French style on the high seas

L'Austral in Indonesia. Picture: Eva Robert.
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

Cruise line Ponant is adding a little French sophistication to the cruising experience, not to mention some intriguing itineraries.

Injecting sophistication as only the French can, Ponant has introduced an elegant twist to cruising in Australia.

L’Austral is the French take on the private yacht. Carrying 264 passengers, with 95 per cent of the suites equipped with private balcony cabins, the expedition-style ship offers an intimate five-star experience. Think French cuisine, French wines with an open-bar policy and all the facilities you would expect including a swimming pool, spa and beauty treatments, hairdresser, fitness centre, theatre, lounges, indoor and outdoor bars, gastronomic and grill restaurants, leisure area for children, boutique, library and medical centre.

The ship has some interesting itineraries cruising the Kimberley, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Expeditions are accompanied by 12 local expedition guides selected for their knowledge and expertise in areas relevant to the on-board experience and in the field. The guides give lectures and provide an insight into the culture, history and wildlife of the region. Australian, New Zealand and Pacific region expedition voyages are headed by Australian adventurer, photographer and marine biologist Mick Fogg.

“Travelling with renowned anthropologists, marine biologists, historians, botanists, geologists, naturalists and ornithologists enables you to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the destinations to create a rewarding and memorable experience,” Ponant Australasia vice president Monique Ponfoort says.

L’Austral has green credentials — it’s a certified clean ship that minimises its impact on the sensitive marine parks and nature reserves it visits. In the Kimberley, guests interact with local Aboriginal communities, including traditional ceremonies such as welcome to country, and the ship’s Zodiacs carry guests ashore.

Ponant has several upcoming Kimberley cruises, including the 11-day Jewels of the Kimberley itinerary departing on September 1. Fares are from $10,530 per person twin share for a prestige stateroom on deck five. Next year, cruise the Kimberley with July and August departures from $9010 per person twin share for a deluxe stateroom.

The Papua New Guinea and Indonesia itineraries offer some unique experiences, accompanied by expedition naturalists with more than 50 years’ experience in the region.

As Ms Ponfoort points out, there is more to cruising that “seeing the coastline and brushing against the shores of a distant land” — Ponant uses its Zodiac dinghies to gain access to remote villages and immerse passengers in the ethnic diversity and customs of Melanesia. 

Highlights include watching the men of Nias leap over 2m stone towers as a rite of passage on the Yangon to Bali cruise, snorkelling over giant clams at Lizard Island on the Bali to Cairns voyage, witnessing the most active volcano of the region in the Cairns to Noumea cruise, and looking for tarsiers, one of the world’s tiniest primates, on the Cairns to Manila trip.

This year, cruise the Indonesian archipelago for 12 days from June 22, departing from Kota Kinabalu and arriving in Darwin. The trip costs $7494 per person twin share for a prestige stateroom deck six.

There are also two 12-day Darwin to Bali sailings in September, which cost from $5960 per person twin share for a deluxe stateroom.

The ship also operates polar cruises. Visiting the islands of the sub-Antarctic, a 16-night voyage will depart from Wellington on January 5 next year. 

Ms Ponfoort says just 1200 people visit these islands each year, versus the 170,000 to the Galapagos. It’s “truly a remarkable voyage for adventurers, nature lovers, bird lovers and photographers alike”, she says. 

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