Read on to find the next five wilderness destinations… Words: Peter Needham.
6. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, in the south-west of the South Island, is a pristine wilderness that leaves a deep impression on those who visit. About 40 international cruise ships visit the Fiordland coast each year but few disembark passengers in this ecologically sensitive region. A typical visit sees passengers standing on deck to marvel as ships make their way along the rugged fjords, with their rolling mists, primeval-looking fern forests, and ribbon-like waterfalls plunging down sheer cliffs. Ships usually attempt to visit the three most famous fjords (Milford, Dusky and Doubtful), though high seas often force them to abandon visits to Doubtful Sound. That is nothing new – the name Doubtful was conferred in 1770 by Captain Cook, who declined to enter the inlet, which he doubted was navigable under sail.
Usually, ships remain on the eastern side of New Zealand, where the weather is calmer. It takes Fiordland National Park to lure them west.
P&O Cruises’ Pacific Jewel will operate a 13-night ‘White Cloud Wonders’ cruise to New Zealand departing from Sydney on January 29, 2011 and sailing around the country, including a visit to Fiordland National Park. Pacific Dawn and Pacific Pearl will make similar cruises in the summer months of 2011. www.pocruises.com.au
Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Century will sail a similar itinerary in December 2011, running a 12-night Australia/New Zealand cruise that visits Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. www.celebritycruises.com
7. Canadian Arctic
“The noble musk ox, the illustrious walrus or even a regal polar bear” may be glimpsed in the Canadian High Arctic, according to Polar Cruises, an Oregon-based company that organises Arctic travel. www.polarcruises.com
The term ‘High Arctic’ refers to the region of Canada within the Arctic Circle, especially the northern islands. Here, three-metre-long polar bears patrol their favourite beaches as prehistoric-looking musk ox gaze on.
Cruise North Expeditions, owned by the Inuit of Northern Quebec, sails to those far-flung islands. The company’s ice-class-rated 122-passenger ship, Lyubov Orlova, is deployed at the northern limit of the great boreal forest around Kuujjuaq, about two hours by air from Montreal. Expeditions offer guided wilderness hikes and plenty of sea-kayaking opportunities. Two departures of the ‘Epic High Arctic and Northwest Passage’ expedition are planned for August/September 2011. They will visit Bylot Island, a migratory bird sanctuary favoured by rare peregrine falcons, ivory gulls, kittiwakes and snow geese. The trip calls at Lancaster Sound, dubbed ‘The Serengeti of the Arctic’. The two-week trip costs from US$7,595 twin-share (international airfares extra). www.cruisenorthexpeditions.com
Another Canadian company, Adventure Canada, is running a 12-night ‘Heart of the Arctic’ cruise aboard its 81-passenger Ocean Nova, starting in Greenland and crossing into the Canadian Arctic. It starts on September 12, 2011 and costs from US$6,795 twin share (international airfares extra). www.adventurecanada.com
8. Norwegian Fjords
Norway’s fjords are a sublime must-see. The Geirangerfjord and the Næroyfjord are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List – and little wonder. Cruising along Norway’s spectacular coastline is often called the world’s most beautiful voyage. Cruises usually include calls at scenic ports such as Stavanger, Bergen and Flamm – the latter famed for the 20-kilometre stretch of railway (said to be the world’s steepest) that winds alongside spectacular Sognefjord.
Shipping line Hurtigruten was known in Norway for decades as the post boat, delivering the mail to tiny fishing settlements and islands. Hurtigruten still operates 11 ships on the Norwegian Coastal Voyage route at any one time. Its seven-night voyage between Bergen and Kirkenes visits 34 ports, with prices starting from US$1,037. Bergen is the capital of Norway’s fjord region, and Bryggen Wharf’s old wooden buildings, remnants of the city’s Hanseatic past, are worth a leisurely stroll around. www.hurtigruten.com
Norway’s fjords are firmly on the itineraries of international cruise lines. Cunard’s modern Art Deco masterpiece, Queen Elizabeth, will make an eight-day ‘Fjords and Waterfalls’ cruise, round-trip from Southampton, departing May 19, 2011 and costing from about AU$1,600 per person, twin share. www.cunard.com
The Yachts of Seabourn’s upmarket Seabourn Sojourn (all suites, 90 per cent with private verandahs) will sail a nine-day Copenhagen-to-Copenhagen trip, departing May 25, 2011 and costing from €4,480 (about AU$6,370 at press time). www.seabourn.com
The Russian Far East lies in the Pacific Ocean’s far north and enjoys almost mythical status. It encompasses the Kuril Island archipelago and Kamchatka, a 1,250-kilometre peninsula that separates the Pacific Ocean from the Sea of Okhotsk. The Kuril Islands run from Kamchatka to northern Japan. This little-known Siberian expanse, an active volcanic region that is extraordinarily rich in wildlife, offers limitless wilderness.
Heritage Expeditions, a company formed in 1985 in Christchurch, New Zealand, runs birding tours in the Kuril Islands and polar-bear expeditions elsewhere. From July to early September 2011, it will operate three departures of a two-week ‘Across the Top of the World’ itinerary to the north-eastern section of Eurasia (Chukotka), aboard the 48-passenger ship Spirit of Enderby, with Russian captain and crew. A two-day visit is made to Wrangel Island, a nature reserve sometimes called ‘the polar bear maternity ward’. The cruise costs US$8,200 per person, twin share for a main-deck cabin (international airfares extra). www.heritage-expeditions.com
Australia’s Aurora Expeditions runs plenty of Russian Far East cruises, including trips to the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka and beyond. A 14-day expedition cruise ‘Voyage to the End of Earth’ offers a rare chance to visit Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. Access to these Arctic wonderlands has been restricted for decades, due to their military sensitivity. Departing from the Russian port of Archangel on July 26, 2011 aboard Akademik Shokalskiy, the cruise costs from US$9,450 per person, twin share for a cabin on the main deck (international airfares extra). www.auroraexpeditions.com.au
10. Northern Territory
Darwin is a big hit with international cruise passengers, who love its exotic atmosphere, colourful markets, and proximity of impressively big crocodiles and Australia’s greatest national parks. Litchfield National Park is about two hours drive from Darwin, while the teeming wetlands of Kakadu, Australia’s largest national park, lie to the south-east. Many large cruise ships include Darwin in their itineraries.
The Northern Territory Government’s investment in redeveloping Darwin’s Waterfront (including the new AU$5 million cruise-ship terminal at Fort Hill Wharf) has paid off. Darwin now has excellent passenger facilities, and easy access between waterfront and city over the Sky Bridge (part of the Skywalk), which opened in July 2009.
Luxury expedition cruise ship Orion will operate an eight-night ‘Art of Arnhem Land’ cruise departing Darwin on September 13, 2011 and hosted by Australia’s pre-eminent collectors of indigenous art. It will cost from AU$5,945 per person, twin share. www.orionexpeditions.com
Coral Princess Cruises will again use its vessels Coral Princess and Oceanic Discoverer to operate 11-night ‘Across the Top’ cruises between Cairns and Darwin in 2011, traversing a remote section of the Northern Australian coastline that few have experienced. It costs from AU$6,950 per person, twin share. Experienced expedition leaders and guest lecturers accompany all excursions. As this part of Northern Australia has few roads, the shallow draft and easy manoeuvrability of expedition cruise vessels make them the ideal way to navigate those waters that may not have been charted. www.coralprincess.com.au.