Georgina Cruz, a seasoned traveler and frequent Holland America Line guest who takes many of our Grand Voyages, is currently on the Grand World Voyage aboard Amsterdam. Wondering if our Grand Voyages are your dream getaway? Read below for the first installment that provides a peek into her exotic vacation!
A Grand World Voyage offers a veritable ocean of delights … my husband Humberto and I have found this to be the case during four circumnavigations of the planet, and now that we are on our fifth one – all aboard Holland America’s Amsterdam — that is still the case. Here are some Polynesian delights we have enjoyed on our 2019 World Cruise:
Rapa Nui/Easter Island
A Holy Grail among seasoned travelers, this mysterious and mystical island is a speck of land – just 63 square miles — in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the most isolated spots on the planet. It was annexed by Chile in the 19th century and called Isla de Pascua (Easter Island); Rapa Nui is its Polynesian name. The island was first seen by Europeans on Easter Sunday in 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen came upon it. Those who have studied Easter Island calculate that Polynesians settled here around 700 A.D. and between 800 and 1600 A.D. and created the large Polynesian-style “moai” sculptures that have made the island world famous.
Most of the island, with three volcanoes, lakes and villages, is national parkland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has nearly 1,000 moai – monolithic, enigmatic (it is a mystery how they were moved to their places by a Stone Age culture) and monumental statues (some weigh up to 82 tons) carved from tuff or tufa (volcanic rock) depicting humans, and sometimes called “heads” or “big heads.” Humberto and I took a HAL tour to see the statues that locals sometimes tell visitors act as “antennas.” Placed over graves of distinguished ancestors believed to possess “manna,” a supernatural quality that protects people, the statues “beamed” the “manna” from the ancestors back to the living through their eyes. We toured the ceremonial site of Tahai in the town of Hanga Roa, where statues are displayed on altar-like platforms called ahu. We also visited Ahu Tongariki, the largest ceremonial center of the island with the Pacific Ocean on its back and 15 “moai” (one of them 30 feet tall) and we toured Rano Raraku, the volcano that was turned into the main quarry for the “moai.” The quarry has about 400 “moai” scattered around including the famous “Big Heads.” Of the 400 statues here about half are finished and the rest were never completed. Among the unfinished statues is a 71-foot-high one estimated to weigh 200 tons. Amazing!
The beauty of French Polynesia, an archipelago of 118 islands and atolls in the South Pacific, is, well, legendary — in a few words: paradise on earth. It has beckoned artists and writers including Paul Gauguin, Robert Louis Stevenson and James Michener across the centuries. Poet Rupert Brooke, another luminary captivated by the islands, observed, “In the South Seas, the Creator seems to have wanted to show us what He could do.” And the islands’ appeal still lures modern travelers including avid cruisers like Humberto and me. No matter how much we have wandered in the world when we get to Tahiti and other Society Islands, we are mesmerized by their beauty. You’ve only to see a green atoll surrounded by spectacularly white sands and crystalline blue waters to realize that you are in an earthly Eden … a place of mountains, cascades, forests, white- and black-sand beaches and other idyllic panoramas. This year the World Cruise visited Tahiti and Bora Bora – aaah!
In Tahiti, an island tour is a “must” – we have taken two through the years. With the shape of a number eight that seems to be reclining and floating in the sea, Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia (651 square miles), has two main round sections: the bigger one is Tahiti Nui, where the capital of Papeete is located, and the smaller one, Tahiti Iti, a more rural area. The Taravao Isthmus connects both parts of the island. Two of Tahiti’s highest peaks, Mt. Orohena (7,334 ft. high) and Mt. Aorai (6,738 feet) can be seen from the center of Papeete. Another beautiful mountain, Diademe (4,291 feet) can best be viewed from the eastern city of Pirae. We always enjoy a stroll on the seaside promenade in Papeete that recalls those of the French Riviera and delight in other French touches: the open-air cafes on Pomare Blvd., where visitors also find boutiques and stores that sell French wines, perfumes and fashions. Another French must-see is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Papeete, on the Place Notre Dame and the streets rue General de Gaulle and Jeanne D’Arc. It dates from 1875 and is in Gothic style – a nice spot to rest during walks in the city. We also never fail to visit the Municipal Market, a block from Pomare Boulevard, that is a great place to enjoy Polynesian ambience and local color. It offers a wide variety of merchandise including pearls, flowers, arts and crafts, coffee, fruits, vegetables and other products.
Many cruise passengers, including us, take advantage of overnights or extended stays in Tahiti to spend time at an island resort. We did so during this World Cruise, heading for the InterContinental Resort Tahiti, recently renovated, with beautiful gardens, beach, pools, rooms and bungalows over aquamarine waters. The resort is a short taxi ride from the cruise pier.
As if we had not had enough beauty already, our next stop was Bora Bora. The view of Bora Bora as a ship approaches is simply spectacular with a lagoon with waters in varied tones of blue, atolls with necklaces of white sand and mountains like the imposing Mt. Otemahu that seems sculpted by a gigantic hand.
Called “the pearl of the Pacific” by British explorer James Cook, it is composed of a main island with the town of Vaitape and a series of islets or “motus” surrounding it. Participating in one or more island activities such as hiking to the top of Mt. Otemahu, diving, kayaking, and shopping for the precious black pearls of the South Pacific is wonderful. And for the ultimate delight we headed for the Four Seasons Bora Bora, an idyll with overwater bungalows on a “motu” about a half hour from Vaitape via complimentary launch from the resort (with a welcome of champagne and a lei of fresh flowers). Water sports are complimentary and snorkel equipment awaits on the terrace of each bungalow – swimming in the lagoon is like doing so in a gigantic aquarium filled with tropical marine life. Dining on island specialties including salad with Moorea shrimp is a pleasure on the terrace of the Fare Hoa Grill at the Four Seasons Bora Bora add to the memorable experience. Specialties include roast duck with mango sauce and it comes with a “side” of the view of the sun setting behind Mt. Otemahu.
Bottom line? Our Polynesia sojourn during the 2019 World Cruise was a delight. Stay tuned for the next installment on my World Cruise Diary: Delights Down Under With The Family!