The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, so they say, and we have reason to confirm this idea.
The flight from Maroochydore, our local airport, will supposedly drop us in Sydney around two in the afternoon with plenty of time to get to the boat before it sails at five. (oh, did I mention we are off on another little boat trip! Perhaps the title gave it away.)
The first clue that something might be awry (what a great word that is) is an announcement that our flight is delayed by one hour. Mmmmm. Shouldn’t be too bad, and anyway the airport coffee is good so we while away the hour and are soon aboard our flight. For anyone who hasn’t been seeing the news it seems that great stretches of Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia are on fire with the temperatures breaking all previous records and the years long drought leaving everything tinder dry.
I am reminded of Nero fiddling while Rome burned …. In Australia, Prime Minister Morrison chooses to take a family holiday while Australia is burning. Much disgust has been shown by all!
Anyway … the flight down south showed fire after fire burning in NSW and we arrive in a Sydney shrouded in smoke from the huge fires in the Blue Mountains. We board the train into Wynyard station in the CBD expecting to catch a ferry to the White Bay Cruise Terminal where the boat is moored. My phone rings. It is the cruise company checking that we are still coming and no there isn’t any such ferry to be caught.
Off the train we hop and into a taxi and arrive at the boat a little after four only to find that we are the last passengers to board. Feels a bit like VIP treatment … met at the taxi, straight though immigration and customs and escorted to our room, all within 10 minutes. By the time we catch our breath the ship is on the move.
First Stop – New Zealand
The Bay of Islands – Waitangi and Paihia
History tends to be troubled in New Zealand, as it is in Australia, since most of it was written by the settlers (or invaders or conquerers depending which side of the fence you are on) who sailed to this part of the world from Europe and “discovered” these southern lands. Of course we are told there was no one living in Australia. (Just the oldest civilisation on the planet, in place for maybe 80,000 years, but we can safely ignore them). So one Captain Cook claimed Australia for England.
New Zealand faired slightly better in that the Maori people did manage a treaty which gave them some rights in return for land, although this is controversial to this day. The treaty was signed at Waitangi which is where the tender drops us on a mild day and we walk through the Treaty Grounds to the information centre. Unfortunately, there is a $40 charge for each of us to enter and so we turn away and take the coast walk to the village of Paihia.
We stroll around Paihia, take advantage of the WiFi at the library, feel dismayed that the coffee shops have closed early in spite of a cruise ship being in the bay. Jacqui does manage to find an umbrella to replace the one lost in Scotland earlier in the year. Appropriately, it is decorated with yellow Kiwis … the bird not the people.
Auckland is the most populous city in New Zealand but not the capital city. That honour belongs to Wellington on the southern tip of the north island. The approach to Auckland through Stanley Bay is a joy with its abundance of boats and the city standing proud over the Harbour.
As we have been to Auckland several times we only have a few things on our list. The first is a decent cup of coffee accompanied by free Wifi (thank you BNZ for providing this on the streets of Auckland) and to find a replacement for the broken strap on Jacqui’s hat. That a hat should be strapped on is essential when tendering. International regulations insist the ships put nothing into the water, and this includes hats blown off when reboarding the ship from a tender. The tender crew often have to retrieve such things from the water.
After making several enquiries, we have found a mens shoe shop and the question “Have you got any long shoe laces” meets with some sympathy. A young man disappears into the bowels of the shop, returning with a box of various laces some of which will be ideal. “How much?” we ask. He replies “They are free. We used to charge a dollar but the shop accounting system couldn’t handle it, so they are now free!”
Having satisfied our essential needs we go off in search of the market supposedly adjoining Victoria Park, only to find it is a night market which doesn’t start until four in the afternoon, by which time we will be moving on once more.
On returning to the ship, we notice a change. Whereas many of the passengers were in an older age group we suddenly seem flooded with young people. It turns out that the New Zealand Youth Choir is using the itinerary of this cruise to allow them to undertake a tour of the pacific islands. We are to be treated to two concerts on the ship and witness a couple of others on the streets of some islands.
After a long sail from Auckland, we now feel we are really in the South Pacific amid those islands Captain Cook sailed through so long ago. The first of these is the island of Nuku’alofa in Tonga. Tonga is the only one of these remote island groups not to be colonised by Europeans and is still an independent Kingdom.
The town is small and very walkable. It is humid and quite hot with an almost continual traffic jam in the main street. We spend an hour or two wandering around a few blocks before returning to the ship.
Out next stop is the small island of Vava’u and the town of Neiafu. We spend the day strolling the streets and enjoying a coffee and coconut milk in a cafe overlooking the bay … and of course, using their Wifi!
This is one of the Tongan islands that produce the Mabe, or half pearls, which are seeded into the shell of the oyster. This from the Tongan Ministry of Fisheries –
“The Tongan pearl farming industry has chosen to differentiate itself from the other round pearl producing Pacific nations by producing the mabé, or “half” pearl. The mabé pearl is Tonga’s only locally produced pearl and is grown in the “winged pearl oyster” (Pteria penguin). Mabé pearl production requires lower technical inputs and lower investment, with a lower level of associated financial risk and shorter production time. Furthermore, the entire production and crafting process can be completed using only local technicians and artisans.”
Niue is a self governing island state in free association with New Zealand. The population has New Zealand citizenship with an increasing number moving to New Zealand and so the population is now less than 1500 down from 5000 a few years ago.
Locals know it as “the Rock” and it has a very fixed jetty where the tenders tie up. It is also subject to the swells which roll in from the Pacific Ocean and the combination, on the day we arrive, is sufficient to prevent us going ashore. We felt very sorry for the locals who had no doubt got their stalls together for the infrequent visit of a cruise ship. So near and yet so far.
Savusavu, Vanua Levu
Fiji is said to consist of 333 islands, although that seems a rather convenient number.
The first island we reach is Savusavu. The tenders are lowered and passengers get ready to go ashore only to be stopped by the captain. There have been outbreaks of measles throughout the islands with Samoa being the worst hit with 70 or so deaths reported. Although there have been no reported deaths in Tonga there have been some cases of measles. The island of Savusavu has no cases and are reluctant to let any passengers ashore. After much negotiation between the medical authorities on Savusavu, the captain of the Maasdam and the head office of the cruise line a compromise is reached. Those born before 1959 and those with proof they have been vacinated can go ashore. This means that many passengers will have to remain on the ship.
Several hours later we are allowed ashore. Savusavu is a small but vibrant community and the main street is abuzz with stalls, shops and a busy bus station.
Suva, the capital of Fiji
Suva is a surprisingly pleasant town … perhaps it is because we have arrived on a Sunday, when many businesses are closed. We go ashore and do our usual walk around going in the general direction of the botanical gardens. On the way there we are directed by a local to the “event” which turns out to be a busy market, the number of plant stalls showing it to be for the locals rather than tourists. We find the botanical gardens and the expensive to enter museum and head back to the ship.
On the way back we look carfully for a cafe for our coffee and Wifi fix. Everywhere seems to be closed with one exception. Eventually we find ourselves in, would you believe it of all places, MacDonalds, enjoying their air conditioning while we drink iced coffee/chocolate and use their free Wifi.
The next stop is purely for the beach lovers. Dravuni island is one square kilometre in size, with a population of 120 and you go there for the beach. We are told by some that walked across the island to the other side, that the beach there is covered in plastic, which washes ashore on the ocean currents.
Actually, I jest here. What actually happens is not quite so nice. Jacqui decides to give snorkelling a go and donning her mask sets out into the water. After swimming about for a bit and coming back towards the beach, her foot and ankle decided to stop working and became very painful. I help her from the water and to a seat on the beach, and it takes quite a while for her foot to settle down enough to return to the jetty and board the tender.
Port Denarau, Nadi
On the other side of the main island of Fiji is Nadi and Port Denarau.
I’ll give the Fijians one thing … they have managed to get all we tourists into one small area with an international airport nearby. All the major hotel chains have resort complexes here, cheek by jowl along the beach. The hop on, hop off bus doesn’t go to Nadi, but just circulates around the resorts. Port Denarau itself is just a place to buy expensive stuff, eat and drink.
Our first stop in New Caledonia is on the island of Mare. This small community reminds us very much of Bali in the 1980’s before the major developments began. There were no tourist shops and the main attraction was the walk to the “Aquarium Naturel” which is a pool completely surrounded by rock but which has access to the ocean. It is a very tranquil place full of fish.
Our last port of call is Noumea, a strong favourite for visitors, with a strong French influence and good beaches. Our target this time is the aquarium to catch a few of the fish we missed by not going snorkelling. The aquarium was wonderful and we spend a couple of hours enchanted by the fish. Our only question mark was the small tank for the turtles. Somehow they feel different to tiny tropical fish.
For any of you who are interested in the ship, I continue with a few images of the places that we don’t visit. Basically, we treat these cruises as an opportunity to travel, but also as an opportunity to retreat. It is like a fully catered retreat with comfortable accommodation and a few interesting visits along the way. Plenty of opportunity to exercise, like the stairs from deck 5 to deck 11 each morning for breakfast, and the promenade deck to walk around and watch for any passing albatross. Lots of opportunity to people watch and time to read. Meet people or not, as you feel.
There are activities on the ship, however, which don’t interest us much. Lots of shiny baubles to attract ones attention.
The end of this tale
So what did we feel about the Pacific Islands? I guess my image was born of the adventures of the early explorers, tales from my Dad, himself a seaman, and talk of palm fringed lagoons and long white beaches. The reality seemed a little different. On returning to our home in Noosa … what did we find? Palm fringed, long white sandy beaches … indeed, our garden is full of palm trees, bromeliads and other tropical plants, the swimming pool is a perfect temperature at the moment and life is good!
On another note, in the weeks before this trip we had a number of medical appointments and procedures. Among others, I would like to give a shout out to the folks at the Sunshine Coast Eye Hospital, in particular Dr Peter Jeffries, who gave both Jacqui and I new eyes by removing our cataracts. Jacqui no longer needs to wear glasses and my sight is better that I can ever remember.
May you all be well and happy and may all you wish for be yours in the new year to come.
Enjoy …. Alan
P.S. As I lay in our bed on the ship and looked up at the ceiling, my newly clear eyes spotted the instructions in the following image which I leave you with.