South Pacific.

Reference: South Pacific

Title: South Pacific Tour.

Length: 1000 words.

Published previously. SBSR and non-British rights available.

Travel company: Orient Lines.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

South Pacific Tour.

Thatched house.

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.

Kava ceremony, Fiji.

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 New Zealand.

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.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

Tongan palace, River boat, The Kava ceremony in Melanesian meeting house, Native thatched houses, Melanesian people....

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