We’ve covered Australia’s hip cities and cosmopolitan capitals in our blog here, but now we’re saying g’day to its beaches and barbies and looking at Australia’s red outback sands and the Great Barrier Reef.
Australia’s assets are as vast as its size and it’s no coincidence that cruise lines including Princess Cruises and Cunard are planning some of their longest seasons yet on the continent’s coastline. It may be half a world away, but by ship, Australia has never been closer.
Here’s part two of our blog down under….
BEACH IS BETTER
With no shortage of white sands, Australia is a haven for beach bums.
With more than 10,000 beaches to choose from, it’s little surprise that over 85% of Australians live on the coast, taking their pick from wild, windswept coves to tranquil stretches of silky sand. There isn’t a ‘best beaches in the world’ list that Oz doesn’t appear on and if you’re visiting by ship you’ll have plenty of chances to sample the best of the bunch.
Sydney alone has a hundred beaches or more, from Bondi Beach – Australia’s icon and a mecca for surfers – to Manly Beach, the Sydneysider’s favourite which despite being just five miles from the city via a 30-minute ferry from the Circular Quay feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. If you’re torn between the two, the sightseeing opportunities of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House from the ferry give Manly Beach the edge and save you spending on the tourist boat trips too.
As the jump off point from the Queensland coast for the Great Barrier Reef and with an average of 274 sunny days a year, the Whitsundays absolutely have to appear on your itinerary.
Ships tend to call at one of two ports; Airlie Beach is the main gateway to Australia’s northeast coast, while Hamilton Island welcomes smaller ships straight into the heart of the Whitsundays.
The 74 islands are largely uninhabited and it’s hard to think of a better way to spend a day than sailing between them. Gin-clear waters coming in at a balmy 26 degrees make dipping a toe in the sea inevitable and there’s nowhere better to do so than on Whitehaven Beach. Even in a land of sands like Australia, Whitehaven stands out by a country mile with its pure white beach and sea turtles that surface just metres from the shoreline, just two of the many reasons you’ll consider giving everything up and moving here for good, voluntarily marooned on a beach that routinely ranks in the world’s top five.
Finally, it isn’t a beach but as far as romance goes, it is impossible not to feel the love as you gaze down over Heart Reef with your dearly beloved by your side. If you’re planning on popping the question, this is the place to do it. While they can no longer land on the heart-shaped atoll, seaplanes and helicopters from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island will circle it on an hour-long aerial sojourn, hovering long enough for you to slip on the sparkler and pop the cork on the champagne.
When we say Australia, the chances are you think Great Barrier Reef, wildlife that wants to kill you and some pretty epic scenery.
Oz is as famous for its natural beauty as it is for its expat-attracting cities in the sun. The snorkelling and scuba diving here is better than anywhere else on earth, and while we can’t deny the presence of a natural born predator or two, the fearsome great whites are balanced out by the cuddly koalas and it’s the latter that you’re more likely to come across. From swathes of ancient emerald rainforest to fire-red mountains and the deepest blue seas, there’s nowhere quite so wild in the world.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef seems like a pretty predictable place to start but there is no other natural wonder in Australia or elsewhere so emblematic, or indeed so large. Similar in size to Finland, or equivalent to 70 million football pitches, it is the largest living structure on earth and the only living structure that can be seen from space, radiating from the Queensland coastline in a haze of blues. The 500,000-year-old reef is huge and so too is the diversity of life that calls it home. 10% of the world’s fish species swim here, plus 10,000 odd-looking dugongs, 30 whale and dolphin species, 134 sharks and rays and many more. The corals are a hive of activity and if your cruise itinerary doesn’t allow at least a little time to explore them, you’re missing out on one of the best experiences of your life. If seeing the Great Barrier Reef is a priority (and it should be), choose your cruise line carefully; some merely offer views of the reef as you sail by on bigger ships, while others such as Princess Cruises deliver more intensive experiences such as flightseeing tours from Airlie Beach or guided snorkelling and diving excursions from Cairns and Port Douglas.
For all its impressive underwater action, Australia offers more of the same wonder above ground. Dominating the heart of the Red Centre, Uluru or ‘Ayers Rock’ is unmissable, a great 348m monolith glowing scarlet red against the sunrise skies. The rock recently attracted press when the board of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park voted to ban people from climbing it, something the site’s Aboriginal owners have requested for many years. The ban comes into place on 26 October 2019 but in the meantime, a sign at the base of the rock reads: “We, the traditional Anangu owners, have this to say. Uluru is sacred in our culture, a place of great knowledge. Under our traditional law, climbing is not permitted. This is our home. Please don’t climb.”
With an outback location about as far from the coast as you can get, Uluru may appear out of reach for cruisers but land tours to the area are very often combined with Australasia itineraries. Both Holland America Line and Princess Cruises offer pre-or post-cruise overland tours right to the centre of the island continent, so you can really make the most of your time down under.
While Uluru may be the icon, the sandstone cliffs, canyons and caves found in the Blue Mountains make the region a real Aussie highlight. Excursions depart from nearby Sydney and they’ll take a hefty chunk of your time in the city, but the scenery is spectacular and the air is gloriously fresh. Ride the Scenic Railway, known as the world’s steepest incline railway, catch sight of the Three Sisters rock formation from the Scenic Skyway and take the Scenic Cableway over the Jamison Valley. Most excursions call at the Featherdale Wildlife Park too, home to a private collection of more than 2,200 animals. Hands-on encounters here encourage you to get to know the locals, from feeding a kangaroo to cosying up to a koala.
Australia isn’t short of places to pet the wildlife and there’s a real focus on the conservation of species found nowhere else in the world but there. There are zoos galore, including the Steve Irwin-founded Australia Zoo, created by the Irwin family to be the biggest wildlife conservation facility in the world. Sanctuaries are scattered across the continent, including the award-winning Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary with its 103 koala bears, and conservation areas on Kangaroo Island. All have been carefully developed to create a Noah’s Ark for endangered wildlife, from 6ft-tall red kangaroos to the famously elusive platypus. As far as sharks are concerned, it’s safe to go in the water; while great whites and other shark species are undeniably present around these parts, you’d have to be pretty unlucky to come face-to-face with one. Unless you want to, of course; shark diving is big business here, with Port Lincoln the top pick for Jaws enthusiasts.