True North, King George Falls, Kimberley, Western Australia © True North
The best Australian cruise destinations
Vibrant port cities, remote wilderness and stunning coral reefs are among the destinations you’ll enjoy by cruise ship.
By Brian Johnston
If you’re a fan of cruising, then Australia’s 30,000km (21,000mi) of coastline is one big adventure. You’ll have direct access to the beach culture, laidback coastal towns and stunning harbours that define so much of the Australian lifestyle. Plus, cruising gives you the chance to explore remote environments with ease.
Great for beaches, water sports and the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland is prime cruise territory, offering balmy weather, endless islands and the stunning underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.
Ships to suit all traveller types typically sail from Brisbane, Cairns or Sydney (often return). These cruises travel along the Queensland coast, from northern ports to the wonders of the Whitsundays. As you continue south, You’ll visit laidback beach towns for a dose of sun, water sports and seafood.
Great for dramatic outback landscapes and rock art.
Australia’s northwest corner is characterised by thousands of islands, mighty rust-red canyons, majestic boab trees and the world’s greatest collection of rock art. Since its coastline has no roads, the only way to visit is by sea. The Kimberley’s natural wonders are unforgettable, from Montgomery Reef – where falling tides create mid-ocean waterfalls – to the rapid-like Horizontal Falls. Luxury expedition ships usually sail between Broome and Darwin (or the reverse) between April and October.
Great for stunning reefs, islands and marine life.
While the Kimberley is the main cruise destination in Western Australia, small expedition ships visit the Coral Coast between Perth and Broome, offering adventure in places few visitors are lucky enough to experience. Turquoise ocean clashes with red rock, and you share the waves with dugongs, dolphins and humpback whales.
The Dampier Archipelago has superb snorkelling, diving and white-sand beaches, while the Houtman Abrolhos Islands boast spectacular reefs and seabird colonies. Another highlight is Shark Bay, whose marvels include ancient living fossils, friendly dolphins and a beach made entirely of tiny white shells.
Great for natural beauty and local wildlife.
There are two ways to cruise the South Australian coast. Large cruise ships call at Adelaide, Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula (known for its seafood and cage-swimming with great white sharks) and Kangaroo Island.
Smaller ships visit South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula and Fleurieu Peninsula, both of which combine stunning scenery with nearby wine regions. You can go even more remote on expedition ships that explore the Pearson and Gambier islands, renowned for their unique Southern Ocean flora and fauna.
Great for tranquil inland exploration combined with history.
The mighty Murray River runs through South Australia and along the border of New South Wales and Victoria. It’s along this winding waterway that you’ll find cultural heritage and natural beauty in equal measure. The river has abundant Aboriginal sites and was crucial to European exploration inland Australia. Plus, you’ll wake up to beautiful gum tree-covered landscapes.
South East Australia
Great for the coastal lifestyle and big city culture.
Many short cruises link Sydney with Melbourne or Adelaide (or the reverse) on a wide variety of ships for all styles and budgets. This is a relaxing way to get between the cities, with the chance to see smaller ports and (usually) Tasmania along the way. The ports of call along the coast offer exciting opportunities to see whale migrations, stroll through vineyards and hike through national parks.
Great for wild beauty and early colonial history.
Australia’s island state of Tasmania is made for cruising, thanks to its splendid coastline, maritime history and remote wildlife-rich islands. Big ships sail from Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney on short itineraries that take in Hobart, historic convict settlement Port Arthur and Burnie. From Burnie in the north, shore excursions take you to destinations such as Cradle Mountain National Park.
For a closer, more rugged encounter, consider an expedition cruise on a small vessel, which will take you to Freycinet National Park, Maria Island and otherwise inaccessible wilderness areas.
Australia’s southern coastline
Great for rugged coastal scenery and urban attractions.
It’s easy to connect Australia’s east and west coasts on a cruise. These cruises tend to depart from Sydney or Melbourne and arrive in Western Australia’s capital of Perth (or vice-versa). You’ll relax over a few days at sea, and along the way, explore ports ranging from quaint beach towns to larger cities.
After arriving in Western Australia, port visits are typically made to Esperance – studded with white-sand beaches and backed by national park – and the Margaret River’s premium wine country and surf beaches.
Great for the full Australian experience from outback to city.
Can’t decide where to go? Both large and expedition ships occasionally offer a full journey around Australia for those who want it all: bright city lights, remote wilderness, historic towns, islands, reefs and national parks. Circumnavigations stop at major ports around the country, like Perth and Darwin, and usually sail between February-March or October-November and depart from Sydney, taking about thirty days.