Sail by the iconic Sydney Opera House. Credit: Shutterstock

An incredible Australian adventure

Author: Vicky Mayer

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On an epic journey from Bali to Sydney aboard Viking Orion, Vicky Mayer encounters dragons, sharks – and the Aussie sense of humour

As we sail into Sydney at dawn, with the Harbour Bridge silhouetted by a glowing orange sunrise, I can’t help smiling. Captain Cook may have discovered this great natural haven in 1770, but his journey there would have been a hard slog.

Mine, however, has been nothing but joy. In fact, joining Viking Orion for a leisurely 16-night cruise from Indonesia to Sydney has been one of the best travel experiences of my life.

Leaving the gloom of the British November behind, it felt wonderful to arrive in Bali and feel the heat warming my bones as soon as I stepped off the plane. A night at the Melia Hotel on Nusa Dua Beach helped me adjust to the time difference, and that evening, over spicy nasi goreng and cold beers, my fellow travellers and I looked forward to a journey of discovery.

Take a dip in Viking Orion's spectacular pool. Credit: Viking

Australia is one of the last easy-to-access destinations in the world that still feels raw and untamed, with its native wildlife – including crocodiles, sharks and kangaroos – playing a starring role.

Here you’ll find ancient rainforests, teeming reefs and dazzling white beaches, making it the perfect choice for anyone who fancies a David Attenborough-style journey, but with all the comforts of a Viking cruise ship.

And you will be travelling to some truly far-flung places. Some of them you may have heard of – such as Komodo Island in Indonesia – while others, like tiny Thursday Island, 365 miles off the coast of New Guinea, will be a total mystery. It’s a wonderful feeling to look at a map and realise that you’re heading for destinations unknown.

Seeing native animals in the wild is one of the great thrills of cruising, and our voyage started on a high with a visit to Komodo Island and its famous ‘dragons’ – actually giant monitor lizards.

The only way you can access the island, which is part of the Komodo National Park, is with a warden. But that’s a good thing. These aggressive carnivores can grow up to three metres long – which is frankly terrifying – and there are more than 4,000 of them roaming around, though happily all the ones we saw were dozing peacefully in the sun.

Sticking with scary critters, at our first Australian port stop in Darwin, we headed to the Adelaide River in search of saltwater crocodiles. These prehistoric beasts are the same colour as the muddy water, so you need to look closely – but we soon spotted two, floating like logs downstream. It was amazing to see them so close up, though let’s just say this is another experience you only want to have with a qualified guide sitting next to you.

Croc-watching was certainly a thrill, but the wildlife highlight of this (or almost any other) cruise came a little later, as we boarded a boat at Townsville for a snorkelling expedition to somewhere I’ve always longed to see – the Great Barrier Reef.

The Saltwater Crocodile in Australia's Northern Territory is the largest reptile in the world. Credit: Shutterstock

On the way we learned how conservation is helping the reef to regenerate, and we were briefed on what we’d see below the waves. "Clownfish, butterfly fish and reef sharks," announced the speaker. "But don’t worry, the sharks are harmless."

Taking him at his word, I happily floated face-down in the balmy water, gazing in awe at coral canyons alive with fish beneath me. Then, with a whoop of joy (or maybe a splutter) I saw it: the unmistakable flick of a muscular tail on the seabed. It was my first ever shark encounter – and I would live to tell the tale.

It was an amazing day, and still we’d only scratched the surface of Australia’s incredible wildlife. There were koalas, wallabies and kangaroos still to come – all at Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast, where a visit to the late Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo is a must.

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This cruise visits many of Australia’s less touristed destinations, which is one of the things I loved about it. But from Darwin – capital of the sparsely populated Northern Territory, which boasts great modern cuisine and a thriving indigenous art scene – to charming Thursday Island, where 2,800 locals enjoy a laidback life in the sun, we were given the friendliest of welcomes everywhere we went.

If you’ve never visited Australia before, you’ll love the locals and their dry sense of humour. On a great excursion from Cairns we enjoyed a picturesque ride aboard the Kuranda Scenic Railway, whose vintage wooden carriages trundle their way inland – and 327 metres upwards – from the port.

"Don’t ask for fancy cappuccinos, flat whites or oat milk," deadpanned our guide. "We’ve got coffee and full-fat milk and that’s it. There’s water if you really want it but I’d suggest a beer…"

On our return journey aboard the newly-built Skyrail, a cable car that takes you over the rainforest canopy, we were dared to look down through the glass-floored car. Our reward was a luxuriant emerald vista of the world’s oldest rainforest – 180 million years and counting, which makes it considerably more ancient than T-Rex (not the Marc Bolan version!).

The laidback waterfront capital of Darwin rewards a visit. Credit: Shutterstock

No visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to the beach, and this cruise spoils you for choice. The Whitsunday Islands offer upmarket Airlie, which is great for a dip in the Coral Sea, but I loved Whitehaven, where the super-soft sands are lapped by turquoise water.

When you choose a cruise of this length, it pays to pick the right ship. Launched in 2018, Viking Orion carries 930 passengers in luxury and style, and if you’re used to mega-ships with thousands of guests, you’ll love how easy it is to navigate your way around. Being something of a Viking aficionado, as soon as I unpacked my suitcase in my Veranda Suite, I felt at home.

The food is superb, too, with four main places to eat – Manfredi’s, which serves legendary steaks and contemporary Italian dishes; The Chef’s Table, with its five-course tasting menus; The Restaurant, offering classic fare and local dishes; and World Café, which has an eclectic menu full of surprises.

Five sea days offered a welcome opportunity to make most of the ship, and I enjoyed a fantastic cookery class at the Chef’s Table, great lectures about Australian flora and fauna and – most fun of all – the chance to test out my grey cells at the daily quiz. Trying to hit 10,000 steps walking around deck 2 also became part of my daily routine, along with a few laps of the pool.

Holiday memories tend to crystallise around special moments, and one I’ll cherish for ever is the night I sat out on deck with my fellow cruisers, enjoying freshly cooked fish and chips washed down with ice-cold champagne, as the sun dropped dramatically into the sea.

Captain Cook would have loved it.

Get on board
A 16-night ‘Komodo & the Australian Coast’ cruise aboard Viking Orion, from Bali to Sydney via Lombok, Komodo, Darwin, Thursday Island, Cairns, Townsville, Whitsunday Islands, Mooloolaba and Newcastle, departs November 13, 2024, from £7,190 per person including flights.

Great for:
Seeing the best of Oz
Don’t miss: The chance to visit the Great Barrier Reef
Best bar & restaurant: The Explorers’ Lounge for cocktails and Manfredi’s for steaks
Value for money: Fares include flights, excursions at every port stop and Wi-Fi
Saving the planet: The ship’s engines meet the strictest environmental regulations
Star rating: 5/5

930 guests
465 crew
4 restaurants
1 pool

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.