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Sydney, Australia (Photo:Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock)

Everything You Need to Know About Australia Circumnavigation Cruises

Sydney, Australia (Photo:Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock)
Contributor
Caroline Gladstone

Last updated
May 8, 2024

Read time
5 min read

Australia is an island continent with a vast coastline, measuring some 35,877 km. It's perfect to explore by cruise ship, although it's not possible to take today's big ships into many of the beautiful little seaside towns. Some circumnavigation itineraries will involve a handful of tendering ports.

As the distances between capital cities can be great (for instance it's a day's drive between Sydney and Melbourne, and at least four days from Sydney to Perth), the idea of a leisurely cruise is very appealing.

A circumnavigation of Australia can take between 24 and 33 days depending on the number of ports visited, usually with 10 to 18 sea days per voyage.

The longest distances between ports are from Cairns to Darwin around the 'Top End' of the country, and from Adelaide to Fremantle along the southern coast.

From the best time to take one to the types of itineraries to expect, here's everything you need to know about Australia circumnavigation cruises.


Best Time for Australia Circumnavigation Cruises

Norwegian Jewel in Sydney Harbour (Photo: Norwegian Cruise Line)

Circumnavigation cruises operate during the Australian cruise season, from September to April.

The 'Top End' of Australia, i.e. the Northern Territory, including the capital, Darwin, will be much hotter and more humid than the southern half of the country.


Australia Circumnavigation Cruise Lines

Coral Discoverer

As circumnavigations are 'highlight' voyages, due to their length and price, there is a limited demand for them and they tend to be offered by the lines that typically appeal to older passengers with time on their hands.

Princess Cruises was the first line to offer them, beginning in 2005, however, other lines have joined in over the years, while Viking is making a foray into the market with voyages in 2025 and 2026.

In addition, Cunard, Holland America Line (both Carnival Corp. owned lines, along with Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia), and expedition line Coral Expeditions offer Australia circumnavigation cruise.


Australia Circumnavigation Cruise Itineraries

Cruise ship docked in Broome (Photo: Michaela De Freitas/Shutterstock.com)

As there are only a handful of circumnavigations offered each year, it's a matter of booking before the cruise is sold out rather than having a plethora of itineraries and dates to choose.

Itineraries tend to favour the same capital city ports and bigger regional ports in Western Australia such as Broome, Exmouth, Geraldton, Busselton (for Margaret River), and Albany, and Cairns in Queensland.

Apart from the capital cities and larger regional ports, other destinations may include Newcastle and Eden in New South Wales; Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays region of Queensland: Port Lincoln and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, Esperance in Western Australia; and Burnie and the penal settlement of Port Arthur in Tasmania. Burnie is the port for excursions to Cradle Mountain. A few cruises have also introduced Townsville, a sub-tropical city south of Cairns.

Extensive scenic cruising is also offered in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, the water way that separates Australian from New Guinea. Willis Island, a tiny island that houses a weather station operated by the Australian Bureau of Metrology, and is home to abundant birdlife, is now included on some itineraries – ships will cruise close to the island.   

Luscious Bali (Photo:Khoroshunova Olga/Shutterstock)

Itineraries often feature an overseas port, such as Bali (Indonesia) and more and more voyages are including Komodo in Indonesia, home to the Komodo Dragons, the world's largest lizard. The Papua New Guinea port of Alotau was a feature a few years ago but seems to have been left out of current itineraries. It may re-appear. The inclusion of a foreign port allows for duty free sales.

Cruise lines tend to sell the entire circumnavigation, or two semi-circumnavigations that can be pieced together. Rarely are sectors sold, however, each line has a different policy.

Princess Cruises has the most flexible embarkation rules, with the ability to board the cruise in three or four different capital cities.

Australia Circumnavigation Cruise Port Highlights

Melbourne, Australia (Photo: Richie Chan/Shutterstock)

Australia's myriad cruise ports range from each state's capital city — Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin and Brisbane — to Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and remote regions such as the Margaret River and Cairns in the Tropical North of Queensland.

The country is vast and each port offers something new, from cosmopolitan downtown areas that are steeped in history, with world-beating attractions, to jaw-dropping rainforests, canyons, dazzling beaches and extraordinary wine regions.

Some Australia circumnavigation cruises also visit international ports, too, such as Bali and Komodo in Indonesia and New Guinea.


Australia Circumnavigation Cruise Tips

Prepare for an older crowd. Long cruises tend to attract retirees around 70 years old and older, since they're the ones who can afford the time and money to take a longer getaway of 30 days or more.

Plan for days at sea. There are many long cruise days, so take a few good books, learn a new skill (pickleball anyone?), take up dance classes, or catch up on the latest movies and your beauty sleep. Cunard ships have excellent libraries.

Hit the nightclub. The DJ will love you as many of the older clientele that take these cruises tend to be tucked up in bed when the disco is pumping.

Check out the deals at the spa. Long cruises tend to offer a few perks.

Check out value-added deals when booking. Several cruise lines, such as Princess, offer deals on circumnavigation voyages that include drinks and Wi-Fi. If not it's worth checking out the wine and drinks packages to see if they are a better deal than paying by the drink.

Plan excursions in advance. You'll save money doing your own thing with a group of friends, especially in the big ports that are easy to get around and have plenty of local travel companies.

Publish date February 21, 2020
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