Have you wondered whether it would be possible to soak up the sun on a
South Pacific island, feast on pineapple and mangoes under a palm
tree or bathe in clear blue waters disturbed only by the
ripples from your breast stroke?
These days you do not have to paddle it the hard way by traversing the
ocean in a Polynesian canoe. A round trip from Auckland, New
Zealand with stops at five South Pacific islands can be made
in the luxury of a cruise ship. You eat your pineapple and
mangoes on board ship watching pools of foam receding behind
you as you plough through the waves. Your swim in the pool
on the rear deck will not be lonely, but on a windy day you will have
your very own wave machine. Perhaps the Jacuzzi would be more to your
liking with an attendant serving vodka martinis to be sipped
nonchalantly, but carefully, to avoid the bubbles which
break through the surface of the water.
This is not all idle luxury though. The never-ending supply of
tempting food will trouble your conscience. It can be allayed by a trip
to the fully equipped gymnasium, or the aerobics sessions
organised each day. In the corner is a weighing machine.
A typical round trip cruise will start at Auckland, New Zealand and
the first two days at sea are spent sampling the various on board
entertainments. Whether this is tuition in the Beauty Salon, a
flutter in the Casino or Trivial Pursuits in the Polo lounge
there need never be an idle moment. We chose the review of
shore excursions followed by the lecture on Polynesian
culture ready for our visits to the islands the next day.
For Tonga, our first port of call, three excursions were offered: a
scenic tour of the Western island for $18(US); a historical tour of
the Eastern island or a visit to the Tongan National Centre,
each at $65. We chose the third and were introduced to many
traditional crafts from the making of cloth from the leaves
of the pendanus tree to the weaving of the mats and baskets
for which the island is famed. The traditional Kava drink
ceremony preceded our Tongan feast with a mellow background of guitar
music and the peaceful Polynesian song. A fashion show ranged from
traditional Tongan wear to modern wedding dress; we completed the
day with an exhibition of native dancing.
There was an even greater choice two days later when arriving at the
port of Suva in Fiji. Six excursions were on offer ranging from a
scenic tour at $20 to a Fire walking ceremony or shooting
the rapids on the Navua river cruise for $65. We chose the
river cruise and were surprised to find ourselves on a long
narrow boat powered by a large outboard engine.
Upriver we were entertained by Fijian villagers. The Kava ceremony was
performed and lunch, of native fruits and fish, was provided in
the village meeting house - a thatched barn with bamboo walls.
The remotest visit occurred the next day to the Yasawa islands to the
North West of Fiji. The ship's company had arranged a beach
barbecue. Incredibly, the vast amounts of food, we had
become accustomed to on board, had been transferred to the
island in the early morning and, when we arrived, iced
drinks were being dispensed from a thatch covered bar. The
bigger surprise was that 500 people managed to disappear into the
shade of the palm trees leaving the beach unspoilt for swimming. Some 200
metres away was a Melanesian village. It was as tranquil a
setting as we had imagined and there was a strong temptation
to linger for a few days...or weeks.
Our westward voyage continued to Vanuatu. We arrived early in the
morning at Port Vila and awoke to find ourselves in a lagoon fringed
with palm trees. This island was formerly a part of the New
Hebrides and estimates of anthropologists suggest that the
ancestry of the people can be traced back some 3000 years to
Indonesia and South East Asia. Their navigational skills
together with the constant westerly winds enabled them to
explore over thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean. There has been a
strong Anglo-French influence and English and French are widely
spoken. Six excursions were again offered. The two-hour
Coral Reef Adventure on a glass bottomed boat cost $22 and
full day visits to the islands were $55. We chose the visit
to the Lelepa and Moso islands on a 75 foot ketch. This was
a fitting excursion for the passengers of maturer years and we sailed
gently in a light breeze.
The barbecue on the beach was only accessible by water since the
undergrowth was too thick to pass. The fish would feed out of our hand.
A few crumbs on the surface of the water attract them and
help overcome their timidity.
Our final port of call before returning to New Zealand was Noumea in
New Caledonia. Said to be the Paris of the Pacific it is French
speaking but disappointingly commercial after the remoter
parts. This may be the island of choice if you want modern
facilities with your South Pacific weather.
The Bay of Islands in the north of New Zealand concluded the organised
excursions. The tour in a motorised catamaran seemed too noisy
and out of keeping with the splendour of the scenery; it was
a place for sailing in and out of inlets, and mooring off
sandy beaches. Alternatively a historic tour of the Waitangi
National Reserve would introduce the visitor to the history of
Our return to Auckland was tinged with sadness, for the trip was
nearly over, but the sight of the evening menu revived spirits. Perhaps
for the appetizer the Avocado or Salmon Gateaux, followed by
Fennel and Mussel soup and, for my entree, the Guinea Fowl?
Maybe a healthier choice would be the Poached Supreme of
Salmon and steamed vegetables? Never mind. I'd make up for
it with a desert of Feuillene of Poached Pear which sounded
slimming. There would be time to join the aerobics session before
disembarking in the morning.