The most important decision you will need to make when you visit the Australian National Maritime Museum (particularly if the special exhibition on at the time of your visit holds little or no interest for you) is whether or not you want to board the museum’s small fleet of ships/boats or view them from the boardwalk. In terms of cost, visiting the museum’s permanent galleries and viewing the ships/boats from the boardwalk is free (2016). If you decide to board the vessels you will need to have a BIG ticket and the cost becomes A$30 (with some concessions). The time you have available for your visit will also be a determining factor. To see everything and board the vessels which you can board will take at least half a day.
The other thing you need to be aware of is that all the vessels are not there all the time. Typically the ‘Big Boats’ you can board are:
HMB Endeavour – open when not at sea (pictured above)
The HMB Endeavour is one of the world’s most accurate replica vessels – obviously of James Cook’s HMB Endeavour. It is decked out to how it would have looked on one of the world’s greatest maritime adventures, Captain Cook’s epic 1768-71 world voyage – down to the table being set, clothes hanging and a slumbering cat! The Endeavour with its 30 kilometres of rigging and 28 sails encompassing 10,000 sq feet (980m2) of canvas is a majestic sight to see when at sea as it regularly is, offering 5-10 days voyages throughout the year (see – http://www.anmm.gov.au/whats-on/vessels/sail-the-endeavour).
Tall Ship James Craig – open when not at sea
Unlike the HMB Endeavour, the James Craig and all other ships and boats at the museum are original vessels though it has to be said that the 1874 Tall Ship James Craig has been extensively restored. The James Craig represents the great 19 century sailing vessels that shipped produce out of the fledgling Australian colonies and brought back much needed manufactured goods on its return trips to Australia. It is one of only four 19th century barques left in the world, the only one in the Southern Hemisphere, capable of sailing and is the only one which offers regular sea trips to the general public.
HMAS Onslow (submarine) – permanently in port
Decommissioned in 1999 just weeks before becoming part of the museum’s fleet, the Onslow remains in close to operational condition. This is an Oberon class submarine commissioned during the Cold War to track Soviet submarines moving into the Arabian Gulf from Vladivostok via the Coral Sea and the Great Australian Bight.
Destroyer HMAS Vampire – permanently in port
The Vampire was the last of Australia’s big gun ships. Since the Vampire fighting ships have been equipped with missile weaponry. The Vampire was in active service between 1959 and 1986 though thankfully despite its impressive array of guns that service was peaceful, even while escorting troops to Vietnam during the 1960-70s Vietnam War.
HMAS Advance – permanently in Port
Commissioned in 1968 and serving out of Darwin until 1977, HMAS Advance was one of a number of ‘Attack’ class patrol boats responsible for surveillance of Australia’s enormous coastline and was involved in controlling smuggling, immigration, illegal fishing, search and rescue and occasional inshore survey work.
If it is critical to you that you can board the Endeavour and/or the James Craig ensure you check if they are in port (less likely on weekends and public holidays) before buying your ticket! The other vessels are occasionally closed for maintenance.
There are a number of other, much smaller vessels, which you can, in theory and indeed in practice, board but they can be adequately viewed internally as well as externally from the boardwalk if you don’t want to buy a BIG ticket. See my separate review ‘Little Boats at the Maritime Museum’.
I have not yet boarded the Endeavour and the James Craig. I would love to do so but to date have been reluctant to fork out the A$30 to see these given that I have seen everything else at the museum (many times!). It is a shame that you cannot buy tickets for individual ships.