When nature is the star

Expedition cruising is taking off, with new vessels and journeys to tempt intrepid travellers, writes Louise Goldsbury.

Many of the world's coves, capes and polar caps are best approached by water and next year is gearing up to be an exceptional one for adventure passengers, with new vessels and itineraries to cater to lovers of luxury as well as the more intrepid.

IN THE REGION

South Pacific adventure cruising sees the debut of Silversea Expeditions' recent acquisition, the Silver Discoverer, which will spend much of its time in Australian waters.

The vessel's inaugural voyage from Bali to Cairns departs on March 1, to be followed by cruises in the Kimberley, New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia before the 128-passenger ship heads to Siberia's Sea of Okhotsk in June. (See silversea.com).

In March, Lindblad Expeditions' newly renamed National Geographic Orion introduces a novel way to explore the sea. The 102-passenger vessel is equipped with an ROV (remote operated vehicle) which can reach depths of up to 330 metres. It also has kayaks and scuba-diving gear. The Orion will cruise to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Palau before sailing the Kimberley coastline between May and August. The last journey of Orion's Australian season, from August 10, begins with diving and snorkelling in Western Australia's Rowley Shoals and ends in Indonesia's Spice Islands. (orionexpeditions.com).

Exploring Australia's northern coastline from Broome to Cairns via the Arnhem Land coast, Tiwi Islands and Cape York is a new itinerary offered by Aurora Expeditions. The 23-day voyage aboard the Coral Princess takes place in October, 2014. (auroraexpeditions.com.au).

To see the Kimberley coastline at the tail end of the wet season, when thunderstorms are epic light shows and the region's waterfalls are in full force, the 36-passenger True North has new 10-night cruises in March and April - also the best time of year for fishing for light game species. Sailing between Broome and Wyndham, passengers explore ancient rock art sites, rivers and remote sites by ship and helicopter. (northstarcruises.com.au).

APT's ocean expedition vessel, the Caledonian Sky sails next year from Manila to Darwin via the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysian Borneo and East Timor. The vessel is also taking passengers to World War II theatres, sailing from Port Moresby to Lautoka via Wewak, Rabaul and Buka. (aptouring.com.au).

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FAR, FAR AWAY

Seabourn is sending Seabourn Quest, one of its three identical five-star ships, to Antarctica and Patagonia on 21-day journeys and in November, 2014, has a new 41-day itinerary that takes passengers around South America via Antarctica. (See seabourn.com)

In May, New Zealand's Heritage Expeditions' 50-passenger Spirit of Enderby heads to Russia's Commander Islands for its first-ever marine mammal survey. Passengers can assist researchers gathering data by surveying the sea otter population and monitoring bird colonies. Offshore, teams will be looking for humpback, minke and orca whales. Complemented by guided walks on Bering Island, this unique trip combines conservation work with exploration by foot and in zodiac boats. (heritage-expeditions.com).

One Ocean Expeditions has a one-off voyage to Antarctica in March, accompanied by Ryan Tate, the co-ordinator at the Great Southern Ocean Unit at Taronga Zoo and an authority on the region's seal species. Tate will present lectures about the effects of climate change on wildlife. (oneoceanexpeditions.com).

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