Giant ocean liners arrive in Sydney

Sydney Harbour hosted a spectacular royal rendezvous early this morning when the luxury ocean liners Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth sailed into port under grey skies.

Thousands lined the harbour to see the Cunard ships that were escorted inby a flotilla of spectator craft, including kayaks and cruise boats, and were greeted with water cannons fired across their bows.

Queen Elizabeth captain Julian Burgess said his ship, with more than 2000 passengers, had received special treatment in all ports as it makes its maiden around-the-world voyage.

"But sailing into Sydney is always special. Once you come through the Heads the harbour unfolds and there are the magnificent sites of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge," he said.

The 294-metre Queen Elizabeth is Cunard's newest ship, launched in October. Her 103-night circumnavigation from Southampton, England, includes stops in the US, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

She will be at Circular Quay until midday tomorrow and is due to berth in Melbourne on February 25 and Fremantle on March 1.

"On the train early to be able to see the QE2 and the Queen Mary in Sydney Harbour this morning! So excited!" Twitter user Jess Martin wrote this morning.

"Watching QE2 & QM2 at Circular Quay from the hotel. Very impressive! QM2 is HUGE!" tweeted another user.

The two liners sounded their horns as they passed each other.

Queen Elizabeth docked at the international terminal while the Queen Mary 2 berthed at Garden Island.

The visit is expected to inject more than $3 million into the NSW economy with 6000 passengers aboard the two liners.

Heavy traffic is also expected to mark the presence of the liners. Special event clearways are in place in the CBD, Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Woolloomooloo.

A Transport NSW spokesman said that, so far, traffic has been moving well on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and there were no delays affecting the normal peak-hour volumes.

"We've [only] had some people slowing down on the bridge to watch the ships," he said.

The 345-metre, 151,400-tonne Queen Mary 2, launched in 2004, is the flagship of the Cunard fleet and is on a 96-night world voyage. She departs her berth at Garden Island tomorrow on her way to New Zealand.

The third ship in the Cunard fleet is the 294-metre Queen Victoria, now in Hawaii.

In a rare coming together, all three rendezvoused in New York last month, sailing past Manhattan to the Statue of Liberty. Their arrival in the US was capped with a 20-minute fireworks display.

In 2007, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 (now retired) rendezvoused in Sydney with massive crowds bringing the city to a virtual standstill.

There was another rendezvous in Sydney in 2008 between Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2.

Cunard president and managing director Peter Shanks, in Australia for today's event, said it was rare for the ships to meet. "The logistics usually don't work out," he said.

Mr Shanks said the 2092-passenger Queen Elizabeth was booked out for her maiden world voyage. He said more than 700 passengers, mainly from Britain, were on board for the entire journey while other passengers had signed on for shorter sectors.

There are 1046 staterooms on the art deco decorated liner, including 738 private balcony cabins.

There are also 10 restaurants, 12 bars (327 bottles of champagne are consumed daily), upmarket shops such as Fortnum & Mason and two swimming pools. There is a library with 6000 books, a games deck with croquet and bowls, a two-storey ballroom and the three-deck Royal Court Theatre.

Prices for the round trip started at $US25,529.

The Queen Elizabeth will leave Sydney at midday tomorrow, bound for Melbourne and then on to Fremantle. The Queen Mary 2 will depart for New Zealand at 5pm tomorrow.

- with AAP

Robert Upe cruised between Auckland and Sydney courtesy of Cunard