Coral Expeditions has expedition ships visiting 17 countries, taking guests to some of the world’s most beautiful yet undiscovered regions of Australia, Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Islands. Known as Australia’s small ship and expedition cruising pioneers, it has further raised the standard of expedition tours with the recent launch of a new series of holidays and tours – Small Islands of the World.
While it’s not easy for Coral Expeditions to narrow down their favourite spots across the world, we’ve asked them to shortlist its top 20 expedition destinations for 2020, in no particular order. Enjoy!
1.Alphonse Islands, Seychelles
The Alphonse Atoll is one of three extraordinarily beautiful islands (St Francois and Bijoutier Islands are the other two) in the southern Seychelles. The small island was once the site of a copra industry, whose proliferation of coconut trees remain, along with the production of maize, pineapples and sweet potato.
Alphonse Island is a significant nesting site for turtles and sea bird colonies. Over 130 bird species have been recorded in these islands including red-footed boobies and frigate birds. Divers and snorkelers should keep an eye out for large sea fans, whip corals and Eagle Rays. A small population of ten Aldabra giant tortoises, one of the world’s largest land tortoises, was introduced in 1999 in a conservation effort to preserve the species. There is now a healthy population of 50+ giant herbivores on Alphonse Island.
Fast fact: 400km from Mahe, the main island of Seychelles, the ocean surrounding Alphonse Island is teeming with marine life and vibrant corals, making the crystal-clear waters attractive for snorkelers and scuba divers.
Don’t miss: View the slow-moving giant tortoises grazing on grass or foraging amongst low foliage on Alphonse Island.
Visit: January 2021, Coral Geographer
2.Raft Point, Kimberley, West Australia
Australian Indigenous art represents the oldest unbroken art tradition in the world and Raft Point in Western Australia’s Kimberley region is home to an extraordinary rock art gallery. The fact that Raft Point is located on one of the world’s most remote coastlines, where there are no roads and towns and with the only access by sea, makes Raft Point’s rock art even more special.
Known as Ngumbree by the Wororra people, the peninsula is dominated by a striking sandstone headland, and is a ‘fish dreaming’ place, with stories documented in Wandjina artworks tens of thousands of years old, gracing rock walls and under-hangs of the Ngumbree cave.
Fast fact: The oldest dated rock art is an ochre-smeared chunk of limestone from the south-west Kimberley that was found in archaeological layers dated to 41,000 years ago.
Don’t miss: Learn about the spiritual significance of Indigenous rock art through a guided interpretive tour with a traditional owner
Visit: April to August each year Coral Adventurer, Coral Discoverer, Coral Geographer
3.Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
Strung across the Solomon Sea east of mainland Papua New Guinea, the four main islands of Trobriand Islands are home to around 12,000 Melanesian people whose living revolves around fishing and seasonal harvests. Trobriand Islanders retain strong cultural traditions little-changed for hundreds of years, despite European missionaries’ influence since the late 1800’s. Trading rituals, yam cults and a matrilineal society where women choose their partners, underpins life in the Trobiands.
Then there is cricket, which is almost an obsession. Introduced by missionaries, cricket ‘Trobriand Island style’ has evolved into a unique version of the international game. With no limit to the numbers of players per side, an innings may continue for days before all batsmen and women have had their turn at the crease. Cricket games are accompanied by obligatory dancing, singing and much merriment, and games often coincide with yam harvest time.
Fast fact: Yams are a sign of prestige and status, with harvest time a chance for successful farmers to show off prized specimens for all to admire before being stored in purpose built yam houses.
Don’t miss: Trobriand Island dances are lively and colourful performances with Trobianders fiercely proud of the beauty and skill demonstrated in the bodies and traditional finery of its dancers.
Visit: September 2021 Coral Adventurer
The mountainous island of Sulawesi is Indonesia’s fourth largest in an archipelago country consisting of 17,000 islands. Sulawesi’s diverse culture, intriguing history and abundant wildlife are some of the attractions of this island, situated at the confluence of the Java, Banda, Molucca and Celebes Seas.
Sulawesi’s marine parks are home to the most biodiverse reefs in the world and its rainforests are inhabited by rare birds, such as Sulawesi hornbills, as well as other species, like the quirky Celebes Macaque monkey. Sulawesi’s Bajo people are known as sea gypsies who live in stilt villages built over the sea. Bajo craftsmen still build timber ships known as phinisi on the beach at Tana Beru, as generations before them have done. Divers and snorkelers will find plenty of underwater attractions and world-renowned reef locations of Bunaken and Lembeh.
Fast fact: Early phinisi trading ships were strictly sail-powered, carving an elegant swathe across the sea as sails billowed with the trade winds, but these days are more likely to be engine-powered.
Don’t miss: Sulawesi’s treasures are many: ancient hanging burial sites of Torajaland where wooden effigies keep watch; historic spice warehouse-lined streets of Makassar’s waterfront; look for the world’s smallest primates, the targier or black macaque monkeys.
Visit: Various dates in 2020 and 2021, Coral Adventurer
5.Abrolhos Islands, West Australia
An archipelago of 120-odd low-lying islands and coral reefs off West Australia’s mid-north coast, the Abrolhos Islands are home to a population of inquisitive sea lions which feast on local crayfish, octopus and fish. Marine and bird life are lured by the warm waters of the Leeuwin Current, making The Abrolhos a significant seabird breeding ground for shearwaters, noddies and terns. The islands are protected as a National Park and are notable as the site of the southernmost coral reefs on the West Australian coast.
Forever etched in history books as the resting place for Dutch shipwrecks Batavia and Zeewijk, The Abrolhos Islands holds the key to one of Australia’s most fascinating maritime stories.
Batavia was laden with gold and silver coins and bound for the Spice Islands with 322 passengers and crew when she ran aground on Morning Reef in 1629. Shipwrecked survivors scrambled ashore, but mayhem and massacre ensued as a mutinous crew lusted after power and the treasure within Batavia’s wrecked hulk. In their bloodthirsty quest for control, the mutineers dispatched soldiers to what we now know as West Wallabi Island, presumably hoping they would perish without food or water. Instead, the soldiers flourished, surviving on wallaby and a freshwater spring. They also built a makeshift fortress to repel the murderous mutineers. This simple structure, little more than rocks piled atop each other amongst low-lying scrub, became the first European construction in Australia, and the ruins are still visible today.
Fast fact: 300 years after the Batavia was wrecked on Morning Reef, the discovery of graves and recovery of artefacts helped historians piece together what really happened in 1629.
Don’t miss: Dive into the crystal-clear waters surrounding the Abrolhos Islands to swim with wild, inquisitive sea lions whose comical antics makes this a highlight of visiting this remote archipelago.
Visit: March 2021, Coral Geographer
6.Avenue of Baobabs, Madagascar
Lining a dirt road on the outskirts of Morondava, the Avenue of the Baobabs is one of Madagascar’s most famous attractions. The imposing stand of 20 or more Grandidier’s baobabs are the largest of Madagascar’s six endemic baobab species. With massive solid trunks that grow up to 3m across, mature baobabs can grow up to 30m tall and sprout flat topped crowns of foliage that branch out almost horizontally.
Baobab trees are known as the tree of life as they may provide shelter, water, food and clothing. The cork-like bark is fire resistant and regenerates itself after being cut from the bulbous trunk.
Fast fact: The baobab trees are thought to be up to 2800 years old and are known locally as renala in Malagasy, which translates as ‘mother of the forest’
Don’t miss: Sunrise or sunset is the best viewing time to see the magnificent Avenue of Baobab trees.
Visit: February 2021, Coral Geographer
7.Port Davey, Tasmania
Port Davey and adjacent Bathurst Harbour in southwest Tasmania are one of the world’s great wilderness areas. With no road access, beyond embarking on a small ship expedition, the only way in is by foot or light aircraft from Hobart. Right in the heart of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, Port Davey’s attraction is its raw beauty – untouched landscape with wild rivers cutting a swathe through jaded quartzite peaks. Button grass plains with blooms that sashay in the wind which blows uninterrupted all the way from Antarctica.
Over hundreds of years, pioneers have tried to carve a life from this wild landscape. Midway through WWII, Critchley Parker Jr was short on bushcraft skills but long on grand plans to establish a settlement for persecuted Jews. He died a lonely death with his grave now standing on a windswept Port Davey beach. Clyde and Win (sister of Denny King) Clayton were more successful harvesting crayfish commercially – their former home at Claytons Corner is now a memorabilia-filled hut used by bushwalkers.
Fast fact: Denny King, tin miner, naturalist, conservationist, bushman and artist is revered, with his biography King of the Wilderness summing up the 55 years he spent at Port Davey.
Don’t miss: One of the last habitats of the seriously endangered orange bellied parrot, these beautiful yet rare birds migrate from Victoria to breed each year – try and spot them from the Denny King Bird Hide at Melaleuca.
Visit: January to March each year, Coral Discoverer
8.Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia
Triton Bay cuts a swathe into the ‘neck’ of West Papua’s Bird’s Head peninsula and is renowned as a marine habitat with an abundance of species little-seen elsewhere. Bryde’s whales and dolphins are regular visitors but the real stars of the underwater marine world at Triton Bay are the whale sharks.
Swimming with the largest fish in the sea (whale sharks can grow up to 12m long with mouths 1.5m wide) is an extraordinary experience not soon forgotten.
Fast fact: Whale sharks’ skin patterns are individually unique, much like human fingerprints, making them readily identifiable.
Don’t miss: With whale sharks present in Triton Bay, unlike other areas where they make migratory appearances, swimming with these gentle giants is almost assured.
Visit: January 2021, Coral Adventurer
9.Meemu Atoll, Maldives
With around 1200 islands rising from the Indian Ocean, if you can’t find a Maldivian island to whet your appetite, you’re really not trying. Magnificent Meemu Atoll (also known as Mulaku) is drop-dead gorgeous – it’s your classic tropical atoll with a protected central lagoon rimmed by almost 40 low-lying palm-fringed islands that barely rise above the fringing reef.
Meemu Atoll is protected by an outer barrier reef down the western side. Boats can barely pass through gaps in this reef. Local fishermen use traditional craft, known as dhonis, which are designed for navigating shallow lagoon waters. Dhoni are one of the oldest boats in the Maldives and were traditionally powered by elegant lateen sails, but these days are more likely to be powered by engines.
Fast fact: Veyvah Old Mosque was built by a Sultan in the 1600s on Veyvah Island within the Meemu Atoll.
Don’t miss: Maldivian beaches are world famous and Meemu Atoll has no shortage of these palm-fringed havens washed by a turquoise sea twinkling in the tropical sunshine.
Visit: January 2021, Coral Geographer
10.Ningaloo Reef, West Australia
Ningaloo Reef rivals the Great Barrier Reef when it comes to colourful coral reefs and abundance of marine species. Anointed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011, Ningaloo Reef is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world and is one of the most biologically diverse marine environments on the planet.
The beaches of the Ningaloo coast are an important breeding site for green and loggerhead turtles which come ashore to nest each year between November and March. From June to November, humpback whales pass through the area on their annual migration from Antarctic waters to warmer waters of West Australia. Manta rays, too, inhabit the reef with a year-round resident population.
Laying close inshore, Ningaloo Reef is easily accessible from the beach, making it a popular destination for swimmers, snorkelers and divers keen on exploring this marine playground.
Fast fact: Each year coral spawning takes place approximately one week after the full moon in March or April, which generally heralds the annual arrival of the first whale sharks.
Don’t miss: Swimming with whale sharks is an unforgettable experience on Ningaloo Reef when the largest fish in the sea congregate annually between March and August.
Visit: May 2021, Coral Discoverer
The largest Buddhist sanctuary in the world, Indonesia’s Borobudur Temple emerged from the valley between two volcanoes in the ninth century during the Sailendra Dynasty. This extraordinary monument was built as a shrine to Lord Buddha, blending Indonesian ancestor worship with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. Nine terraced platforms linked by stone steps are topped by a central dome with 72 Buddhas each housed in individual stupas. More than 500 Buddha statues along with detailed galleries carved into stone walls grace the site which is now protected as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since being restored, Borobudur has become a significant pilgrimage site and place of worship for Buddhists, as well as becoming one of Indonesia’s most visited sites for travellers interested in learning about the past.
Fast fact: Borobudur was abandoned and lay hidden for centuries under deep layers of volcanic ash and dense jungle growth before a long-term project restored the monument to its former splendour.
Don’t miss: Allow plenty of time to walk around the grounds to discover Borobudur’s charms and intriguing symbolism.
Visit: February 2021, Coral Adventurer
12.Cocos Keeling Islands, Australia
Today’s sunshine-bathed Cocos Keeling Islands give little hint of the human dramas and tragedies from the archipelago’s colourful past. Since 1826, Cocos Keeling Islanders mostly remained disconnected from the outside world until the islands became an ‘official’ Australian territory in 1955.
For many years Cocos Keelings’ fortunes were built upon copra production which provided the main source of employment. The legacy of this once-thriving powerhouse are the thousands of mature coconut palms remaining after the industry closed down in 1987. With island lifestyles centred around golf course fairways dissected by an airstrip, and white sand beaches shaded by palm trees combined with a turquoise lagoon, Cocos Keeling Islands is a picture-perfect tropical outpost.
Fast fact: Cossies Beach on Direction Island has been named the Best Beach in Australia
Don’t miss: Snorkel the rip at the southern tip of Direction Island, which is a narrow pass carved through the coral reef by currents. This exciting drift snorkel passage flows into a lagoon that is virtually brimming with marine life.
Visit: March 2021, Coral Geographer
13.Tanjung Puting, Borneo Indonesia
Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park’s star attraction is the Camp Leakey orangutan sanctuary. The park was established to protect orangutans and proboscis monkeys and to rehabilitate orangutans rescued from domestic captivity. An active research facility, the sanctuary also provides a base for scientists, students and park rangers.
Sun bears, gibbons, macaque monkeys, clouded leopards and porcupines also inhabit the park. Crocodiles inhabit the waterways, and the forest canopy is a haven for more than 200 bird species, such as colourful hornbills and kingfishers.
Fast fact: Malayan sun bears are the world’s smallest bears and are threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting and poaching of young cubs for the pet trade.
Don’t miss: Feeding time at Camp Leakey is not to be missed, offering the best opportunity for viewing orangutans.
Visit: March 2021, Coral Adventurer
14.Torres Strait Islands, Queensland
Torres Strait is dotted with almost 300 islands located in the narrow waterway separating Australia’s Cape York from Papua New Guinea. Prior to the last ice age, the two countries were joined by a land bridge. Now, the islands are all that remain since the rising of the Arafura and Coral seas. Thursday Island (TI) and Horn Island are the largest and most populous of the 14 inhabited islands, with TI the administrative hub, and the airstrip on Horn Island connecting Torres Strait to the rest of the world.
Badu Island was once known as an island of head-hunters, with its warriors and turtle and dugong hunters having a feared reputation. Pearling was a major industry up until the 1950s, when a fleet of 13 pearl luggers created employment until plastics replaced pearl shell in the button industry. These days, cultural traditions are showcased through art crafted by Badu Islanders.
Fast fact: Separated by an intangible boundary in the sea and with some Torres Strait Islands located closer to PNG than Australia, both countries manage the strait under the Torres Strait Treaty.
Don’t miss: Badu Art Centre is the place to purchase stunning artworks created by Badu artists inspired by strong cultural traditions, language and their connection to the sea.
We Visit: October and November 2021, Coral Discoverer
15.Hambantota, Sri Lanka
After a meteoric rise to become 2019’s hottest travel destination, Sri Lanka’s kind people, rich culture and stunning shoreline, continue to make it shine as a ‘must visit’ destination. The portside town of Hambantota provides easy access to Bundala National Park – a birdwatcher and nature lover’s paradise. The park’s location makes it a significant site for migratory water birds, including the greater flamingo, which migrate in large flocks and create a spectacular sight. Saltwater crocodiles, wild boars, mongoose and monkeys are also likely be spotted at any given time.
Yala National Park is another wildlife sanctuary which offers a good opportunity to see leopards. And ancient caves concealed within a Buddhist temple contain rarely seen centuries-old rock paintings from the Anuradhapura period.
Fast fact: Under British rule and before wildlife was protected, Yala National Park was once a hunting ground. It was designated as a national park in 1938
Don’t miss: Keep an eye out for Asian elephants at Bundala National Park, one of the few locations in Sri Lanka where these endangered creatures remain.
Visit: January 2021, Coral Geographer
16.Osprey Reef, Queensland
Approximately 350km north-east of Cairns, beyond the outer Great Barrier Reef, and with no land in sight, Osprey Reef is the summit of an 2000m undersea mountain that rises near-vertical from the seabed beyond the continental shelf. Enjoy amazing underwater visibility at Osprey Reef, which Sir David Attenborough called an ‘oasis for living creatures of all kinds’.
Osprey Reef benefits from a combination of light, sea temperature and geological conditions to support distinct coral and fish species at different depths. Magnificent corals, plummeting drop-offs and crystalline waters make it a highly desirable tropical dive location.
Fast Fact: Osprey Reef is home to the world’s third-smallest fish, the stout infantfish, which grows to a miniscule maximum length of 10mm.
Don’t Miss: Diving at Osprey Reef is extraordinary with great visibility between 30m and 60m.
Visit: July to October 2021, Coral Discoverer
Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, was once the location of a large Allied base during WWII. Many of the buildings used by troops are still around today. Nowadays, Luganville’s palm tree-lined streets are invariably imbued with a sense of calm and serenity and a more leisurely atmosphere to its military past. The sea surrounding Luganville is where some of the region’s most extraordinary dive and snorkel sites can be found.
Fast fact: Downtown Luganville’s main street is overly wide because a US military base commander insisted that the road be wide enough for four army tanks to be driven side by side.
Don’t miss: Snorkel or scuba dive over WWII wrecks at Million Dollar Point near Luganville where the US Military dumped jeeps, tanks and other machinery in the sea, creating a unique dive site now teeming with colourful corals and fish.
Visit: October 2020, Coral Discoverer
18.Fjordland, New Zealand
In the southwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island lays Fjordland, a maze of navigable waterways penetrating deep into the snow-capped Southern Alps mountain range. Doubtful and Milford Sounds, with their steep, forest-clad near-vertical mountain flanks plunging into the sea are the undisputed stars of Fjordland National Park. Carved by glacial erosion during the ice age, British author Rudyard Kipling declared Milford Sound as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, even writing a short story inspired by his visit to the area.
Waterfalls such as Lady Bowen Falls tumble down towering sheer rock faces with enough force to generate electricity for the residents of Milford Sound village. Snow-clad peaks dominate the landscape in all directions. Wildlife thrives in this remote wilderness region with bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, penguins and blue ducks inhabiting the waterways, and bird species such as the ground-dwelling takahe, mohua, or bush canary and kakapos, also inhabiting the region.
Fast fact: Fjordland is home to one of New Zealand’s endemic species and the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo.
Don’t miss: Cruise through the hidden channels and calm waterways of Fjordland to look for marine wildlife and birdlife.
Visit: November and December 2020, Coral Discoverer
19.Maria Island, Tasmania
Maria Island is a small island off Tasmania’s east coast classed entirely as a natural wildlife sanctuary. Its walking trails are world-class, with trails that pass by dramatic sea cliffs, through open woodlands and towering eucalypt forests, and by remnants of historic ruins. The Painted Cliffs are particularly spectacular, especially when the late afternoon sun bathes the undercut cliffs with their striking, swirling sandstone patterns.
Beyond plentiful wildlife (pademelons, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats) and bird-spotting opportunities, Maria Island contains the most intact convict-era relics in Australia. Once a convict probation station and industrial hub, Darlington is now a ghost town, with many restored buildings offering an intriguing insight into this former penal colony.
Fast fact: Wombat scat is easy to identify by its cube shape, though wombats themselves are a little more elusive. Wombats use their strong bottoms as a defence mechanism, burrowing headfirst into a hiding spot, using their bottoms to ‘plug up’ any gaps against intruders.
Don’t miss: The trail to the summit of Bishop and Clerk starts as an easy stroll and ends in a challenging scramble across a scree-clad slope, before a short climb up the summit cap of over-sized boulders. It’s worth every bit of energy spent, and hikers are rewarded with panoramic views across the Tasman Sea towards Freycinet Peninsula.
Visit: January to March 2020 and 2021, Coral Discoverer
20.Elcho Island, Northern Territory
Elcho Island is an elongated island in the Wessel Group on Australia’s northern Arnhem Land coast. Most of the 2000 or so Elcho Islanders live at the main community of Galiwin’ku. With 94 per cent of Elcho Islanders having Aboriginal or Torres Strait origins, the strong cultural traditions of 18 connected clan groups are at the centre of island life. Galiwin’ku was originally established by Methodist missionaries in the 1940s. Nowadays, the community is entirely self-managed.
Elcho Island artists create works which are highly sought after and pieces like dilly bags and woven baskets, Morning Star poles and yidaki (didgeridoo) have been exhibited as far away as Paris. Elcho Island’s most famous son is ARIA award-winning musician Dr G Yunupingu, who taught himself to play a toy piano and an accordion at the age of four.
Fast fact: Elcho Island was the inspiration for the song My Island Home, which was originally written for the Warumpi Band and performed by Christine Anu at the Sydney Olympic Games closing ceremony.
Don’t miss: Purchase artworks from the source at Elcho Island Art and Craft centre, which showcases traditional and fine artworks crafted from materials collected from bushland and beaches, reflecting thousands of years of tradition.
Visit: Various dates in 2020 and 2021, Coral Discoverer
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