Cruising South America: Patagonia

Images from Patagonia in South America. These shots are from the Punta Arenas to Ushuaia itineraries offered by Cruceros Australis expedition cruises. (Cruceros Australis)

Three quarters of the world's surface is water, but nearly all of our vacations are based on land. It stands to reason that we must be missing out.

Luckily there are some fantastic ways to see the wet face of the planet.

1. Explore the pristine coves of Tierra del Fuego

This journey around the foot of Patagonia is one of the most unusual experiences on earth. The expedition ships of Cruceros Australis bring passengers close to soaring condors, penguin colonies and glaciers.

Expert on-board briefings segue into party nights around the free bar -- that includes the whiskey waiting to welcome expeditioners back to their dinghy after an icy trek.

From US$899 for three nights, US$1,199 for four nights; http://www.australis.com

2. Navigate the Yangtze

There's much more to this great river than the spectacular Three Gorges dam. Victoria Cruises' American ships go all the way from Chongqing to Shanghai, stopping to explore cities like Nanjing and Wuhan.

They also offer shore excursions to scenic highlights like mist-shrouded White Emperor City and the Yellow Mountains of Huangshan -- allowing glimpses of a whole swathe of rural and urban China within a week.

From US$1,610 plus US$240 for excursions, http://www.victoriacruises.com

3. Break ice in the Antarctic

In its inaugural season, Compagnie du Ponant's new super yacht L'Austral is operating six voyages to Antarctica from the foot of Argentina. Naturalist guides will brief explorers on excursions to see extraordinary wildlife at close range against a backdrop of majestic glaciers and icebergs.

For the truly adventurous, Responsible Travel is organizing diving expeditions in the frosty ocean.

Ten-day voyage from US$5,164+US$540pp port taxes; http://www.ponant.com. 11-day diving expedition from US$6,685; http://www.responsibletravel.com

4. Ride Norway's coastal steamer to the Arctic Circle

The Norwegian Coastal Voyage is a trip is on a working steamer, not a cruise liner.

The ship travels up and down Norway's magnificent west coast from Bergen in the South to Kirkenes in the North calling at 34 ports along the way, most never visited by larger ships.

There's no dressing up for dinner and no fighting for the Captain's table -- just gruff locals to rub shoulders with.

From US$1,680 for the six-day voyage; http://www.hurtigruten.co.uk