Discover the best South Pacific cruise destinations
One of the many joys of living in Australia is that you can take a Pacific Islands cruise from your home port. At least that’s true if you live in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. But even new ships don’t move very fast so the Pacific ports you visit are the ones closest to Australia.
If you wish to explore the islands of Tahiti or Hawaii you need to allow a lot more time and book on a trans-Pacific or an around-Pacific cruise. Or, better yet, fly to your destination and join a ship operating there.
That same pesky issue of physics dictates cruises out of Australia, too. A cruise out of Brisbane may be seven days but one out of Sydney visiting the same ports may be 10 days and one from Melbourne 12 or 14 days.
If you are new to cruising you may be thinking that all those “wasted days” out of Melbourne can be avoided by flying to Brisbane and departing from there. But cruise ships have evolved and now you need to allow sea days simply to enjoy your ship and the facilities it offers. The proportion of sea days to port days is purely a matter of personal preference. Indeed, some cruisers love being aboard so much they don’t even leave the ship when they have the chance to explore off-shore.
The South Pacific (or Oceania) is made up of Australia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island; Melanesia (including Fiji, New Caledonia, PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu); the tiny islands of Micronesia; and Polynesia (most significantly French Polynesia, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands). Many voyages out of Australia visit only the nearby ports of New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu.
There are some names that keep turning up on cruise itineraries. They include Lautoka, Lifou, Port Vila, Isle of Pines and “Mystery Island”. In common, they all have the laid-back lifestyle and warm blue oceans fringed by white sand beaches leading you to the wonderful, colourful coral reefs that now draw tourists but were once the bane of mariners. Cruising is the perfect way to see this part of the world.
Fiji’s second largest city is on the western side of Viti Levu, close to the Yasawa Islands and north of Nadi. The first Europeans here were led by Captain Bligh. It’s the capital of the Western Division of Fiji and has a population of more than 50,000 but the pace of life seems decidedly small town. The main industry is processing the harvest from the surrounding fields of sugar cane. Its standing is revealed in the line of royal palms that run down the middle of Vitogo Parade, the wide main street. When there’s a ship in town the already-large regular markets are extended by other vendors selling handicrafts. The large Hare Krishna temple is impressive and it’s worth visiting the Botanical Gardens.
After the Great Barrier Reef, the second longest coral reef in the world runs along the top of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. On a peninsula off the south coast of the island stands Noumea, the capital. The city is entertainingly French and there are some beautiful beaches both in the city and beyond. Besides the towering cathedral that dominates the skyline, the most dominant feature of town is the array of flame trees, hibiscus and bouganvilleas that colour the streetscapes. The Tjibaou Cultural Centre, located 20mins from the city, is architecturally impressive. A day cruise out to the lighthouse-dominated coral cay of Amadee is a glimpse into great tropical beauty.
An excellent natural harbour on the southern shore of the island of Efate is the setting for Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. This Melanesian city offers a bustling market where local traders will sell you anything from colourful flowers and necklaces to brightly coloured dresses and shells. There are some good nearby beaches and divers will find Port Vila offers some of the Pacific’s best wreck diving including a flying boat, an old trading vessel and a sailing boat. The fishing, sailing and golf are good, too. The National Cultural Centre is on Rue d’Artois and guided tours may include a traditional feast, with dancing. The historic joint rule of the islands by France and Britain (the Condominium) has left a legacy just as confusing as the island’s 130 distinct cultures and languages.
Isle of Pines
More correctly called Kunie, the Isle of Pines (or l’Ile des Pins) is a distinctive part of the Pacific, quite unlike the rest of New Caledonia. As the name suggests, the distinctive tall, thin pine trees are everywhere on this island that is just 17km in length but they are interspersed with rosewood and sandalwood trees. There are also some pretty villages and if you are lucky enough to be here on a Sunday, you’ll see the locals in their finery – and hear some wonderful choral singing. However, it could also be called the Island of White Sand as visitors discover beautiful coves of tranquil water fringed by the whitest of sands.
Lifou, the largest coral atoll in New Caledonia’s Loyalty archipelago, has its own distinct style. On the eastern (Australian) side of the country, it’s bigger than the island of Tahiti, for example, but its population of about 15,000 people has maintained its strongly traditional Kanak culture. The beaches and headlands are spectacular – the north coast features high cliffs while the beaches are on the south side. Whether snorkelling through remarkable coral gardens, beachcombing to see what shells you can find or bicycling along the coast to visit and explore simple villages is the perfect way to unwind to Pacific time.
Even after it’s explained there’s an element of mystery to this tiny uninhabited coral atoll. Its name is Inyeung and it is located near the larger island of Aneityum that has a population of around 1200 people. There’s virtually nothing on the island apart from some facilities for cruise passengers on day visits. Indeed, finding a shady spot under a tree, playing with the local children and shopping at the stalls set up by the locals are the main land-based activities. The real joy is in the water so don’t forget your reef shoes and snorkeling gear.
Written by David McGonigal. Republished with permission of Wyza.com.au.