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Ponant's Le Lapérouse revives New Zealand small-ship cruising
Australia & New Zealand Expeditions Revive. By Anne Kalosh. Big ships are still banned Down Under, with Australia having extended ...
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Small-Ship Sector Still Active By Anne Kalosh. While most travel remains on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, dynamism in the ...
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QuirkyCruise Coral Expeditions Review

COVID-19 UPDATE

Coral Expeditions resumed cruises for Australian passengers in October 2020.  Be sure to check the line’s website for up-to-date news.

Coral Expeditions, based in Cairns, Queensland, Australia, got its start in 1984 as Coral Princess Cruises by refitting a WWII submarine chaser into a small passenger-carrying ship for Great Barrier Reef cruises. With this initial success, Coral Princess, a catamaran was added in 1988; Coral Princess II a second catamaran, in 1996; Oceanic Discoverer, a small oceangoing ship in 2005; and the expedition ship Coral  Adventurer in 2019. Another expedition ship, Coral Geographer, will debut in 2021.

Each new member of the fleet allowed itineraries to reach beyond the Australian coast to Indonesia, the South Pacific Islands, Tasmania, New Zealand and the Indian Ocean. In 2015, the line renamed itself Coral Expeditions and Coral Princess and Coral Princess II became Coral Expeditions I and Coral Expeditions II, while Oceanic Discoverer was renamed Coral Discoverer.

The barrier reef cruises mainly frequent what are known as the ribbon reefs where the bleaching we hear about has had little impact. The line’s website has an information section composed by the line’s marine biologist about what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change. While there is considerable damage, some sections have experienced recent recovery.

Fleet

Coral Expedition I (built 1988 & 46 passengers) — Coral Sea (Great Barrier Reef)

Coral Expeditions II (b. 1985 & 42 p) — Coral Sea (Great Barrier Reef)

Coral Discoverer (b. 2005 & 72 p) — Indian Ocean (The Kimberley, Australian north coast & Tasmania) & Coral Sea (Great Barrier Reef)

Coral Adventure (b. 2019 & 120 p) — Indian Ocean & Coral Sea (The Kimberley, Australia circumnavigation & Indonesian islands)

Coral Geographer (b. 2021 & 120 p) ­— Indian Ocean (Australia, Southeast Asia, South Asia & Eastern Africa) & South Pacific Ocean (Polynesia, French Polynesia & New Zealand)

Passenger Profile

The line draws locally from Australia and New Zealand, also Britain, Europe, Canada and the U.S.

Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

Price

$$ to $$$ — Expensive/Very pricey.

Included Features
  • All presentations & briefings
  • Snorkeling & introductory scuba lesson
  • All meals
  • Select beer, wine, juices & soft drinks
  • 24-hour coffee & tea
  • Post-cruise transfer
  • All fees & gratuities
Itineraries

With the addition of Coral Geographer, Coral Expeditions will add sailings across the Indian Ocean to ports in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Eastern Africa to its docket of mainly Australian and South Pacific destinations.

Great Barrier Reef cruises, roundtrip from Cairns, can last for 7 or 10 nights. Tazmania trips include 10-night coastal cruises, including an Australian Geographic voyage, and a 16-night Tazmania circumnavigation cruise.

Australian coastal cruises include 10- to 19-night itineraries in The Kimberley and the northern coast and a 59-night Australian circumnavigation journey.

Coral Expeditions Review

Glass bottom boat and snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

South Pacific cruises from 5 to 20 nights visit Pitcairn Islands, French Polynesia, Cook Islands and New Zealand.

Venturing into spice trade routes, there’s a 29-night cruise from Freemantle to Singapore, a 25-night cruise from Singapore to Seychelles,15-night cruisefrom Seychelles to Mauritius, 13-night cruise exploring Madagascar and the Seychelles, 12-night cruise from Seychelles to Zanzibar and a 20-night itinerary from Zanzibar to Durban. 

“Much of the Kimberley coast is inaccessible except on foot or by boat. On my Kimberley cruise, I hooked an 80-pound shark, wrestling with it for over an hour before it broke the line. Darwin is worth a stopover for its WWII and devastating cyclone history, plus a natural history museum showcasing scary and truly weird Australian wildlife. Broome, a former pearl-diving center, has developed into a popular international resort town.” — Ted Scull

Coral Expeditions Review

Cruising past waterfalls along the Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Sample Itineraries

The 10-night Coastal Wilds of Tazmania cruise begins at Hobart, sailing for Woodbridge and the Huon River, Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour, Bruny Islands and Adventure Bay, Maria Islands National Park, Freycinet National Park and Schouten Islands and finally Port Arthur Historic Site before returning to Hobart.

"Coastal Wilds of Tasmania" map

The 10-night “Coastal Wilds of Tasmania” round-trip from Hobart. * Photo: Coral Expeditons

Along the eastern coast of Africa, the Seychelles to Zanzibar cruise visits ports and sights in four countries, departing from Mahé in the Seychelles and sailing to Seychelle’s Desroches and S. Joseph Atoll, Alphonse Island and the Farquhar Group; Madagascar’s Antisirinana (Diego Suarez), Nosy Be, Hell-ville and Mahajanga; Mozambique’s Mozambique Island and Ibo Island; and Tanzania’s Kilwa Kisiwani; and finally Zanzibar.

Why Go?

Australia’s 1,400-mile Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 fish species and 30 different mammals, while much of the remote coastal Outback is virtually devoid of human habitation and full of the freaks of nature. Exploring by small ship is the only practical way to access the region.

South Pacific island-hopping takes you to culturally distinct people and pristine atolls where nature abounds in the sea, air and on land. Most of New Zealand’s wildlife and man-made attractions are on or very near the coast.

New itineraries explore Eastern Africa, visiting areas not typically visited via cruise. Coral Expeditions’ three small ships carry only 44 to 72 passengers providing truly intimate shared experiences.

When to Go?

The height of the tourist season along the Great Barrier Reef is June to August after which the humidity begins to build and then the rains arrive in the peak of the summer between December and March. However, the heat is less uncomfortable when at sea and enjoying activities on and in the water. The other expeditions are geared to the best weather seasons. 

Coral Expeditions Review

Going ashore along the Great Barrier Reef. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Sustainability Initiatives

Accredited by Eco-Tourism Australia, Coral Expeditions has been found to meet the highest international standards on sustainability. The company works with a number of organizations involved in wildlife and environmental conservation, and is dedicated to teaching passengers about their work.

They have removed all polycarbonate plastics, reduced food packaging and offer a selection of eco-friendly, organic and fair-trade beverages. They also provide marine friendly sunscreen to all passengers.

Activities & Entertainment

As a policy, Coral Expeditions doesn’t book onboard entertainment, instead opting for nightly presentations that could include talks, films or documentaries on related themes.

All ships have an open bridge policy and Coral Adventurer conducts engine room tours.

Meals are always casual, with no formal nights or assigned seating. The company also doesn’t provide minibars, with the goal to have passengers socialize at one of the many conducive public spaces around the ship.

None of the ships have pools, but passengers who want to swim can do so from the ship’s marine launch. There’s also kayaking and snorkel gear available.

Coral Adventurer marine launch

The Coral Adventurer’s marine launch. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

The Xplorer tender vessels (Discoverer has one while Adventurer/Geographer have two) seat all passengers and is hydraulically lifted and lowered for easy access to the main deck.

Onboard Zodiacs provide close-up encounters with nature. As nature and wildlife feature prominently in shore excursions, it’s not usual to make stops at conservation organizations to observe and learn more about their work.

“Be sure to read the report on the current condition of the Great Barrier Reef written by Coral Expeditions’ marine biologist.” — Ted Scull

SHIPS

Coral Expedition I

This 46-passenger twin-hulled catamaran was built for coastal Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. Four decks house a dining room with open seating, forward lounge with a reference library and plasma screens, sun deck with shaded area and outdoor bar, two cocktail bars, gift shops and an open bridge. Cabins have en suite and Wi-Fi. Upper deck cabins measure from 151 sq. ft. to 185 sq. ft. with picture windows, while those on the lower deck are 108 sq. ft. with twin circle portholes.

Coral Expedition II

A catamaran with three decks, Coral Expedition II accommodates 42 passengers.

Coral Discoverer

A 72-passenger expedition ship, Coral Discoverer has four decks, accessed via stairwell only, with over 1,000sq. m. of open deck space including a wrap-around promenade deck.

Dining

A dining room serves up three meals; the cuisine on all Coral Expeditions cruises is simple and generous — Australian-influenced recipes with regional variations using local fresh and sustainable ingredients. Lunches feature soups and salads using local seafood and fruits. The first dinner onboard is a seafood-sharing feast, while other nights there’s a three-course table d’hôte menu accompanied by a selection of wines, beers and ciders from Australia and New Zealand.

Public Rooms

Coral Discoverer has three fully-stocked bars, indoor and outdoor and on different decks, plus a large forward lounge for multi-media presentations with a reference library. The Sun Deck as plenty of seating and a shaded lounge. The ship also has a gift shop. Discoverer has two Zodiacs, plus kayaks and scuba equipment onboard. Wi-Fi is only available in public areas.

Cabins

Cabins on the lowest deck measure 195 sq. ft. and have just two portholes for views, while on the higher decks, cabins measure between 160 to 195 sq. ft. and have picture windows. A balcony category is 215 sq. ft.

 In cabin: en suite, phone.

  • Coral Adventurer
  • Coral Geographer (2021)

An exploration ship made for the tropics, the 120-passenger Coral Adventurer has four decks accessed by elevator, with over 1,000sq. m. of open deck space including a wrap-around promenade deck. 

Coral Adventurer and Xplorer

Coral Adventurer and Xplorer. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Dining

A dining room serves up three meals; the cuisine on all Coral Expeditions cruises is simple and generous — Australian-influenced recipes with regional variations using local fresh and sustainable ingredients. Lunches feature soups and salads using local seafood and fruits.

The first dinner onboard is a seafood-sharing feast, while other nights there’s a three-course table d’hôte menu accompanied by a selection of wines, beers and ciders from Australia and New Zealand. The galley has a viewing window.

Public Rooms

There are three fully-stocked indoor and outdoor bars on various decks. There’s a large forward lounge for multi-media presentations with a reference library, a Navigator lounge where passengers can observe ship operations and the Barralong Room for hosting scientific research and exhibitions. The Sun Deck as plenty of seating and a shaded lounge. The ship also has a gym and gift shop. Dicoverer has six Zodiacs. Wi-Fi is available in public areas.

Cabins

Most cabins have balconies, measuring 230 sq. ft. Smaller cabins, measuring 182 sq. ft., have porthole windows. Suite category cabins are 600 sq. ft. with balconies.

In cabin: en suite, phone, Wi-Fi.

Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER’s bridge deck balcony suites. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

Special Note: Be sure to read the report on the current condition of the Great Barrier Reef written by Coral Expeditions’ marine biologist.

Along the Same Lines

No other line offers such a comprehensive coverage of Australia, including Tasmania and Papua New Guinea.

Contact

Coral Expeditions; Cairns, Qld, Australia

In Australia — 1-800 079 545; Outside Australia — +61 7 4040 9999

explore@coralexpeditions.com; www.coralexpeditions.com

TWS

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Zegrahm Expeditions

Zegrahm Expeditions got its start in 1990 by a group of men who knew adventure travel with first-hand experience. In fact the company name is derived from their initials. The programs are worldwide and ever changing, and the firm has a very high loyalty factor with many return clients. Some field leaders have their own following amongst past passengers and biographies appear on the website.

While Zegrahm offers land programs in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia, it is the unusually comprehensive expedition cruise programs that are the focus here. Most have one annual departure, while the Galapagos has two, so while we aim to update the changing expeditions and vessels chartered, use the itineraries listed below as a guide of both present and past itineraries.

Nearly every cruise has a land extension. Zegrahm has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to give participants a better understanding of the value of nature. They receive a year’s membership while a percentage of the cost of the cruise goes to the organization.

Zegraham Island Sky

Zegraham’s Island Sky * Photo: Ted Scull

Ships & Years Delivered

As there are many itineraries and multiple ships involved, every destination and the ship used will be treated together as a pair. Zegrahm does not own ships but takes on complete charters of a half-dozen vessels taking from 38 to 110 passengers.

Passengers

Mostly American, active, 50 and up, well-heeled, curious about the world and enjoying sharing the experience with others. Singles are welcome and rates are often favorable, more so than on land itineraries. Children are welcome and families are especially catered for on selected Antarctic and Galapagos itineraries.

Price

$$$ Very Pricey, yet with much included – see below.

Included Features

Zegrahm includes a lot in their pricing, so often there is little else to budget for other than air fare and land extensions, if any. All trips ashore and special events, entrance fees, kayaking, snorkeling and diving (when offered), all gratuities aboard and ashore, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner.

Itineraries (ship reviews following below)

Note: Many itineraries are one-of-a-kind and often not repeated from year to year, so the specific destinations and rotation of ports will change. Here, we aim to show you the numerous and ever-changing possibilities for world-wide small ship travel that Zegrahm has offered, does offer and made offer again. Also, all ships are chartered for a specific cruise or a finite period of time, and other ships may take over. The standards will be high throughout the chartered fleet.  

1) Antarctica: The 22-day comprehensive itinerary embarks and disembarks at Ushuaia, Argentina located at the tip of South America and visits the Falklands, makes five landings in South Georgia, then several islands off the Antarctic Peninsula and as many landings on the peninsula as time and weather permit. Highlights are the huge variety of birds, whales, seals and penguins, former whaling stations, places associated with the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his party, often a research station, icebergs, stunning land and ice formations, and some of the clearest atmosphere your will ever experience.

During the time spent aboard, the expedition staff gives talks, share experiences and show films and recently prepared videos. A second 14-day itinerary concentrates on the Antarctic Peninsula plus a foray south across the Antarctic Circle. N.B. For those who have traveled to Antarctica, Zegrahm offers an itinerary that includes the Falklands and South Georgia without Antarctica.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

Antarctica: Chinstrap penguins are having a noisy discussion over the children. * Photo: Ted Scull

2) The Philippines: Very few ships visit the Philippines, let along multiple calls, and here is a 17-day interisland itinerary that combines visiting tribal as well as mainstream Filipino communities, beautiful landscapes, a volcano, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, orangutan rehabilitation center, coral reefs and marine life seen from boats and snorkeling activities. The main island of Mindanao and Manila, the capital, are not in the plans.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

3) Japan: A 17-day cruise spring cruise features a voyage through the Sea of Japan and up the island country’s West Coast to visit Honshu Island’s fabulous gardens, landscapes, architectural wonders, Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, medieval castles, and a sail across to South Korea’s World Heritage Site at Gyeongiu.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY

4) Australia’s Kimberley: A 15-day coastal cruise embarks in Broome, a port in Western Australia, famous for its pearl industry, transports you to some of the country’s most remote parts (The Outback) reached by sea. Small-boats take you out to reefs, into river gorges, whirlpools, mangrove swamps and under cliff faces to search out some of the world’s most unusual sea, land and birdlife in the world.

Visit several waterfalls, some tidal and reversible, thousands of years old aboriginal paintings tucked away in cliff caves and an aboriginal village at a island port just off Darwin, the disembarkation port and the Northern Territory’s capital city. There are times that you feel you are stepping on shores that have seen very little human activity. The May 2018 Kimberley coastal cruise embarks in Darwin and disembarks in Broome.

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Aboriginal cave paintings Kimberley Coast, Australia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: CORAL DISCOVERER 

4A) Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: An in-depth 15-day exploration embarking in Cairns (Queensland) and sailing northward to much less visited Ribbon Reef #3, 9 & 10, Rachel Carson Reef, Cod Hole (giant potato cod), and Lizard Island with focus on seabirds, monitor lizards, and minke whales including close contacts by diving and snorkeling. N.B. The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from global warming.

Ship: CORAL EXPEDITIONS II

5) Melanesia: A 17-day interisland cruise embarking in major South Pacific city of Port Moresby, New Guinea and sailing through the Melanesian islands to Port Vila, Vanuatu. The emphasis is on the local Melanesia culture (customs, ceremonies, dress, art, music, boat building) in several very isolated communities and great variety of exotic sea and birdlife amongst the coral reefs. There will be many chances to snorkel and dive over around coral reefs looking for clownfish, damsels, Moorish idols, and butterflyfish. One dive visits the USS President Coolidge that sank in 1942. From the disembarkation port, fly to Brisbane, Australia.

5A) Micronesia: A truly off-beat 18-day cruise embarks in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and island hops (with no less than 13 calls) to Palau for diving, snorkeling, meeting the locals, birding, and an archeological site.

ShipCALEDONIAN SKY (5&5A)

6) Patagonia: Two cruises back-to-back feature first an 18-day voyage beginning in the Falklands and exploring the dramatic narrow waterways from Cape Horn into Patagonia and north along the Chilean fjords to Puerto Montt, just south of Santiago, Chile. This portion is nature at its most beautiful and rugged. Leaving penguins sightings in the Falkands, visit one of the world’s great national parks – Torres del Paine – for its birdlife and incredible mountain scenery. Cruise for whales, seals and sail up to the base of South America’s longest glacier, then navigate the fjords northward to Puerto Montt.

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

7) West Coast of South America: The second portion, is an 18-day cruise visiting coastal Chile, Peru and Ecuador to see historic architecture, some pre-Columbian, some Spanish, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and the driest place on earth, settings of volcanoes and glacier lakes, and unusual South American birds and sealife, some via Zodiacs amongst off-shore islands. The voyage ends near Guayaquil, Ecuador.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER

8) Central America: This 15-day voyage begins in the Costa Rican port of Puerto Caldera via a flight to San José and sails south scouting out the huge variety of birds in Costa Rica via Zodiac cruises and hikes, visiting the Panamanian marine park on Isla Coibe, the Embera Indians of the Darien jungle and the Kuna of San Blas Islands. Linking the two coasts is a Panama Canal transit with views of the second canal under construction. On the Caribbean side, explore the Tortuguero Canals near Puerto Limon for monkeys, sloths, caimans, iguanas, lizards and crocodiles and finish off by visiting the coastal reefs of Honduras’ Bay Islands and Lighthouse Reef off Belize where the cruise ends (Belize City).

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

9) Galapagos: 13 days amongst no less than ten islands may provide one of the most thorough explorations of the islands that Charles Darwin made so famous, as most cruises are three, four, or seven days. As well as the endemic sea and birdlife, there is time to study the land forms, the active and dormant volcanoes and the lava fields. See the section on the Galapagos for more details. In July/August 2018, the Wild Galapagos itinerary lasts 10 days (still longer than most).

Ship: ISABELLA II or EVOLUTION

10) Circumnavigation of Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA . 14 days beginning with two hotel nights in Havana then joining the ship for nine ports calls, one sea day and return directly to Havana. Highlights are Old Havana, City of Bridges at Matanzas, exploring mangrove forest of Cayo Guillermo, snorkeling the reefs, nature reserve at Cayo Saetia to see water buffalo, wild boar and exotic birds, the World Heritage Site at Santiago de Cuba including the famous San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War (1898), the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad also a World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos for Zapata Wetlands and the Bay of Pigs where an unsuccessful American invasion took place in 1961, beaches at Cayo Largo, nature at its most diverse at Isla de la Juventud, and the biological diversity of Maria La Gorda. Note: this cruise is one of the most comprehensive offered by any cruise line.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

11) Canal to Cuba: THIS CUBAN ITINERARY IS NO LONGER OFFERED DUE TO US GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS AGAINST TRAVEL BY SHIP TO CUBA. 16 days embarking in Panama City, Panama thence to the huge marine park at Isla Coiba, the Embera community in Darién Province, a daylight Canal Transit, San Blas Archipelago, Spanish fortifications at  Portobelo, Tortuguero Canals at Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, the English-speaking island of Isla de Providencia, Colombia, then the Cuba ports (see above itinerary for descriptions) of Cienfuegos, Isla de la Juventud, Maria la Gorda and Havana with a hotel night.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

12) The Hidden Gems of the Caribbean: For the tropical island buff, this 14-day cruise of the Grenadines will show you all aspects of island life, their natural beauty, sea and bird life, coral reef diving and snorkeling, as well as the long histories of individual islands, their conquest by European powers and struggle for independence to today’s varied lifestyles.

Ship: LE PONANT

11) Coastal Europe: A lot of variety is packed into this 16-day voyage that starts out in Lisbon and works its way northeastward calling Spanish, French, English, Belgian and Dutch ports with just one day at sea. Destinations ashore include UNESCO sites at Santiago de Compostela, Mont St. Michel and the Frisian Islands; the wine county upriver from Bordeaux; World War II history on the French coast; three of the Channel Islands – Guernsey, Jersey and the tiny utterly charming Duchy of Sark; medieval Brugge and ending in Amsterdam. The 14-day itinerary has similar ports but does not call at Brugge or Amsterdam and ends in Portsmouth, England. Another all Spanish itinerary (apart from a call at Porto) begins in Barcelona and sails south, around through the Strait of Gibraltar up the west coast, and across the north coast as far as Bilbao.

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

The village, Isle of Sark, Channel Islands. * Photo: Ted Scull

Ship: SEA ADVENTURER

11A) Wild & Ancient Britain: A 14-day cruise nearly circumnavigates the British Isles leaving from Portsmouth, England and calls at Falmouth, Isles of Scilly, then islands off Ireland, islands off the West Coast and to the north of Scotland, ending in  Aberdeen. The highlights are seabirds galore, numerous Neolithic monuments, unusual natural features, and architectural treasures.

Ship: OCEAN ADVENTURER

12) The Baltic: A comprehensive 17-day itinerary departs London for ports in Germany, and a Kiel Canal Transit, then Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland and ending in Stockholm.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

13) The Adriatic, Sicily & Malta: The 13-day cruise begins at the Maltese port of Valetta, a World Heritage Site that survived heavy fighting in WWII: visits four Sicilian ports with roots in Greek and Roman times; even more cultural influences with a stop in Albania and another in Montenegro, then successive calls along the Croatian coast, including Dubrovnik and ending in Venice.

Ship: ISLAND SKY

14) Sicily: A more focused itinerary is a 13-day circumnavigation of Sicily calling at ten ports plus Malta and Lipari in the Aeolian Islands.

Ship: VARIETY VOYAGER

15) Black Sea Circumnavigation: A 15-day spin begins and ends in Istanbul and proceeds counterclockwise with three stops along the Turkish coast; a call at Batumi in Georgia, the spas at Sochi, then skipping the Crimea and stopping at the crossroads city of Odessa, two ports in Romania (including seldom-visited Histria, the country’s oldest settlement) and lastly Varna, with its Greek and Roman connections. 10 ports and cruising the Danube delta (home to 200 species of birds) makes this a thorough study of Black Sea history and communities today. All that is missing is Russia (Crimea).

Ship: ISLAND SKY

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

Livadia Palace, site of the Yalta Conference at the end of WWII. * Photo: Ted Scull

16) Iceland & Greenland: A 16-day voyage aims to combine searching in Zodiacs for sea life and birdlife, dramatic scenery that includes glaciers, fjords, icebergs, and vast expanses of tundra, Viking settlements and the colorful modern-day fishing villages and their cultural attributes. In June/July 2018, the 15-day expedition embarked in Narsarsuaq, Greenland by charter flight from Reykjavik and concentrates on Greenland’s south and east coast then crosses to northwest Iceland ending in Iceland’s capital.

ShipSEA ADVENTURER (2017) and HEBRIDEAN SKY (2018)

16A) Svalbard: A-14 day expedition uses flights to and from Oslo to join the ship at Longyearbyen, the island’s  principal port. The emphasis is on wildlife, especially polar bears, seals, walrus, whales and Arctic foxes; seabirds such as kittiwakes, guillemots, dovekies, puffins and ivory gulls, and the natural beauty of the lush tundra, fjords and glaciers. Touring off the ship is on foot, and in kayaks and Zodiacs.

Ship: HEBRIDEAN SKY

17) Indonesia: A 19-day linear voyage begins at the northern tip of Sulawesi and heads along the chain of Indonesian islands to Papua and Papua New Guinea, with a call at Australia’s Thursday Island. Activities are diving and snorkeling amongst the coral reefs, visits to Asmat’s warrior tribes and West Papua’s seafarers, and looking for birds of paradise, doves, parrots, cockatoos, friarbirds and flying foxes.

Ship: CALEDONIAN SKY

18) Vietnam: Zegrahm began trips to Vietnam 25 years ago shortly after travel was permitted. A 16-day coastal cruise begins in Hanoi with a transfer to Haiphong Harbor for embarkation. Eight calls are made en route to Ho Chi Minh City including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Chinese-style “Forbidden City” of Hue and a leisurely sail amongst the sculpted islands in Halong Bay. A special activity is discovering Vietnamese and French-influenced cuisine where passengers tour local markets and vegetable and herb gardens, sample treats at food stalls such as prawn cakes and grilled port patties with sticky noodles, and participate in cooking classes on board. In November/December 2018, a 19-day mostly land and air tour to Myanmar and Laos slotted in a two-day river cruise between Mandalay and Bagan and another two-day cruise on a less visited portion of the Mekong in Laos. Both use Pandaw river boats.

Ship: CORAL PRINCESS, now CORAL EXPEDITIONS I

19) Cuba: Travel to Cuba on a humanitarian project, a 17-day itinerary that includes a partial circumnavigation of the island and then onward land travel returning to Havana. The 56-passenger Le Ponant, a motor/sail vessel provides comfortable accommodations at sea and the nimbleness to get into small ports. Activities combine cultural, water sports and people-to-people encounters. In April 2018, there are two Cuban itineraries, the first one including Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama before sailing north to Cuba for three days, and the second, a 14-night cruise that completely circumnavigates the island calling at 9 ports and with flights to and from Havana.

Ship: LE PONANT or HEBRIDEAN SKY

The Ships

OCEAN ADVENTURER, formerly SEA ADVENTURER: Renewed in 2017, this traditional 120-passenger vessel was built in 1975 for the Russians to operate rugged sea routes especially in the Arctic has been refitted several times to offer a steady, stabilized oceangoing experience, including strengthening for ice. It has two lounges, including a lovely library, and an aft-located dining room with wraparound glass windows. Cabins are of small to moderate size and all are outside. Zodiacs carried.

CALEDONIAN SKY: Built in 1992 as one of the original six small Renaissance ships, she carries 100 passengers in roomy one-room suites with sitting areas, including eight cabins with balconies, many positioned in the forward half of the ship. One lounge is located above the bridge for glass-protected viewing and the other, with a bar, seats all passengers at once for lectures and socializing. In addition, there is a small library and gym. The dining room is aft on the lowest deck with portholes. A lido deck serves informal outdoor meals in good weather. Zodiacs and scuba diving gear are carried.

ISLAND SKY: Built in 1992, she is also one of the original Renaissance ships (100 passengers) though while her roomy one-room forward-located suites are similar (four with balconies), her layout is somewhat different with two aft lounges including a good-sized library, in place of a forward-viewing lounge. The dining room is on the lowest deck with portholes, and the aft-lido deck serves informal meals in good weather conditions.

HEBRIDEAN SKY: As with the two sisters above, the ship was first completed as one of the Renaissance ships in 1992 and most recently refitted in 2014 and 2016. Passenger capacity is 112 and roomy cabins with sitting areas measure 225, 266 and 325 square feet. The owner’s suite is even larger. The sofa bed will sleep a third person. An elevator serves all decks, and an observation platform is popular for spotting wildlife. Zodiacs are carried for exploring near land, edging up to glaciers and sailing into fjords.

LE PONANT: Completed in 1991, with French registry, as a sail-assisted motor ship, she has three masts and takes just 56 passengers in moderate-size outside cabins, most located on the lowest passenger deck and with portholes. Five others are clustered two decks higher amidships. The lounge is aft opening onto a deck at the stern. Dining is either in the forward restaurant, or in favorable weather, one deck above, aft and outside. Zodiacs, snorkeling and scuba diving gear are carried.

CORAL DISCOVERER, formerly Oceanic Discoverer: Built in 2005, this small Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins, most with view windows. A lounge, seating all, faces aft to an open deck, and the dining room is on the lowest passenger deck with a long rectangular window on either side. The top deck has a Jacuzzi. The vessel carries Zodiacs, a glass-bottom boat, and a tender taking all passengers ashore at one time.

ISABELA II: Completed in 1979, she was heavily refitted and last refurbished in 2012. Good-size cabins are all outside with two partial-view singles, to accommodate 39 passengers. The dining room, lounge and library are on the lowest passenger deck. The Sun Deck has a covered aft bar and lounge for informal dining. The vessel carries Zodiacs, sea kayaks and a glass-bottom boat.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, formerly Coral Princess: Completed in 1988 and refitted 2005, this 4-deck Australian-registered ship carries 65 passengers in all outside cabins. The lounge seats all for lectures, often illustrated on two large plasma TV screens. The open top deck has a Jacuzzi, and for sightseeing, there is a glass bottom boat, Zodiacs, and an excursion vessel that can take all passengers at one time.

CORAL EXPEDITIONS II, formerly Coral Princess II (Completed in 1985 and refitted in 2015, the three-deck ship carries 44 passengers in all outside cabins with the 4 D-Deck units having portholes rather than windows. A glass bottom boat is available for watching tropical fishes.

VARIETY VOYAGER: Built in 2012, this sleek-looking yacht handles 72 passengers in all outside cabins located on three of the four decks. Public areas include a lounge, single-seating dining, outdoor dining, library, gym, spa and top deck outdoor bar lounge.

Why Go?

If you long to visit off-beat places around the world, or popular expedition destinations, you will be in good company enjoying the experiences with other like-minded modern-day explorers. Many Zegrahm cruises offer longer itineraries than other operators giving you more in-depth connections but also increasingly the monetary outlay.

When to Go

All Zegrahm Expeditions are geared to the best season or seasons to travel to a particular region.

Activities & Entertainment

These cruises are designed for the active traveler with lots of destinations and as few sea days as possible. Time aboard, however, will be well spend with lectures and audio-visual presentations presented by the expedition staff who will bring their expertise to you on board and on excursions ashore. Excursions will be in vehicles, on foot and in kayaks and Zodiacs and some itineraries offer snorkeling and diving. Two vessels have glass-bottom boats — ISABELA II and OCEANIC DISCOVERER.

Along the Same Lines

Lindblad Expeditions.

Contact

Zegrahm Expeditions, 3131 Elliott Avenue, Ste 205, Seattle, WA 98121; www.zegrahm.com 855-276-8849 or 206-745-9364

TWS

 

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Aurora Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions.

Australia-based Aurora Expeditions charters expedition-style ships for its far-reaching adventure cruise programs as well as being a full-service travel agency to aid clients with all travel arrangements, including pre- and post-cruise land stays. The firm has been in business for a quarter century and has direct access beyond its Australian home base to colleagues in New Zealand, UK, Canada, US, and the Netherlands.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

Polar Pioneer will operate in Antarctica, Arctic and Scotland until the end of the 2019 Northern Hemisphere’s summer season. She was built in Finland in 1982 as a survey ship and converted in 2000 to carry 54 passengers with Russian officers and crew. Greg Mortimer (named after the firm’s co-founder), a brand-new high-tech expedition ship, will take over the Polar Pioneer’s Arctic and Antarctic programs in October 2019; capacity 120 passengers. Isabella II takes up to 40 passengers in the Galapagos and was refurbished in 2000. Coral Expedition I is a 42-passenger catamaran, refurbished in 2012 to cruise Australia’s remote Kimberley Coast.

Aurora Expeditions

Aboriginal cave art on the Kimberley Coast. * Photo: Ted Scull

Passenger Profile

Being Australian-based, the majority come from the Southern Hemisphere, and now with offices elsewhere, also British, Dutch and Canadians and Americans.

Price

$ to $$$

Itineraries

Antarctica expeditions (December-April) leave from southern South America, and some itineraries offer the choice of one way or roundtrip flights across the Drake Passage to and from King George Island for those who wish to avoid the possibility of a rough two-day sea journey. Itineraries bound for the Antarctic Peninsula last 11, 12 or 13 days, while adding South Georgia and the Falklands (some itineraries) lengthens the voyages from 18 to 21 days. Special excursions include camping on a mat inside a thermal sleeping bag. No tent provided in order to see the sky and surroundings; don’t expect much sleep in the daylight nights. Extra tariff excursions: sea kayaking, skiing and snorkeling. Ships: 54-passenger Polar Pioneer until end of the 2018-2019 season and then from November 2019, 120-passenger Greg Mortimer.

Aurora Expeditions

The GREG MORTIMER expedition ship arrives fall 2019.

The Arctic (June-September). Excursions include Zodiac exploration (12 passengers max.) close to ice bergs and ice flows looking for seals and walrus, approaching high cliffs where puffins and guillemots nest, visiting Inuit villages, historic sites where Vikings lived and explorers and whalers camped, and tundra hikes for wildlife sightings and summertime wildflowers and berries.

Svalbard circumnavigations last 11 days; Norway, Scotland and Spitzbergen 14 days, Franz Josef Land, a Russian archipelago, 15 days; Spitzbergen, Iceland and East Greenland 14 days, and add more of Greenland (including rock climbing) for 24 days.

Wild Scotland, 11 days (one annually from late June into July), visits the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including Iona, the birthplace of Christianity in Britain; landing at the far-out island of St. Kilda, home to Europe’s largest bird colony; to the top of Scotland for Shetlands’ stone-, bronze-, and iron-age settlements; and finally, the Orkneys for rugged landscapes, 5,000 year-old Skara Brae settlement and WWII artifacts such as an Italian POW-built chapel.

Aurora Expeditions

Lovely rock garden near Cove, Loch Long, Scotland

The 11-day Kimberley Coast itineraries operate in June and July between Darwin, Northern Territory and Broome, Western Australia, along the remote coastline where nature reigns across over 3,000 islands, colorful rocky cliffs, cascading waterfalls, dramatic tidal changes, remote sandy beaches and where it’s an event to see another boat or any sign of human inhabitants. Climb up to cave paintings and swim in waterholes that have been safely inspected and cleared of Australia’s exotic wildlife before you make the plunge. Ship: 42-passenger Coral Princess I.

Aurora Expeditions

Coral Princess I at Raft Point, Kimberley Coast

The 11-day Galapagos itinerary (September and November) includes two days in Quito exploring the UNESCO colonial heritage site before flying to the islands to join the expedition cruise. Kayak amongst the sea life that comes to the surface, snorkel with sea lions, marine iguanas, and colorful tropical fish, visit the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn about the latest conservation efforts, and hike across lava fields. Ship: 38-passenger Isabella II.

Aurora Expeditions

Isabella II in the Galapagos.

Included Features

Daily (sometimes twice) excursions and equipment listed for the specific destination; and beer, wine and soft drinks with meals, but not those ordered from the bar. Onboard extras will be gratuities (varies with the ship) and some special equipment for excursions such as snowshoeing, skiing and believe it or not, snorkeling in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Special Notes

The firm includes short biographies of the expedition staff and backgrounds of the shore-based staff. Evacuation insurance is mandatory for all cruises. For some off-ship optional excursions, reservations are required in advance, and the more challenging ones will require medical and experiential data.

Along the Same Lines

Numerous and ever-growing.

Contact

Aurora Expeditions, Suite 12, Level 2, 35 Buckingham Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, NSW 2010, Australia; Telephone: Australia 1 800 637 688; New Zealand 0 800 424 310, UK 0 808 189 2005; US/Canada 1 888 485 5080; Netherlands 0 800 023 0929. www.auroraexpeditions.com.

 

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By Ted Scull.

Married as I am to an Australian — a Queenslander, to be more specific — we trek out to the old country with certain regularity. After de rigueur family time, we then choose an exciting new domestic destination to expand our horizons in a country nearly as large as the U.S. but with less than seven percent of the population.

My wife wanted to explore the Top End, that is Australia’s upper reaches, located well within the tropic zone that spreads to both sides of Darwin, the Northern Territory’s capital city. I wanted to add a cruise for part of the three weeks we had set aside for traveling.

Top End Geography

In Australia, most people live along the coasts, from Sydney north to Cairns on the east coast; between Melbourne and Adelaide in the south; and to either side of Perth on the west. The Top End, up north, is by far the least populated with hundreds of miles of coastline and vast inland regions virtually devoid of human presence. This is the Outback in its most dramatic presentation, and its considerable delights are poorly appreciated even by the native Aussies. Some destinations we would reach weren’t even mapped when my wife was a schoolgirl.

East of Darwin is known as Arnhem Land, Aboriginal territory with restricted access, and to the west is the Kimberley, a distinctive geological land mass that collided with the Australian continent some 1.8 billion years ago. Uplift and tropical weathering of the sandstone and volcanic rocks have created fantastic landscapes of brilliant colors seen nowhere else. Rivers cut deep gorges, and waterfalls tumble off high plateaus into the Timor Sea.

Caves perched a couple of hundred feet up rocky faces contain Aboriginal rock art dating from a few thousand to as many as 50,000 years ago — the upper range arguably the oldest depictions of human figures known to man. Shoreline mangroves harbor saltwater crocodiles, sea turtles, poisonous sea snakes, and exotic birds. Tides range over 30 feet, the second highest in the world. Road access is primitive or non-existent.

Several small expedition-style cruise lines cruise the remote Kimberley Coast during “The Dry”  the relatively cool Austral winter season of little humidity and mostly blue skies. We chose Orion Expedition Cruises (now Lindblad Expeditions) operating a stabilized 4,000-gross-ton ship. The new renamed National Geographic Orion takes up to 106 passengers, and while the ship is currently operating elsewhere, Coral Expeditions’ Coral Princess makes these Kimberley Coast 10-day March to September voyages between Darwin and Broome, the latter an old pearling port in Western Australia.

Built in Germany in 2003, Orion is designed to handle the world’s roughest seas happily not where we were headed, but from New Zealand south to Antarctica (and now more often from Argentina south to the White Continent). On our cruise to the Kimberley, passengers were mostly Australians, escaping winter in Victoria and New South Wales. A more international English-speaking mix is found on better known destinations such as Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, Southeast Asia and New Zealand’s South Island. The ship’s captain was German and the crew mostly Filipinos. 

The City of Darwin

We arrived in Darwin two days early to see the sights. With a population of fewer than 100,000, the modern city sits atop a plateau overlooking the Timor Sea and serves as a base for cruises, trips into the Outback and to the nearby Indonesian islands. The better hotels look across a leafy cliff-side park to the sea, and one block inland, an arcaded street offers varied restaurants and stores selling Australian and Aboriginal art and crafts as well as cultured pearls farmed locally along the coast.

The Japanese bombed Darwin 64 times during World War II, and there are museums and memorials dedicated to wartime defenses, aviation and naval history. The Darwin Botanical Gardens, within walking distance of the center, spreads over 105 acres replete with palms, orchids, boab trees and mangroves. At the edge of town and accessed by bus or taxi, the splendid Museum and Art Gallery Of The North Territory includes Aboriginal and Indonesian art and natural history exhibits of preserved Australian birds, mammals, and exotic reptiles and spiders that will send chills down your spine. Films and photographs tell the story of Cyclone Tracy, a Christmas Eve 1974 storm that virtually leveled the city.

Introducing the Orion

We awoke early on sailing day to catch the Orion sliding by our balcony to dock less than a mile away. Embarking in mid-afternoon, we found our big-windowed cabin attractive, roomy and with more than enough stowage space. Amenities included a flat screen TV with a good variety of programming, unlimited complimentary bottled water stocked in the fridge, fresh fruit, and a marble bath.

Shortly after settling in, four Australian naturalists, who during a daily pre-dinner ritual, briefed us about what lay ahead and would provide lively PowerPoint recaps of our day.

Ten Zodiacs, (stable rubber inflatables), carried us everywhere. After an initial sea day, the first outing took us to the base of King George Falls, its pencil-thin waters plunging off a thousand-foot high cliff, with colored layers of rock intermingling with the horizontal black and white stone strata. The sprightlier amongst us clambered up a steep, rocky path to then peer over the edge to those bobbing below.

That afternoon, we landed on a sandy beach in Vansittart Bay, then traipsed a half-mile inland over tidal salt flats to a now wooded spot where an American DC3 had crashed landed in 1942 after the pilot became lost. Broken in two, and with both wings severed, the crew escaped without major injury and was rescued some five days later.

The highly entertaining evening cocktail-hour recaps led into convivial dinners either at an open sitting in the main restaurant or often out on deck, given the continuously fine weather that is typical of late July. A daily changing Degustation Menu was featured along with an additional page of alternatives. Given Australia’s top quality produce, meals were invariably a great treat, featuring delicious entrees such as slow-cooked lamb loin, olive-roasted chicken supreme, and grilled yellow-fin bream.

One night under the stars, a seafood extravaganza displayed freshly shucked oysters, grilled prawns, Moreton Bay bugs (a flavorful crustacean), blue swimmer crabs, red claw yabbies (a crayfish), and sea bass. On another occasion, an Australian barbecue produced steak, chicken, sausages and grilled barramundi (a reef fish). The impressive wine list features mostly Australian and New Zealand varieties, and we had no problem with that.

Dangers Lurk, Snagging a Big One & Aboriginal Art

We sailed westward onto the Hunter River, where our Zodiacs cruised amongst mangroves to spot saltwater crocodiles resting on mudflats. Their presence and the additional company of seasonal and highly poisonous box jellyfish, kept us out of the alluring tropical waters. However, a few tidal swimming holes at the base of freshwater falls provided a refreshing dip, once they had been thoroughly scouted out.

With a fast falling tide, water cascaded off Montgomery Reef, and at its edge we saw more crocodiles, sea turtles, lots of colorful fish ad the highly venomous olive sea snake.

Once or twice a day, a naturalist took a fishing party of four out to try their luck. Our boat caught and threw back bat fish, crimson sea bass, scarlet rock cod, Spanish flag, and a dangerous stone fish. My line hooked a 20-pound giant trevally (a good eating fish) and a 50- to 60-pound shark. I fought for an hour, triumphantly reeling it in only to have the line suddenly stream out again. In the end, the shark broke the light tackle, and I ended up with mighty sore muscles for the next two days.

Aboriginal art abounds in thousands of Outback locations, and at Raft Point, we hiked a couple hundred feet up a red limestone cliff to an overhanging cave where on the ceiling we marveled at other worldly whitish figures (spirits), painted with enormous black eyes, rectangular noses, no mouths, and heads surrounded by halo headdresses. The aborigines claim that this so-called Wandjina style was drawn by creator beings of the Dreaming, while the Bradshaw or Gwion Gwion art was done by humans. That latter style, seen at other locations, depict humans often as stick figures accompanied by fish and other wildlife.

Not all mornings and afternoons had us piling into Zodiacs. Down times provided opportunities to read on deck and enjoy afternoon tea in the forward observation lounge. Lectures gave us lessons in Aboriginal art and why there are cassowaries, emus, wallabies, and wombats in Australia and nowhere else.

An exploratory cruise such as this one is a joyfully shared experience at meals, during social hours, in the Zodiacs, and ashore. And while most North Americans have led a life free from venom, Australians from every state seemed to have had brown snake, scorpion, or red back spider encounters in their own gardens. So rooting around the Kimberley may seem less dicey for Aussies than it is for Northern Hemisphere visitors.

Arriving at Broome & Driving Back

Disembarking from the Orion at Broome’s half-mile-long pier, designed to handle the huge tidal fluctuations, we had arrived at a town of about 11,000 originally founded on the pearling industry — once natural and now cultured. More recently, tourism arrived because beautiful Cable Beach, fronting on the Indian Ocean, offers safe swimming and attractive resorts draw visitors from Australia and abroad.

After a day’s pause we climbed into a four-wheel-drive vehicle and took to the two-lane Great Northern Highway for a week’s drive back to Darwin via the Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park displays a fantastic landscape with thousands of orange-and-gray-striped beehive-shaped rock formations, plus deep intersecting gorges, riverbeds, and chasms to explore by foot. We did come upon a brown snake, though it stretched barely a foot  no doubt, its much larger parents were lurking in the shadows nearby. Fortunately, our encounter was without incident; the Orion carries a doctor, but we were on our own in The Bungle Bungles.

Click here for more info on Lindblad Expeditions.  See also www.coralexpeditions.com/au/ (copy & paste).

 

 

 

 

 

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