Cruising In Australia - Everything You Need To Know

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Cruising In Australia - Everything You Need To Know

Australia is regularly voted one of the world's top cruise destinations thank to a combination of its endless summer weather, an oversupply of beaches, and departure points including Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. While Sydney remains the hub of Australia’s cruising world, there are a growing number of ports around the country, large and small, that cater to cruise ships - including the larger ones. Coastal cruises visit the major port cities, offering guests the option to head inland to visit local wineries, national parks, and other tourist attractions. Add to that vast mountain ranges, UNESCO World Heritage natural and historic sites, cultural and Indigenous attractions, and there’s plenty to attract everyone from adrenaline seekers to those who prefer a more relaxed or cultural experience. 

Australia’s Major Cruise Lines

Just about every cruise line in existence visits Australia these days, with the major players paying regular visits. P&O Australia is a locally based mainstream cruise line, catering to Australians with cruises from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more, while Carnival Cruises’ red, whale-tale funnel has also become a familiar sight in Australia since Carnival Spirit debuted in Sydney in 2012. Another Carnival brand is 

Cunard, a popular choice for many older Australians, with its three “Queens” attracting attention whenever they arrive into port, and offering round-Australia cruise options. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises are also major players in Australia, dating back to 2013 and the first season where both lines had based vessels in Australia for the season.

Australians also have a growing passion for small-ship and adventure cruising, however, with domestic brands including Coral Expeditions, North Star and Captain Cook regularly visiting remote regions such as the Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberley, Cape York and the Top End. These operators also cruise to, and within, nearby destinations like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Melanesian Islands. And of the visiting ships, familiar names include Oceania, Regent, Silversea, Azamara, Ponant, Crystal and P&O World Cruises, all of which visit between December and March, either for a short season of cruises, or on grand Pacific voyages or world cruises.

Itinerary Options

Destinations for many local cruises departing from Australian ports have a focus on nearby international ports in countries including New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, or New Zealand, with some venturing as far as Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii and Tahiti. Many Australia only cruises head north toward Queensland, visiting Newcastle, Brisbane, the Whitsundays, Cairns, and Moreton Island. Over time, however, itineraries have expanded to include a growing number of ports of call in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia seasonally, with popular destinations including Burnie, Hobart, Port Arthur, Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula, Portland, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, and Port Lincoln. Meanwhile in Western Australia, itineraries from Fremantle (Perth) often venture south to scenic Margaret River or Esperance, or north to Geraldton, Exmouth, or as far as tropical Broome in the north. 

The South Pacific remains a popular local choice, to or from a homeport, with most departures commonly from Sydney, but also increasingly Brisbane and Melbourne. The well-worn route pioneered by P&O across the Tasman to the South Pacific has been progressively expanded over time to include all of New Zealand, more of Vanuatu and New Caledonia, some of Samoa and Tonga, and occasional forays as far as French Polynesia and Hawaii. Circumnavigating Australia has become popular with older cruise fans in recent years, with both Princess, Holland America and Cunard offering complete circumnavigations. Another growing area, even though it’s incredibly remote, is the Kimberley and Australia's North West. It’s a spectacular part of the country where big ships will swing by as part of a circumnavigation; for a more comprehensive exploration, you'll need to get aboard an expedition vessels such as North Star Cruises’ True North. 

Thanks to a vast coastline, there are numerous operators offering small-ship explorations to a variety of locations as the Kimberley, Cape York, Top End, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Murray River. Premium pricing and limited capacity keep numbers low, but the demand continues to grow, with increasing numbers of more adventurous, or “been there, seen that already” foreign visitors opting for these exclusive itineraries. And finally, most local cruise lines head regularly across the Tasman to New Zealand each summer, including P&O, Holland America, Cunard, Celebrity, and Princess. Itinerary options include shorter trips one-way from Sydney or Melbourne to Auckland, or the reverse, or longer round-trip cruises which also take in the spectacular Fiordland on the South Island.

Best Time To Cruise

Australia is regarded as a year-round cruise destination, although "Wave Season”, which is roughly between between October and March these days, is when things get particularly busy, and you’ll find the greatest choice of departures, vessels and itineraries. While winters in the southern states can be chilly, you won't need snowshoes or thermal undies. Summers can be hot so if you're visiting over the Christmas period, be prepared to pack wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen and water bottles for those days when temperatures get into the 30's. The official Australian cyclone season begins on November 1 and ends on April 30, with the highest risk of a major storm falling between March and April, although they tend not to interfere with cruise schedules too often unless you’re cruising around the Top End and North Queensland. Summer is also a standard major annual holiday period for families, so expect crowds around major attractions and in some destinations, particularly beach resorts.

Joanna Hall