How cruising is going to extremes

REMOTE LOCATIONS: Cruise ship True North's onboard helicopter allows guests to explore the rugged terrain of Eagles Fall.
REMOTE LOCATIONS: Cruise ship True North's onboard helicopter allows guests to explore the rugged terrain of Eagles Fall.

Adventurer Tim Jarvis is the type of bloke you'd like to have by your side in wild seas or on a crevasse-strewn mountain.

He has been through some tough situations in the wilderness and now there is a chance to rub shoulders with him on an Arctic voyage.

Cruising to wild parts of the world with experts like Jarvis on small expedition-style ships is catching on.

The 10-day Spitsbergen Explorer voyage offered by Intrepid Travel will have none of the danger of Jarvis's recent re-creation of Ernest Shackleton's perilous Antarctic journey in 1916, but it will give passengers the opportunity to share a hot cuppa on the deck with him while viewing polar bears and whales.

Cruising is continuing to grow rapidly around the world, and within the industry, expedition trips are the hot trend.

Increasingly, the trips are going upmarket with fine food and wine, service levels that you'd find at five-star boutique hotels, and ships finished off with the highest standards of workmanship and technology.

''These expeditions are extraordinary experiences,'' said Jeremy Lindblad, from Lindblad Expeditions that has luxurious trips to destinations as far flung as the Galapagos, Borneo and Alaska.

''The trips are designed with curious, intelligent people in mind and they give guests up-close and personal encounters with the world's most remarkable geographies,'' he said.

Among the experts on board for Lindblad's raft of ''extreme cruising'' voyages are National Geographic photographers and editors.

Sarina Bratton, founder of Orion Expedition Cruises, said: ''More and more existing (cruise) operators are stepping into the luxury expedition sector.

''People are looking for unique experiences in terms of going to remote locations and the opportunity to go ashore in Zodiacs to land on ice, go up rivers, under waterfalls, on to beaches or into coral caves. More and more people want to immerse themselves in the wildlife or the culture of the region,'' she said.

Expedition cruising  was once confined to polar areas, but it now extends around the world from Far East Russia to the Kimberley.

Bratton told a recent conference of 400 travel agents that it has become ''the next big thing globally''.

It is generally on smaller ships from about 100 to 250 passengers and the typical expedition cruise passenger is well travelled and in their late 50s, she said.

One of the newest expedition company's making its presence felt in Australia is luxury French operator Compagnie du Ponant.

Bratton, who is assisting the cruise line set up in Australasia, said Komodo, Irian Jaya, Darwin and Milford Sound will be included in regional itineraries.

''We haven't announced anything about the Kimberley at this point but the ships are suitable for there,'' she said.

One confirmed five-star expedition newcomer for the Kimberley this year is Silversea which has muscled into the territory already occupied by True North, an expedition ship operated by North Star Cruises that pioneered trips there 25 years ago.

Silversea's new expedition ship Silver Discoverer started Kimberley voyages in April and boasts an on-board swimming pool to rival True North's on-board helicopter.

But on either sleek ship, passengers can expect haute cuisine and champagne and expert commentary and guiding as they explore Aboriginal cave paintings, swim at waterfalls and explore remote gorges.

Explaining the penchant for expedition cruising, Jeremy Lindblad said: ''The public is curious and out-going, key characteristics of a typical explorer.''

The Spitsbergen Explorer escorted by Tim Jarvis departs on June 9. See