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Smaller ports offer attractions that make cruising this part of the world an uncommon experience. Words: Toni Eatts.

As more ships head Down Under to Australia and New Zealand, the hunt is on for new ports of call to charm and delight passengers.

While capital cities such as Sydney and Auckland, with their spectacular harbours, and Melbourne, with its cultural cachet, are instant crowd-pleasers, passengers are looking increasingly for more unusual and authentic antipodean experiences.

This is especially true for locals cruising waters close to home. Granted, sailing into a capital city is a completely difference experience to flying or driving into it; however, if you have already spent time in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Hobart, Auckland or Christchurch, you have probably sampled much of what those cities have to offer.

Cruise lines realise that in order to lure repeat passengers, they need to entice local cruise fans with destinations that are unusual or offer the chance to explore farther afield. Here are some examples of newer, latest and smaller destinations that appear on cruise lines’ itineraries.

Eden, NSW

This historic fishing town is situated on the shores of picture-perfect Twofold Bay, a deep harbour that played an important role in the whaling industry. Today, Eden is a quiet rural township and whales remain important to its livelihood – however, tourists come to watch them rather than hunt them. The surrounding area is rich in pristine beaches and beautiful forests. A short drive away, you’ll find the spectacular Mimosa Rocks National Park, which has impressive stands of spotted gums and rugged coastline. There are also wineries and oyster farms to visit, along with rustic villages dotted with art galleries, craft shops and cafés.

Port Lincoln, SA

Known as the tuna capital of Australia, Port Lincoln is a thriving small city of 14,000. You can wander its broad streets or take a tour to a tuna farm. After a short boat ride across the harbour, you’ll be taught how to hand-feed the fish and learn about the colourful tuna industry. Or you may wish to take a tour to nearby Coffin Bay, a seaside town famous for its oysters. See dolphins, seals and pelicans, learn about the local oyster industry and taste this delicacy fresh from the sea.

Exmouth, WA

Established in 1967 to support a nearby naval communications station, Exmouth has beautiful beaches on one side and rugged ranges on the other. It also has the bonus of being so close to Ningaloo Marine Park, home of the world’s largest fish, the whale shark, that you can stride into the water and snorkel among colourful fish. Other attractions include Turtle Bay, a nesting ground for turtles, and Cape Range National Park, best known for its stunning limestone ridges and steep gorges.

Burnie, Tasmania

This working port offers beautiful waterfalls, spectacular lookouts and cute wildlife. A penguin colony lives right near the city and, a short drive away, the bush is wild enough to be home to the elusive platypus. Take a bus-ride to nearby limestone caves and see glowworms and stalactites. There’s also a wildlife park where you can see Tasmanian devils and quolls. Burnie is also a gateway to the magnificent Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, in which you can explore pristine forest and glacial lakes.

Newcastle, NSW

This attractive city is a wonderful destination in its own right but it has the added advantage of having world-famous wine region the Hunter Valley nearby. For those who wish to explore Newcastle, there are historic walks, harbourside restaurant precincts, a shopping district and beautiful beaches. But if you want to sample some true Hunter Valley wines, venture to the quaint village of Pokolbin or visit vineyards belonging to companies such as Lindemans, McWilliams, Rothbury, Wyndham Estate
and McGuigan.

Norfolk Island

This island combines a turbulent history with great natural beauty. See its Norfolk pines growing along the shore, stroll along tranquil beaches and learn about Norfolk Island’s fascinating past. Captain Cook named the island, convicts were held on it in one of Britain’s harshest penal colonies and, in the 1850s, descendents of the Bounty mutineers moved to Norfolk Island from nearby Pitcairn Island. You can take photographs from the Captain Cook Memorial outlook or join a walking tour of the historic buildings of Kingston. This township, founded by the first settlers, features the best collection of Georgian architecture in Australia.

Napier, New Zealand

An earthquake and fire destroyed Napier in 1931 and, as a result, the city now has one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco buildings in the world. Set on glorious Hawkes Bay, Napier has a population of more than 50,000. A short drive away, you’ll find the charming Tuki Tuki Valley. Take a drive up to the summit of Te Mata Peak to enjoy panoramic views over the Heretaunga Plains and Hawkes Bay. This region is also home to some of New Zealand’s oldest wineries, such as Mission Estate, and is renowned for its chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.