Coral Expeditions: a closer look at the Australian adventure specialists

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With its three tiny ships, the Australian company provides unforgettable experiences for adventure-seeking travellers in the Asia-Pacific area


There’s small ship cruise, and then there’s small ship cruise. Coral Expeditions’ three ships, Coral Discoverer (72 guests); Coral Expeditions I (44); and Coral Expeditions II (42), are tiny by any body’s standards, offering adventure-seeking travellers the chance to visit destinations larger ships simply can’t navigate.

The Australian company, founded in 1983 and best known among Brits for its Great Barrier Reef cruises (the first itinerary it ever ran), promises to take guests to “the most beautiful, yet undiscovered, regions of Asia-Pacific” – and doesn’t disappoint. Its new itinerary on Papua New Guinea’s Sepik river, which snakes through swamplands and tropical rainforests, past mountains and by tribespeople, is virtually unique.

“We’ve been doing Papua New Guinea for a while,” says Elizabeth Webb, sales distribution manager at the company, “but we’ve just added an itinerary on the mighty Sepik. Because of the shallow draft on our ships we’re able to get to areas that other cruise companies can’t go.”

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These are true expedition cruises, aimed at discerning travellers who want to delve deep into a destination’s culture and history, Webb says.

“We’ll get out there and explore, with our expedition leaders and our guest lecturers, who are specialists in those areas. So we’re meeting with the communities, looking at the flora and fauna and the indigenous rock artwork. Up in Papua New Guinea, the communities come out and meet us, and we go to visit the schools and take supplies, such as sporting equipment.”

The company’s most successful itineraries are on the vast, unspoiled (and, at times, tempestuous) Kimberly, where it operates two ships.

“We were the founders of exploring the Kimberly, which is still our biggest seller,” says Webb. “It’s the most desired, and most aspirational cruise – it’s on everyone’s bucket-list.” Heading off the beaten track has its challenges, she adds, but says Coral Expeditions is prepared for inhospitable weather conditions,
and will adapt a cruise as necessary.

“We’ve got our set itineraries, but we’ve got the flexibility [gained] from knowing the areas so well, as we’ve been visiting them for such a long time. If the weather doesn’t agree with us, we can change the itinerary, and we keep our guests informed. We’ve got the contacts there to say, ‘Hey, we’re in the area! Do you mind
if we come and see you?’”

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The company also takes guests to Tasmania, Australia’s remote and beautiful southern island state, on its flagship Coral Discoverer. It’s a chance to breathe in what is claimed to be the cleanest air in the world.

Guests are generally older, 60-plus on average (apart from the Great Barrier Reef cruises, which attract families), and have taken cruises on other adventure lines before. Webb says that they welcomed a 95-year-old on board a few weeks ago, but points out that, as there are no lifts on the ships, guests need to be reasonably agile. The trips don’t have to be full-on adventure, though, particularly on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s here that Brits like to end their two or three-week holiday in Australia with a relaxing cruise to enjoy one of the world’s great natural wonders.

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