Australasia has had a difficult year. After its challenging summer, with bushfires making world headlines, the coronavirus pandemic followed, which has disrupted the majority of travel plans across the globe for the rest of this year.
But by the time you reach Australasia in 2021, hopefully the situation will have settled.
So should you be thinking about cruising Down Under next year? Absolutely. As cruise tourism in the region continues to grow, fuelled by Australians’ own passion for cruising, ever more exciting itineraries are appearing.
Home-grown lines such as Coral Expeditions are expanding their offerings in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean and Papua New Guinea, while British line Cruise & Maritime Voyages has dedicated its new ship, Vasco da Gama, to Australia for a season, with voyages long and short from ports including Adelaide, Fremantle, Sydney and Auckland.
Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will also visit the region next year, exploring New Zealand as well as offering cruises along the Australian coast.
If you’ve already visited Oz and NZ, don’t miss the chance to explore some of Australasia’s other amazing destinations, such as the paradise islands of Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, with their incredible beaches, unique culture, and food you’ll be talking about long after you’re back home.
With all its main cities lying near the coast, Australia lends itself perfectly to cruising. Sailing into beautiful Sydney Harbour has to be one of the great arrivals by ship, while Melbourne’s legendary cultural and sporting attractions are close to the city’s port.
From laidback Fremantle, the port for Perth, long, sandy beaches are just a hop from the dock, and the lush wine country along the Swan Valley is an easy day trip.
Some areas are accessible only by small ship, like the remote Kimberley coast, stretching from Darwin to the outback beach town of Broome, with a backdrop of jagged mountains, ribbon-like waterfalls and sheer-sided gorges. Its phenomenal tidal range, dense vegetation, hidden reefs and (it has to be said) crocodiles mean this thrilling coastline is best appreciated on an expedition voyage.
Cruises from Australian ports can be short breaks, too; don’t just see them as long voyages covering all the highlights. Instead, why not mix a city stay or a road trip with a mini-cruise?
You could try a short hop from Adelaide over to Kangaroo Island’s beaches, gorgeous landscapes and arty culture, for example, or explore Tasmania on a departure from Melbourne.
And in the north, why not join one of Coral Expeditions’ three or four-night cruises over the Great Barrier Reef?
Get on Board
Coral Expeditions offers a 10-night ‘Definitive Kimberley Cruise’ between Darwin and Broome. You’ll see 40,000-year-old Aboriginal rock art, admire the towering falls of the King George River and marvel at the tide cascading off the Montgomery Reef. From £3,816 for a 10-night cruise on Coral Adventurer, departing 23 April 2021, coralexpeditions.com
New Zealand’s landscapes make a backdrop of extraordinary beauty – jagged mountains, lively geysers, aquamarine lakes and deep fjords. You’ll get the most out of the country by exploring both the North and South islands, with itineraries either starting in Auckland or sailing from Australian ports.
On the North Island, you’ll visit Auckland and Wellington, as well as those astonishing landscapes made famous by the Lord of the Rings movies, and the Bay of Islands, a playground for New Zealanders who come here to sail, hike, surf, sample artisan food and learn more about Maori culture.
The South Island is wilder and more rugged. Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds, all accessible by ship, offer incredible views of granite mountains plunging into the glassy water, and ribbon-like waterfalls cascading from dramatic heights.
Ports of call include Dunedin, with its Scottish heritage, and Akaroa, for Christchurch – a compact city with a lively cultural scene and gorgeous countryside within easy reach.
Get on Board
Cunard’s elegant Queen Elizabeth departs Melbourne on 1 December 2020 for an eight-night voyage that calls at Fjordland National Park, Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, fares from £899, cunard.com
Papua New Guinea
With towering volcanoes belching plumes of smoky steam, limpid lagoons teeming with tropical fish, swampy rivers and an extraordinary diversity of indigenous peoples, Papua New Guinea is like nowhere else on earth.
The islands are all distinct and, with an astonishing 832 separate languages spoken, the country encompasses a vast array of cultures.
With its remote coastal communities, the only realistic way to explore PNG is by ship, and those who do can expect a memorable adventure.
There’s Second World War heritage at Alotau in Milne Bay and the tranquil, white sand-fringed Jacquinot Bay, while Tufi on Cape Nelson is known for its dazzling underwater life and equally colourful tribal dances, the locals sporting headdresses bedecked in bird of paradise plumes.
Dobu Island was once known – and feared – for its witch doctors and black magic practices, and the grisly preferences of some of PNG’s mysterious tribes still form a rich seam of the country’s folklore.
The Trobriand Islands are famous for their yam production, with farming culture influencing every aspect of life, while the town of Rabual lies – amazingly – in the flooded caldera of an active volcano, many of the vents still steaming. Along the way, there’s snorkelling, jungle hikes and jaw-dropping scenery, from towering cliffs to palm-draped desert islands.
Get on Board
Carnival offers a 10-night Papua New Guinea cruise, round-trip from Brisbane, departing 21 November 2021 aboard Carnival Spirit and calling at Alotau, Kitava, Rabaul, Kiriwina Island and the Conflict Islands. Fares from £724, carnival.com.au
Exotic Fiji is a collection of more than 330 islands just waiting to be explored by ship. On Viti Levu, one of the larger islands, you can dive with sharks (watched over by highly skilled ‘shark wranglers’) in Beqa Lagoon or soak up some rays on the white sands of the Coral Coast.
Other islands include Motu Tautau, where you’ll find vanilla vines and have a chance to snorkel among magnificent coral reefs.
The larger cruise lines, such as P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean, sail around the Fijian archipelago year-round, while ships owned by Paul Gauguin and Blue Lagoon Cruises can take you to the smaller, less-visited islands.
Get on Board
Paul Gauguin has a 13-night cruise departing 22 May 2021 from Papeete, calling at Moorea, Taha’a, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, Tonga, Savusavu, Suva, Beqa Island and Lautoka. Fares from £6,579 including return flights from LA, pgcruises.com
With most of the archipelago designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, French-owned New Caledonia is wonderfully unspoiled. Here, a string of tropical islands bask in a lagoon of improbable turquoise, the reef is home to hundreds of species of fish as well as turtles, sharks and, in deeper water, whales.
Cultural influences are a happy combination of French and Melanesian: expect patisseries and pétanque, together with fresh seafood served at toes-in-the-sand beach restaurants. Noumea, the capital, is the main port of call, where you can jump on a day boat to Amedee Island Marine Reserve or snooze under a palm tree at Lemon Bay.
Lifou is the largest of the Loyalty Islands, part of the New Caledonia archipelago, offering hiking trails and visits to vanilla plantations. Ships also call at the Isle of Pines, named after the spiny araucaria (monkey puzzle) trees that line the dazzlingly white beaches.
While these islands are wildly exotic to Brits, for Australians they’re the equivalent of a week in the Med, with larger cruise lines like P&O Australia and Royal Caribbean offering a wide selection of departures on big, family-friendly ships.
British cruisers trying out these ships will be pleasantly surprised by their ‘Aussiefication’ – cultural adaptations to please the Australian market, including properly trained baristas, healthy food, craft beers, quality gin and serious deck barbecues.
Get on Board
Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Solstice departs Sydney on 5 December 2020 for a nine-night South Pacific cruise to Noumea, the Isle of Pines, Mystery Island and Lifou, prices from £899, celebritycruises.co.uk
Scattered across the South Pacific, a full three-day sail from Sydney, the 80-odd islands of the Vanuatu archipelago are a curious mix of smart resorts and rugged adventures.
Bigger ships call at duty-free Port Vila on Efate island, where you can head off to a beach club, laze in a hammock, zipline over the rainforest or hike up to the Mele Cascade falls, rewarding yourself with a cooling plunge.
At dreamy Honeymoon Beach, there’s a chance to snorkel over a blue hole – essentially a cave in the sea. Another port of call, Champagne Bay, is a sweep of pinky-white sand that gets its name from the fizzing noise the water makes as it seeps through the porous volcanic rock at low tide, while Mystery Island is famed for its reefs and limpid water.
Beyond these beautiful but touristy hotspots, a different world awaits, with deserted beaches and the opportunity for hiking on active volcanoes, world-class diving and, on mountainous Pentecost Island, the chance to watch ‘land diving’.
In this extraordinary spectacle, young men leap off 90ft bamboo towers with just a vine tied round their ankles, as part of a ritual blessing for the harvest. You’ll need to go on an expedition ship to see it, though.
Get on Board
Noble Caledonia offers a 19-night cruise departing 4 May 2021, taking in four ports in Vanuatu. Price from £9,995 including outward flight to Hong Kong and return flight from Singapore, one hotel night in Hong Kong, one in Cairns and two in Singapore, plus 12 nights aboard Island Sky. Wine with meals, tips and all activities are also included in the fare, noble-caledonia.co.uk