As domestic cruising continues its upward surge in popularity, more and more regional ports around Australia previously oblivious to the economic power of cruising have tagged in and put some serious development into showcasing their destination to travellers from around the country and the world.

The result has been and is continuing to be far greater awareness of what makes these towns unique and what puts them on the map. Local communities have embraced cruising and the myriad of benefits that come with it. Another perk is that news small businesses providing shore excursions to swathes of cruise travellers one day at a time have sprouted into life, with locals eager to show off their happy little pieces of the world.

Shore touring options to have sprung from this boom include going out to farm your own pearl in Western Australia to discovering historical aviation museums in New South Wales. Regional Australia is providing experiences the big cities only dream about. Sure, some offer a limited selection, but these are still one-of-a-kind experiences you won’t find anywhere else, with many of these even offered exclusively to cruise ship guests. Let’s take a look.

Port Hedland, Western Australia

BHP's Nelson Point mine is one of the largest iron ore mines in the world.
BHP’s Nelson Point mine is one of the largest iron ore mines in the world.

The West Australian mining town of Port Hedland might not normally be a destination which Australians would rank among those with the most interesting things to do. However, the coastal community is rapidly churning out exciting new things for leisure travellers to see and do during a short day visit – many centered around it’s iconic iron ore mines.

Two popular shore excursions focus on this principal export. While it is nearly a two-hour drive in each direction, a tour to BHP Billiton’s 790-acre Nelson Point facility takes guests right into the heart of the mammoth mine, offering a comprehensive tour covering the entire process from excavating the raw materials from the ground to loading it onto giant ships. It’s the only tour of its kind in Australia.

If the idea of sitting on a bus for the entire tour isn’t appealing, the opportunity to peer into the life of a Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) worker may be of more interest. This tour, which touches on the lifestyle of the modern mine worker, highlights the basic amenities and comforts of living on a mine, with guests able to get right amongst it if only for one day.

Enjoy lunch in the food mess hall and attend a pre-shift work meetings with a miner. Guests also have the chance to discover Redbank Bridge, the termination point for some of the longest trains in the world as they bring iron ore from the remote mines for transportation out of Port Hedland. Both start from USD$39.95 per person, with a minimum age of 12.

Wollongong (Port Kembla), New South Wales

Nan Tien Temple sits just outside of Wollongong.

As a relative newcomer to the cruising scene, the town of Port Kembla has proven popular with several Royal Caribbean ships having already visited and more eyeing off the possibility. The town opens up the entire Wollongong and Illawarra region to cruise travellers, having previously been considered just a bit too far for most tours departing from Sydney to be able to deliver in one day.

Wollongong offers a surprisingly wide selection of tours. Our pick is the chance to discover Albion Park’s famed Historical Aircraft Restoration Society. The airport is home to a variety of historically significant aircraft such as one of the only remaining Super Constellation’s in the world and a Qantas Boeing 747 that holds the record for both the longest and shortest delivery flights in the world.

For something a little more relaxing, take the opportunity to rest and meditate on this four-hour visit to the Nan Tien Temple, which believe it or not is actually the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

A fully guided tour will take you inside the temple and explains the basics of Buddhism. An authentic Chinese lunch follows the tour, before guests then have a chance to meditate with leaders from the temple and experience the complete tranquility of mindfulness.

Both tours start from USD$49.00 and are offered exclusively on Royal Caribbean, the only cruise line currently calling into Wollongong.

Broome, Western Australia

Pearls still in the farming process at Willie Creek pearl farm.
Pearls still in the farming process at Willie Creek pearl farm.

Just up the coast from Port Hedland and a lot more tourist-oriented than some of the other ports in regional Australia, Broome is in the position of being able to offer a greater variety of off-ship tours to cruise travellers while still having the untamed beauty of rugged and rural Australia at its doorstep.

No other port in Australia boasts the ability to offer the chance to ride on a hovercraft with a one-hour “cruise” around the scenic coast of Broome. The hovercrafts – specially built for the waters around Broome, provide the perfect chance to view the glistening sands of Cable Beach or the cliffs of the aptly named Red Cliff Beach and the surrounding turquoise waters. Mangroves, tidal waterways and sand bars are also on show during this tour, many of which are only accessible via the gliding vehicle.

The true gem on this tour however are the dinosaur tracks which have been perfectly preserved. Your hovercraft will get you as close as possible to maximise the opportunity to take photos and make memories which will last forever.

As one of the world’s pearl capitals, Broome features multiple ways to discover the art of pearling. P&O Cruises Australia offers an exclusive opportunity for guests to discover Willie Creek Pearl Farm to see first-hand how pearls are farmed and to then learn the process behind appraising them for their true value. Guests who enjoy the finer things in life will also appreciate the opportunity to purchase direct from the farm, presenting the chance to get a holiday memento at a huge discount.

Guests wishing to experience Willie Creek Pearl Farm can do so from $139.99 per person, while the hovercraft adventure is on sale from $169.99 per person.

Cooktown, Queensland

Cooktown is on P&O Cruises' regional map in Queensland.
Rich in Australian history, Cooktown is a rare treat for guests cruising with P&O.

Located north of Cairns, Cooktown is appearing on more itineraries as an alternative to Port Douglas. The tiny town is home to a large Indigenous community and the culture of Australia’s first people playing an integral part in every visitor’s experience.

So important and interesting is this Indigenous background to the local area that experiencing The Great Emu Cave is often considered one of Australia’s greatest experiences. Local elder Willie Gordon welcomes visitors into this ancient site, enchanting you with ancient dreamtime stories from the area. Usually inaccessible, this area is opened up to guests on the tour, albeit with an escort. Guests wishing to experience The Great Emu Cave should be reasonably fit as the bush walk to the site isn’t for the faint hearted.

The Great Emu Walk tours start from $159.99 per person and are offered by P&O Cruises.

Busselton, Western Australia

Aravina Estate provides a beautiful back drop for lunch.
Aravina Estate provides a beautiful backdrop for lunch.

Around three hours south of Perth, Busselton serves as the gateway to the famed Margaret River wine region. As such, the opportunity to taste some of Australia’s greatest wines and fine produce shouldn’t be passed up. Seizing the opportunity is Princess Cruises, with the line offering a selection of paddock-to-plate and cellar door adventures.

One such experience is the opportunity to discover Aravina Estate, one of Western Australia’s leading food and wine destinations. This vineyard won wine expert James Halliday’s award for Best New Winery in 2014 and is a renowned destination for not just the food and wine but also surprisingly the sports car enthusiast inside of you.

A guided tour of the lush exotic gardens and vineyard introduces you to Aravina, before proceeding to view one of the largest sports car collections in Australia. A visit to the kitchen garden will provide background to the range of vegetables, fruits and herbs which will then be prepared and served during a subsequent five-course cellar door degustation lunch.

Perfectly paired wines are poured with each course to complement lunch, which is prepared with local produce by up and coming chefs from the Busselton area. Guests also enjoy a scenic drive back to the ship, taking in the stunning views of the local area.

What is the best shore excursion you’ve taken in a regional port? Tell us in the comments!

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