludes flights
ALL THE WAY AROUND
Go all out and see more of the continent on a full circumnavigation of the vast island. Sail the Coral, Timor and Tasman Seas, the Indian Ocean and the Great Australian Bight on an odyssey starting and finishing in Sydney. Travelling via every coastal state and territory, ports of call include cosmopolitan Melbourne, tropical Darwin, lively Fremantle and Phillip Island with its unforgettable koala and penguin encounters.
A 34-night Australian Panorama sailing with Oceania Cruises is available through Mundy Cruising (020 7399 7670; mundycruising.co.uk) from £8,729pp; includes flights. Departs December 22 2024