TRAVEL GUIDE Cruising Lifetime bobbing about on high seas, rivers, canals...

Boats story - Booking a private vaporetto to take us, via the Grand Canal, to our cruise ship.
Picture Harry Gough

Cruising aficionado MELANIE ANDERSON reflects on her many and varied nautical adventures

It was the mid 60s and a much younger me had thrown-up for the duration of a voyage from Colombo to Fremantle. 

I had left behind my beloved grandparents and ayah; the food was new and weird — what were these green things called peas and why were they being served alongside eggs, and what was this ghastly white pepper stuff? — and I was captive on a ship that rocked and dipped and swayed all the way on that migratory trip with my family to our new home in WA.

Fast forward to now and I may have turned into a bit of a cruise junkie with all the bobbing about on boats that I have done in the ensuing years. Barging by on canal boats, houseboat idylls, sailing on a gulet, nor’ west boating adventures, partying on a boutique Princess and voyages of discovery on giant cruise liners all feature in the mix. Even Zodiacs, tinnies, canoes, yachts and a mail boat are also there... 

So it appears I may have thrown off the hoodoo of that first experience across the Indian Ocean.

SuperStar Virgo, Singapore: I was duly nervous about my return to the high seas when the idea of a week-long cruise of Asia from Singapore, was mooted. What if I didn’t like being “captive” and wanted to get off? Weren’t cruises just for oldies? What about that old chestnut of sea-sickness? And heck, if disaster struck, I couldn’t even swim...

So I stepped aboard the Superstar Virgo with some trepidation but from day one of that cruise (on the glass-calm Malacca Straits) I was hooked. Our group of 12 covered three generations and almost every decade from seven to 82 — and did we have fun — particularly in the karaoke bar at night.

The secret to the success of a multi-generational mix of folk all on the same holiday, I found, was to spend each day doing whatever each individual fancied. We glammed up every evening and met in a ship’s bar for cocktails to swap stories about the different things we had done during the day — from riding elephants and island hopping to shopping, bingo and learning salsa dancing. Then it was off to dinner and a show, and finally, that karaoke bar.

True North & Kimberley Escape: The Virgo trip was followed by two Kimberley cruise adventures — first on the True North, and a few years later, on the Kimberley Escape. The True North introduced me to WA’s spectacular northern coastline, offshore islands and mighty rivers and I have been a huge fan of the Kimberley’s wild landscapes ever since. Being a bit of a fisho made these Kimberley expeditions a paradise on yet another front. Ah, for those times off in a tender boat with fisho mates and a canny crew member who knew all the “good spots” for whole days spent chasing barramundi, mangrove jack, queenfish, trevally, threadfin salmon, tuna, mud crabs, oysters off the rocks and all the other bounty the Kimberley’s seas and rivers provided.

Houseboat holidays: In-between my big boat adventures, I have puttered about the Peel Inlet and Murray River on houseboats. Houseboats have a special charm and it doesn’t take much to get the hang of manoeuvring them on the water. These are go-slow holidays and there’s something endearing about a house that floats about from place to place. It’s also the chance to wet a line or plop a crab pot overboard.  

Four Counties Ring, UK: A leisurely canal boat holiday through the English countryside again brought three generations together and provided many memories. We tackled the Four Counties Ring, negotiating our way through 94 locks — there were 26 to heave open and close in one day alone — and some 180km of waterways linking the four English counties of Cheshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and the West Midlands. The canal meander took in the traditional industries of the potteries, majestic Shugborough Estate and the towns of Market Drayton and Nantwich.

Lot River, France: Another canal boat holiday was on France’s Lot River — perfectly named because the river had “the lot” in terms of the holiday we were seeking at the time — a scenic, easily navigable waterway through a region famed for its gastronomic delicacies, picturesque French villages, bustling farmers markets to visit for provisions, endless vineyards, riverside chateaux to sigh over, tow paths lining the banks for walking and biking and a stunning mix of limestone gorges and verdant countryside to meander through. Central to our Lot idyll was Cahors, a lovely medieval town almost completely encircled by the river and a place we tended to linger — a lot. Cahors, with its narrow alleways, weekly market and old half-timbered houses, is worth a trip in its own right, along with the quaint riverside villages of Douelle, Caix, Pradines, Laroque-des-Arcs, Vers, Bouzies and the enchanting clifftop Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. 

Pacific Princess, Sydney to Cairns & the Whitsundays: Memorable in a completely different way was a travel trip with a group of fun fellow media types from Sydney and up the NSW coast to Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands. This time, I was aboard a boutique ship with just over 500 passengers. It was a chance to experience a scaled-down ship setting and savour a much more intimate cruising style. I was also with a group of sympatico partygoers, and boy, did we party!

Gulet trip on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast: A friend wanted to charter a gulet (a traditional two or three-masted wooden sailing boat) to explore Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, and looked for some mates to share the experience. He sent an email around and filled not one but two charters and so it was that we sailed, tandem style, to places such as Selimiye, Bodrum, Datca, Orhaniye and Mamaris and experienced the stunning archaeological excavations at Knidos while exploring the Turkish Riviera. Gulet charters provide a small-ship experience and the opportunity to have a grand time exploring exotic places with like-minded folk. The other advantage is that the itinerary can be customised to suit.

Cruise ships: In the past few years, my partner and I have done cruises to the Hawaiian Islands, the Mediterranean, New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands and just recently New Zealand. Ships have included the Ruby Princess, Sea Princess, Pride of America, and the Radiance of the Seas.

Contemporary cruise liners are wondrous feats of engineering with every conceivable attraction and distraction now included and part of the fun is in discovering a ship’s many amenities once you’ve stepped aboard. There’s also the chance to meet and chat to fellow passengers and some trips have been made memorable by the conversations we have struck up with people and the little friendships forged while aboard these floating pleasure palaces. 

While we have met and enjoyed the company of a varied collection of fellow cruisers the gold gong for memorable passengers would have to go to Mr X, a charming 80-year-old, fleet of foot on the dance floor, a great conversationalist and a “naturist and swinger”.

Our cruising highlights

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