When it comes to cruises from Sydney, the South Pacific is our backyard. While Australian-based cruise ships have been exploring the waters for decades, the islands are far from built-up and much of the region retains its authentic “sleepy” feel, with friendly locals turning on a South Seas welcome with song and dance. There are tiny uninhabited islands you can walk around in 30 minutes, others teeming with brightly coloured fish and marine life, and busier ports with great duty-free shopping and good restaurants. As the nearest port of Noumea takes two days to reach from Sydney, each cruise has four to five leisurely days at sea.
If you want to be among the first passengers to experience P&O’s new Pacific Eden, hop aboard the November 25, 2015 nine-night cruise, which departs on the same day that five P&O ships will be docked in Sydney Harbour. The cruise visits the idyllic Loyalty Islands of Mare and Lifou for snorkelling off dreamy beaches in translucent water and the gorgeous Isle of Pines. Covered with towering trees and lapped by calm waters, these isles are close to paradise. There’s also a call at tiny Mystery Island for more swimming and a chance to shop and eat croissants at the market in Noumea.
If you fancy visiting four Fijian ports, while savouring premium whiskeys from round the world, Princess Cruises’ 14-night cruise on the Dawn Princess from December 7, 2015 is perfect. The ship’s recent refurbishment focused on food, drinks and spa, adding a new cafe, a beer and wine garden festival on the top deck, 56 fine whiskeys to the Wheelhouse Bar and new spa treatments. After swimming in Lifou and shopping in Port Vila, Dawn will visit Fiji’s Port Denarau and Suva on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu and then call at Savusavu, the yachties’ haven on the second main island of Vanua Levu, before calling at tiny Dravuni Island for more swimming and snorkeling and a drop of kava under the palm trees.
Champagne Bay is always voted favourite port when it appears on itineraries. Situated on the Vanuatu island of Espiritu Santo, the bay gets its name from the natural spring that bubbles up from under the seabed. Royal Caribbean’s mid-size ship Radiance of the Seas combines this port with calls at Port Vila and Mystery Island on two 12-night cruises departing January 7 and 19. The ship also calls at gorgeous Lifou and Mare and Noumea, making it a six-port itinerary.
For a short hop to the islands on the highest-rated Sydney-based ship, take an eight-night cruise on Celebrity Solstice departing November 26. Relax onboard for four days (two each way), swim with turtles in Lifou, explore the natural lagoon in the Isle of Pines and take the hop-on bus around Noumea.
Spend New Year’s Eve at sea and test-drive the new BlueIguana Mexican Cantina aboard newly-refurbished Carnival Spirit. The eight-night cruise to New Caledonia departs on December 27. It’s a chance to celebrate the start of 2016 with a thrilling ride on the Green Thunder waterslide.