Given the vastness of the Australian continent – a landmass that encompasses deserts, salt lakes, mountain ranges, plains, rainforests and more – it can be hard to know where to start when planning a trip Down Under. But with a ruggedly beautiful coastline that spans more than 18,000 miles Australia is one country that’s ripe for cruising, allowing travellers access to numerous states, territories and landscapes, in one fell swoop.
Many cruises around these parts also take in Australia’s neighbour ‘across the ditch’, New Zealand. Though tiny in comparison, this seafaring nation harbours many of its greatest assets along its shoreline, from fiords and subtropical archipelagos to national parks that spill onto the coast.
With an increasingly busy calendar of boutique ships, expedition vessels and large ocean liners docking in Australia and New Zealand, it’s never been easier to find the right voyage for every taste and budget.
1. On foot and by sail in Tassie
Gorge on Tasmania’s deliciously rugged landscapes, with a four- or six-day Wineglass Bay Sail Walk itinerary. Guests will explore the Apple Isle’s wild east coast from aboard Lady Eugenie, a 75-foot luxury classic ketch, which sleeps just eight. Days are spent gulping down Tasmania’s famously pure air while ambling through Tasmanian Blue Gum forests and ascending towering dolerite sea cliffs; they’re punctuated by early morning dips in the Tasman Sea, visits to wineries and walks around World Heritage-listed convict sites. Evenings, meanwhile, consist of three-course meals whipped up with local produce and served aboard the boat, sea stacks and sweeps of chalk-white sand for a backdrop.
Tasmanian Walking Co’s Wineglass Bay Sail Walk has one to two departures every month between September and May, sailings from Hobart. From £1,575pp (taswalkingco.com.au).
2. A cultural immersion in Australia’s Top End
Learning more about the oldest civilisation on Earth is one of the defining features of Coral Expeditions’ Cape York and Arnhem Land cruises. You’ll discover indigenous rock art sites, spend time in remote communities, observe traditional dances and visit local art centres. The Australian cruise line’s 11-night itinerary also includes a pit stop at the continent’s northernmost point – Cape York, for champagne at sunrise – plus a visit to the Lizard Island Research Station, where guests learn how scientists are preserving the Great Barrier Reef for future generations. Coral Expeditions’ fleet features small expedition ships (120 passengers, maximum), and offers voyages through the Kimberley, the Great Barrier Reef and Tasmania domestically, as well as trips through Kiwi waters.
Coral Expeditions’ Cape York and Arnhem Land itinerary typically departs in March-April and September-October with sailings ex-Darwin or ex-Cairns. From £5,825pp (coralexpeditions.com).
3. A voyage to the wild west
Known as Australia’s ‘Last Frontier’, the Kimberley guarantees blockbuster scenery: from towering cascades that plunge straight into the sea to craggy sandstone gorges fringed with tropical greenery, not to mention the curious natural phenomenon of the so-called ‘Horizontal Falls’. The steep terrain makes expedition cruising the best, if not the only way, to explore this untouched region in remote Western Australia. Luxury cruise line True North was one of the first to offer cruises of this sun-scorched wilderness area, and boasts activities (think hiking, fishing and mud crabbing) as well as sightseeing, plus a crew to guest ratio of 22:36.
True North’s Kimberley cruises typically depart between March and August with sailings from Broome or Kununurra. Prices for a seven-night trip start from £7,950pp (truenorth.com.au).
4. Deep South explorations
The first of Ponant’s Explorer-class ships, Le Lapérouse, made her maiden voyage Down Under in January 2019, cruising the shores of both Australia and New Zealand. But it’s not until January 2020 that the luxury liner makes her most intriguing Antipodean voyage yet – a 14-night sailing that takes in the so-called ‘Galapagos of the Southern Ocean’, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting remote, sub-Antarctic islands that few souls have ever seen, guests can hope to clock albatross, fur seals, sea lions, king penguins and plenty more. The bleakly beautiful landscapes of these islands, including Campbell and Macquarie, will be traversed on guided walks, or admired from onboard Zodiacs.
Ponant’s Sub-Antarctic Islands Expedition sails from Hobart, Tasmania, departing on January 2, 2020. From £9,038pp (ponant.com).
5. The river cruise with a difference
Bask in the ever-changing landscapes that flank Australia’s longest river, the Murray, on this four-day itinerary. From creek to floodplain, lagoon and wetland environments, the Murray River Walk promises native flora and fauna aplenty. Expect to spy kangaroos, goannas, emus, pelicans, flowering eucalypts and ancient red gum forests as you wind your way along the waterway and hike on its banks, with access to a cruise-exclusive walking route. Cap off each day with a dip in the five-cabin houseboat’s top-deck spa, soaking up the panoramic views.
The Murray River Walk departs on Mondays and Tuesdays between May and September from Renmark, South Australia. From £1,360pp (murrayriverwalk.com.au).
6. A luxury expedition
Drenched in Italian Carrara marble, speckled with gold leaf and sporting numerous glass chandeliers made from Czech crystal, the Seven Seas Explorer has been billed as the most luxurious ship ever built. The opulent Regent Seven Seas ship will visit Antipodean waters for the first time during its 2020-21 season, taking in Australia and New Zealand’s most famous cities and sights: from Sydney’s startlingly beautiful harbour, to Melbourne and its street-art-freckled laneways, plus New Zealand’s Bay of Islands and its compact capital, Wellington. It’s a perfect introduction to the region for those that want to travel in total comfort and style.
RSSC’s 15-night Sydney to Auckland sailing onboard the Seven Seas Explorer departs January 6, 2021. From £8,780pp, including free shore excursions in every port (rssc.com).
7. The classic circuit
Fresh from a US$500-million modernisation, Celebrity Eclipse will homeport out of Melbourne during Australia’s summer 2020/21 season – a fleet-wide first for the cruise line. One of five Solstice-class ships, the 2,850-passenger vessel will dock in Victoria’s capital come December 23, 2020, ready to transport guests around Australia’s shores. Tick off five Australian state capitals in one fell swoop onboard Eclipse’s eight-night Australia & Tasmania Cruise. Shore excursions include visits to wine regions, wildlife sanctuaries and UNESCO World Heritage-listed national parks.
Celebrity Eclipse’s Australia & Tasmania Cruise is a round-trip from Melbourne, departing March 15, 2021. From £995pp (celebritycruises.co.uk).
8. New Zealand up-close
Uncovering New Zealand’s lesser-explored corners, this nine-night cruise is for those who want to see the country’s raw elements. Tracing New Zealand from top to tail, you’ll visit the hot springs and boiling mud pools of Wai-O-Tapu, tour New Zealand’s most active volcano at White Island, watch dolphins patrol the surf at Akaroa, and coast through the glassy waters of the Milford Sound fiord. Expect expert commentary at each stop courtesy of the ship’s eight-member APT Expedition Team, and a comfy retreat onboard the 57-suite MS Caledonian Sky, refurbished in 2018.
APT’s New Zealand By Small Ship departs December 12, 2019. From ££5,689pp (aptouring.co.uk).
Inspiration for your inbox
Sign up to Telegraph Travel’s new weekly newsletter for the latest features, advice, competitions, exclusive deals and comment.
You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.