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9 of the best small ship cruises to Australia

Cruise Advice

After two long years, Australia's ban on foreign cruise ships entering its waters finally expired in April, meaning that this fantastically diverse country is now firmly back on the cruising map. For those who already had Australia on their bucket list, the prolonged closure of the country's borders has only added to a sense that this is a trip to be prioritised over all others.

Of course, it's a long old way from the UK, so you will want to make the most of your visit. A small ship cruise is a great way to see Australia, with pretty much all of the main attractions situated on or near the coast, although the vastness of this continent-sized country means you'll need to think carefully about which region you want to explore.

The east coast is the most popular area to focus on, with highlights including the wonderful cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the spectacular Great Barrier Reef and the wineries of the Hunter Valley. Itineraries also often include the fascinating island of Tasmania or exotic Indonesia, and may combine the east coast of Australia with neighbouring New Zealand.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Cruises exploring the more sparsely populated west of the country are rarer, with easy-going Perth a highlight. Expedition ships focus mainly on the north coast, and in particular the rugged Kimberley region, with its otherworldly geology, rich marine life and aboriginal rock art. If you have a month or more to spare, look out for the occasional itineraries that make a full circumnavigation of the country, the ultimate Australian adventure!

There are plenty of options to choose from, depending on the style and length of cruise you're looking for, and which parts of the country you want to see. It's also worth carefully considering embarkation and disembarkation ports, as you may wish to spend a few extra days in one of the big east coast cities, or add on a trip to the Red Centre and magnificent Uluru. To help you with your search, here is our pick of the best small ship cruise lines visiting Australia:

1. Silversea

Silversea have an extensive Australia programme, with the 596-guest Silver Muse and the 388-guest Silver Whisper both wintering Down Under. Sailings that catch the eye include Muse's 27-night voyage from Melbourne to Cairns departing 16 January 2023 (a back-to-back voyage combining Melbourne to Auckland with Auckland to Cairns), which includes Tasmania, a week in New Zealand and the highlights of the east coast. For a more intrepid adventure, summer 2023 sees the 144-guest expedition ship Silver Explorer sail her final season in the Kimberley before leaving the Silversea fleet.

Silver Muse in Sydney, Australia

2. Oceania Cruises

Oceania's Regatta is a lovely size at 684 guests, and offers some fantastic Australia itineraries, including much sought-after full circumnavigations. The December 2022 circumnavigation is already sold out, so act now if you want to secure your place on the 2023 edition, a 35-night sailing round-trip from Sydney on 21 December 2023, with highlights including an overnight call in Perth, the little penguins of Phillip Island and three calls in Tasmania.

Little penguins on Phillip Island, Australia

3. Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Regent's generous all-inclusive offering make them a great choice for an Australia cruise, with even your shore excursions included, and voyages sell out fast. There is still good availability on the luxurious 732-guest Seven Seas Explorer sailing from Bali to Sydney on 5 December 2023, visiting the Indonesian islands of Lombok and Komodo before crossing the Timor Sea to Darwin then on to the east coast. The 482-guest Seven Seas Navigator makes a similar journey in reverse in March 2024, sailing from Auckland to Bali.

Regent Seven Seas Explorer - Regent Suite balcony

4. Scenic

Australian company Scenic's second 'discovery yacht', the 228-guest Scenic Eclipse II, launches next year, and in 2024 she will visit Scenic's home waters for the first time with a series of expedition-style voyages. Scenic's programme focuses on the Kimberley region, but do take a look at the unusual 28 April 2024 voyage between Cairns and Darwin, which combines the vibrant marine ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef with the intriguing indigenous culture of the Torres Strait Islands and the wild beauty of the Cobourg Peninsula.

Scenic Eclipse - Hanging chairs

5. Ponant

French cruise line Ponant operates a number of more unusual Australian itineraries on its fleet of stylish yachts. Beach lovers should check out the 7 December 2022 voyage from Cairns to Sydney, a 9-night island-hopping escape on board the 184-guest Le Lapérouse that has been designed specifically for travellers in search of unspoilt desert islands and turquoise lagoons. Another eye-catching option is the 23 December 2022 circumnavigation of Tasmania, sailing round-trip from Hobart and timed to coincide with the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Availability for this cruise is already very limited, but there are still a few suites available at the time of writing.

One of Ponant's Explorer class yachts in the Kimberley, Australia

6. Azamara

Azamara offer some interesting Australia options, with a number of 'Australia Intensive' voyages sailing along the south coast calling at Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Busselton, gateway to the Margaret River wine region. The 13-night Sydney to Perth voyage departing on 6 February 2023 offers particularly good value for money, with a Club Balcony Stateroom on the 686-guest Azamara Quest from just £3,009 person cruise only.

Kangaroo Island, Australia

7. Seabourn

Seabourn's fleet of contemporary small ships offer plenty of choice in Australia, including some nice options focused on the south coast and longer sailings combining Australia with South East Asia, New Zealand or the islands of the South Pacific. For something truly extraordinary, take a look at the 52-night voyage from Lyttleton to Cairns in January 2024 on Seabourn's new expedition ship, the 264-guest Seabourn Venture. This incredible adventure takes you down to Antarctica's remote Ross Sea, ticks off some of the highlights of New Zealand, then visits Tasmania before sailing up the east coast of Australia, including five full days exploring the Great Barrier Reef.

Beach on Fraser Island, Australia

8. Windstar Cruises

Windstar's Star Breeze is one of three Star Class yachts to have recently been 'stretched', adding new restaurants, staterooms and public space, though the ship is still petite at 312 guests. This winter she will be based in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and we particularly like the look of her 25 January 2023 cruise from Melbourne to Bali. This 23-night voyage includes Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef and the protected marine reserve of Triton Bay in West Papua, home to species ranging from pygmy seahorses to mighty whale sharks.

Windstar - Star Breeze - Pool deck

9. True North Adventure Cruises

With just one tiny 36-guest vessel, the eponymous True North, this specialist Australian company focuses on in-depth itineraries in Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, providing guests with an unmatched opportunity to get off the beaten track and discover an amazing and remote part of the world. Their programme includes voyages to the Kimberley, the spectacular Rowley Shoals, northern Australia's 'Top End', the islands and reefs of the west coast, and short 4-night cruises to Rottnest Island, home of possibly the world's cutest animal, the quokka!

True North in the Kimberley
Meet the author

Tom is a former Marketing Manager at Mundy Cruising

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