Why the best way to see Australia is on a cruise

Known for its epic road and rail trips through the vast, open countryside of the dusty Outback[1], Australia is often overlooked by Brits as a cruise destination. Yet the world’s largest island has over 37,000 miles of coastline fronting the Southern, Pacific and Indian Oceans, plus various smaller seas. Even the locals know the appeal of the sea, with 85 per cent of Australians living within 50km of the coast.

As a result, almost every kind of cruise imaginable can be found here; be it on a mega-ship with stacks of facilities; a boutique brand with a more refined air; a luxurious riverboat; or an expedition ship that can venture to truly out-of-the-way places. And with most of Australia's key attractions and cities scattered around its fringes, explorations by cruise (preferably topped and tailed with land-based touring) can pack any number of Down Under wonders[2] into a single trip.

Australia is packed with world-class beaches Australia is packed with world-class beaches

I've been lucky enough to visit Australia more than a dozen times, and some of my greatest memories are of experiences that I've had from the deck of a ship. I once set sail to New Zealand from Sydney, with the tiles atop the Opera House gleaming in the sunshine as we passed, and far from land on the Great Barrier Reef, I leaned over the railings to marvel at its underwater patchwork of cobalt and turquoise in an otherwise midnight-blue sea. 

Perhaps the most incredible experience of all was a cruise in the Kimberley[3]: the little-visited wilderness region at the top of Western Australia. It's vast and sparsely populated – bigger than Britain but with fewer residents than a mid-sized English town – and its attractions are so remarkable that they would be crowded with visitors were they easier to access. But on a small-ship sailing with Coral Expeditions, I was one of just 120 guests exploring the waterfalls, reefs and ancient rock art for which the Kimberley is famed.

0403 Australia TRV[4]

At the uninhabited Lacepede Islands, we saw seabirds and turtles in mind-boggling numbers. In Talbot Bay, we powered through one-of-a-kind Horizontal Falls in a Zodiac. And at Montgomery Reef, we watched a coral-encrusted plateau seemingly rise from the sea on a falling tide. 

It wasn’t only the epic landscapes and their intriguing wildlife – humpback whales, lemon sharks, saltwater crocs – that impressed. Etched in my memory is the experience of first seeing the Wandjina (ancient rock art). These alien beings stare down from rock art galleries across the region: a symbol of the oldest continuous culture on the planet, and of the Indigenous people's long connection to the land. A land littered with surprises best experienced by boat. 

Classic Kimberley 

Remote, isolated and with little infrastructure for land-based journeys, there are few parts of the world as suited to expedition cruises as the Kimberley. Explore it with Coral Expeditions – the pioneers of cruising in the region – on a formula perfected over four decades of operations. Itineraries are timed to experience key sites at optimal tidal phases: expect to see Montgomery Reef being drained by dozens of miniature cascades, and Horizontal Falls at its powerful best.

Kimberley is one of the most wildly beautiful regions in Australia Kimberley is one of the most wildly beautiful regions in Australia

How to do it

Ten-night cruises between Darwin and Broome with Coral Expeditions[5] operate between April and September and cost from £3,965pp; excludes flights.

Aussie icons

Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef are two of Australia’s most recognisable icons. Experience both with Princess Cruises, whose journeys up the eastern seaboard from Sydney to tropical North Queensland stop in Cairns for reef and Daintree Rainforest excursions, and Airlie Beach, gateway to the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. 

How to do it 

A 16-night Sydney & Queensland Showcase cruise-and-stay from Cruise Kings[6] (0800 197 8050) includes an 11-night round-trip cruise from Sydney aboard Majestic Princess and a three-night pre-cruise Sydney stay from £2,799pp. Departs January 26 & March 26 2024;  departs September 8 2023; includes flights. . 

Southern comforts

Make the festive season extra-special on a cruise along Australia’s entire south coast, taking in nine ports of call. Esperance, Adelaide, Cape Le Grand National Park and Kangaroo Island are among the highlights, with shore excursion that include wine tastings and local wildlife sightings. Better still, spend Christmas Day at sea before arriving in Sydney for a two-night stay that coincides with New Year’s Eve.

Kangaroo Island is among the highlights of a South Australia cruise Kangaroo Island is among the highlights of a South Australia cruise

How to do it

The 14-night Australia Intensive Voyage from Perth to Melbourne with Azamara Cruises[7] (0344 4934016) departs December 21 2023 & December 20 2024 and costs from £2,859pp. Excludes flights. 

The 5 best cruises to catch from Australia[8]

Over the top 

Nobody is more qualified to share Australia’s stories than its traditional owners and custodians. On a voyage through remote Barrier Reef islands en route to Cape York and Arnhem Land, you will meet indigenous Torres Strait islanders and other Aboriginal peoples to experience their culture, art and homelands, including Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. Along the way, spy dugongs, turtles, saltwater crocodiles and the birdlife of Kakadu’s wetlands.

How to do it 

A 13-night Australia's Top End cruise from Cairns to Darwin with Scenic (0808 273 6069; scenic.co.uk[9]) departs April 28 2024 and costs from £11,108pp. Excludes flights. 

Murray river flow 

River cruises are rare down under, ­making an active experience on the mighty Murray – the nation’s principal waterway – all the more remarkable. Murray River Trails offers short cruises aboard a 12-berth houseboat, with a daily programme of guided walks and activities. The small-group, into-the-wild nature of the experience lends itself to wildlife encounters, with sightings of echidnas, emus, koalas and ­unusual native birds all possible. It is a fascinating insight into authentic inland Australia.

Murray River Trails cruises include a daily programme of guided walks and activities Murray River Trails cruises include a daily programme of guided walks and activities

How to do it

The three-night Murray River Walk[10] departs May–Sep and costs from £1,500pp. Excludes flights. 

Kim and swim

The Kimberley may have beguiling blue waters, but dips in the sea are foolhardy (and forbidden) due to the dangerous saltwater crocodiles that call the region home. Sidestep that inconvenience on a voyage with Ponant, which combines classic Kimberley elements ­(Montgomery Reef, Horizontal Falls) with the little-visited Rowley Shoals – one of the world’s most sensational snorkelling and diving destinations. Located west of Broome, in the Timor Sea, these croc-free coral atolls brim with colourful sea life.

How to do it

An eight-night cruise round-trip from Broome departs September 8 2023 and costs from £11,835pp through Mundy Adventures (020 7399 7630; mundyadventures.co.uk[11]); includes flights. 

Queensland immersion 

Take a deep dive down under on a Great Barrier Reef & Beyond itinerary with Windstar Cruises. This holiday is particularly good for wildlife-lovers. Look out for wedge-tailed shearwaters, sooty terns and noddies while passing Willis Island; spot dingoes on sandy Fraser Island; and cuddle a koala at Australia Zoo (established by the late Steve Irwin). Show-stopping Whitehaven Beach is an unforgettable trip highlight.

How to do it 

An 11-night sailing from Cairns to Melbourne with Windstar Cruises (0808 178 2233; windstarcruises.com[12]) departs December 6 2023 and costs from £7,499pp. Includes flights and pre-cruise overnight in Cairns. 

Western wonders 

Unlike the Barrier Reef, which clings to the continental shelf, magnificent Ningaloo Reef fringes Western Australia’s coast. Discover it and the archipelagos of Abrolhos, Monte Bello and Dampier on a small-ship expedition that mixes snorkelling and shipwrecks with whale-watching and indigenous rock art. Enhance the experience by foraging and fishing for mud crabs and oysters, or take sightseeing to new heights in the ship’s helicopter. 

Whale-watching on a small ship expedition in Western Australia Whale-watching on a small ship expedition in Western Australia

How to do it 

The 10-night West Coast Explorer cruise with True North[13] sails from Fremantle to Dampier on March 7 2024 and costs from £12,208pp. Excludes flights

Island state

Raw nature meets colonial history and premium produce in Tasmania, not to mention one-of-a-kind wildlife such as white wallabies and Tasmanian devils. Sip local cool-climate wines and visit the likes of Bruny Island and Wineglass Bay while sailing from Hobart. The cruise is complemented with a self-drive exploration of the island’s west and north coast regions.

Cruising alongside Balmoral Hill on a Tasmanian Odyssey tour Cruising alongside Balmoral Hill on a Tasmanian Odyssey tour

How to do it

A 17-night holiday with Tasmanian Odyssey[14] (01534 735449) combining Coral Expeditions' 10-night Coastal Wilds or Coastal Treks cruise with a 7-night self-drive land tour costs from £5,475pp. Departs Jan–Feb 2024 & 2025; excludes flights. 

All the way

Go all out and see more of the continent on a full circumnavigation of the vast island. Sail the Coral, Timor and Tasman Seas, the Indian Ocean and the Great Australian Bight on an odyssey starting and finishing in Sydney. Travelling via every coastal state and territory, ports of call include cosmopolitan Melbourne, tropical Darwin, lively Fremantle and Phillip Island with its unforgettable koala and penguin encounters. 

How to do it 

A 34-night Australian Panorama sailing with Oceania Cruises is available through Mundy Cruising (020 7399 7670; mundycruising.co.uk[15]) from £8,729pp, including flights. Departs December 22 2024.


  1. ^ the dusty Outback (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  2. ^ Down Under wonders (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  3. ^ cruise in the Kimberley (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  4. ^ 0403 Australia TRV (cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk)
  5. ^ Coral Expeditions (coralexpeditions.com)
  6. ^ Cruise Kings (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  7. ^ Azamara Cruises (azamaracruises.com)
  8. ^ The 5 best cruises to catch from Australia (cf-particle-html.eip.telegraph.co.uk)
  9. ^ scenic.co.uk (www.scenic.co.uk)
  10. ^ Murray River Walk (murrayrivertrails.com.au)
  11. ^ mundyadventures.co.uk (www.mundyadventures.co.uk)
  12. ^ windstarcruises.com (www.windstarcruises.com)
  13. ^ True North (truenorth.com.au)
  14. ^ Tasmanian Odyssey (www.telegraph.co.uk)
  15. ^ mundycruising.co.uk (www.mundycruising.co.uk)