10 Reasons why cruising Australia should be on your cruise bucket-list…
By Simon & Susan Veness
G’day, cobbers, we’re here to tell ya all about cruisin’ the Oz way. Throw another shrimp on the barbie, settle back, and we’ll give ya the full lowdown….
Okay, now we’ve got that nonsense out of the way, we can provide a proper and reasoned discourse on exactly why you should have Australia firmly on your cruise Wish List. Because there are 10 very good reasons to make sure it’s somewhere near the top.
Not so long ago (think early 2000s), Australia was only an afterthought on many itineraries, somewhere to be visited on World Voyages and occasional ports on sectors of a Pacific cruise. Nowadays, it’s surprising if cruise lines DON’T feature it, as nearly everyone offers it at some stage of the year, and several ships are now based there year-round.
Nearly all of the country’s main attraction are accessible when cruising Australia, either on the coast themselves or not too far inland, and all of its essential cities are coastal. For biodiversity and sheer natural splendour, it has almost cornered the market, and its many unique aspects – notably the wildlife and geology – are well worth making the long journey for. Travelling by ship is also the most efficient way to see much of the country, which can take up to 33 days to circumnavigate.
The cruise ‘season’ is typically from late September to April, the Austral summer, so be ready for some seriously hot weather in the northern areas, and plenty of warmth even in the south. October and March are often the best months to visit. Now, on to our Top 10….
10. The Kimberley Coast
Perhaps the most unknown – but most eye-catching – cruise region in the world, the Kimberley coast, from Broome to Darwin across West Australia and into the Northern Territory, is known as Australia’s Last Frontier for its stunning terrain, craggy coastline, fascinating rivers and genuine wilderness. Look out for the Horizontal Falls (the region’s enormous tidal range), the unique ecosystem of Montgomery Reef, the spectacular Kings Cascades falls and the Bradshaws, possibly the oldest artwork known to man. Seven days barely scratches the surface here, but it will introduce you to a ‘landscape that time forgot,’ and plenty more besides.
Recommendation: North Star Cruises.
While Hobart now sees its fair share of ship visits, there is a LOT more to enjoy on this chunk of rugged rock 240km off Australia’s south coast. The port capital is definitely a highlight, with its former penal settlement that has been turned into an open-air museum and Georgian warehouses now packed with boutiques and art galleries, but head out beyond Hobart and there is a wealth of natural attractions to enjoy. The Freycinet Peninsula, with its dramatic pink granite cliffs and secluded bays, historic Maria Island and Port Arthur, home to one of the world’s most infamous prisons, are just three of them.
Recommendation: Coral Expeditions.
This east coast city, in tropical far north Queensland, is a prime attraction in its own right, even if it is also known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef (spoiler alert – skip to No.1!). Its fabulous Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park tells the stories of indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through music and dance, while, for contrast, the Cairns Esplanade is lined with excellent bars and restaurants and boasts a famous swimming lagoon. To the north-west, Daintree National Park features mountainous rain-forest, gorges and beaches, and is an area of enormous biological value.
7. The Wildlife
You’ll struggle to find more rare species – and lovable critters – than around this vast continent. From cuddly koalas to the odd duck-billed platypus and the seemingly ever-present kangaroos, Down Under specialises in the weird and wacky, both on land and at sea. Whale-watching is another major attraction, especially for Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks, which make their annual migration from May to November.
6. The Wine
Okay, so you can get good Australian wine in any Sainsbury’s or Tesco these days, but the simple fact is that this is now one of the richest wine-producing areas in the world, and they boast many more great labels than they actually export. The Yarra Valley, near Melbourne, Barossa Valley, close to Adelaide, and Hunter Valley, from Sydney or Newcastle, are all truly spectacular for their wineries and vintages, and you simply can’t visit without taking a wine tour.
Recommendation: Crystal Cruises.
The largest city in the largest state (Western Australia) is seemingly cast out on its own in terms of the country’s major conurbations, but that makes it even better to visit on a cruise. The huge Kings Park is a major attraction, as is the shopping, which runs the gamut of local art to international fashion houses, notably in the West End. It also boasts the essential three Bs of local culture – great beaches, botanical gardens – and beer!
Recommendation: Oceania Cruises.
The coastal capital of the south-eastern state of Victoria is another city gem, boasting great restaurants, performing arts and indigenous art. The uber-modern Federation Square development is as eye-catching as they come and Werribee Park and Mansion is equally spectacular. And don’t miss the chance to take a wine tour to the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges and sample a superb cabernet sauvignon.
3. Kangaroo Island
Remember that wildlife we mentioned earlier on? It’s here in abundance on this island – the third largest in the country – off the south coast, roughly 110km from Adelaide. Seal Bay is home to one of the largest seal colonies in Australia while Flinders Chase National Park affords some of the country’s most spectacular coastline, with soaring cliffs that are frequently swept by wind-blown seas, as well as the iconic Remarkable Rocks. And yes, there ARE kangaroos. Lots of kangaroos.
Recommendation: Holland America.
There is simply no more iconic cruise moment than sailing into Sydney Harbour alongside the famous Bridge and Opera House (okay, cruising past the Statue of Liberty into New York is pretty cool, too!). Australia’s largest city also has plenty to offer in its own right, with a thriving restaurant and shopping profile to go with its all-round appeal, great sports and nightlife. Alongside San Francisco, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro, these are the great cruise cities of the world.
Recommendation: Cunard or Oceania.
1. The Great Barrier Reef
It’s probably terribly facile to say see it while it’s still there, but the world’s largest and most spectacular coral reef is under threat from creeping degradation caused by climate change and other man-made effects. But it is still a stunningly diverse marine ecosystem – the largest living thing on earth – and for scuba-diving and snorkelling, there is just no equal anywhere on the planet. And, as an adjunct to a cruise Down Under, it is our main reason for visiting. The conservation message is vital, though, so help spread the word.
Recommendation: Coral Expeditions.
Have you cruised to Australia before? Does that match your Top 10? Add your thoughts on great reasons to cruise Down under in the Comments section below.