Cruise Diary: The Exotic Islands of a Transpacific Cruise
Imagine calling at lush, tropical islands, isolated beaches and bustling fruit markets as you cruise across the Pacific Ocean. Bloggers Adam Hammond Marta Balcewicz of the website Portsie recently cruised from Sydney, Australia, to Vancouver, Canada, and chronicled their journey.
The author put aside his envy for his transatlantic crossing literary heroes and crossed an ocean of his own — along the way he shared the experience of a 29-day transpacific cruise onboard Holland America Line’s ms Oosterdam. Read on for a snapshot of the first leg of the journey featuring New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji.
Transpacific in 29, Day 0: Leaving Sydney
Holland America Line’s ms Oosterdam is a classy looking lady. I’ve come to like this line the most in large part because their ships have that classic look. The hull is a deep midnight navy; it contrasts with the stark, almost blinding white of everything above it. There are no water slides, outdoor TV screens, or bold architectural mistakes … It’s the line where it’s easiest to pretend you’re in an Edith Wharton or Henry James novel — which, in a word, is the reason I come on these things.
Transpacific in 29, Day 3: Here Comes a City (Noumea, New Caledonia)
Noumea, New Caledonia is a large South Pacific city of around 90,000 people, and it is ms Oosterdam’s first stop. I feel I should explore this inaugural town, so I don’t plan any trips outside of it — despite the tempting temple that can be reached by local bus. The temperature has risen significantly since Sydney. The string of skate-shoe and beach wear shops on Rue de Sébastopol close for siesta and I hide from the heat for a little while inside St. Joseph’s Cathedral, a church built by convicts. The harbour is empty and the wind gives off a funny whistle as it passes through the masts of docked sailboats. A few shacks advertise sailing trips to nearby islands. The dock circles around the marina and, standing at the end of it, you can see Oosterdam in the distance, sitting quietly at the edge of this quiet town. I think then that the South Pacific, more than anything, will likely be about what the South Pacific is in the North American imagination: beaches likened to “paradise,” spiky-leaved flora, green, big-beaked birds, coral reefs, and neon fish.
Transpacific in 29, Day 4: On Lifou (New Caledonia)
Easo on the island of Lifou in New Caledonia is the paradisiacal minimal-ness of beach, palm trees, and bike rentals—the South Pacific of travel agency posters in the flesh.
Oosterdam perched itself inside Santal Bay and sent ashore its tender boats filled with beachbag-laden passengers. On one side of the island, snorkelers dove into Janek Bay…Above the beach, on a hilltop to the west, sat a small lonely chapel with a Madonna perched high on its roof. Adorning its inside wall were prayers typed on stock pictures of rambling, playful kittens. The last tender boat returned to the ship just as the sun prepared to set.
Transpacific in 29, Day 5: Castaway (Mystery Island, Vanuatu)
The film “Castaway,” starring Tom Hanks as a man stranded on a tropical island, was filmed not too far from Mystery Island. While on this tiny speck of land, devoid of human life and with only an overgrown WWII landing strip in its centre serving as a reminder of its contact with the outside world, I couldn’t help but think of Tom Hanks all through the day. I thought of how long it would take me to figure out that the island is indeed deserted. (About 45 minutes; it took 30 minutes to walk full-circle around the edge of the island.). Then I thought of what I would eat if I were stranded on Mystery Island, like Tom. (I saw hermit crabs; I saw clear fish with rainbow designs running down their centre — they jumped out of the water in groups of ten or so, like dolphins; I also knocked a coconut off a palm tree and bashed its shell against a rock for 30 minutes until I got through to the coconut milk). Like in the movie, a distant reef kept the monster waves at bay. Tom Hanks had to make his way past those to leave his island behind. For the Oosterdam crowd, the tender boats fetched us back to the comforts of the ship at ten minute intervals.
Transpacific in 29, Day 6: Falls (Port Vila, Vanuatu)
If you talk to anyone who’s been to Port Vila, Vanuatu, I bet they’ll tell you to visit the Mele Cascade — their must-see waterfall; their Niagara Falls. The Mele waterfall shares only the most basic of waterfall characteristics with its famous Canadian-American cousin. Frankly, having seen both, I’d much sooner recommend Mele. While Niagara Falls is impressive and all, nothing can compare to the experience of bathing underneath the falls in a pool of warm electric-blue water amid a lush, citrusy-smelling forest with a soundtrack of crashing water playing on loop. Sorry, Maiden of the Mist, this has you beat.
Oosterdam’s excursion to the falls took us by minivan — the most common automobile on the island, and its official bus — through Port Vila (Vanuatu’s capital), past a busy village on the city’s outskirts, and into Mele Gardens. During our trek through the forest, a heavy rain developed, and by the time we reached the foot of the cascades, the rain had dissuaded most from attempting the climb to the main waterfall. After going up the cascades — a little steep, at times slippery, with a strong current lashing at your legs, and a rope to help you make it — you reach the 60-foot-tall Mele falls, with its basins of perfectly calm water inviting you in for the best soak of your life.
Transpacific in 29; Day 7: Blue Lagoon (Luganville, Vanuatu)
Luganville has a number of tempting attractions, the most exciting of which is the sunken treasure of U.S. military equipment (from bulldozers to plane engines), whose rusted carcasses can be admired by divers and snorkelers at Million Dollar Point (not far from the ship’s port).
Another worthwhile trip is a visit to the Blue Lagoon, which can be accessed by road, or, the far more picturesque canoe ride up the Riri River. Oosterdam’s tour to the Blue Lagoon began with a short van ride outside of the town, past coconut plantations and over bridges under which children bathed in the river to escape the rising heat. From the banks of the Riri, a canoe taxi takes you up the sleepy river to a dock perched over a deep turquoise pool surrounded by lush vegetation and absolute quiet. Overhanging the pool is a rope for swinging into the water, Tarzan-style. A line from Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” comes to mind. Ralph comes upon a lagoon on the island that is to be his new home and prepares to be disappointed. He finds instead that the island runs “true to form” and the lagoon is incredible, deep, and green, with water “warmer than his blood.” At the Blue Lagoon, the Ralph and the Brooke Shields in you may reign free.
Transpacific in 29, Day 9: Navala Village (Lautoka, Fiji)
The village of Navala is nestled deep in the bush of Viti Levu island. After an hour-and-half-long drive, we arrived at Navala. Admission is 25 Fijian dollars, with an additional F$10 for a tour guide — a soft-spoken girl who is studying tourism at the University in Suva and happened to be home for the week. The village is composed of traditional “bure” houses and between them the everyday stuff of life takes place — laundry, sleeping dogs, playing children, men resting between shifts of bure construction. On one end of the village sit the buildings that comprise the school. Children are only permitted to speak English during school hours, and the results of this restriction are immediately evident as the bell sends them running out for lunch break and they engage us in conversation with near-perfect English. The children say bye to us, having remembered our names. We were the only visitors at Navala that day.
Transpacific in 29, Day 10: The Capital (Suva, Fiji)
Suva is the capital of Fiji and it’s got a capital-style busy-ness that distinguishes it from most other cities in the South Pacific. Suva also happens to be located on the south east side of the main island of Viti Levu, a side less frequented by tourists.
To get out of Suva, I took part in Oosterdam’s trip to Colo-i-Suva Forest Park, a national park with trails winding past thick tropical growth, several waterfalls, and a blue hole for swimming, avec the requisite Tarzan-rope jump and dive. The hike was followed by a visit to the nearby Raintree Lodge for a performance by a dance troupe, who shyly performed a series of local numbers, giggling amongst themselves between each verse.
Transpacific in 29, Day 11: Island + (Dravuni Island, Fiji)
Dravuni Island is yet another tiny paradise, picture perfect and belonging on the cover of a travel brochure. The island is quite small, all nature, and ideal for a beach day. The palm trees hang low over the sand, providing natural cabanas and clothes hooks. Under the water lies a world of pulsating coral-forests, with hundreds of neon yellow and electric blue residents rushing about their daily tasks. A hike up the tallest hill provides one with a great view of the neighbouring Fijian islands with their characteristic ice cream scoop shape. On the way up, I pass a couple standing underneath a tree, arguing about whether it’s mango or avocado; they settle on mango. The Oosterdam whisks us away from this scoop of land at 4 p.m.
To read about their transpacific journey in its entirety visit portsie.com.
Have you always dreamed of cruising across the ocean on one of Holland America Line’s classic ships? There are a number of trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific cruises available.
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