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 Australia with Coral Princess Cruises

Barrier Reef, Australia with Coral Princess Cruises
Aboard Coral Princess on the Great Barrier Reef

by Roger Allnutt

From the Gold Coast to the top of Australia at Cape York the coast of Queensland is a haven for boats. Pleasure craft ranging from yachts to powerful pleasure cruisers ply the warm waters exploring the many islands, while divers and snorkellers get up close and personal with the myriad of fish among the coral of the Great Barrier Reef.

Fishermen keenly anticipate trying their luck especially those seeking the larger fish found in the deeper waters close to the Continental Shelf.

There are many companies along the coast that hire yachts and other craft; however, if you are not attracted by this option then there are plenty of options for day cruises to the Great Barrier Reef from ports such as Port Douglas, Cairns, Townsville, Airlie Beach and Bundaberg.

A very relaxing option is to join a longer cruise to get a better appreciation of the scale and variety of the Great Barrier Reef. I recently joined Coral Princess II for an 8 day/7 night cruise that consisted of two ‘segments’, a 4-night sector from Cairns up to Lizard Island and return, and a 3-night sector from Cairns down to Townsville. For travellers with only limited time the two sectors can be done individually providing a welcome taste of what the reef has to offer.

the Great Barrier Reef with Coral Princess Cruises

Coral Princess II is a catamaran-hulled craft with 23 cabins on two decks plus a large upper deck consisting of lounge/bar and a sun/viewing deck. The cabins are spacious, usually with twin bed configuration but some double beds are available. The en suite is also spacious and there is excellent storage space for clothes and swimming gear. All have outside windows.

On my cruise there were only 25 and 29 guests (of a maximum of 46) for the two sectors so that the ship was totally ‘uncrowded’ and with a crew of 12 there was plenty of friendly attention and service. The cruise price includes three meals per day (only one sitting at meals) plus morning and afternoon snacks and 24-hour tea/coffee; other drinks are billed separately. The food was excellent throughout the cruise with a feature the huge seafood buffet on the first night of each sector. Plenty of fresh fruit was a welcome bonus – the temptation is to eat too much.

From Cairns the cruise headed north along the Queensland coast stopping first at historic Cooktown where Captain James Cook on the Endeavour spent time on his voyage of exploration up the east coast of Australia in 1770, repairing his ship after it was holed striking a reef. Cooktown is a small coastal community on the Endeavour River; a pleasant town to wander through with the excellent museum named after Cook (located in an old convent) containing relics from Cook’s stay as well as collections relating to the Chinese settlement there during the gold rush at Palmer River in the 1870s and the local indigenous peoples.

Lizard Island is the next stop for the first opportunity to snorkel or to try your hand at scuba diving. Snorkelling gear is provided on the cruise while there is a charge for scuba diving. The ship carries a certified dive instructor and a number of guests (some with previous experience) made use of the gear carried by the ship.

The upmarket resort at Lizard Island is tucked into one corner of the island that also contains a number of walking trails including a rather steep climb to Cook’s Look, the highest point of the island. A scramble up smooth granite rocks and through pretty island vegetation is rewarded with panoramic views over the reef and to nearby smaller islands. A short boardwalk over a mangrove swamp is an alternative for the less active.

the Great Barrier Reef with Coral Princess Cruises

There were a number of other sailing vessels moored close to Lizard Island from catamaran style yachts to rather luxurious-looking pleasure craft clearly designed for a comfortable voyage of the islands in the area.

The next two moorings were at Ribbon Reef 9 and Escape Reef, both well offshore and close to the edge of the Continental Shelf. Here the snorkelling and diving are excellent with clear waters and coral and fish viewing at its best. At each stop viewing of the reef is provided in a glass bottom boat – an excellent way to also see the coral, fish, giant clams and perhaps even a sea turtle or a dugong (sea cow).

After returning to Cairns for a short three hour break the Coral Princess set off (with 10 guests from the first sector plus 19 newcomers) for Thetford Reef, another outer reef.

Time was spent at Dunk Island where guests are able to use the facilities of the island resort, as well as take a leisurely stroll to local sights.

Hinchinbrook Island is one of the larger islands off the Queensland coast and the channel between the island and the coast provides a tranquil cruise along a mangrove-edged shoreline.

Coral Princess Cruises leases a corner of Pelorus, a small island near Hinchinbrook, and time was spent there imagining I was Robinson Crusoe, although a lovely BBQ on the beach and shady umbrellas dispelled that to some extent.

Paddling languidly in the warm shallow water I am entranced by the various shapes, textures and formations of the coral reef and dazzled by the colourful myriad of fish darting in and out of the coral. Some of the fish are intrigued by this strange object swimming among them and come closer for a better look.

There are other activities on board including information talks on the reef, board games, a quiz night and a DVD is made of the cruise. Our cruise drew guests from around the world including the US, Canada, England and Scotland, Germany and Russia as well as Australians and the leisurely pace of the trip allowed plenty of time to get to know them.

The cruise ends at Townsville the largest town in north Queensland, a busy port for mineral exports as well as an Army and Air Force base and the home of James Cook University that specialises in marine biology and associated disciplines. The marina was packed with craft of all shapes and sizes.

It is a good idea to arrive in Cairns a day or so before your cruise departs as there are a number of land-based attractions in the region. The Novotel Oasis Resort in Cairns is highly recommended as a base while in Cairns or alternatively the Castaways on the Beach Resort at lovely Mission Beach south of Cairns is also recommended.

Photos courtesy Coral Princess Cruises

Coral Princess Cruises

Coral Princess also offers cruises from Broome to Darwin (and vice versa), and Cairns to Darwin in northern Australia, as well as cruises in Melanesia and Papua New Guinea. For more information on the Coral Princess II cruise check the website

Roger Allnutt in Australia
Roger Allnutt is a freelance travel writer based in Canberra, Australia, and a long-time member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He travels widely around the world researching material for publication in newspapers and magazines in Australia, New Zealand, US, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Roger is happy to accept commissions and can provide material on many parts of the world. He can be reached at [email protected]

His other interests include food and wine, classical music and theatre and playing tennis.

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