Update, 10:30 p.m. EST: According to media reports, nearly two dozen fires continue to burn near the Australian port of Melbourne, fueled by strong winds, record heat and drought. There are still no changes to cruise itineraries or excursions -- we'll keep you posted.
(1 p.m. EST) -- The fires that continue to rage through Australia have not yet impacted cruises. Holland America's Rotterdam is the next ship due into Melbourne, on Friday; P&O Cruises, Princess and Regent are on schedule to call next week. Representatives from all of these lines tell us that no changes are anticipated at this point.
P&O Australia has not responded to our requests for information; however, we do know that Pacific Dawn is currently headed to Fiji and not due back to Australia (Sydney) until Feb 20; Pacific Sun is in Auckland, with a return to Brisbane this weekend. Neither is due close to Melbourne anytime soon. Also, a spokesperson for Orion Expedition Cruises, which is headquartered in New South Wales, tells us that the line's luxury ship, Orion, is deployed in New Zealand under charter for the month of February and so will not be impacted by the fires.
Though Australia's southeast region has been deeply impacted by these deadly fires, most tourist areas have been spared, according to a spokesperson for Tourism Australia. The city of Melbourne has not suffered, and the majority of the area's world-renowned wine regions remain unaffected.
However, we're still keeping a close eye on shore excursions to fire-affected areas, such as tours to the Yarra Valley (which has been impacted). For example, next-in-port Holland America offers a tour from Melbourne to the Healesville Sanctuary, which is temporarily closed due to the fires, as well as Yarra Valley wineries.
"Most of us here in Victoria are still shocked by the tragedy of last weekend," member A&M posts on the Australia & New Zealand forum. "We have friends who are in the fire affected area. The once beautiful bushland area is now a blackened wasteland.
"I know that the Yarra Valley and Healesville Sanctuary are not accessible because of the fires. Might be quite some time before these places will be open to tourists. If your ship is stopping Melbourne there [are] many interesting places to see around the city."
Aussie Gal writes, "I heard on the radio this morning, that all the animals from the Healesville Sanctuary were moved to Melbourne Zoo on Saturday just in case of fire. It is just as well as one of the fires is quite close to that area.
"Also those thinking of visiting the wineries in the Yarra Valley will be disappointed as the fire is still raging in that area and a lot of the roads are closed. If you wish to visit a winery whilst here, I suggest you go down to the Mornington Peninsula where there hasn't been any fires at present."
Again, at this point, neither Holland America nor any of the other lines in the region has reported changes to itineraries or tours. We'll keep you posted.
Will Fires Affect Australia Cruises?
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Australia Fires Not Yet Impacting Cruises
February 10, 2009