Norwegian Spirit, Sydney Harbour, New South Wales © Norwegian Cruise Line
The best Australian cruise for you
Whether you’re seeking sea and sun, cultural experiences, remote adventure or simply ease of travel, there’s an Australian cruise for you.
By Brian Johnston
Cruising is a great way to explore Australia, both on shore and off. You can sail to every corner of the country on ships that offer a wide variety of styles, budgets and activity levels. And when you disembark, unforgettable destinations await.
Cruising is an easy way for families to explore Australia. Many larger vessels provide budget-level, fun-oriented holidays that focus not just on destinations but the on-board entertainment experience. Queensland cruises are particularly family-oriented thanks to abundant opportunities for beach life and water sports, but you can also depart from Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
If your idea of exploring Australia involves creature comforts and attentive service without the need to worry about travel logistics, then a luxury cruise is ideal. Luxury cruise lines tend to sail smaller ships that can reach more remote destinations. You may also find provide on-board lectures about Australia’s geography, history and society for an in-depth experience.
Premium-category cruises offer a comfortable on-board experience at a lower price than luxury cruises. These cruise lines tend towards cultural experiences that enhance your understanding of Australia. You’ll find a good mix of big cities and small towns, islands and national parks. Unlike big family ships that usually sail round-trip, premium itineraries often sail from one port to another, making this a good way of relocating before resuming your land travels.
Sand and sun sailing
Australia is renowned for its laidback beach life, and plenty of cruises deliver just that, especially since summer (December to February) is the main cruise season. The biggest destination for sand and snorkelling is Queensland, with a wide choice of cruises operating round-trip primarily from Brisbane, Sydney and sometimes Melbourne. You’ll find beaches and turquoise waters in destinations such as the Whitsundays. The ports of Cairns and Port Douglas provide access to the Great Barrier Reef.
Expedition and adventure cruises
Some of Australia’s most stunning landscapes are difficult to access on land, but small expedition ships take you there in style. Prime expedition destinations include the Kimberley in Western Australia, southwest Tasmania and the remote islands of Queensland. Expedition cruises suit active travellers, with opportunities for hiking, snorkelling, diving, seeing Indigenous art and more. Some ships even carry a helicopter and submarine.
Sailing for between two and five days, short-break cruises (also called taster or sampler cruises) can provide a relaxing interlude between do-it-yourself touring on land. Short-break cruises are operated by large and premium ships from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. You typically return to the same port, though sometimes cruise lines offer short legs to a different port.
History and culture cruises
You won’t be short of chances to explore the history and culture of Australia while on any cruise. Consider a cruise in the southeast or southwest corners of Australia or Tasmania, which are dense with colonial-era towns and convict settlements. Australia’s only river cruises along the Murray River in South Australia explore the story of early European exploration and settlement.
Because Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are vibrant all along the country’s coasts, cruising is a great way to take a peek into the world’s oldest continuing culture. Many cruises offer excursions with Indigenous guides, but if you want to focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, then expedition cruising is the way to go.