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10 Tips to Help You Plan Your Cruise Down Under

Cruises between Australia and New Zealand are all the rage. Well, it's all relative: In these parts there's rarely more than one cruise ship in port at a time -- thank god -- but still, business is booming.

Cruises between Australia and New Zealand are all the rage. Well, it's all relative: In these parts there's rarely more than one cruise ship in port at a time -- thank god -- but still, business is booming with both Celebrity and Royal Caribbean recently announcing they'll position a ship down under next season sometime between late 2007 and March 2008. They join Holland America, Princess and Silversea who are already there this season.

There are few places in the world where the natural beauty is as stunning as New Zealand's, though Alaska's Inside Passage and the Norwegian fjords are usually mentioned in the same sentence as the fjords of New Zealand's south island. The landscape varies from dense forests to rolling farmland. Brooding windswept clouds cast their shadows across hilly green carpets of sheep and cattle pastures. Seals laze on rocky peninsulas that jut into the frothy sea, vineyards stretch for miles, and the white capped peaks of the Southern Alps poke up through the horizon. It seems every road is a scenic drive. The towns are cute, the people are friendly, and who isn't charmed by that streak of Kiwi wackiness -- zorbing anyone?

In Australia, which seems like an afterthought on many itineraries that spend more time in New Zealand, Tasmania has a wild, prehistoric feel, while exceedingly cosmopolitan Melbourne is a delightful city, deserving of its often-cited "most liveable city in the world title." If you've got the time, spend a few days before or after your cruise in lovely Sydney. Go pub hopping, do the Sydney Harbor Bridge climb (with a harness of course) or grab a surf board and follow the tourists to the golden sands of Bondi Beach.

What to Know Before You Go

1. Itineraries are typically about two weeks long and sail between Sydney and Auckland, somewhere between November and April (though sometimes longer routes also include ports in Polynesia, Hawaii or the Far East).

2. Most itineraries call on more ports in New Zealand, typically four to six on a 14-night cruise, and just two in Australia (not counting Sydney and Auckland). For example, Holland America's 14-night Statendam cruises call on eight ports, six in New Zealand (Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Picton, Christchurch and Dunedin, plus cruising through the fjords) and two in Australia (Burnie, Tasmania and Melbourne), while the 12-night Sapphire Princess cruises call on a total of just five ports.

3. The Tasman Sea, between New Zealand and Australia, is known to be one of the roughest in the world. Be prepared for some swells and some rocking and rolling during the two-day crossing. If you're prone to sea sickness, reconsider this itinerary.

4. In the southern part of the south island, where the super scenic Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds reside, winds can often gust to 50 or 60 knots, making it tough for ships to turn into the sounds. Though included on most itineraries as a cruising day (passengers don't disembark at the sounds), it's not uncommon for the captain to cancel a trip into the sounds because of bad weather. On a recent Statendam cruise there in late November, we made it in, but the previous two cruises did not.

5. Be prepared for variable weather and pack layers as well as rain gear. On my cruise in late November/early December, temperatures hovered in the 50s mostly, but wind and rain can make it feel cooler. On a bright note, we only had one full day of rain on my recent cruise; otherwise it was mostly blue skies (and wind).

6. The sun doesn't set until late -- about 8:30 or 9pm -- during New Zealand's summer months (remember, Australia and New Zealand are in the southern hemisphere, so there summer is our winter in North America), so take advantage and try and snag an oceanview table in your ship's restaurant.

7. If you're dying to see New Zealand and get a taste of Australia, a cruise is a great way to do it, but if you've never been on a two-week cruise before, it might seem too long if you're used to 7-night sailings.

8. Driving is on the left in both countries if you're considering renting a car in port (which is a good idea). Roads are generally well sign posted and in good condition.

9. Both New Zealand and Australia are great places to skip the ship's bus tours and explore solo. Rent a car, grab a taxi or set up an excursion with a local tour operator before your cruise, both countries are generally safe and easy to navigate. I explored solo in most ports including Tauranga, Wellington, Dunedin and Melbourne.

10. When it comes to wildlife, it's down there, but not necessarily easy to spot. With the exception of sheep, of course. They're everywhere. New Zealand has just under 40 million sheep and approximately 4 million people. Otherwise, penguins are elusive (and some endangered), albatross only show up when it's windy (it helps them fly), and kiwi birds are nocturnal as are many of Australia's stars -- wallabies, wombats and Tasmanian Devils.

Who's Going There This Season and Next

Celebrity Cruises (tel. 800/437-3111;

Mercury: 14-night cruises from December 2007 to March 2008 between Auckland and Sydney.

Cunard (tel. 800/5-CUNARD;

QE2: 108-night world cruise, departing January 2007, round-trip from New York, includes a 28-night segment between Sydney and Singapore; and departing January 2008, world cruise includes a 56-night cruise from New York to Singapore that includes calls in Australia and New Zealand.

Queen Victoria: 99-night world cruise departing January 2008, from New York to Southampton, includes a 47-night Los Angeles to Singapore cruise in January 2008.

Holland America (tel. 877/724-5425;

Statendam: 14-night Australia/New Zealand cruises between Auckland and Sydney, sailing between October 2006 and February 2007 and between October and December 2007.

Amsterdam: 64-night cruise to Asia, Australia and Polynesia in September and October 2007, departing from Seattle and ending in San Diego.

INTRAV (tel. 800/456-8100;

Clipper Odyssey: 10 and 11 nights between Auckland and Queenstown, New Zealand, sailing between January, February and December 2007. 15 nights from Auckland to Cairns, Australia in February 2007.

Princess Cruises (tel. 800/PRINCESS;

Sapphire Princess: January to April 2007, 12 nights between Auckland and Sydney.

Regent Seven Seas (tel. 800/285-1835;

Mariner: November 2007, 15 nights Singapore to Sydney and 14 nights Sydney to Auckland.

Royal Caribbean (tel. 866/ 562-7625;

Rhapsody of the Seas: October and November 2007, 14 nights between Auckland and Sydney.

Silversea Cruises (tel. 800/722-9955;

Silver Cloud: 15 nights in January 2007 with roundtrip from Sydney; January and February 2007, 15 nights between Auckland and Sydney; 14 nights in February 2007, Sydney to Perth; 15 nights in March 2007, Perth to Singapore.

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