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Is the Great Barrier Reef still Great?

Posted by Andrew Castles on May 16, 2017

great barrier reef cruise


For decades, travellers from all corners of the globe have been drawn to Australia’s tropical north by one single allure, the dream to snorkel or dive the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. Growing up, we’d all seen pictures of 'the Reef' in exotic magazines like National Geographic and wondered whether the corals could really be THAT blue, THAT red and THAT yellow, and whether the fish really would look like Nemo. For most visitors the answer has always been a resounding “YES”, the reality matched the expectation.

But, over the past couple of years we’ve been hearing a lot more about the Reef, and not all of it good. Global warming, coral bleaching, forests of dead coral and potentially even the future of the entire reef under threat being a common theme.

So it begs the question; What’s really happening to the reef and is it still worth visiting?

Rebecca Finlayson, a qualified Marine Biologist at Coral Expeditions - the region’s only multi-night cruise operator - sat down to answer all the hard questions for us!


coral expeditions marine biologist


There has been a lot of talk about coral bleaching. Can you explain what this is? Is this a natural phenomenon?

Bleaching is when the coral expels the microscopic algae that lives in its tissue. This algae gives coral its colour and so when it is expelled what we see is the white calcium carbonate that coral utilises. It’s a bit like the bones inside of humans; some coral has this calcium carbonate internally, while others use it more like an exoskeleton. The coral becomes bleached when it becomes very stressed, and ‘thinks’ that expelling the zooxanthellae (or algae) is its last chance to survive. Just because coral has bleached does not mean it is dead, but conversely, dead coral will always be bleached. If the stressful factors around the coral are eliminated or reduced, coral can draw back in the zooxanthellae and recover from the event. However, if it remains stressed, it will not draw the zooxanthellae back in, and the result is that it will usually die around three months after the bleaching event. On our cruise programmes we saw some bleaching in specific locations, with more recovery in some areas and less recovery in others.


Some people are saying “the reef is dying / dead”. Is this true?

It is a very bold statement to declare something as ‘dead’, particularly something as large as the Great Barrier Reef. Although certain areas of the reef do not look what they did 10, 100 or 1000 years ago, it can be for a number of reasons; some places will even look better than they did years ago. The whole reef is continually going through different stages of development and replenishment and as a result different areas of the reef will look different to each other.


If tourists want to travel to see the reef, are there any areas that the reef are completely untouched?

No areas of the reef are 100% ‘untouched’ except the designated pink zones. These are the areas most stringently managed in the Reef, and no operator has ever or will ever enter these areas. However with our own private moorings at some sites on all itineraries - including the Ribbon Reefs - usually there are no other ships in sight, and in these locations, the reef is truly spectacular.


Can you tell us a little about the condition of the reef where Coral Expeditions II visits?

On the 5 night Northern Expedition from Cairns I have noticed the bleaching a little more, and in some locations, the coral looks a little different to what it used to. Equally through, it has recovered almost fully in other areas. Generally, I see the reefs visits on the 3 night Southern expedition virtually untouched by bleaching and the coral looks as it always has - beautiful.


coral expeditions great barrier reef Australia


Where on the Coral Expeditions itineraries will you find the best diving/coral/marine life?

In my opinion, the Ribbon Reefs on our Northern Expedition are the most spectacular. But others are also beautiful, including Thetford Reef and Steve’s Bommie.


During a Great Barrier Reef cruise aboard Coral Expeditions II, will travellers notice any coral bleaching or damage?

They may notice a little bit of bleaching, but equally, recovery is evident in many areas. The main area that is still noticeably different is Lizard Island, however this being a fringing reef goes through large changes quite regularly. It is a learning experience for our guests too to see the differences in not only reef types but bleached, undisturbed and recovering reefs as well.


What’s the typical reaction of a guest on a Coral Expeditions guest when they see the reef?

Usually astonishment - our guests are impressed beyond what they expected! The diversity in fish is something that our guests find magical, but our guests are often most impressed by the coral. We quite often hear our guests remark that the Reef is ‘the only place where the coral is just as interesting to look at as the fish!”


Do we need to “hurry up and see the reef before its gone”?

No. Nobody has a crystal ball, and the Reef is the kind of place that you can return to again and again, as it is alive and constantly changing. Sounds like a good excuse for a holiday to me anyway!



So there you have it, according to Bec it is not all doom and gloom. Indeed on our own recent 3-night cruise aboard Coral Expeditions II we were simply blown away by what we saw, the snorkelling was the best we’ve ever experienced and most of our travelling companions (from all over the world) agreed.

Simply put, there is no better way to experience the Great Barrier Reef than with the team at Coral Expeditions. Their small ship, the 44-passenger Coral Expeditions II, calls at exclusive parts of the Reef where there’s no other travellers around and you feel like you have the reef all to yourself. You’ll learn a lot during your cruise from people like Bec, and enjoy first class service from the rest of the young Australian crew. And the food.. oh the food. How the chef manages to prepare spectacular meal after spectacular meal in such a small galley we will never know!

If you would like to learn more about joining a three, four or seven night Great Barrier Reef cruise aboard Coral Expeditions II click here or call us today!


reef coral cruise

For more about the Great Barrier Reef visit the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority website.

World's Top Ten Best Expedition Cruises

Posted by Dallas Sherringham on March 06, 2017

A journey to the Top of the World featuring the North Pole has just been named the world’s greatest expedition cruise.

And in a major coup for Australia’s tourism industry, Kimberley cruising in Western Australia runs a close second in the list of the 10 most highly rated expedition cruises world-wide.

The world’s Top 10 was announced by the leading experts in this exclusive field, Expedition Cruise Specialists. General Manager Andrew Castles revealed the rankings which were based on each destination’s “wow factor”, affording traveller’s unique life experiences.

There were some unexpected destinations in the rankings including Kiribati and Iceland. Surprise omissions include the much-touted Amazon and Africa which is still developing as a cruise destination.



For generations of explorers and adventurers, a journey to the Arctic and the North Pole has been the ultimate expedition. Mr Castles said: “Pristine landscapes, bountiful wildlife, indigenous tribes, polar bears and natural phenomena give the Arctic a unique appeal and make it the world’s best expedition destination.”  Getting to the North Pole is difficult, but the world’s most powerful icebreaker, the nuclear-powered 50 Years of Victory, makes it possible.


North Pole Top of the World Expedition



The sheer scale and awesome beauty of the Kimberley has to be seen to be believed. Every visitor to this stunning region returns home a changed person. Mr Castles is one such person and he admits to a being a long term fan of the region.  “Kimberley cruising aboard Coral Discoverer or True North takes you through the daunting canyons, waterfalls and untouched wilderness of Australia’s north west wonderland and has to be experienced to appreciate how amazing it really is.”


Kimberley Cruise aboard True North



Our southern neighbour offers the unique combination of amazing wildlife and awesome landscapes frozen in time. According to Mr Castles there are many ways to see experience the region, but one unique adventure is the Base Camp Ortelius expedition. “Designed for Antarctic exploration the Ortelius acts as a floating base camp while anchored for several days in specific locations. You can explore by kayak and zodiac on the water or go hiking in snowshoes and even mountaineering. There is nothing quite like it.”


Expedition cruises to Antarctica include ice camping



Glaciers, ice covered mountains, frontier towns and pristine waters make Alaska one of the most sought after destinations on earth. Mr Castles said it was a very popular region, but aboard a ship like the new National Geographic Quest you can get far away from the normal cruise routes. “This type of cruise is not just a sightseeing trip, it is a full on journey for people who enjoy hiking and physical activities. You immerse yourself in a world of fjords, ancient villages and stunning forests.”


Close to nature on an Alaskan expedition cruise



It is the people decorated in their traditional dress, dancing and singing with great joy and happiness that make Papua New Guinea such an inspiring place to visit. Cruising through unspoilt islands and visiting remote villages is an unforgettable experience. Mr Castles said:  “Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s last great frontiers. You will experience magical and rarely-visited islands aboard small ships such as the luxury Coral Discoverer and enjoy a voyage rich in culture, history and natural beauty. Papua New Guinea is home to the largest area of intact rainforest outside of the Amazon and guests will discover magnificent scenery ranging from colourful coral atolls to volcanic mountains, pristine waterways and mighty rivers.”


Papua New Guinean villagers welcome Coral Discoverer ship



Every lover of wildlife, sea life and unique experiences rates the Galápagos Islands right at the top of their list of places to visit. “It is a region offering many expedition experiences from smaller catamaran ships like Ocean Spray and Sea Star Journey through to Lindblad Expeditions’ impressive National Geographic Endeavour II. Whichever way you see it, you will be mesmerised by the experience.”


Galapagos Islands cruise isabela



Seen as the “impossible” sea journey for generations, modern specially designed ice-rated ships have made the daunting North West passage accessible. Mr Castles said the Akademik Ioffe offers a crossing to Greenland that is one of “life’s great trips”. “On the way explore the remote Northwest Passage and the stunning fjords of the Baffin Island coastline before crossing to Greenland. Wildlife is a major drawcard of this 13-day expedition, venture through the home of the polar bear, musk ox, caribou and walrus.”


Voyage through Canada's North West Passage aboard Akademik Ioffe



Our near neighbour is a surprise inclusion, but beyond the tourist hordes of Bali lies a region full of friendly people, unknown islands and crystal clear lagoons teeming with life. You will immerse yourself in the Komodo National Park and Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands from an intimate perspective, cruising through a panorama of islands and encountering new wonders on a daily basis. For example, a 7-day voyage of discovery aboard the 24-passenger Ombak Putih offers a cross-section of remote beaches, quiet coastal villages, jungle-clad mountain ranges, towering volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls, tribal rituals, a mysterious lake, and the legendary Komodo Dragons.”


Cruising Indonesia's many islands



Iceland is the new wonder destination for expedition travellers. Mr Castles said this one off expedition  combined the unforgettable waterways of the region with the fjords of Greenland, remote settlements and the chance to experience the famed northern lights. ”There is nothing else quite like it,” he said.


Expedition cruise to the Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis



Way out in the Pacific is a remote region which is virtually unknown to most adventurers. However Mr Castles said the “wonders of this amazing paradise were both above and below the water.” Aboard National Geographic Orion you will discover that the notion of tropical paradise is alive and well - as are some of the world’s best dive and snorkel sites. The expedition explores from Rangiroa’s sparkling lagoon to the verdant peaks of Tahiti’s neighbor, Moorea. This voyage maximises your time in some of the most vibrant undersea sites in the world. Plus, there’s time to stroll pristine beaches, kayak peaceful coves, and experience true Polynesian hospitality. 


Southern Line Islands cruise aboard Orion


Dallas Sherringham is a media professional, world traveller and regular contributor to our blog.

Kimberley Cruising For The Ultimate Holiday Experience

Posted by Andrew Castles on March 04, 2017

True North at Montgomery Reef in the Kimberley


If you are planning your next cruise, you have probably noticed that most of what is on offer are all very much the same experience.  The same type of mega ship, the same on board activities and the same island ports of call. 

These standard cruises are fine if you have never cruised before, however once you have experienced the standard package, they all seem to be the same.

Many of us love the idea of enjoying a cruise, and being spoilt by not having to cook our meals or make our beds.

However it can become somewhat boring if you are not a bingo enthusiast or disco dancing queen.

A lot of us want to visit places that are unique, breathtaking and exciting. Of course we enjoy a little luxury thrown in as well.

The Kimberley Cruising Experience Is All About The Destination

In Australia, the Kimberley coast is one of the world's great expedition cruising destinations. 

The Kimberley cruising experience will leave you in awe, as you take in the most breathtaking scenery. 
The Kimberley region with it's deliciously rich colour palette, offers spectacular waterfalls, ancient indigenous art, wildlife and night skies that are filled with twinkling lights.

With so much natural beauty here in our backyards, there is no need to go elsewhere.


Kimberley Cruise Specialists 

One of the great options to experience the Kimberley is on the magnificent True North.

Carefully crafted itineraries allow guests the opportunity to ‘experience the destination’ – daily activities can include scenic walks, helicopter flights, fishing, snorkelling, culture, picnics, nature, diving, exploring and much more!

The True North features the ultimate in comfort and style! 

With cabins that are spacious, featuring modern décor, large en­suites, satellite telephones and in cabin entertainment, you will be totally spoilt.

Modern cuisine is also featured onboard the True North. 

This is the real definition of a holiday cruise, an unforgettable adventure in our own spectacular backyard. 

Passenger numbers are limited (36) and a young Australian crew (20) provides excellent personalised service. 

Multiple expedition vessels take guests away in small groups to experience wilderness ‘up close’ and, to add yet another dimension to adventure, most of the cruise options feature an onboard helicopter.


True North cruises the Kimberley with an onboard helicopter


The Ultimate Kimberley Cruise

The Kimberley Ultimate has become known as one of Australia’s most exclusive holiday experiences – and for good reason.

This 13-night Kimberley expedition between Wyndham and Broome boasts all of the region's icons, along with many 'secret' locations other ships can't reach.

This expedition should definitely be on your bucket list. It is an experience of a lifetime with exemplary service from an all-Australian crew, a great expedition team and superb dining.


True North's chefs are renowned for their fine dining in the Kimberley


For more information on how to plan the holiday of your lifetime, contact us on 
Postal Address:


Speak to an expedition specialist:

Phone: +61 7 4041 2101

Freecall: 1800 90 20 80 (within Australia)

Email: [email protected]

Office opening hours:

Monday to Friday 08:30 – 17:30 AEST

Saturday 09:00 – 12:00 AEST

*Office hours are Australian Eastern Standard Time.

Take me to the Ice: Polar Cruising

Posted by Dallas Sherringham on February 18, 2017

Standing on top of the world at the North Pole occupies number one spot on many travellers’ bucket lists.

And within good reason; very few people have ever visited arguably the most inhospitable region on earth.

Together with the Antarctic, the polar regions of the earth are like another planet where you can visit briefly but never survive a single day without a lot of backup.


North Pole cruise Poseidon


Fortunately the days of “mushing” your way across the ice, stopping to eat the occasional unfortunate seal or the least favourite member of your dog team, are now behind us.

We can make it to the North Pole or explore the Antarctic in relative comfort and complete safety.

With this in mind, it is amazing to think a century ago that neither pole had been visited.

I grew up reading tales of the tragic Robert Falcon Scott battling his way to the South Pole and the heroic Shackleton’s Argonauts. The photos taken on that journey by Australian Frank Hurley were stunning, given the conditions.

Today’s modern polar ships are a far cry from the old windjammers that took months to get anywhere and will get you there quickly and comfortably.

Throw in the chance to see the Northern Lights and a polar bear, which some travellers seem to have far more affection for than the pole itself, and you have the perfect adventure holiday.


50 years victory cruise North Pole


Now, these types of holidays are still a challenge for tour companies so they are understandably more expensive than your normal nine night cruise to Noumea.

I know am preaching to the converted, however your adventure still needs a lot of planning. It’s not a simple case of jumping on a ship and saying: “Take me to the ice!”

Fortunately, Expedition Cruise Specialists are her to assist you all the way to the end of the earth. Polar operator Poseidon Expeditions have teamed up with Expedition Cruise Specialists for the 2018-19 season. And if you book now, you can save yourself a pile of money.

If you look at the itineraries they have available, you will soon realise there are a lot of options to choose from when heading north or south.

Iceland, Greenland, Franz Josef Land, Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle and the Falklands and South Georgia in the Antarctic all feature along with the allure of the poles.


sea spirit Antarctica


If I had my “druthers”, I’d love to cruise to Iceland or Greenland. The fire and ice of Iceland, a country ripping itself in two geologically speaking, would be stunning to witness first hand.

Expedition Cruise Specialists GM and adventure cruise guru Andrew Castles told me the discounts were available to both the Arctic and Antarctic, including the North Pole.

“We have combined with Poseidon Expeditions to offer discounts of up to 20% on several exciting cruises. Offers like this are rare because expedition cruising is booming and the cruises fill up fast,” he said.

The discounts mean clients can save USD$5,379 on a 15 day Antarctic cruise or USD$2,979 on a 12 night Northern Lights and Arctic expedition.

“You can go all the way to the North Pole on a 14 day Top of the World expedition and save USD$2,225 simply by booking early,” Mr Castles said.

To take advantage of the offers, you need to book before July 31 this year.

Expedition ships featured in the offer are the 100 passenger Sea Spirit and the nuclear powered ice breaker 50 Years Of Victory.


camping on Antarctica cruise


I was intrigued to learn that the number of passengers on board is really important when visiting Antarctica. Treaty regulations limit the number of passengers going shore at one time to just 100. So, if you head south on a larger ship with several hundred passengers, your chances of getting ashore are severely limited.

Similarly, venturing to the North Pole requires a really specialised ship. The nuclear powered 50 Years Of Victory can smash its way comfortably through ice as thick as three metres. It will get you to the pole and give you the unique chance to stand on the ice and celebrate one of life’s greatest achievements.


icebreaker to the North Pole cruise


Once again, the ship has a maximum of 128 passengers so you will always be well looked after and made to feel part of an exclusive team.

There are many discounts being offered across a range of cruises by Poseidon Expeditions and Expedition Cruise Specialists.


Dallas Sherringham is a media professional, world traveller and regular contributor to our blog.


whale watch sea spirit Antarctica


Why your next cruise should be an expedition cruise

Posted by Dallas Sherringham on February 16, 2017

An expedition cruise is an excellent next adventure if you are starting to say “been there, done that” about normal cruising.

We all eventually tire of big ships with their large crowds and their limited itineraries and shore tours.

And how many river cruises of Europe can you do before growing weary of castles and day trips to museums?

Traditional South Pacific cruising is still by far the most popular form of a cruise holiday for Australians. A recent survey showed 70% of all Aussie cruisers took a South Pacific cruise in 2016 with the next favourite destination being Asia with 14%.


big ship cruise


The South Pacific option will continue to be a favourite with Australians for several key reasons.

However there comes a point when the kids grow up and everyone tires of the same old places. The big cruise companies have been unable to tap into the huge potential of the South Pacific region because of the lack of facilities at more isolated, unspoilt islands. They are also contract bound to waste a day visiting Noumea on every cruise to New Caledonia.

Thus, the Isle of Pines and Lifou are staples on most South Pacific cruises because they are within a night’s cruise of Noumea.

Despite the repetition, a lot of experienced passengers still sail the South Pacific each year simply because it is easy and affordable. Many have not tried any other kind of cruising; others have ventured out into river cruising or an overseas cruise but soon return to the South Pacific.

I can understand why they return. The South Pacific islands are still miles ahead of any other big ship destination because they are relaxing and laid back

I too was a fan for 20 years. It was only when I went on an expedition cruise to New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia that I realised just what an amazing region it is.


coral discoverer png cruise


Getting back to the 2016 survey of Australian passengers which showed only 2% took a cruise off the beaten path. This is good news for expedition cruise companies because it means there is a huge audience of potential expedition cruise travellers in the future.

As cruise passengers mature and become more affluent they will naturally seek new cruising horizons in exciting places. The expedition cruise industry is well placed to provide that unique experience.

These passengers will not be cruising alone. Through social media, they will be taking their families, workmates and friends right along with them. They can actually stand on a glacier in Alaska while chatting live to their spellbound audience back home.

And that audience in turn will automatically tick a box in their imagination: “One day soon I’ll be standing on that glacier”.


glacier cruise Alaska


So, 2017 is the year to buck the trend and try something new. Let’s break down the barriers to going on an expedition cruise.

For starters, there is the cost. Sure, a 10 day cruise on Western Australia's Kimberley Coast is more expensive than a 10 day big ship cruise to New Caledonia.

However you don’t have to pay for expensive shore tours, you  don’t have days at sea where a few drinks turn into a $100 tab, there is no “speciality” dining which costs you $50 a time and - best of all - there is no on board duty free shopping.

You get to places no normal cruise ship will ever visit. You will have the service of expert guides and wildlife specialists who will become firm friends. On a normal cruise the only friend you will often make amongst the cruise staff is your waiter.


polar expedition cruise leader


Then there is accessibility of expedition cruising which balks many people. Indeed, getting to the Amazon, deepest Africa or the tip of South America can seem like a daunting trip compared to flying to Europe to pick up a river cruise.

However, this where an expert agency like Expedition Cruise Specialists comes into its own by helping you plan your adventure to the finest, most meticulous detail.

And so, if you have done a lot of traditional cruising and are “umming and ahhing” about your next challenge, look no further. Expedition Cruise Specialists has the world’s best adventure cruises right here on its web site.

Simply choose your next adventure and give Expedition Cruise Specialists a call. Everything else will be done for you from the moment you book.


Kimberley Talbot Bay cruise


Take the leap. Instead of joining the hordes for yet another visit to Noumea this year, try something completely new and exciting: imagine yourself stepping ashore to view penguins in Antarctica, charging through the Kimberley's Horizontal Falls in a zodiac or walking with elephants in Africa. And take your family and friends with you on Instagram and Facebook.

I promise you that your tired “been there, done that” attitude to cruising will suddenly be replaced by a whole new wide world of adventure.


Dallas Sherringham is a media professional, world traveller and regular contributor to our blog.


wildlife cruise Africa river