Expedition Cruising is the new Luxe!

Expedition Cruising is the new Luxe!

Expedition Cruising is the new Luxe!

The reason I say this is because the way we see the world has changed.

Today more than ever experience and expertise count.

Let’s be honest it’s been two years of annos horribilies (horrible years).  Covid-19 has continued to disrupt our lives and has made any thought of travel next to impossible.  The continued uncertainty has not been kind to us, and according to some has made us more resilient, resourceful and made us pivot.  Some businesses have thrived and others particularly those in the travel and hospitality industries have withered or hibernated.  As an owner of a small boutique travel business, I have felt the pains close to home, more than you can imagine but I refuse to give up on my passion for travel.  Recently, when the opportunity to travel shone like a northern star I leapt at the chance.  Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, travel was again in sight!  After two years of staying at home, I thought – enough was enough.

In early December I set off on a long-awaited adventure.  Not one to do things by halves I boarded a luxury expedition cruise with APT (Australian Pacific Touring).  The alluring 13 day Queensland Reef and Island Discovery itinerary, onboard the MS Caledonian Sky, began in Cairns, Queensland Australia,  We travelled all the way up to the Cape York tip,  and visited numerous magical islands and historic ports as we snaked our way down the coast where we eventually docked in Brisbane.

MS Caledonian Sky Queensland Reef and Islands Discovery

MS Caledonian Sky Queensland Reef and Islands Discovery

7th December 2021 Brisbane

The adventure began by dusting off my suitcase and passport as I packed for an exciting journey of discovery.  After completing numerous compulsory forms, including obtaining a doctor’s clearance I was almost ready.  72 hours prior I had my obligatory PCR test, fingers crossed this was negative as this was my ticket to freedom.  My first trip in two years began at Brisbane Domestic Airport on the 7th December 2021.  Masked up, check-in was smooth and easy.  I decided to spoil myself by booking Business Class, seats 1D and 1F, as it had been too long.  A quick pitstop at the Qantas Club before boarding.  Then off to the gate where the warm smiling greeting from the flight attendants awaited. Seat belt – click, safety briefing – tick, and finally that roaring sound of aircraft engines, oh how I’d missed that sound.  Full of excitement, wonder, and joy of a child we were up, up, and away.  Inflight service accompanied by complimentary champagne and a movie felt like being reacquainted with a long-lost friend. Peering out my window at the fleeting clouds and coastline below I smiled.  This feels like home to me.  I gazed in awe at the wonders and thought about the privileges of air travel, the spirit of adventure is back and this starts to play in my head:

We are one, but we are many 
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian

(“I Am Australian” by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton of the Bushwackers)

Fight Brisbane to Cairns

Flight Brisbane to Cairns

7th December 2021 Cairns – Let the Adventure Begin!

Upon arrival in Cairns, Queensland we were met by Dot, our delightful and energetic APT expedition team member.  Our private transfers took us to Cairns Port where we started our embarkation process with a stroll along Trinity Wharf and an obligatory espresso martini!  The MS Caledonian Sky isn’t your typical luxury small-ship.  She is a small expedition ship hearty and full of character, and she was to be our home for the next twelve nights.  I was to soon learn that the onboard theme of the Cal Sky was a Scottish theme and our cabin 321 was named the Isle of Lewis.  I love cruising for so many reasons: You unpack once, wake up in a different location every day, it’s all-inclusive and it’s a closed travel bubble.  After the mandatory safety drill, we joined the Expedition team on the Panorama deck for our Sailaway from Cairns.  That first night we gathered for a warm Welcome Reception from Captain Bill Fenelon and his cheerful crew.  We were briefed on our next day excursion to Eyrle Reef by Expedition leader Craig and were introduced to the exceptional nine-person Expedition team.  This was followed by a delightful dinner, as we set sail on the Northern waters of Queensland.

8th December 2021 Stanley Island

We awoke to a view of Stanley Island which is situated at the tip of Cape Melville, Queensland in Bathurst Bay.  It is an 810 hectare island located North of Denham Island and Flinders Island in the Flinders Group National Park in Princess Charlotte Bay.  A popular tourist island rich in early history, including Aboriginal rock art depicting European settlers and the Yintayin rock shelter that depicts ships painted in red and white ochre on red sandstone.  After breakfast, we joined the Expedition team for an overview of our day and a mandatory zodiac briefing.  Zodiacs were to be our means of transport to all of our destinations.   Biologist Malcolm Turner presented an informative and entertaining lecture on The Queensland Coast – Three World Heritage Areas and parrotfish poo.  After this insight, I couldn’t look at parrotfish the same way!

After a leisurely lunch on the Lido Deck, we set off on our first adventure.  Zodiac time! Slip, slop, slap.  Life-jackets – check, two-armed grip – check, sit and don’t stand up – check!  Our guided trek with naturalist Steve was both informative and fascinating as we got closeup and personal with ancient artworks, history,  flora and fauna.  As we battled the discomforting humidity and heat that is North Queensland, it was amusing to think – I miss this.

After a few hours, it was back to the comfort of the Calendian Sky for a refreshing shower, followed by sunset cocktails, and a gourmet dinner.  Later we enjoyed some nightly entertainment and a solid night’s rest.  Not at all bad for a first day.

9th December 2021 Cape York

We made it! Cape York had been on my bucket list for years now, never having ventured far north from my home in Brisbane, this seemed an unlikely tick for me.  After a smooth night of sailing, we awoke a stone’s throw from the tip of Australia.  Crocodile expert Erin Britton presented an intriguing insight into the world of Crocs and delighted us with tales of her adventures and work with various organisations and people including Sir David Attenborough. As we transitted the Albany Passage we dined for lunch.  This is a historical and picturesque channel and a rare treat, notwithstanding it is a feat of navigation.  Thanks to Captain Bill, we arrived safely and took anchored offshore at the tip of Australia.

This afternoon was a promise of adventure as we explore the unspoiled wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula.  The cape was named after James Cook in 1770.  However, in 1606 Dutch sailor Willem Janszoon on board the Duyfken was actually the first European to reach the famous peninsula.  It harbours extraordinary biodiversity with more than 700 vertebrate land animal species of which 40 are endemic.  As a result of its geological history, the flora and fauna are a complex mixture of Gondwanan relics, Australian isolationists, and Asian or New Guinean invaders.  In 1885 it was an area of pearl farming attracting workers for Japan and Asia.  Over 30 aboriginal languages are spoken on Cape York and a multitude of Australian Aboriginal sign languages.

We headed out on the zodiacs for a wet landing on the sandy beach and rocky shoreline.  We ventured out on one of three nature walks to reach the tip of Cape York, where a surprise awaited our efforts.  Joining our expedition leader, Malcolm we explore the ecotones spotting rare birds and plants.  We traversed the elevated peninsula on foot which was on rocky and uneven terrain until the end was in sight.  Yes, we made it to the tip of Australia!  Met by a glass of champagne we toasted this momentous occasion in style!


10th December 2021 Piper Islands and Restoration Island

Widely unknown these two destinations are a welcomed surprise on this immersive itinerary.  Our day began early with a 7.30 am disembarkation and zodiac cruise around the Baird and Beesley Islands.  Here we explored the shallow waters of the surrounding reef and mangroves.  We spotted amazing birdlife and had a wet landing onshore with time for a stroll around the small sandy island.  Our expedition guide Dani pointed out some fresh turtle tracks of a mother looking to lay her eggs which are closely followed by crocodiles tracks, we hoped the story ended well.  Before we departed there was time for a quick ‘teabag’ dip in the pristine waters.  Side note: we’re guarded by our surrounding expedition crew on zodiacs against any hungry local crocs.

After lunch, we set off for Restoration Island, a most significant location for Captain Bligh after suffering the mutiny on the Bounty.  We go ashore and meet David Glasheen, a forming mining tycoon, who after losing his fortune, now calls this island home.  You can learn more about his solitary existence in his book The Millionaire Castaway.


Like on all good cruises, the sunset is enjoyed with new friends the obligatory cocktail, followed by a sumptuous 3-course gourmet dinner, all complimented by laughs, entertainment, and a nightcap or two.

11th December 2021 Lizard Island

When in August 1770, Lieutenant James Cook arrived at the little island towards the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef his log read “The only land animals we saw here were lizards…which occasioned my calling the island Lizard Island“.  Here there’s the opportunity to join a challenging sunrise hike to ‘Cooks Look’, which I happily declined in preference of a 2 km walk with the Expedition team spotting birds, plants, and yes lizards!

After a ride back to the ship, our daily themed lunch prepared by the Chef and kitchen staff is enjoyed – today it’s a Paella!  We enjoy the remainder of the day on a snorkeling adventure admiring the pristine coral and sea life that we have been learning about.


My highlight included watching a  sea turtle tending its patch of seagrass.   This spot truly is a rainforest of the sea with its complex eco-systems, and colours to enchant and mesmerise.  From fish to coral, nature sure knows how to use an array of colour combinations and camouflage.  No snorkel is complete without a beach bar and glass of bubbly to quench your thirst – cheers!

12th December 2021 Cooktown

Cooktown is at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on the Cape York Peninsula, and is where James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770.  Both the town and Mount Cook (431 meters or 1,415 feet) rise up behind the township.  We learn about this significant town on a guided bus tour visiting historical sites, and places of interest including the James Cook Museum and Natures Powerhouse located in the Botanical Gardens.  Artist and local resident Vera Scarth-Johnson has a priceless collection bequeathed to the town of her botanical illustrations on show at the dedicated gallery. Cooktown was founded on 25 October 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River.  In the local Guugu Yimithirr language, the region is sacred for the rock crystals found there.  Quartz is used in aboriginal ceremonies and was traded as far as Mossman.  We learn an interesting story about how the Kangaroo or ‘Kanguru’ got named, but you’ll have to visit to find out.  Not to be missed is a fabulous photo opportunity at Grassey Hill.

Another day ends sipping cocktails, watching the sun setting, and dreaming of times of old.

13th December 2021 Townsville and Magnetic Island

A full day we disembark at 9.00 am and join a private city sights bus tour en route to Breakwater terminal.  After learning about Townsville and its surroundings we board the ferry for a circumnavigation of Magnetic Island and then a transfer to Nelly Bay (Magnetic Island).  A delightful coach tour with a local guide who proudly shares stories and tales about the island and of her late Father who was a local pineapple farmer.  We enjoy fish’n’chips for lunch at Horseshoe Bay followed by drinks at the local pub with new friends.  Don’t miss the fabulous gelato bar on the corner!

Did you know the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2900 reefs and 900 islands stretching over 2300 kilometers over an area of 344 400 square kilometers!

Back onboard it’s the daily cold washer, refreshing beverage, and friendly smile that greets us as we re-enter the ship’s reception, ahhh!  After freshening up its relaxation with a cocktail and time to reflect on the day with friends and crew.  I think, how blessed to be travelling and sailing shores close to home.  We learn that the Chef has been out today shopping for provisions and we’re greeted with an array of fresh local produce he’s picked up including mangos, local fish, softshell crab and so much more.

14th December 2021 Whitsundays – Long Island

With over 90 islands stretching from Bowen to Repulse islands, this is a part of Australia’s largest offshore island chain known as the Cumberland group.  I’ve been here before, many years ago, however travelling by sea is another experience, as we get up close and personal with the land, sea and its creatures.  The morning was spent zodiac cruising taking in the incredible scenery exploring Long Island Sound.  There was also some movie-star spotting as we may have stubbled across George Clooney and Julia Robert’s movie set!

After enjoying another delicious lunch back on board, we set out for an afternoon of snorkeling, and swimming with the mandatory beach bar set up.  My highlight was Expedition Leader, Craig obligingly popping a bottle of bubbly for me off a zodiac – when the bar floats to you is as good as it gets!

15th December 2021 Middle Percy Island

Part of the Northercumberland group the Percy Isles area is a stunningly beautiful place of shimmering beaches and wooded hilltops – a Robinson Crusoe island rising for the indigo depths of the Coral Sea.  Only a day or two sail from the Whitsundays the islands are rarely visited and they have never been exposed to mass tourism.  This region is a part of maritime history and a treat to explore.  There are a few relics here including the famous A-frame, old telephone shed, and the Treehouse.  Alternatively, the lagoon and guided walk with leaseholder Eton-educated eccentric Andrew Martin or ‘Lord Percy’ is entertaining.

When we zodiac back to the ship and prepare for another delectable evening experience we relax and enjoy some cool tunes in the lounge with onboard entertainers.

16th December 2021 Lady Musgrave Island

As we awaken to this gem I marvel at the crystal clear waters that surround us – you can see the bottom of the sea from the ship!  Lady Musgrave Island is a fourteen-hectare coral cay with a 1,192-hectare surrounding reef.  The island is the second most southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef and was named after Lady Lucinda Musgrave, wife of colonial governor Sir Anthony Musgrave.  We zodiac cruise along the edge of the reef and into the lagoon spotting numerous turtles and other wildlife.  Mesmerised by the hues of blue and turquoise this is a snorkellers and divers dream location.  We make a wet landing onto the remote island and enjoy a private guided walk with Biologist Malcolm as we explore the rich ecosystem and birdlife of this tropical haven.

After lunch back on board, we pop on our stinger suits, reef shoes and take our snorkel gear and head out again to snorkel the glistening coral reef and spot reef sharks, turtles and so much more.

Tonight we’re treated to a deluxe BBQ on the outdoor Lido deck, with an incredible banquet of meats, fish, salads, and neverending dessert options!  We’re entertained by the crew and Captain Bill himself.  Laughter and fun fill the air as we dance the night away under a full moon.

17th December 2021 K’Gari (Fraser Island)

Today we arrived on the secluded shores of the world’s largest sand island.  World heritage-listed, Fraser Island (K’gari) has a natural beauty and is a vast area to explore.  It recently underwent a long-awaited name change reclaiming its traditional indigenous name K’gari – the native Butchulla word for “paradise”.  We set off on a very special hike with Captain Bill to explore the WWII Commando School.  The first section was a steep road followed by undulating tracks covering 6.5 klms.  It’s an eerie feeling as the deafening song of cicadas floats in and out as if orchestrated by spirits of the Island.  I’m mesmerising and enchanted by the peacefulness of the hike.  No one speaks.  This is a special experience.  We reach the WWII Commando School where remains of Ford trucks and equipment lie abandoned and memorials lay silent.  Time to reflect and give thanks.  On the descent, we catch glimpses of the sea, a reminder that time does not stand still for long.  A treat awaits us as we trek back via the shore and a dip in the Kingfisher Bay Resort is perfect to refresh and unwind.

A quick change with lunch back on board it’s not long before we head out again to join our Ranger-guided 4WD bus tour of K’gari.  This unexpected tour is a bump and grind adventure offering a delightful snapshot of the natural beauty of K’gari.  We visit stunning Lake McKenzie, where I wriggle my toes in the soft white sand and go for a quick dip in this freshwater oasis.  Legend has it that a dip here will rejuvenate and restore a youthful appearance by 10 years! There is a patchwork of freshwater lakes, crystal-clear creeks, rainforests, and immense dunes of coloured sand to explore here. The island’s wildlife also offers some unique species including world-famous dingos.

Fraser Island is approximately 123 kilometers long and 22 kilometers wide.  It has lush rainforests, with eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes, and coastal heaths.  It is made up of sand that has been accumulating for approximately 750 000 years on volcanic bedrock.  Plantlife here is abundant due to the naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi present in the sand.

Back on board we sneak in a sunset drink on the Panorama Deck before a delightful Captain’s Cocktail drinks and debrief the day.  This is followed by dinner with friends and where lobster tails and beef wellington await!  It’s been a full day and I sleep like a baby.

18th December 2021 Wathumba Creek, K’Gari

Today we all head out at the same time with our six zodiacs and explore Wathumba Creek and its pristine coastline.  The waters are crystal clear and visibility is incredibly good.  It’s not long before we spot stingrays and turtles in the waters. The rays are majestic and with glee, we spot a family of three that dart off in various directions.  Competition is fierce as each zodiac team tries to outdo one another in the race to spot marine and land wildlife.

As we come around the bend another surprise awaits us as we are greeted by yet another beach bar – this time complete with a floating zodiac bar.  It’s 10 am and we’re spoilt treated to bloody mary’s, bubbly, and beers.  We land on the perfectly white shimmering sand and head into the crystal clear waters of the bay, with the MS Caledonia Sky in the background we toast and cheer to what has been an adventure and expedition of a lifetime!


After a few hours, it’s back to the ship as we leave what I would describe as PARADISE on earth!  Sunset drinks as the sun goes down and the full moon appears.  It is a reminder to me of the sacredness of our planet.  A few snaps with Captain Bill who points out Indian head to us as we leave K’gari and then it’s off to dinner.

That evening we celebrated our last twelve days together with a delightful farewell dinner and reminisced with a nostalgic Queensland Reef and Islands Expedition slideshow of our adventures in the Caledonian Lounge.  What a fun and enjoyable travel expedition we’d all had with insanely perfect weather and sailing conditions.  We’d made some new friendships, loads of new memories, and rejuvenated along the way – what more could you ask for!

Has this got you thinking of your next travel adventure? You’re welcome to contact me to start planning your next luxury and expedition travel and cruise arrangements.  It’s time.

Inspired by Luxe,


Rose Febo
Based in Bridgeman Downs, QLD
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