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cycling on a new zealand cruise

New Zealand Cruise Adventure

By John Roberts.

I arrive at the meeting point for the start of our New Zealand cruise and multi-sport adventure a bit bedraggled after about 22 straight hours of travel from New Jersey to Auckland, New Zealand. (Note to self: Next time, arrive a day early when you fly halfway across the globe, in order to properly acclimate for your trip.)

Sure, I may be tired, but I’m also fired up for another Backroads adventure. I’m running on excitement at this point — and maybe a few Diet Cokes.

My fellow travelers and I mill about at the waterfront just in front of Hilton Auckland, gathering our water bottles and a few snacks set out by the Backroads team of Katie, Brandon and Ryan. They are busy checking us all in and gathering up luggage to send over to the 184-passenger cruise ship that will serve as our home for the voyage.

Le Laperouse in New Zealand

The 184-passenger Le Laperouse cruises between Auckland and Dunedin. * Photo: Ponant

I grab a banana and start stretching my legs. Before boarding our mini cruiser, we’re going to head over to Waiheke Island for a short hike and lunch at a vineyard to kick off our 10-day multi-sport adventure cruise.

As things get going, I start meeting some of the 23 others in our group. These strangers would quickly become like family. That happens when you share exciting activities ashore and onboard during an adventure cruise in such a stunning place.

Backroads is an active travel company that has been around four decades. The company started simply — offering biking trips in California. These days, Backroads curates hundreds of adventures all over the world, including sporty small-ship cruises like the one I’m taking part in over the course of 10 days in New Zealand.

New Zealand Cruise & Cycle map

The 10-day itinerary from Auckland to Dunedin by sea and cycle. * Map: Ponant

Luxury French cruise line Ponant has teamed up with Backroads to provide a comfy home base while we sail from the northern part of the North Island all the way to the southern tip of the South Island for our amazing New Zealand cruise and multi-sport combo comprising hiking, biking and kayaking.

Watch John’s video: What’s it like to cruise around New Zealand?

On Day 1, I begin to introduce myself to my two-dozen fellow adventurers (all from the United States) as we make our way over to the ferry for the ride to Waiheke Island and learn that it’s the first time in New Zealand for almost all of them (including myself). More than half in the group have traveled with Backroads before, some with more than 10 trips under their belts, though it will be the first cruise for almost all of them. I tell them that a small-ship cruise looks like a great way to see a lot of this country, which is known as a natural wonderland.

We are all excited to get going and enjoy the luxurious accommodations, food, wines and entertainment on the ship as well as explore New Zealand through activities like hiking, biking and kayaking.

Le Laperouse New Zealand cruise

Le Laperouse is John’s posh home for his New Zealand cruise and cycle adventure. * Photo: John Roberts

Waiheke Island

After a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, we arrive at Waiheke Island. This is a place known for its vineyards, and many visitors make day trips to visit multiple spots and sample the wines. We, instead, will take a 2.3-mile coastal hike and then stop for a farm-to-table-style lunch.

Katie, Max and Brandon break us up into two groups of hikers so that we are not too congested on the narrow trails around the island.

The sun is out and the skies are blue and accented with puffy clouds as we hike for a couple hours and work up a nice sweat. Our guide helps us spot silver ferns, palm plants and see the first of many finches and fantails. Seabirds soar offshore.

What we won’t see the entire week is the famed kiwi. Even New Zealanders rarely see these birds most associated with their country. Kiwis are shy and nocturnal, so they prove most elusive. (By the way, the nickname for a New Zealander is a kiwi.)

After a big lunch and a tasting session at Cable Bay Vineyards, some in our group take a walk over to another vineyard and others (including me!) opt for a one-mile steep hike to a high point on the island with great views over the bay. Then, it’s time to hop back onto the ferry and make our way to our cruise ship for the first time.

A hike on a New Zealand cruise

John’s on the coastal hike on Waiheke Island, just off shore Auckland. * Photo: John Roberts

When we board Le Laperouse, our bags are already waiting for us in our cabins. The 184-passenger, 9-deck Le Laperouse represents the first of Ponant’s series of six expedition ships, and was built just last year in 2018.

We begin with cocktails in the Main Lounge which extends outside to the Pool Deck and offers beautiful views of the surrounding skyline of Auckland.

Our group will dine each evening as a group in the main restaurant, Le Nautilus, or at the Le Nemo grill on the Pool Deck. We start with a welcome aboard meal where the wine flows freely as we enjoy the French cuisine, from grilled salmon to entrecote (as in “premium cut of”) steak, while getting to know one another.

It’s an early night for most, and I head to the cabin straight after dinner to finally get some proper rest for the adventures ahead.

Tauranga

This is when the action kicks into high gear. A daily morning briefing in the ship’s theater outlines the activities each day.

Today it’s Tauranga, a charming coastal city to the north of Rotorua along the Bay of Plenty. From here, we take a bus to McLaren Falls Park where we will bike in the morning and kayak in the afternoon.

A support team with Backroads has the bikes ready for us each day, plus water bottles and snacks like fresh fruit, granola bars and sweets.

Backroads support van for a New Zealand Cruise

The Backroads support-mobile is at our beck and call. * Photo: John Roberts

We’re using Backroads Touring bikes, 30-speed titanium mountain cycles. And after getting our helmets and making the proper adjustments of seats and handlebars for comfort, we’re off and riding in the countryside.

The fresh air is intoxicating as we pedal past acres and acres of farmland. We must remember to ride on the left side, a constant battle against our reflexes as residents of the United States used to driving on the other side.

New Zealand cruise and cycle adventure

The Backroads & Ponant cruise and bicycle adventure begins. * Photo: John Roberts

My lungs and quads strain during only a few spots of the ride as I grind up some steep hills. But the reward is always a speedy drop on the descent with wind rushing in my face. We see cows and horses on the 16-mile loop before returning back to the park. We are all definitely ready for lunch after a challenging ride.

cycling on a new zealand cruise

John cycling in Tauranga, New Zealand. * Photo: John Roberts

We have a picnic outside in the courtyard of a small café under a bright sun. A few peacocks are strutting around in the yard of a home next door.

It’s actually getting really hot as we finish up our freshly prepared meal, and I’m eager to get on the water. McLaren Lake is formed by a dam system comprising a series of rivers that work to create hydroelectric power in the Bay of Plenty region.

selife in tauranga

We all mug for a selfie in Tauranga. * Photo: John Roberts

Backroads guide Brandon joins me as my kayaking partner and agrees to sit in the back so I can get the best views and play with my camera up front. This means he does most of the paddling and all of the steering while I snap pics of the waterfowl (so many species of ducks!) and the Jurassic Park-like narrows that we kayak into late in the afternoon.

Kayaking in gorgeous Tauranga on a New Zealand cruise

Kayaking in Tauranga. * Photo: John Roberts

Back on Le Laperouse, we refreshed with showers and cocktails before dinner. The night concluded with some of us gathering for drinks and dancing in lounge with live music — a guitarist and singer — topping off  a thrilling day.

White Island

This is a fairly casual day but still interesting. We take a zodiac ashore to the remote White Island, an active volcano that spews sulfur mists. We hike around one of the most active volcanoes in New Zealand and learn about the former mining activities on the island. You can smell the sulfur hanging in the air even before reaching the beach area where our zodiacs are, but the mists that blow around in the wind are especially pungent when we get closer to the rim of a crater.

zodiac on a New Zealand cruise

Several excursions involve a zodiac ride. * Photo: John Roberts

This requires us to wear face masks and suck on little hard candies to fend off our choking fits.

It’s a fascinating look around a place that appears like it could be on a far-off planet. When we head back to the ship, I get a chance to try the ship’s small gym for a workout and jump into the heated infinity pool.

pool towns on Ponant

It’s great having a heated pool on board the Le Laperouse. * Photo: John Roberts

Max leads a talk in the theater for our group discussing New Zealand currency and how the colorful bills contain unique images that tell a story of the country.

This is the first of a few enrichment sessions that our Backroads guides will offer to help connect our adventures to the rich cultural aspects of the country, including its indigenous Maori people.

Napier

This port stop brings us to an area of the country just south of Hawkes Bay that is well known for its vineyards and agricultural production. Napier is fondly referred to as the “Fruit Bowl” of New Zealand because the fertile lands and long days of warm sunshine yield an array of foods like cherries, peaches, apricots, plums and apples. Plus, those wine grapes, of course.

Cycling from Tauranga, New Zealand

Cycling in Napier. * Photo: John Roberts

We get to explore the region on a 22-mile bike ride that intermittently traces the coast line along rocky beaches and weaves into the fields and groves of the miles and miles of farmland. The day starts a little overcast but clears up to offer brilliant sunshine by afternoon when we arrive at the Black Barn Bistro winery.

cycling in Napier on a new zealand cruise

Biking in Napier. * Photo: John Roberts

Upon arrival, I quickly crack open a beer during my cool-down and stretch my legs. Then, it’s into the winery for a hearty lunch. Most in our group eagerly line up for more wine tasting. Upon completion of their flights, glasses are filled, swirled and knocked back over friendly and energetic lunch banter.

vineyard new zealand

Vineyard tours are business as usual in New Zealand. * Photo: John Roberts

Once back on the ship, we have free time in the afternoon to relax. Many of us grab a nap before gathering for a meal al fresco at the grill on the pool deck.

Wellington

Midway through the cruise, we arrive at the capital of New Zealand. Wellington is a bustling city with a lively port area. A large promenade is filled with residents and tourists enjoying a Sunday in the city.

We have a lot of free time on our own in Wellington, as a morning hike and picnic lunch are the only activities on the Backroads plan for the day. We take a group hike from the serene Karori city cemetery to a trail at Otari-Wilton’s Bush. This leads to a popular nature center that is bustling on the weekend as families enjoy picnics and parties on the grounds, which are filled with lush trees and exotic plants and flowers.

Otari-Wilton's Bush trail

John joins a group hike on a trail at Otari-Wilton’s Bush outside of Wellington. * Photo: John Roberts

After our lunch, we head back to the ship. Max, Katie and Brandon offer maps of Wellington on which they have noted their favorite restaurants, museums and a district full of craft breweries. I join a group that chooses to get dropped off at Te Papa Museum in the city center. This is the national museum of New Zealand and is filled with interesting artifacts and depictions of the nation’s history from old to modern times.

I spend a couple hours before heading back to Le Laperouse for a snack and change into my running gear. I take a jog along the harbor promenade, following the coastline to a beach area where I sit back for a while and bask in the sun.

Next, my plan is to find those craft breweries. Following the map, I land on Little Beer Quarter and try a couple varieties. I take my first pint, an IPA, to the bench outside and sip it down slowly. It’s late afternoon, and I note musicians bringing instruments inside and deduce that my lucky timing means that I’ll get to enjoy at least some of their live performance.

Wellington New Zealand bar

John does some beer drinking research in Wellington. New Zealand isn’t just known for its wine! * Photo: John Roberts

Back inside, I grab an APA for my second pint and slide into a cushioned high-backed chair and watch the trio of ladies dressed in peasant dresses and playing banjos offer up their renditions of American folk classics from the likes of Woody Guthrie and Maybelle Carter.

I figure I better head to the ship for a meal or else I would be here all night. Many people from our Backroads group are having dinner onshore, but I join Fleury and Barry, a couple from Florida, in the main dining room. The three of us share an excellent meal and conversation.

Fleury is on her 20th trip with Backroads, and Barry is on his 10th. I ask why they like these trips so much.

“I like the consistency,” Fleury says.

She says she particularly is impressed with the unique experiences you can find with Backroads, explaining that the company goes to places and gives you experiences that you aren’t usually going to get with other outfitters.

Plus, Backroads is a good fit for all kinds of travelers.

“They seem to have more and more options for people of all ages and abilities,” she says. “I really enjoy the focus on being active. We always have a good experience.”

Arriving to the South Island

The South Island of New Zealand showcases the true wild side of the country. The North Island contains most of the nation’s population, while the South Island is home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, with stunning mountains, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers.

Over the final four days of our cruise, we first crossed Cook Strait to arrive at the little coastal town of Picton, situated on a lovely bay leading to Queen Charlotte Inlet and Marlborough Sounds.

A water taxi picks us up at the marina and we head into the sound on a sun-splashed morning. We arrive at a quiet spot on shore about 35 minutes away and find the trailhead for the Queen Charlotte Track. We have options for a short route and a longer hike along a piece of this popular epic hiking path. Ten of us head ashore for the longer, nine-mile hike, which heads high into the hills along forested dirt paths. We see several birds and have frequent views of the sound below.

I carry a boxed lunch and eat on the trail as I walk, making good time on this challenging hike. A water taxi meets us at dock at the end of the hike, and members of our group all finish at different times, so small groups of people share rides back into Picton, where we have time to explore on our own. Some check out the small shops or stop into a café or bar for their favorite refreshments. I find a hiking path at the edge of town and take the chance to get in a few more miles.

Indulging in all the fine French cuisine and craft beers onboard the ship day in and day out, I decide that I better burn a few more calories before dinner.

crafts beers on Le Laperouse

Le Laperouse’s excellent selection of craft beers are included in the fares. * Photo: John Roberts

All aboard is at 4:30 pm, so I tender back and clean up for sunset cocktails on the pool deck. The weather is perfect, and the mood is light as we all relax and look forward to a day at sea before we arrive at Fiordland National Park.

champagne on deck of a New Zealand Cruise

Immersed in nature and fitness by day and luxury and pampering back on board. * Photo: John Roberts

Milford Sound

On the morning that we arrive at Milford Sound, it’s raining. Passengers gather on the top decks at the bow of the ship, as we enter this impressive waterway (it’s actually a glacial fjord and not a sound). The rains create a series of waterfalls streaming down the cliff sides, and cruisers flit about snapping photos throughout the morning.

I join for a bit before ducking inside. I remembered a nice spot in the spa that offers a serene view of the outdoors as we sail into Milford Sound.

milford sound views from the spa

Milford Sound from the ship’s spa! * Photo: John Roberts

After lunch, it’s time to hop on the zodiacs and head ashore where we meet guides on a beach in the national park who will lead us on around Milford Sound on a kayak tour. After morning rains, the skies have cleared and the conditions are perfect for paddling on the calm waters around the edge of the fjord. We look up to see the awesome scale of the region, with a glacier still visible deep into the valley beyond. Waterfalls are still flowing, with some of the streams slowing since the rains ceased.

zodiac in Milford Sound

A zodiac ride to the kayaks in Milford Sound. * Photo: John Roberts

The notorious sand fleas are feasting on our legs and arms, and I’ll return home with some nasty bites from this trip, a souvenir that serves as a constant reminder of this adventure for a couple more months.

When we finish our two hours of paddling and return our kayaks and life jackets, five kea make a ruckus on the trailers and vehicles at the kayaking outfitter’s beachside station. Kea are the world’s only Alpine parrot, and these birds are well known as “troublemakers” because of their innate curiosity and penchant for chewing up anything their beaks latch onto.

Kea on a kayak

A visit from a nosy Kea! * Photo: John Roberts

We ride back in small groups on Zodiacs at sunset. It’s a great way to cap our adventures ashore. Tomorrow, we’ll have a full day sailing, venturing into Dusky Sound for a look at the dolphins, seals and birds in this part of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Before Dusky Sound, though, it’s a farewell gala onboard Le Laperouse. With an easy day of sailing and relaxing on tap for the next day, everyone is in a mood to eat, drink and dance the night away, while re-telling our tales of the past week of exploration in New Zealand.

The Ship

Le Laperouse, which launched in 2018, is a luxury, mostly inclusive sailing experience, with 92 all-balcony cabins and meals and drinks included in your fare. Shore excursions and gratuities are extra.

There’s a small gym with treadmills and exercise bikes, as well as a full-fledged spa on Deck 7. Spa services include massages and other treatments. A large sauna is open and available for passenger use.

Watch John’s video: A virtual tour of Le Laperouse.

oceanview gym on Le LaPerouse

The Le LaPerouse gym has ocean views. * Photo: John Roberts

The Blue Eye lounge is a below-water-level multi-sensory experience on Deck 0. The lounge is bathed in moody blue light, and cruisers can go down to enjoy a drink and soak up the atmosphere that includes a hydrophone that pumps in underwater sounds. Two large portholes give sometimes murky views of the underwater world.

Word is that you just might catch some whale sounds. Also, a 30-minute multi-sensory session is offered regularly throughout the cruise. This is a guided experience with the cruise director who plays recorded video and sounds, and answers any questions about the lounge. Space is limited and requires signing up.

Most in our Backroads group gave the Blue Lounge a try, but many thought it feels a bit gimmicky. I agree.

Le Nautilus, the main restaurant, is an open-seating dinner venue operating at set times (usually 7 pm). Reservations are available for six or more. The menus feature traditional French cuisine such as Nicoise salads and beef bourguignon alongside locally-sourced seafood the likes of New Zealand mussels, oysters and scallops.

The pool grill is called Le Nemo, and it’s a buffet with salads, fruits, small plates, a grill area serving burgers, steaks, chicken and a couple hot dishes available for dinner and lunch.

Le Laperouse seafood

Le Laperouse cuisine was very good and featured lots of seafood. * Photo: John Roberts

This is a spot for a lighter breakfast, too, as it has no egg station but wonderful fresh fruit, yogurts, pastries and breads. Reservations are needed for dinner in this limited-seating al fresco area.

The Backroads team offered a variety of enrichment activities to keep our group entertained and learning about the region while on the ship.

Our little group had the theater to ourselves for a viewing of the highly entertaining “Hunt For the Wilderpeople,” a 2016 film that is set in New Zealand. It’s quite funny and sweet and provides some insight into Kiwi culture; you should try to check it out.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople film

Hunt For The Wilderpeople

We also learned about the currency, had a music and dance performance from a group of Maori entertainers while in Wellington, and were treated to a tasting of New Zealand honey during our last day at sea.

interior of Le Laperouse

A sea day or two is a welcome break to enjoy the lovely interior of Le Laperouse. * Photo: John Roberts

Max, Katie and Brandon did an amazing job of keeping the journey fresh and interesting and created an environment for everyone to get comfortable with one another and enjoy their cruise at their own pace.

The cabins on Le Laperouse offer plenty of storage space in dresser drawers and closets. The washroom and bathroom are separate rooms, which I think is standard for the French design. My cabin had a single sink basin, and a large walk-in shower.

Watch John’s video: A video tour of Le Laperouse’s cabins.

Le Laperouse cabin on a New Zealand cruise

John’s lovely cabin #401 aboard the Le Laperouse. * Photo: John Roberts

Until Next Time …

The Backroads and Ponant partnership works incredibly well for travelers making their first visit to New Zealand. This New Zealand cruise itinerary is packed with daily activities taking place in all kinds of ports, from quiet towns to bustling cities to destinations known for their blissful and serene wilderness.

And the best part is the comfort and convenience of sailing on a luxury ship that offers fine food and a bit of entertainment while serving as your transportation and launching pad for your adventures. 🚲🛳💦🌲

For booking info, visit the companies here: Backroads & Ponant.

sunset on a New Zealand cruise sunset

Until next time … * Photo: John Roberts

 

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Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

By Ted Scull.

For small ship cruising, it is not always fair winds and calm seas. Some parts of the world see more chop than others, and to be in the know before booking, here below are the regions that have a bit of a reputation.

Now let’s begin with the good news. Advance weather forecasts give ship captains ample warning to steer clear of a hurricane’s track by altering course. A diversion may result in skipping a port or two and substituting others, and while you might still feel the swell from the storm, it is unlikely that the ship’s movement will be more than a gentle rise and fall.

Roughest 8 Cruising Regions

Some major white water in the Atlantic, off Patagonia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Stabilizers help reduce side-to-side rolling, but not the up and down pitching motions into oncoming swells. The smaller the small ship, the less likely it will have the stabilizing fins. Large cruise ships’ massive blunt bows tend to slam into head seas, and to lessen the unpleasant sensation, the captain may drastically reduce his speed to lessen the impact.

The bodies of water below have the potential for the being the choppiest in world; in no particular order:

1)  Caribbean

The Caribbean’s hurricane season (roughly June to October) tops the list in terms of the number of passengers potentially affected because of the large number of ships cruising here. However, with so many alternative routes and ports of call, in most instances, ships can avoid the storm’s fury and still provide a satisfying cruise.

2)  North Atlantic

The North Atlantic is notorious for its storms at almost any time of the year, and the further north the track the more likely it is to encounter some rough seas along the multi-islands’ passage between the North of Scotland, Shetland/Orkney, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and the Canadian maritime provinces and/or the U.S. East Coast. It is positive thinking to note that all islands have a lee side.

The ships that reposition seasonally via the Atlantic between the Mediterranean/Iberia and the Caribbean/Florida are much less likely to encounter storms. However, ships that sail between Northern European ports, Iberia and the Mediterranean pass through the Bay of Biscay. This body of water, west of France and north of Spain, has a long anecdotal history especially with Brits.

In my experience — 16 passages — only one (Santander to Portsmouth) was truly tempestuous and that was quite enough for everybody on board, including me who likes a bit of chop.

3)  Mediterranean

Speaking of the Mediterranean, the Mistral that roars down the Rhone Valley in France and then across the Western Med can stir up heavy seas in winter and spring as does the Meltemi in summer in the Greek Islands. I was aboard the ROYAL CLIPPER during a powerful Mistral and the sail-laden ship reached its maximum hull speed. It was exhilarating and more than a bit dramatic.

4)  Drake Passage

The dreaded Drake Passage between Ushuaia, Argentina and the Antarctic Peninsula has a well-deserved reputation, and happily any storm that does occur rarely lasts more than 12 to 24 hours. If you are susceptible to mal de mer, be prepared to deal with any eventuality because the expedition is well worth it.

Longer itineraries that include the Falklands and South Georgia expand the chances for stormy weather.

Cowabunga dude!! That's some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cowabunga dude!! That’s some wave action on the Drake Passage. * Photo: Ted Scull

5)  Gulf of Alaska

The Inside Passage to and from Alaska may be well protected apart from a few short-open sea stretches, while ships traversing the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, on the other hand, may encounter North Pacific storms or swells from a more distant storm.

6)  Southeast & East Asia

Typhoons are an occasional worry in Southeast and East Asia from the South China Sea north to Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, but course alterations can minimize discomfort unless the ship must call at a disembarkation port, then arrivals may be delayed until the waters calm.

7)  Trans-Tasman Passage

The Trans-Tasman passage between Australia and New Zealand and the Bass Strait between Southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania can kick up a mighty storm, but few small ships venture into these southern waters.

8)  Point Judith

The only time I ever felt I might be seasick was standing at the bow of a small ship rounding Point Judith where Narragansett Bay meets Long Island Sound. The sea becomes confused here due to colliding waters, and by simply moving amidships, the unpleasant sensation eased.

Charles Darwin was seasick more than not during his three-year voyage on the Beagle, but back then there were few remedies, and today they are many. A truism is that everyone reacts differently, so there is no easy answer. Still, for the small percentage that do experience mal de mer, it is no picnic. Get professional advice before you go.

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oral Expeditions Review

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QuirkyCruise Coral Expeditions Review

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 new small oceangoing ship in 2005; and the largest and newest, a true expedition ship CORAL ADVENTURER (120 passenger), arrived in April 2019. Similar CORAL GEOGRAPHER is expected to be delivered in December 2020. Each new member of the fleet allowed itineraries to reach beyond the Australian coast to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, South Pacific Islands, Tasmania, New Zealand and Indian Ocean. Along with renaming the line Coral Expeditions, the existing fleet took on new names: CORAL EXPEDITIONS I, CORAL EXPEDITIONS II and 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. In June 2021, the line will completely revamp the Great Barrier Reef cruises by expanding all of them to 7 days and include some more remote offshore destinations that seldom see regular visitors. See below (Itineraries}.

Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I (built 1988 & 50 passengers); CORAL EXPEDITIONS II (b. 1985/refitted 2015 & 44 p); CORAL DISCOVERER (b. 2005 & 72 p); and CORAL ADVENTURER (b. 2019 & 120 p). The last-named, a true expedition ship, left Singapore on April 24, 2019 on its maiden trip to Indonesia and then onto Australia via a first call in Darwin. 120-passenger CORAL GEOGRAPHER to follow at the end of 2020.

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia's Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Coral Princess cruises off Cape York, Australia’s Top End. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

Passenger Profile

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

Passenger Decks

CORAL EXPEDITIONS I has four decks; CORAL PRINCESS II three; and CORAL DISCOVERER four decks and stabilizers. None have elevators. CORAL ADVENTURER 5 decks and elevator between lower 4; CORAL GEOGRAPHER 6 decks and elevator between lower 4.

Coral Expeditions

CORAL GEOGRAPHER. * Rendering: Coral Expeditions

Price

$$ to $$$ Expensive/Very pricey.

Included Features

All excursions and activities.

Itineraries – A sampling
  • Year-round Great Barrier Reef (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) cruises on CORAL EXPEDITIONS II from Cairns, North Queensland are either 3-night trips out to the reef for snorkeling/diving, private islands for the beaches, resorts, Danetree rain-forest trails 0r 4-night trips head north to the amazingly colorful Ribbon Reefs, going ashore at Lizard Island research station, and visiting historic Cooktown for its botanic gardens and nature walks. 7-night cruises combine the 3- and 4-nighters. Beginning in June 2021, the program will change into longer and more varied cruise that lasts 7 days and concentrates on the reef’s northern sections to include Hope Island and Osprey Reef, the latter a remote isolated seamount located at the outer limits of the Coral Sea Marine Park. Queensland’s coastal Daintree Rain Forest hikes and visits to Cooktown and indigenous cultures will round out the week.Coral Expeditions Review

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

  • It’s 10-night cruises in the Australian Outback along the extremely remote Kimberley Coast between Darwin, Northern Territory and Broome, Western Australia aboard CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I during the dry season from April to October . Highlights are numerous waterfalls, especially powerful just after the rains in April and May, colorful cliff formations, indigenous Aboriginal rock art, birdlife, beach walking and some swimming. Apart from passing a few other small cruisers and private yachts, you are unlikely to encounter many, if any, people ashore. Much of the coast is inaccessible except on foot or by boat. 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. Personal Note: On my Kimberley cruise, I hooked an 80-pound shark, wrestling with it for over an hour before it broke the line.
  • Arnhem Land and Cape York expeditions on CORAL DISCOVERER and CORAL EXPEDITIONS I lasting 11 or 12 nights, operate at the beginning and end of The Kimberley season between Cairns and Darwin. The itinerary follows the extremely remote coast with Outback calls at the little visited northern end of the Great Barrier Reef; Cape York, the country’s most northerly tip; a community of Torres Strait islanders; Arnhem Land, home to Aboriginals and ranchers, and the Tiwi Islands, located just off Darwin with a distinctive group of Aboriginals speaking their own native language.
  • Papua New Guinea and the Spice Islands of Indonesia aboard the CORAL DISCOVERER feature in February, March and October with expeditions of 10, 12 and 24 nights. The many aspects are exploring the largest rain forest outside the Amazon Basin teeming with hundred of species of birds, butterflies and insects, Sepik River villages, WWII battle sites, volcanic mountains, and coral atolls. The longest cruise circumnavigates Papua New Guinea with a larger emphasis on WII sites. 13-night CORAL DISCOVERER cruises also operate between Papua New Guinea and South Pacific Islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, visiting local cultures, coral reefs and WWII sites.
  • Tasmania, Australia’s island state located south of Melbourne sees the stabilized CORAL DISCOVERER offering 7-day cruises from January to March (summertime in the Southern Hemisphere) that explore the east, and south coast coasts, some sections inaccessible by any other means than hiking. Visit national parks and World Heritage Area, and sail beneath 1000-foot cliffs, spot albatross, fur seals, dolphins, go kayaking, bush walks through thick forest land, and visit Port Arthur, Australia’s notorious penal colony. Cruises leave from and return to Hobart, Tassie’s capital and largest port. If you like seafood, you will love this place, as well as eating freshly caught oysters during the cruise.
  • N.B. The expanded fleet allows far more itineraries such as to  New Zealand on two different itineraries of 8 and 12 nights from late December through February. The longer one embarks in Auckland and hugs the Pacific coasts of the North and South Islands.  Experience Maori culture, the Art Deco city of Napier rebuilt after a 1931 earthquake, whale watching off Kaikoura, wildlife at Akaroa, Scottish culture at Dunedin, Stewart Island off the tip of South Island for birds and especially kiwis, and the natural wonders of Fiordland National Park. The ship enters less visited Dusky and Doubtful Sounds and finally the grand finale of Milford Sound. A transfer over scenic roads to the lakeside community of Queenstown provides a fitting climax. Spend a night or two here. The shorter 8-nighters ply between Milford Sound and Wellington, calling at all the South Island destinations to Kaikoura mentioned above, and then enter Marlborough Sound, disembarking at Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. The Indian Ocean is another with long cruises to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, and Réunion when the CORAL GEOGRAPER arrives at the end of 2020.
Coral Expeditions Review

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

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. New Guinea expeditions lead to remote coast lines and penetrate deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River, while 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. Coral Expeditions’ three small ships carry only 44 to 72 passengers providing truly intimate shared experiences.

Coral Expeditions Review

Coral Discoverer off Manum Island, Papua New Guinea. * Photo: Coral Expeditions

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.

Cabins
Coral Expeditions

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

All cabins are outside with windows, except four D Deck cabins with portholes aboard CORAL EXPEDITIONS II. Beds are twins or doubles (junior kings on CORAL DISCOVERER). CORAL ADVENTURER has two suites and CORAL GEOGRAPHER has six suites. Many cabins have balconies.

Public Rooms

All five  ships have a lounge (forward facing on the two catamarans), dining room with a bar and ample outdoor deck space for viewing.

Dining

Seating is open for all meals. Breakfast (continental or cooked) and lunch (cold and hot dishes) are buffets while dinner is served from a menu. You partake of Australia’s bountiful fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats. Wines are from Australia and New Zealand.

Activities & Entertainment

CORAL DISCOVERER has a small pool and offers guided engine room tours; and all three have an open bridge policy, Zodiacs for touring and scuba diving with instructors and snorkeling equipment on selected itineraries. Additionally, CORAL EXPEDITIONS I and CORAL DISCOVERER carry excursion boats with capacities to handle all passengers. CORAL EXPEDITIONS II operates a glass bottom boat, ideal for viewing the tropical fishes along the Great Barrier Reef. Lecturers and briefings occur on all itineraries, and two Special Guest Lecturers accompany The Kimberley, Arnhem Land & Cape York, and the South Pacific itineraries.

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

Coral Expeditions Review

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

Along the Same Lines

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

Contact

Coral Expeditions, P.O.Box 2093, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia; http://coralprincess.com.au/home-au/;  in Australia  1800 079 545; rest of the world +61 7 4040 9999.

TWS

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LE BOREAL in the Elbe WJM IMG_0678

Snapshot: Tauck was founded in 1925 by Arthur Tauck, Sr. ,and the firm is still family-owned with Arthur Tauck Jr. as chairman and son-in- law Dan Mahar CEO. The vast enterprise operates in 70 countries, and for purposes of Quirky Cruise, we’re highlighting their extensive choice of river and small ship cruises.

What’s Included: Quite a lot. On small ship cruises, shore excursions planned for Tauck-only passengers; all gratuities to Tauck guides, ship staff, local guides and drivers, bar and restaurant beverages, port charges, luggage handling, transfers, hotel accommodations and airport transfers upon arrival and departure when noted.

River Cruises:

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

Tauck riverboat sails into Budapest. * Photo: Tauck

-Europe: River itineraries, offered from April through October, include waterways in Belgium and Holland; Rhine and Moselle; Main and Danube; Rhone and Soane, and the Seine. N.B. The Douro will be added in 2020 – see below. In fact, string together cruises and sail from Amsterdam to Budapest (15 days) and even continue on another week to the Danube to the Black Sea.

N.B. Selected cruises aboard the score of riverboats cater to families with activities ashore such as hiking and cycling, riding a cog railway and how about this, a scavenger hunt in the Louvre! On board, kids hear about the legends of the Lorelei and participate in cooking demonstrations and chocolate tasting. Riverboats EMERALD and SAPPHIRE will each have 14 cabins converted to handle a family of four. See the firm’s website for the Tauck Bridges ebrochure for kids that describes the destinations and activities for a family vacation.

Two riverboats carrying just 130 passengers each entered service in 2016 – the GRACE in April and JOY in June, then in 2018 ESPRIT and TREASURES with 118 passengers.

Riverboat Inspire moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Tauck

Riverboat Inspire moored at Koblenz on the Rhine. * Photo: Tauck

Cruise tours include hotel stays and land extensions, such as adding London and Paris to a Seine River cruise, Switzerland to the Rhine, Prague and Nurnberg to a Danube itinerary and the French Riviera to the Rhone and Soane. The Jewel class ships take up to just 118 passengers with alternate dining in the Bistro and on the Sun Deck, weather permitting. The Inspiration class carries up to 130 with alternate dining at Arthur’s and on the Sun Deck, again, weather permitting. Inclusive features include unlimited beverages include beer, wine, spirits; Internet (reception varies); use of bicycles; shore excursions and all gratuities to staff aboard and guides ashore.

-*Myanmar (Burma): 11-day cruise tours, scattered throughout the year, include a three-night cruise on the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River between Bagan and Mandalay aboard the 4-deck, 82-passenger BELMOND ROAD to Mandalay. *N.B. This cruise is currently not operating.

-China: 16- & 17-day cruise tours spend 3 days (downstream) or 4-days (upstream) aboard the 124-passenger YANGZI EXPLORER between Chongqing and Yichang, including passage through the Three Gorges. Tauck reserves 23 cabins, all with balconies, on sailings operating between April and October.

Small Ship Cruises: As Tauck uses a variety of ships, inclusive features vary.

-Europe: A wide variety, and most cruises last 7 days, a few 8 and 9, plus land extensions with hotels, sightseeing and transfers. Spain & Portugal, Aegean Sea, Venice, Croatia & Greece with Windstar ships sail and motor vessels; British Isles & Ireland; Norwegian Fjords, Iceland, Baltic & St. Petersburg; Italy, Sicily, Malta, Corsica & Monte Carlo with Ponant ships LE SOLEAL and LE PONANT. The new purpose-built 84-passenger riverboat ANDORINHA will arrive on Portugal Douro River in spring 2020. May to October itineraries will be 7-night cruise only, 7 nights for families, and 12 nights with 7-night cruise and 2-night hotel stays each in Madrid and Lisbon. Andorinha is a migratory sparrow that returns to Portugal every spring and occupies the same nest with the same mate year after year.

-Cuba: THESE CRUISES HAVE BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO A US GOVERNMENT ORDER FORBIDDING CRUISES TO CUBA. HOWEVER, LAND TOUR ARE AVAILABLE THOUGH TAUCK. 11-day Cuba cruise tours begin and end with flight from and back to Miami using the motor-sail ship LE PONANT (60 passengers) for a six-day cruise between Havana and Santiago de Cuba and calling as three intermediate south coast ports. Dates are December and January.

-Central America: An 11-day cruise-tour, January, February, and March, to Panama and Costa Rica spends 7 nights aboard the 148-passenger WIND STAR passing through the canal and calling at island and coastal ports between Colon, Panama and Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica.

A Cuna boy from the San Blas Islands, Panama comes among side. * Photo: Ted Scull

A Panamanian boy comes among side. * Photo: Ted Scull

-Galapagos: A 8-day cruise tour, March, April, June to August and December, combine a Peruvian tour including Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu with a 4-night Galapagos cruise aboard the 90-passenger, 5-deck SANTA CRUZ II (Tauck passengers only). Cabins are all outside with twin or double beds. December is a family departure.

-Antarctica: 13-day Antarctica cruise tours, January and December 2017, include 2 nights in Buenos Aires and 10 nights aboard Ponant Cruises’ LE SOLEAL or LE BOREAL (224-264 passengers). These 6-deck ships, built since 2010, have all outside cabins, (most with balconies), twin beds or queen-size, some cabins with bathtubs, two restaurants and two panorama lounges, two viewing terraces, open-air bar, and elevators to all but the highest Deck 7.

-New Zealand: A 9-day cruise of the North and South Islands aboard LE LAPEROUSE (184 passengers) with an Australian component to Melbourne, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. adding up to 20 days.

L'Austral. * Photo: Tauck

L’Austral cruises to Antarctica. * Photo: Tauck

-Japan: A week’s cruise aboard Ponant’s L’AUSTRAL (264 passengers) or LE SOLEOL (244 passengers)  makes a loop around southern Japan with a call at Busan, South Korea as part of a 14-day cruise tour with April departures.

Japanese gardens are a major feature of a cruise tour.

Contact: TAUCK, 10 Westport Road, Wilton, CT 06897-4548. www.tauck.com; 800-468-2825

TWS

 

 

Blue Lagoon Cruises

10 Great Places Only Small Ship Cruises Go

by Ted Scull & Heidi Sarna.

If you love traveling by water, here are 10 neat places around the world only accessible by our wee quirky fleet of ships, from North America to South America and Europe out to the Far East. Big ships can’t get to any of these cool spots.

The Islands of New England, USA

Yes, a couple of large cruise ships have called at Martha’s Vineyard disgorging many hundreds into poor Vineyard Haven, but they can’t get anywhere near the more charming town of Nantucket. Neither can they get close to the utterly Victorian nature of Block Island, tiny Cutty Hunk in the Elizabeth Islands or through the flood gates to access New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket. * Photo: Ted Scull

New York State’s Hudson River Valley

A big cruise ship could not get you beyond the New York City limits, while one of our small ship cruises will take you 150 breathtaking miles up America’s Rhine past stately mansions with Hudson River views and the spectacle of fall foliage as breathtaking as Vermont’s.

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Walkway over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. * Photo: Ted Scull

Alaska’s Glacier Bay

Sure, it’s accessible to all sizes of ships with the proper permits — all the big ships sail up to the same glacier then turn around and leave, while small expedition ships do that and more such as venturing up to the Johns Hopkins Glacier, an immense growing glacier that big ship passengers will never see. Hundreds of harbor seals will be lounging on the ice flows.

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Glacier Bay, Alaska. * Photo: Ted Scull

Upper Reaches of the Amazon River

Medium-size cruise ships can make it 1,000 miles up the broad Amazon to Manaus where they have to turn around stopping at locations where hundreds go ashore to over-visited villages, while small riverboats sail the Upper Amazon and its amazing network of tributaries to some of the most remote places on earth reached by water. Here riverside villages are completely isolated from one another, except by small boat, and wildlife abounds in the water, in the sky and deep in the rainforest.

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

Lily pads along the Amazon.* Photo: Ted Scull

The Length of the Chilean Fjords

The big ships duck in and out where they can safely turnaround while small ship cruises can travel the length of Chile’s inside passage south to the tip of South America while sailing close to numerous glaciers and up narrow inlets to spot mammals and birds, and stopping at islands en route.

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Laguna San Rafael, Chilean Fjords. * Photo: Ted Scull

Mother Russia

Big ships dock at St. Petersburg, a wonderful city with a couple of palaces just outside, but to see Mother Russia, an inland river cruise will expose you to the vast interior countryside and allow you to step ashore to see Russian life in small towns and cities.

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Cruising into the heart of Mother Russia. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Interior of France

River cruises take you into the heart of France directly to Claude Monet’s Giverny Gardens, not to a coastal port with a long bus ride inland like the big ships offer. On a small ship river or canal cruise, there’s no need to endure an even longer drive from a Mediterranean port to spend a few hours at the wonder of Avignon as riverboats docs just outside the medieval walls.

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Avignon, medieval France. * Photo: Ted Scull

Fiji’s Out Islands

When ships of all sizes cross the Pacific they may make a stop at Fiji’s major port, but only small ship cruises sail from Fiji to the many nearby out islands and drop anchor in a blue lagoon to go snorkeling, enjoy a beach barbecue, and visit a local village and its school.

Out Islands - Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

Out Islands – Fiji, South Pacific. * Photo: Captain Cook Cruises

The Interior of Cambodia, Vietnam & Laos

River cruises sail into the interior of all three countries via the Mekong River and its tributaries, visiting exotic cities like Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Luang Prabang (Laos). Meanwhile, big ships can only get to the coastal cities of Vietnam, and it’s still a two- to four-hour drive each way to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Ted samples the local delicacies! * Photo: Ted Scull

Eastern Indonesia

Big ships can get you close enough to Bali to go ashore and join the masses of tourists already there, but small ship cruises explore the eastern end of the archipelago, from the Raja Ampat islands to Papua New Guinea, sailing deep into the island’s interior via the Sepik River.

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Outrigger canoes, Indonesia. * Photo: Ted Scull

 

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