The South Pacific is one of Australia’s top cruise destinations for a quick getaway – but many ports remain closed thanks to the fast-spreading COVID-19. So where can Australians cruise in our region?
Cruises departing for the South Pacific are still calling at ports like Noumea in New Caledonia, Mystery Island, Santo, Vila in Vanuatu, Port Denarau, Lautoka and Suva in Fiji.
However, they all have tighter screening and entry policies so it will be helpful to check with your cruise line before booking your cruise. See Carnival Cruise Lines’ destination requirements for Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji here.
Another option for year-round cruising is to cruise in our own backyard. You can do a short break from your home state port or cruise around Western Australia where Sapphire Princess is sailing her inaugural season. There are also smaller ports around Australia like Kangaroo Island, Eden and Airlie Beach waiting for you to explore. Ports like Kangaroo Island and Eden are just recovering from the devastating bushfires in summer and any visitors would help the local economy.
Across the ditch is another Australian favourite – New Zealand. Cruisers will have a wider choice of itineraries when summer returns. But New Zealand is a repeat destination for many cruisers for a good reason. There is so much to see and do in the land of the long white cloud.
Here are our suggestions for cruising:
Western Australia: Exmouth, Broome, Busselton
Exmouth is a town north of Perth which started during World War II to support the Harold E. Holt Communications Station. The destination offers rugged mountains and stony gorges along with beaches and Australia’s longest fringing reef, Ningaloo Reef. Whale sharks are frequently encountered swimming between April and July. Head down for a snorkel, kayak, swim with the whale sharks or hike around the Yardie Creek and Charles Knife Gorge.
Broome was founded as a base for pearl trade in the 1870s. Head to the Pearl Luggers Museum in Chinatown to see two restored luggers that once acquired pearls from the ocean or head to the Willie Creek pearl farm to see how they seed a live oyster shell. The Broome Museum is another good spot to learn about Broome’s history, Aboriginal life and the pearling industry. Nature lovers should to Gantheaume Point to see craggy and unusual red rock formations that overlook azure waters and view fossilized 130-million-year old dinosaur footprints at low tide. Otherwise, visit Cable Beach to relax on the white sand or take a camel ride to tour the area.
Busselton is home to the famed 150-year-old, mile-long jetty, white sand beaches and seasonal whale populations. The town is just a 45-min drive into the heart of Margaret River which boasts more than 120 wineries. Nature lovers will also enjoy exploring the Ngilgi limestone caves with wide variety of formations and an interpretive area which details the cave’s Aboriginal mythology between good and evil.
Over half of Kangaroo Island is covered with “old-growth” bush land supporting growing populations of kangaroo, koala, goana, wallaby and other native Australian animals. The locals also raise sheep, create and cellar wines, produce sheep’s milk cheese, distill eucalyptus oil, and harvest the honey of the treasured Ligurian bee. So there are plenty of opportunities to sample local produce or head down to the Seal Bay Conservation Park which is home to the third largest Australian sea lion colony.
The small coastal town equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne has much to offer. Draw cards include kayaking, whale-watching tours, local seafood, the Ben Boyd National Park and the Killer Whale Museum. One of the tour highlights is an oyster farm tour where you can see how they farm their Sydney rock oysters and of course, taste them.
The resort town is part of Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast and a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef. You can also pick up a few things from the beach markets held every Saturday morning. For lovers of the bush, visit Conway National Park for tropical rainforest and waterfalls.
Noumea, New Caledonia
Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia, has plenty of museums, theatres, and art galleries. Explore traditional Kanak culture at the Jean-Marie Tijabaou Cultural Centre or head to the top of Noumea Cathedral for views of the island dotted with palms, hibiscuses and coconut trees. Relax at lemon tree-lined Baie des Citrons, go snorkelling in Anse Vata Bay take a ferry out to Amedee Island and swim with turtles.
Mystery Island, Vanuatu
Mystery Island is an untouched island where you won’t find any electricity, roads or telephones. A comfortable 30-minute walk will take you round the entire island which is surrounded by a white sand shoreline. Bring your snorkelling gear to go on a coral safari where you can also spot clown fish, parrot fish, barracudas and sea turtles or try out a paddle board.
Feast on freshly caught grilled lobster for lunch and finish with an island banana pie dessert. Then walk it all off at the small market stalls selling local crafts.
Suva is the largest city in Fiji, with a diverse population of a blend of Indian, Fijian, Chinese and Japanese cultures. Visit the Fiji Museum to learn more about the region’s history through archaeological findings, including a full-size war canoe. Explore the Thurston Botanical Garden or hike to the summit of Tamavua Heights or trek through the Colo-I-Suva rainforest park. At the Municipal Market, you will find fusions dishes from India, China and Japan.
Lautoka is the second largest city in Fiji and it has streets lined with palm trees and colonial style houses. Start at the Lautouka Sugar Mill, the largest in the southern hemisphere. Then bring your snorkelling gear and take a ferry to the Mamanuca Islands and relax in the turquoise waters under coconut palms. Otherwise, the Sabeto Hot Springs also offer mud baths or rejuvenate with nature by exploring the waterfalls and mountain streams at Koroyanitu National Heritage Park. Try the local specialty Kokoda, their answer to ceviche with raw mahi-mahi dressed in coconut cream, chilies and lemon juice.
New Zealand’s former capital city is a bustling cosmopolitan destination with plenty of museums, restaurants and shops. Rangitoto, Auckland’s largest and youngest volcano, sits in majestic splendour just offshore. Mt. Eden and One Tree Hill, once home to Maori earthworks, overlook the city. The Waitomo Caves Region also has many glow worm caves, waterfalls and limestone formations.
Tauranga sits in the Bay of Plenty where you can find the Tamaki Maori Village to learn about the heritage and experience Maori singing, dancing and food. Tauranga is also the gateway to Rotorua – a geothermal wonderland that is the heart of Maori culture. Roturua is just a 90-minute drive away from attractions like the Te Puia Thermal Reserve, Rainbow Springs and Waiotapu.
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city is easily explored by foot. The Te Papa Museum is dedicated to the country’s culture and environment with special emphasis on the Maori, the world’s heaviest squid is also displayed there. To view native animals, head to Zealandia which is home to the tuatara lizard, little spotted kiwi, saddleback and hihi birds and giant weta insect. You can also take a Lord of the Rings tour through the Wellington and Wairarapa regions.
Akaroa has a distinctly French flair, so discover French-named streets, cuisine and colonial architecture with seaside views. Catch rare Hector’s dolphins swim in the Akaroa Harbour or take a short drive to Christchurch City, the garden city. After exploring the gardens and parks in the city, hop on the TranzApline train that travels through 19 tunnels and across four bridges showcasing rugged river valleys and the towering Southern Alps.
Dunedin is hailed as the Edinburgh of New Zealand. A statue of famed Scottish poet Robert Burns graces downtown, and the presence of New Zealand’s only kilt maker and whisky distillery – as well as many bagpipe bands – keep Dunedin’s ties to Scotland alive. The city also boasts a distinguished architectural and cultural history, a legacy of New Zealand’s 1860s gold rush. The Taieri Gorge Railway brings you along the fabled route of pioneers and prospectors through the Taieri River Gorge. Other attractions include Dunedin’s landmark railway station which has an elaborate Victorian facade extravagant tile floors and etched glasswork. You can also find Speights Brewery which brews a favourite New Zealand beer “Pride of the South”.
In the South Pacific, three New Caledonian ports — Lifou, Mare and Isle of Pines remain closed till the end of March.
Eleven cruises that were scheduled to stop in the Cook Islands’ outer islands over the next two months have now cancelled their visits, while Tonga and Samoa are also blocking cruise ship arrivals for the time being.
While no cases of coronavirus have been identified in Tonga, the country has raised its alert level from high to very high. This resulted in all international cruise ships scheduled to arrive this month being diverted from Tonga, many of which were due to visit Nuku’alofa.
Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas cruise ship was turned away from Vanuatu after reporting several cases of the flu on board. The ship ultimately had to sail to New Zealand ports and Eden in Australia.
There were several cases of the flu on board, and Vanuatu made the decision “out of an abundance of caution”, a spokesperson for the Vanuatu Tourism Office told the ABC.
Cook Islands also decided to prevent the MSC Magnifica from making a stop at the island of Aitutaki, an itinerary change that cost the territory around $200,000 according to tourism officials.
The ship was still able to stop at the largest island, Rarotonga, where four passengers were admitted to hospital for medical issues not related to coronavirus.
Papeete in the French Polynesia has just reported their first COVID-19 case yesterday on March 12. President Edouard Fritch said the carrier was one of French Polynesia’s members of the French National Assembly, Maina Sage, who returned from Paris at the weekend, RNZ reported.
Vote in this year’s special Readers’ Choice Awards
No doubt 2020 will go down in cruise history as the year of the pandemic – a once in a generation event. And this year’s Cruise Passenger Readers’ Choice Awards will reflect it.