One of the best parts of cruising, particularly for the more intrepid passengers, is the things you can do and see when you step onshore. Not all cruise destinations are created equal, however - and each has its own qualities. Some are ideal for days spent lazing on the beach, while others are filled with cultural delights and new things to experience. It’s the latter category which we are focused on in this post - so if you like to get immersed in the local scene on your holidays, this is the list for you!
Read on to discover some fantastic destinations where you can immerse yourself in local culture and enjoy all our big, wide world has to offer.
Alotau, Papua New Guinea
Alotau is the capital of Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay Province, a common port for cruises from Australia. There is no major highway here from the nation’s capital, so it has retained a lot of individual character. It is a friendly place to walk around, and you needn’t sign on for a tour if you don’t want to. Just go for a wander. Take in the bustling marketplace and enjoy the fresh produce of the region.
Cruise lines tours offer experiences like traditional cooking classes and village visits, so you can get up close and personal with the culture and heritage of Milne Bay. There is also the Alotau Festival which is put on for cruise guests and is based on the traditional Canoe and Kundu Festival that happens there once a year. It’s a winner, and we recommend giving it a go if you want to try a line-organised tour.
If you are looking for art, music, theatre, and culture of the modern Australian variety, Melbourne is the spot. This sprawling Victorian city is a haven for baristas, restaurateurs, creatives, performers and more, and its famous laneways are packed with interesting places to eat, drink, and be entertained. Visit one of the many markets including Victoria Markets in the central city, and enjoy the galleries and museums of this magnificent urban centre.
If a specific activity in Melbourne catches your interest, you might want to sign up for a shore tour - perhaps a ride on the Puffing Billy historic steam train in the Dandenong Ranges, or a cruise on the Yarra River. We also have a list of top shore excursions for foodies. Otherwise, we recommend a low-key highlights tour or just getting a transfer (or public transport) into the city centre so you can explore.
For big city bustle and the varied sights, sounds and tastes of Southeast Asia, Bangkok is a fantastic cruise destination. Ships dock in Laem Chabang, and from there it’s a short drive into the city, where you can explore on your own (you’ll just need to book a transfer) or embark on an organised tour to fit in as much sightseeing as possible.
Must-dos while you are in Bangkok include taking in the majestic Grand Palace, sampling delicious noodles from a street vendor, wandering through the Floating Market, losing yourself in Chinatown and of course, taking a ride in a tuk-tuk. If you want to try something a little different, sign up for a boat cruise on the river and see the city from the waterway that is one of its main thoroughfares.
Bay of Islands, New Zealand
If you want to experience some of the heritage and Maori culture of New Zealand, this is a fantastic destination. Most ships will anchor off the town of Paihia and tender passengers ashore to Waitangi Wharf, which is not far from the settlement of Waitangi, the birthplace of modern New Zealand. Here is where the founding document of the nation was signed, and there is a historic site which offers huge amounts of information and insight into the native culture of the country and how it changed with European immigration.
Many tours include a traditional hangi lunch at Waitangi or a ride in a waka (a Maori war canoe) - both very special experiences. You can also enjoy some modern NZ culture in the town of Paihia - eat some fish and chips on the beach, and you’re halfway to being a Kiwi.
Yasawa Islands, Fiji
To experience these small offshore islands in the Fiji chain, you’ll need to get on a small-ship cruise like those offered by Captain Cook Fiji - and it’s well worth the trip. The intimate nature of these cruises brings an experience like no other, and the friendliness of the villages and people they visit is also one of a kind. If you want to really get to know one of the amazing South Pacific cultures, this is the way to go.
The cruises offer encounters with villages on the island chain which include feasts and shows by the local people. It’s not just onshore, either - many of the staff and crew are locals, and bring Fijian flavour to the entire cruise experience. It’s something a little different and comes highly recommended by most who have tried it.
Seeking cultural experiences? Try one of these great destinations, all reachable with a cruise from Australia. What are your favourite cultural hotspots?