Committed adventure cruiser, Roderick Eime, shares some insight on one of the fastest growing travel sectors.
Flick through the pages of any magazine or newspaper and you’re confronted with an overflowing smorgasbord of cruise travel possibilities. If this explosion of romantic ocean-going itineraries leads you to think cruise travel is on the up, then you are right. Cruising is on a rocket. But look closer and you’ll find, sometimes tacked on the end of a larger ad, adventure possibilities you may never have dreamed of.
Sure, everybody knows the irresistible, fairytale allure of the South Pacific, Caribbean and Mediterranean, but what about the frozen reaches of the Antarctic, the wilds of the Kimberley or the tiny atolls of Melanesia? Within this huge category of ‘cruising’ there exists a sometimes overlooked subset generally referred to as “adventure and expedition cruising”.
Once almost a secret society among wealthy adventurers and well-heeled thrillseekers, this type of travel has ignited the imagination of those looking beyond regular, packaged products. Travel marketers and advertising pundits are calling this emerging genre “experiential and transformational” travel where the journey is all about delivering uplifting and life-changing experiences.
Ships plying these waters can vary enormously too. They range from luxury pocket cruise-liners, replete with every creature comfort and a “quick response” crew ready to fulfill your every whim, through to refurbished ex-Soviet spy vessels. These Russian vessels are the ones largely responsible for opening up the frozen extremes of our planet and include mighty icebreakers and hardy oceanographic ships built to operate in the most challenging conditions.
At the softer end, vessels like the Australian-based Orion and Oceanic Discoverer, world-travelling Seadream I and II and Seabourne are examples of ships constructed to deliver a high, even opulent, level of luxury and still retain the flexibility and versatility of an expedition yacht. Orion, for example, not only cruises the rich tropical backwaters of PNG and the Kimberley, but ventures to the most remote reaches of Antarctica, well below the ‘circle’ and into the exclusive realm of Emperor Penguins and historic explorers.
What is ‘Expedition Cruising’?
The term ‘expedition’ has been more recently attached to cruise products in an attempt to give them a romantic, out-of-the-way appeal. The danger is that the original, authentic expedition cruise concept is being diluted and misconstrued.
A true expedition cruise consists of a voyage plan and itinerary that has inbuilt flexibility and redundancy. In the capricious Antarctic waters, all activities and sight-seeing is weather and ice dependent. Passengers are reminded of this time and time again and it is quite common for completely unscheduled landings to take place in fallback planning. The same exists in tropical waters.
As weather, currents and tides play out in the dense South Sea archipelagos, an expedition leader and his/her captain must ‘massage’ the itinerary constantly to capitalise on emerging opportunities and avoid those closing out.
If you are a devotee of the well-managed, big cruise ship experience, you may find adventure and expedition cruising unsettling. Others will crave that element of the unexpected.
A proper expedition vessel is more than just a smaller ship with zodiacs piled up on deck. A true expedition vessel is designed for the intended conditions and equipped to deliver the experience upon arrival, whether it be weaving through disintegrating pack ice or creeping past vivid coral atolls.
Passengers aboard expedition vessels have come to expect expert guides and lecturers to help them interpret the rich cultural and natural histories these exotic destinations deliver. Academics, researchers and authors are common both as lecturers and passengers, adding to healthy discussions and enrapturing dinner conversation.
Examine your intended product carefully and ask lots of questions, your consultant will be able to answer them.
Popular Adventure Cruising Destinations
This iconic destination is the epitome of the adventure destination. Sailing “off the map” and to areas only discovered within the last hundred years, makes Antarctica the must-do itinerary for all serious expedition cruisers.
Expeditions to the Great Southern Land take several forms. The simplest are short itineraries of perhaps a week to ten days to the Antarctic Peninsula from Ushuaia at the very bottom of South America. More ambitious journeys will be by icebreaker, way below the Antarctic Circle to places like McMurdo Sound and Commonwealth Bay.
Companies offering Antarctic itineraries include Adventure Associates, World Expeditions, Orion, Explorer and Heritage Expeditions.
A perfect complement to your southerly expedition, a trip to the Arctic can be as simple as a cruise to Iceland or Greenland or as heroic as a nuclear icebreaker to the North Pole itself.
Recent tales about retreating glaciers and thinning ice pack have created some urgency for visitors to this region as they attempt to see the great Polar Bear in its diminishing natural environment.
Apart from the North Pole, the great North-West Passage across the top of Canada is a true odyssey only a few will ever experience.
Companies offering Arctic expeditions include, Quark Expeditions, Oceanwide, ecruising.travel, Peregrine and World Expeditions
The Galapagos Islands
Charles Darwin’s evolutionary playground is a great drawcard for those with a penchant for warmer climes. A short flight from Ecuador, most visitors will spend about a week cruising amongst the many islands in this unique archipelago.
Following in the footsteps of David Attenborough, visitors will discover the crazy wildlife that makes this place so special. The sinister marine iguanas, the fierce land iguanas, the delightful giant tortoises and the many strange birds and plants make this place a naturalist’s wonder.
See Ecoventura or www.igtoa.org for a list of accredited oprators.
The Kimberley and Top End
The rugged and remote regions of Western Australia’s Kimberley and NT’s Top End were the ideal choice for expedition cruising in our region. Incredible rock formations, abundant birdlife, rich Aboriginal culture and weird natural phenomenon like the horizontal waterfalls attract thousands of visitors every year. Most cruise companies book out a year ahead, such is the popularity of this northern region.
True North, Orion and Coral Princess are the acknowledged experts in the Kimberley.
Papua New Guinea
Often the subject of bad publicity, the sublime islands of the Bismarck and Solomon Seas exhibit none of the rough lawlessness found elsewhere on the mainland. Expedition cruise companies are falling all over themselves to create itineraries in this region and the PNG Tourism authorities are extremely supportive of these initiatives.
New Ireland, New Britain, the legendary Trobriands and the mighty Sepik River are the key destinations on most itineraries. The wild frontiers of PNG, so close by, perfectly fit the description of “transformational” travel.
The growing list of operators include True North, Orion and Coral Princess.
Consider the supremely relaxing Gordon River cruises that explore the incredible and remote UNESCO World Heritage areas of Western Tasmania. Currently no overnight products are available, yet day trips leave regularly from Strahan.
See Orion for comprehensive live-aboard itineraries
This huge river can accommodate cruise ships many hundreds of miles upstream. See the disappearing Amazon Basin jungles, visit remote indian tribes and mourn the vanishing landscapes.
For a wide range of vessels and options, see Adventure Associates
Russian Far East
Several companies are experimenting with itineraries in the area immediately north of Japan through to the Bering Strait in Siberia. Characterised by isolated ecosystems and volcanic activity on the western perimeter of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, these voyages will always be exclusive.
Heritage Expeditions and Quark offer exclusive itineraries in this seldom visited area.
Great Barrier Reef
Another threatened eco system, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef has attracted millions of visitors over the years and continues to do so. Be quick, the reef will never be as good as it is now.
Coral Princess Cruises of Cairns deliver the widest range of Great Barrier Reef itineraries. Captain Cook Cruises are also prominent in the region. Further south, Fantasea Cruises operate from the Whitsundays.
The brilliant scenery and harbours all around New Zealand are attracting adventure cruise companies with ambitious itineraries, including Coral Princess’s semi-circumnavigation and Bay of Islands products.
Orion will join Coral Princess operating in New Zealand beginning 2008.
Expedition and Adventure Cruise Operators
Here is a selection of vessels and itineraries within easy reach of Australia or New Zealand, often by simple domestic airline link.
Company: Captain Cook Cruises
Company: Orion Expedition Cruises Pty Ltd
Phone: 1300 361 012
Company: Coral Princess Cruises
Phone: 1800 079 545
Company: North Star Cruises
Telephone: (+61 8) 91921 829
Phone: 1800 662 786
To the Four Corners …
Company: Lindblad Expeditions
Company: Quark Expeditions
Australian Rep: Adventure Associates
Company: Explorer Cruises
Australian Rep: ecruising.travel
Company: Heritage Expeditions
Company: Oceanwide Expeditions
Company: Polar Quest
Here is a list of some of Australia’s most experienced and respected companies:
ADVENTURE ASSOCIATES Pty Ltd
Level 7, 12-14 O'Connell Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia
GPO Box 4414, Sydney NSW 2001 Australia
Ph: (+61 2) 8916 3000 - Fax: (+61 2) 8916 3090 - Toll Free (Australia) 1 800 222 141
FREECALL (within Australia) 1-800-637-688
182 Cumberland Street
The Rocks, NSW 2000
64 Castlereagh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
1300 369 848
Peregrine Adventures (with offices or reps in most states)
380 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel 1300 85 44 44 (within Australia) or +61 3 8601 4444 (outside Australia)
Fax (03) 8601 4344
World Expeditions (with offices in most states)
Level 5, 71 York St,
Sydney NSW 2000
Toll Free. 1300 720 000