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How to discover the best of Asia and Oceania via cruise

From a seafood-lover’s paradise in French Polynesia to cool-climate wine country in New Zealand, these five unmissable shore excursions showcase the diversity on offer on a voyage through the Asia and Oceania regions.

Located on the western side of Beratan Lake in Bedugul, the Ulun Danu Beratan temple is just one of several serene, floating temples on the island of Bali, Indonesia. 

Photograph by Getty Images
By Julia Winterflood
Published 13 Jun 2022, 18:00 BST

The world’s largest and most populous continent, one could spend a lifetime exploring Asia, and likewise Oceania, which is made up of more than 10,000 islands. From ancient temples to pulsating jungles and fiery cuisines to emerald rice terraces, there are countless experiences to embrace. Despite this, it can be difficult to plan a trip that incorporates it all.

Designed for seasoned adventurers, Oceania Cruises’ Grand Voyages, which call on more than 450 destinations around the world, enable travellers to discover multiple ports of call with their unique shore excursions, small ship luxury and sumptuous cuisine. So, whether you’re a wine connoisseur, a wellness seeker or love being immersed in natural wonders, these five shore excursions will introduce you to the best of each destination.

Freshly caught perch, mahi mahi and parrot fish are staple ingredients in French Polynesian dishes.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Raiatea, French Polynesia

Best for gastronomes

Raiatea is seen as the birthplace of Polynesian religion and culture, hence its moniker, ‘the sacred island’. According to local lore, it was from this lagoon-encircled, mountainous isle that Polynesians began their quests to colonise Hawaii and New Zealand. For thousands of years, Raiatea’s seafaring inhabitants were fuelled by abundant marine life, and today it remains a seafood-lover’s paradise; giant lobster linger in the crystalline shallows, while the azure deep teems with tuna, trevally, swordfish, spangled emperor and mahi mahi. On Oceania Cruises' Culinary Secrets of the Sacred Island shore excursion, travellers begin by wandering among piles of taro, coconuts, breadfruit and indigenous bananas at a market, before exploring traditional agricultural practices at a smallholder farm. At the island’s largest resort, the character-rich French colonial-style Raiatea Lodge Hotel, the foundations of Polynesian cuisine are unpacked before a sumptuous seafood meal overlooking the lagoon.

New Zealand's vineyards have the perfect terroir for producing excellent wines. 

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Auckland, New Zealand

Best for oenophiles

With fertile clay and loam caressed by westerly winds from the Pacific Ocean and easterlies from the Tasman Sea, the undulating landscape northwest of Auckland is classic, cool-climate wine country. Established mainly by Croatian settlers enticed by New Zealand’s gold rush, viticulturalists have worked their alchemy with the vines, soils and seasons for over a century to produce wines that now rank among the world’s best; elegant Chardonnay, peppery Syrah, earthy Merlot and full-flavoured Pinot Gris. Sampling a few drops with locals at a private vineyard while dining on a hearty barbecue lunch is surely one of the most enriching ways to sample the region. On the Lunch with the Locals at a Private Vineyard excursion, travellers can also try their hand at the quintessentially Kiwi traditions of baking Anzac biscuits and gumboot throwing, the beloved sport of rural New Zealand.

Wat Pathum — also known as the Lotus Temple — has remained a small pocket of tradition and tranquillity in Bangkok. In the vihan (prayer hall), visitors can delve into the temple's history and architecture, and come to understand how Buddhist meditation can lead to enlightenment. 

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Bangkok, Thailand

Best for those seeking a wellness retreat

Likely the last thing one would expect to find sequestered among the skyscrapers and shopping complexes of Bangkok is a verdant sanctum of serenity, but Wat Pathum Wanaram is exactly that. When King Rama IV built the royal Buddhist temple in the mid-19th century, the now vibrant commercial district was mostly agricultural land and lotus ponds — ‘pathum’ is a synonym for lotus. More than 150 years later, Wat Pathum — also known as the Lotus Temple — has remained a small pocket of tradition and tranquillity in one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities. On Oceania Cruises' Meditation Experience with a Monk, travellers delve into the temple's history and architecture, and the reasons behind the rituals of the monks’ daily lives. Surrounded by intricate murals, a monk explores how Buddhist meditation can lead to enlightenment, and passes on techniques to take home. Meditation and mindfulness may now be part of contemporary culture, but few have the chance to experience their gentle power alongside a Buddhist monk.

Situated on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka, Galle Fort is a fortified old city with stone sea walls and colonial architecture. Notable buildings include the 18th-century Dutch reformed church and the Galle Lighthouse, pictured, which stands on the fort’s southeastern edge.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Colombo, Sri Lanka

Best for culture-seekers

With its cultural diversity, vast urban sprawl and prominent colonial past, Colombo can seem almost overwhelming. The clouds of incense, din of klaxons, masses of people in ceremonial worship and large monitor lizards lazing on pavements can be disorientating, so it’s best that locals lead the way. Spending a day with a Local Family in Colombo, welcomes travellers into the home of a local family to delve into daily life while sampling Sri Lankan home cooking, a staple of which is jackfruit. Long before the world’s largest tree-borne fruit became the darling of vegan cuisine, Sri Lankans were pickling it, dehydrating and deep-frying it for chips, and slow cooking it with spices and coconut milk for curry. Joining a family at their table to share the language of food and hear stories both tall and true is often a highlight of any trip — no matter where one is in the world.

Home to verdant, rolling rice fields, jungles and river valleys, Bali is oozing with medicinal plants which have been used by locals for centuries.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Bali, Indonesia

Best for nature enthusiasts

On a clear dawn, Bali’s tallest and most sacred volcano, Mount Agung, can be admired from almost anywhere on the eastern side of the island. Over millions of years, ash from its eruptions has created some of the world’s most fertile soils, which nourish Bali’s rice fields, jungles and river valleys, and help farmers grow the likes of coffee, cloves and cocoa. Hidden among these verdant landscapes are dozens of medicinal plants, which have been used by locals for centuries to cure ailments, boost the immune system and give thanks to Hindu deities. On the Bali Herbal Walk and Herbal Class excursion, travellers may spy the fragrant yellow tendrils of ylang-ylang, used to lower blood pressure and alleviate congestion, and the flamboyant antioxidant-rich petals of hibiscus. Bali’s traditional healing methods are then explored more thoroughly in a classroom setting, before the island’s aromatic, health-giving cuisine is served for lunch. 

Designed for time-rich travellers, Oceania Cruises' Grand Voyages range from 72 to 82 days, inviting you to explore the world on a grander scale with exclusive amenities.

Photograph by Oceania Cruises

Plan your trip

Oceania Cruises’ Grand Voyages aboard small, luxurious ships call on well-known and boutique ports, often for overnight stays, with each voyage visiting at least 12 countries. The above shore excursions can be experienced during these multi-month cruises, which are available to book for 2023/24.

Guests can also take advantage of the OLife Choice offer, which includes return airfare and internet, plus the choice between free shore excursions, free shipboard credit or free house beverage package. 

Published in the Jul/Aug 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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