After the final stages of fitting-out had been completed at Southampton, CANBERRA left on her Maiden Voyage on 2nd June 1961 with 2,238 passengers on board. It was to be both a unique voyage and an opportunity to show off the new ship to her second home, Australia, and the emerging tourist markets of USA and Canada.
CANBERRA’s first port of call was Gibraltar and then on to Naples. En-route from Naples to Port Said, she passed the P&O liner STRATHAIRD (1932) her Captain, A. E. Clay, sending a message “You look magnificent ... from old to new, STRATHAIRD bids you farewell.” It was a poignant moment. By the time CANBERRA returned from her first voyage STRATHAIRD had sailed her last - the first of the "white sisters" to go to scrap. The Strath liners had pioneered P&O's turbo-electric revolution on the Australia run. Thirty years later CANBERRA, at twice their tonnage and passenger capacity, would reduce the journey to Australia by two weeks.
There were rapturous welcomes for CANBERRA in all her maiden ports but none more so than her arrival into Sydney with her sponsor, Dame Pattie Menzies on board and her husband, the Australian Prime Minister, coming down to meet CANBERRA and Dame Pattie. At the end of a historic voyage P&O's Sir Donald Anderson, who had travelled on board, quantified CANBERRA's maiden success:
"42,000 miles steamed. 11,000 passengers carried. 9,000 people entertained on board at parties of all sorts. 50,000 or even more visitors.”