Welcome to the next edition of the Ultimate World Cruise Itinerary as we cruise Australia and New Zealand. For those new to the series, we asked some residents of Storylines residential ship for the top destinations they would like the ship to visit worldwide. The survey results are mapped out here.
The list of requested destinations in this region includes:
- Coral Bay
- Ningaloo Reef
- Turquoise Bay
- Shark Bay
- New Zealand
- Bay of Islands
Interesting that Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef didn’t get a mention. But we might drop anchor there anyway!
Cruise to Australia
To cruise around Australia is on many travelers' bucket lists and the country is a popular South Pacific cruise destination. But as the world's only island continent, there is so much to see, including Ayers Rock located in the red center. Therefore, we will focus only on the requested Australian destinations of Sydney, Tasmania and Western Australia, including Perth, Shark Bay, Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, Coral Bay, and Ningaloo Reef. Surprisingly, Melbourne and Victoria didn't get a shout out. As such, imagining MV Narrative is continuing its voyage from Bali, the next port of call would be Exmouth, a popular Western Australia cruise destination.
Exmouth is located midway up the West Australian coast on the Indian Ocean's Coral Coast and is almost the mainland's most westerly point. It is one of the most remote areas yet boasts some incredible aquamarine waters, sea life and coral reefs. While the town of Exmouth is not all that exciting, it serves as the gateway to such gems as Turquoise Bay, Shark Bay and Ningaloo Reef. Large cruise liners cannot dock in Exmouth, so MV Narrative will likely anchor with residents tendered ashore. We suggest pre-booking a tour from Exmouth to the following locations for water activities such as kayaking, snorkeling and diving with whale sharks.
For those looking for participation with the traditional custodians throughout the region, the Coral Coast offers several immersive cultural experiences to take you inland to experience the "real Australia".
Coral Bay is the southern gateway to the Ningaloo Marine Park. It is perfect for families, couples and solo adventurers alike. It's all about the marine life here. Prepare yourself for some of the most pristine white-sand beaches and clear, turquoise water that matches it with the best in the world for swimming. There are many tours on offer, including glass-bottom boat rides, scuba diving, manta-ray snorkel tours, whale watching and quad bike tours on the dunes.
One of the best and most unique features of Ningaloo Reef is that it starts right at the water's edge, meaning you can snorkel out from the beach. The colorful coral is right there for you to explore. This is in contrast to most of the world's reefs, such as the Great Barrier Reef, which requires boats to take you out to the reef systems.
The other notable thing about Ningaloo Reef is that it is one of only a few locations where you can swim with whale sharks. Every year from March until August, the world's most enormous fish congregate at Ningaloo. As a result, Ningaloo attracts visitors worldwide for the bucket list experience of snorkeling and scuba diving with these gentle giants of the ocean. If this sounds like you, we highly recommend booking ahead as the swimming with whale shark tours sell out quickly.
Turquoise Bay lives up to its name with pristine, clear turquoise water that you'd be hard-pressed to find in many parts of the world. For this reason, along with its soft white sand and excellent snorkeling and dive spots just off the beach, Turquoise Bay consistently ranks as one of Australia's top ten beaches. Considering this massive island has over 12,000 beaches, that's a respectable claim.
Like all the Coral Coast region locations requested, Turquoise Bay is all about the underwater world. Like Coral Bay, you can snorkel out from the beach to Ningaloo Reef. Either explore yourself or join one of the guided snorkeling tours led by experienced instructors who know the area intimately. You can see colorful and living coral, tropical fish species, turtles and manta rays.
Shark Bay is the first place to receive UNESCO World Heritage status. Also, there are several highlights on the Coral Coast, including the unique natural wonder of Shell Beach, where instead of sand, you have billions of tiny white shells. These shells continue into the water, reflecting back up, creating an incredible crystal clear color. You also must visit Monkey Mia for a sustainably managed dolphin encounter. These brilliant creatures swim right up to the beach.
Shark Bay is also a great place to learn about the ancient history of the region's first people and local communities with Wula Gura Nyinda Eco Cultural Adventures.
Perth is the capital of Western Australia and a city of roughly 2 million, located down the southwest coast. It is a rather wealthy city and essentially a big mining town running the resource-rich West Australian outback. The original port city is Fremantle, located at the mouth of the Swan River, which intersects the city. Fremantle also has a large cruise ship terminal, so MV Narrative would dock there.
Fremantle, or Freo to the locals, is the oldest part of Perth and retains much of its colonial architecture. So much so that some streets in the old West End feel like you are stepping back in time. Luckily, the town center is within walking distance from the cruise terminal. You will find everything from classic old Aussie pubs to trendy cafes and hip new bars in town. Fremantle is also Perth's cultural center with the Fremantle Arts Center, the Maritime Museum and Shipwrecks Museum. Here, you can learn about the fascinating history of the Batavia mutiny and subsequent shipwreck.
For some of the best food and coffee in Perth, head to the Fremantle Markets running from Friday to Sunday. The city is also great because it's where the ferry goes to Rottnest Island, a beautiful Mediterranean-like island 40 minutes off the coast. As MV Narrative spends days at port, we recommend a trip to Rottnest Island (Rotto to the locals). There are no cars, so hire a bike and beach hop to find pristine white sand beaches with crystal clear turquoise waters. It's easy to get a whole beach to yourself. Well, you might have some quokkas joining you, but never fear, these cute little creatures are so tame they're even prone to selfies.
Perth & Fremantle highlights:
- Fremantle Markets: Head here to shop for organic fruit and vegetables and an eclectic mix of local stores.
- Maritime Museum: Learn about the history of Fremantle, including the discovery of the port city and the birth of Perth.
- Shipwreck Museum: Learn about the many ships that have succumbed to Western Australia's treacherous coast and one of the deadliest mutinies in world history.
- Ferry to Rottnest Island: Highly recommend catching the ferry over, which leaves down port from the passenger terminal. Once on the island, head to the visitor center at the end of the pier, hire a bike and explore, beach hop, and get a selfie with a quokka.
- Ferry to Swan Valley: You can catch a ferry from Fremantle up the Swan River to Perth downtown or continue to the Swan Valley wine region and tour some vineyards, wine cellars, and have some wine tasting.
Tasmania is that triangular-shaped island located off the bottom right of Australia. It is much less inhabited than mainland Australia. It is known for its natural wonders, including mountains, national parks and world-class hiking, and its culinary, wine, and arts scene. MV Narrative will most likely dock in Hobart, Tasmania's capital city. Should MV Narrative stay a few days in port, the best thing to do is hire a car and road trip around the island. Highlights include Tasmania's Freycinet National Park, Cradle Mountain National Park, and the Bay of Fires.
Hobart is a charming little harbor town flanked by Mount Wellington and consists of many waterways. Be sure to arrange shore excursions over to Port Arthur, where you can see the convict ruins and learn about the fascinating yet dark history of the early settlers. When England sent criminals to Australia, the worst of the worst convicts were sent to Tasmania.
Tasmania & Hobart highlights:
- Hop on Hop off Bus Tour: A great way to see all the main attractions in one day. Get the 48-hour pass.
- Mona Museum: This is a must. Catch the Mona ferry from Hobart Harbor to Mona Museum. There is a bar onboard the ferry as well as inside the museum. This is not your average museum…expect the unexpected.
- Salamanca Markets: If we're lucky enough to be there on a Saturday, then you must visit Salamanca Markets, located close to the harbor.
- Hike Mount Wellington: There are several trails up the mountain varying in difficulty. The reward is an epic view over the entire city of Hobart (if there's no cloud cover!) There are also bus tours to Mount Wellington.
- Day trip to Port Arthur: Learn about the grim but fascinating history of Tasmania's colonial convict history and the largest massacre ever in Australia's history.
- Whiskey Distilleries: Tasmania produces excellent whiskey, and Hobart has numerous trendy whiskey bars.
Sydney is one of the best cruise ports globally due to its accessible and beautiful harbor that welcomes you into the city. You will cruise through the eastern suburbs, where you will see some of the most expensive real estate in the world lining the harbor. Then, when MV Narrative finally docks at the International Cruise Terminal, you will be pleased to see that it's right on the doorstep of the city center. What's more, you are surrounded by all the famous landmarks that make the city iconic. On one side are the towering skyscrapers, and on the other side is the iconic Opera House. Opposite is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and beneath that is the historic precinct of The Rocks. Talk about convenience!
As you step from the ship, you set foot in The Rocks, the earliest settlement of modern Australia, where the English convicts started building the city. The area has been well-preserved with many original buildings and narrow, cobblestoned roads. Some of the oldest pubs in Australia are in The Rocks and are worth visiting. Explore on your own, or if you wish to learn about the history, you can do The Rocks self-guided walking tour. Be sure to walk around the Sydney Opera House to experience this extraordinary work of architecture. You can learn about the fascinating history of how it was built or simply enjoy a drink in the harbor side Opera Bar.
Next to The Rocks is Circular Quay, where all of the city's ferries depart from. Here are some insider tips. Catch the Manly Ferry for another great view of the harbor and see Manly village and be sure to bring your swim gear and beach towel. Manly is unique in that on one side it has the harbor, and on the other the ocean. Therefore, it has many great harbor beaches and ocean beaches to choose from. We highly recommend heading to the ocean side and walking right along the boardwalk to Shelly Beach, a small Mediterranean-like pocket of paradise. Have a meal and beer or cocktail at The Boathouse after your swim.
Another great ferry to catch is the Watson's Bay Ferry. At Watsons Bay is a renowned harbor front seafood restaurant called Doyles and the Watsons Bay Pub, also looking over the harbor. You can walk up to The Gap along the incredible cliffside overlooking the ocean. If you want to tick Bondi Beach off your bucket list, it is only a $15 Uber ride away or catch the 380 bus from Watsons Bay. If you make it to Bondi, then do the famous Bondi to Bronte walk. Arrange a day tour to the Blue Mountains National Park, west of Sydney if you get time.
- The Rocks: Just wander around this historic harbor side village where you will also find The Museum of Contemporary Art, The Rocks Markets, and some of the oldest pubs in Australia.
- The Rocks Tour: For those interested in the fascinating history of the first convict settlers to Australia, you can partake in this guided walking tour of The Rocks.
- Harbor Bridge Climb: From The Rocks, you can partake in a tour of climbing over the arch of the bridge. You will get some of the best views of Sydney and the harbor. Not for those afraid of heights.
- Sydney Opera House: You can do a tour of this extraordinary and timeless piece of architecture or simply head to the Opera Bar for some harbor side drinks.
- Ferry to Manly: It is a great way to take in the beautiful Sydney harbor, and Manly Beach is a destination in itself, nestled between the ocean and the harbor.
- Ferry to Watsons Bay: Another excellent ferry ride to a beautiful part of Sydney. Once there, take a walk along the cliffs at The Gap and have a snack and drinks in Watsons Bay Hotel overlooking the harbor.
- Bondi to Bronte walk: Head to the southern end of the iconic Bondi Beach. A boardwalk leads you along the coastline to several other Eastern Suburbs beaches.
- InterContinental Hotel Rooftop Bar: Come for sundowners at this hotel which has hosted the likes of Oprah Winfrey and US Presidents. It has recently undergone a $110M facelift, including a new rooftop bar with sweeping views over Sydney Harbour.
- Palm Beach: Escape the hustle and bustle to Sydney’s most northern beach and peninsula. Have a coffee or something to eat at the famed Boathouse on Pittwater.
- The Blue Mountains: If time permits, arrange a tour out to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, where countless hiking trails offer incredible scenery.
The state of Queensland didn’t get a mention, but from this Aussie’s perspective, it is definitely somewhere you want to visit down under. There are many great spots, especially for dropping anchor for a few days (or weeks) and exploring by Zodiac. Here are just three excellent options:
The Whitsundays are an archipelago of tropical islands at the southern end of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. They are one of Australia’s top tourist destinations, but by boat, you can avoid the crowds at Hayman Island resorts and Daydream Island, as 70% of the Whitsundays are national parks. Whitehaven Beach is a great spot to drop anchor, consistently named Australia’s best beach and one of the most beautiful in the world. There are also several great snorkeling and diving spots throughout the islands, with a highlight being the giant clams.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is huge (it can be seen from space), and the Whitsundays are just a small section of the 1,429 miles of coral. There are so many great islands, snorkeling and dive sites that it would take months to explore them all. A few spots to flag are Agincourt Reef, Hastings Reef, Opal Reef, Heron Island, Lizard Island, Michaelmas Cay, and Yongala Wreck, to name a few.
Port Douglas is a terrific tropical port town on the mainland. It’s full of character and has excellent bike paths for getting around. Highlights include the River Drift Snorkeling tour where you drift on an inflatable down a river through the Daintree Rainforest and snorkel to see turtles and 33 species of fish.
The Walkabout Cultural Adventures are run by the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal People whose relationship with the land dates back tens of thousands of years. They take you through their country on an intimate and interesting guided tour.
Flagstaff Hill is an easy 1.3km walking trail that rewards you with spectacular views over Port Douglas, Four Mile Beach, and beyond.
Note: Stinger season (harmful marine jellyfish) runs from November to May. Sharks can be a risk at sea, as well as crocs on mainland beaches.
Australia volunteer opportunities
Like many of the countries you will visit along your journey, the indigenous population of Australia has suffered from colonialism. And many are still disadvantaged and vulnerable today, especially in the remote outback communities; a far cry from the likes of Sydney’s glitz and wealth. Community First Development works in partnership with these remote indigenous communities with a range of projects to help improve their quality of life. You can find volunteer opportunities or causes to donate to.
New Zealand Cruises
New Zealand is a vastly different landscape to its close cousin explored previously, Australia. It is an incredibly scenic country of two islands; North Island and South Island. The Bay of Islands is a part of the North Island, while Queenstown and Christchurch are located on the South Island, a spectacular landscape of dramatic mountains, deep valleys, pine forests, powder snow and glaciers. Many South Pacific cruises visit Auckland, the country's capital and a port/harbor city. It is highly likely that MV Narrative will, too; however, we will just focus on the requested destinations.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands enclaves the North Island's east coast and consists of over 140 subtropical islands. No dock can handle large ships in the Bay of Islands, so MV Narrative would anchor off Russel. You will tender ashore close to Paihia, the center of the Bay of Islands. While Paihia is only a small town, the population swells in the summer when New Zealanders head to their favorite summer destination. Russell is a short ferry ride away, full of charm and character with its old architecture and picturesque waterfront.
We recommend Bay of Island hopping tours to visit some of the most secluded, golden beaches with azure waters and clear skies. For a more immersive cultural experience, head to Waitangi, where you can learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, which recognized Maori ownership of their lands. You can undertake some fascinating cultural tours to discover New Zealand's rich heritage of the Maori's and Victorian Europeans who colonized the lands.
Bay of Islands highlights:
- Russel: Quaint little seaside town with historical sites like the Russell Museum and Pompallier Mission.
- Bay of Islands Maritime Park: The reason so many come here is that the maritime park is home to 144 islands, clear water bays, and dolphins & whales.
- Cape Reinga: Take a lovely coastal walk to the lighthouse and the northern tip of New Zealand.
When New Zealand cruises explore the Canterbury region, they dock at Lyttelton Harbor, about a half-hour bus ride into Christchurch city center. Lyttelton is a scenic harbor with an interesting history of European and Maori culture. You can arrange historic tours to the three islands in Lyttelton Harbor, Ripapa, Quail, and King Billy to learn about the early settlement.
The South Island's biggest city, Christchurch, is not too far away, known as the most English city outside of England. We highly suggest a Christchurch Tram Tour to visit the city's main attractions. Also, taking a punt on the Avon river is a must-do and a romantic way to spend an afternoon. In case you were wondering, punting refers to a Venice-like gondola ride, one of the most iconic activities in Christchurch. Both the tram tour and Avon punting can be booked through Welcome to Christchurch Attractions.
This is a great time to organize a road trip if MV Narrative spends multiple days in port. One of the great things about New Zealand's South Island is that it is relatively small yet incredibly scenic. This is where Middle Earth was set and filmed in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy so think dramatic mountain scenery and deep valleys. One such drive is Arthur's Pass, roughly a two-hour drive from Christchurch.
You will also experience spectacular alpine scenery and gorgeous national parks if you head south to Queenstown. Non-stop, the drive will take roughly six hours, and we recommend stopping off at Lake Wanaka on the way for a meal break. The end destination is well worth the drive, which brings us to our next stop.
- Tram tour: An easy and pleasant way to take in the city.
- Punt on the Avon River: A romantic way to take in nature on a gondola ride.
- Road Trip to Arthur’s Pass: Epic road trip through dramatic mountain and valley scenery.
- Christchurch Gondola: The gondola is actually a cable car up the mountain. I know, it's confusing. They call a gondola a punt and a cable car a gondola. Kiwi's also called flip flops jandals, so go figure...
Queenstown is a quaint ski resort city nestled between Lake Wakatipu's mountains. MV Narrative cannot visit here, so your best bet is to road trip from Christchurch or fly if you want to maximize your time here. Don't be fooled by the small size of Queenstown, as this little city has so much to offer. If you make it here during winter and you're a keen skier, you are in for some truly-world class skiing.
If you get here in the summer, you are still in for a treat with an abundance of activities. Queenstown is known as one of the extreme sports capitals of the world. With rock-climbing, abseiling, bungee jumping, white water rafting, jetboating, and even Luge rides down a mountain. It also has some of the best hiking trails you will find anywhere. For those who love a good burger, taste-test Fergburger, a Queenstown institution. Organize a day tour of the incredible Milford Sound if you get time.
- Queenstown Gondola: Yep, the gondola is a cable car taking you up 450 meters above sea level and is the steepest one in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Luge ride: Once you're up to the top of the mountain, you will have incredible views over Queenstown, but you can ride a luge down a section of the mountain. It's seriously so much fun, even for adults.
- Bungee Jump: The one pictured above over the Shotover River. The adrenalin rush and sense of overcoming your fears make it worth it. As Nike says, “just do it”.
- Shotover Jet Boat: Another seriously adrenaline-inducing experience as the jet boat reaches insane speeds taking you through the river canyon, sometimes coming within inches of the rock walls.
- Fergburger: A Queenstown institution, you will want to get a burger here because everyone else is. Expect queues.
- Milford Sound: Worth organizing a day trip to Milford Sound, an incredible fjord with glaciers and waterfalls plunging down steep mountains into the water next to your boat.
South Pacific Cruises
Thanks for exploring Australia and New Zealand cruises with us. Tune in for the next edition of the Ultimate World Cruise Itinerary series, the South Pacific, one of the premier cruise regions, including French Polynesia.
Disclaimer: The ultimate world cruise itinerary blog post series explores some of the requested destinations of our community of global citizens on board Storylines MV Narrative. It is for inspiration only at this time and the final itinerary has not yet been set. Further information in our FAQ.