Renaissance goes all over 'Down Under'

When it's winter up north, it's spring and early summer in the Southern Hemisphere--the perfect time to discover the entrancing world beneath the Southern Cross. Australia's diverse landscape and fauna and New Zealand's stunning islands and wildlife are magical destinations waiting to be explored. Frolic with koalas, ride an antique train through a forest of giant ferns and cattle stations. Discover the unspoiled wilderness and picturesque countryside of Tasmania. Marvel at the natural geysers of New Zealand's Rotorua, and visit the penguins at the International Antarctic Center in Lyttleton. Renaissance Cruises can take you there.

There's no better value for money than a leisurely 15-day voyage aboard Renaissance Cruises' R5 between Sydney and Auckland, which will operate from November through February. With spacious cabins--many with balconies--and a capacity of only 684 passengers, the relaxed and intimate atmosphere onboard will enhance your enjoyment of these destinations. A voyage aboard Renaissance is never a "typical" cruise. Itineraries are created with great care to offer exciting ports and the most interesting attractions--and ample time to see them.

With overnights in both Sydney and Auckland, you'll have a full day and evening to sample each city's delights. Sophisticated, laid-back Sydney has something for everyone: Tour the famed Opera House, swim at Bondi Beach, climb the Harbour Bridge or sample a bit of nature in Blue Mountains National Park, just at the city's edge. Auckland, on the other hand, is something completely different. Perched on a volcanic isthmus between two stunningly beautiful harbors, the city has a distinctive atmosphere all its own. Known as the "City of Sails"--you'll see hundreds of them dotting the harbors--it is home to the America's Cup race. Surrounded by rainforest, it's an ideal place to enjoy nature. See a native kiwi bird up close, or venture into eerie caverns lined with thousands of twinkling glowworms!

The cruise also calls at Melbourne, Hobart, Dunedin, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Christchurch. Each port opens a window into the enormous natural diversity and unique cultures found here. In between, relaxing days at sea let you absorb all you've seen and share your exploits with new friends, read up on the next port, or enjoy an afternoon in the pool.

Melbourne is an amalgam of the modern and the traditional, nestled in the embrace of the Dandenong Mountains. Broad, tree-lined streets and public gardens complement the architectural gems of another era, interspersed with contemporary high-rises. The mountains are a magnet for the locals, who get away to them whenever they can to enjoy their magnificent natural wonders. You can too. Feed a kookaburra bird, make friends with a shy koala or learn about Aboriginal culture.

The idyllic island state of Tasmania lies just across Bass Strait. Most famous for its indigenous critter, the Tasmanian devil, it offers both unspoiled wilderness and a scenic landscape of farms and vineyards dotted with picturesque towns and quaint villages. Hobart, the capital, is a city of colorful gardens, romantic cottages and fashionable shops.

Then New Zealand beckons. These mountainous, lush islands across the Tasman Sea encompass fjords, glaciers, farms, and towns a bit reminiscent of the Scottish highlands. In fact, Dunedin was built by Scottish immigrants and designed as a mini-Edinburgh. Once a raucous gold town, it became the nation's first commercial and educational center in the 19th century. Visit the country's only castle; ride a vintage railway train into the countryside; take a wildlife cruise to see albatross, penguins, and dolphins; or embark on a two-day overland journey to glacier-carved Milford Sound. Delightful Lyttelton, with its Antarctic Center, is the port for Christchurch--another lovely garden city, set in the rolling hills of the Canterbury Plains. And Napier, renowned for its Art Deco architecture, also has one of the world's largest gannet nesting sites, with 15,000 birds. Its rich alluvial plain produces bounteous quantities of fruits and vegetables, and is home to many fine wineries.

Wellington is a South Pacific San Francisco with charming Victorian architecture, lovely parks and gardens, museums filled with Maori exhibits, and a panoramic view from Mt. Victoria. But the best is yet to come at Tauranga, gateway to Rotorua. Rotorua is not only the heart of ancient Maori culture, but a phenomenal complex of geothermal features. Spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools are some of the natural wonders you'll see at the Whakerewarewa Thermal Reserve.

November will soon be here, so now is the time to plan on joining Renaissance Cruises' R5 on her premier season "Down Under." From Sydney's ample beaches to Auckland's sail-filled harbor, this is a vacation like no other. Add a pre- or post-cruise stay in either city to extend this incredible journey.

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