Trips to the Pacific Islands in June 2013, April 2016, August 2017, February 2018, and June 2018.

Including Vanuatu, New Caledonia (cruising on the 'Pacific Pearl' and the 'Sun Princess'), Fiji, Tonga (on the 'Pacific Pearl') Papua New Guinea (on the 'Pacific Aria'), and New Caledonia (on the 'Pacific Eden').


Cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia on the 'Pacific Pearl', June 2013.

5th June 2013. Departure from Auckland on the ‘Pacific Pearl’.

We took the early flight up to Auckland, then the shuttle down to the waterfront where the Pacific Pearl was waiting for our "Island Fiesta" cruise. It was a simple process to register and get on board, and we were pleased to find that we had been upgraded to a better cabin. After settling in we had lunch and went to a safety briefing before departing Auckland at 4pm. There are lots of young people on board and a festive atmosphere, especially during the 'Sail away party' around the pool. The sunset as we left the Hauraki Gulf was stunning. In the evening we had dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant (fine dining) and then went to the Welcome show, which was rather disappointing. Our cabin is spacious and comfortable and the sea wasn't too bumpy, so we had a pretty good night's sleep.

 

 

 Downtown Auckland

 

6th June. At sea.

After breakfast we went to a couple of seminars. One outlined the shore excursions at the various ports and the other tried to sell us some Goodfeet shoe implants. Before lunch we went to the well-equipped gym: very useful with all the good food on offer! In the afternoon we went to an art auction (and resisted the temptation to buy anything), then had a bit of a rest. There's so much to do on board it can get quite tiring! After dinner we took in a circus show (again underwhelming), listened to the band and watched a laser light show. A very pleasant day at sea!

     

 

7th  June. At sea.

We had a great night's sleep. After breakfast we watched a fashion parade; went to a fair showcasing the food and activities on the Pacific Pearl; lounged in the sun; read a book, and then went to the gym. Lunch was in the formal Waterfront Restaurant. In the afternoon we learnt about other P&O cruises and then relaxed in our cabin. After dinner at the buffet we went to the evening show: comedy with Ivor Richards, followed by some impressive high wire acts

 

8th  June. Mystery Island, Vanuatu.

We reached Mystery Island early in the morning and anchored a little out to sea.  Mystery Island is part of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides), and is a tiny uninhabited island. After breakfast we travelled to the island by tender and walked right around the island in about 3/4 hour. There are lovely beaches, good swimming and snorkeling, a tiny market where locals sell clothes and trinkets, and an airstrip. (This is used to bring mail to the surrounding islands). Other than that there isn't much there. Mystery Island was a great place to begin our exploration of Vanuatu as it is so typical of an unspoiled tropical island - even though about 1700 tourists invaded it for a few hours!

    

In the afternoon, we did some reading and went to the gym, then after dinner went to a pirate show.

 

9th  June. Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu, and with a population of 30,000 is its largest city. After docking we wandered through an extensive market then were picked up by a van for the ‘City Highlights’ tour. First we stopped at Pango, an authentic Melanesian village. We were welcomed by the Chief in his nakamal (meeting house); watched some traditional dances and wandered around the village and market. The lifestyle is quite simple with a nice church, very basic houses, and few amenities. The people seem very happy and obviously appreciate tourists coming to their village. Back in the van we had a look around Port Vila and learnt some of its history. Vanuatu was originally named New Hebrides by Captain Cook and was under French and British colonial rule till 1980 when it became an independent republic. We wandered around Port Vila then caught a bus back to the ship.

 

      
 Port Vila , Vanuatu
 

After lunch and a rest we were ready for a session at the gym then dinner in the Waterfront Restaurant. The evening show was a great concert by singer Jackie Love.

 

10th  June. Lifou, New Caledonia.

Lifou is a tiny island with a population of only 2000. It is part of the Loyalty Islands, a province of French speaking New Caledonia. We were tendered to shore and taken by van on the ‘Melanesian Encounter’ tour. We stopped in a village and were welcomed into the thatched chief's hut. We were then shown how they prepare the traditional bougna, cooked over hot rocks as in a hangi or umu. The bougna included banana, papaya, taro and chicken and was delicious. We then looked around the village and discovered that a traditional wedding was taking place. It was lovely to see the way the whole community got together to celebrate with music, processions and lots of food.

 

      

 Lifou, New Caledonia

Back at the beach we wandered along the road and saw the simple lifestyle, basic houses, gardens and churches typical of the community.  We also saw the Notre Dame of Lourdes church that overlooks the bay. A wonderful Melanesian encounter!

   

Back on board the Pacific Pearl we had a rest before dinner and the musical game show 'Let me entertain you'.

 

11th  June. Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

The Isle of Pines was named by Captain Cook because of its many tall skinny pine trees. It is often called 'the jewel of the Pacific'. We were tendered in to the island and took the ‘Island Discovery’ tour. We saw Vao village, the Notre Dame de l'Assumption church, and the commemoration of the first catholic service in 1848 in St Maurice Bay. The first Protestant missionaries arrived in 1840 but this coincided with an outbreak of disease. The disease went away when the Catholics arrived so the whole country converted to Catholicism in 1848. Next we visited the grotto of Queen Hortense. She became Queen at 8 years old when her father died and had no sons. Many wouldn't accept the idea of a Queen and tried to kill her so Hortense was hidden in the cave for six months.  She was the only Queen in the island's history. Back at the main beach we saw the sacred island which can be swum around but not climbed on.  The beach is truly stunning with white sands, deep blue water and great swimming and snorkeling.  Truly a tropical island paradise!

 

 Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

  

 

Back on the ship we went to the gym, had dinner and then went to 'Centre Stage', a celebration of Broadway shows.

 

12th  June. Noumea, New Caledonia.

New Caledonia will become independent from France in 3 years’ time. The total population of the country is 250, 000 and the capital Noumea has about 180,000 of these so is vital for the whole country. We took a city and country tour of Noumea using a local tour company.  (One third the price of the ship's tour!). We were struck by the contrast between rich and poor throughout the city. The rich are very rich with many lovely houses and yachts. They reckon it is more expensive to live here than in London! The poorer people live in council houses and there is a lot of graffiti and young people hanging around. New Caledonia is the world's third largest producer of nickel and the countryside has much evidence of nickel mining. On our tour we visited a lookout, a natural supply of spring water, and a church commemorating the efforts of missionaries in stopping cannibalism. After dinner we went to the evening show - a magician.

 

  

Noumea, new Caledonia

                                                                  Farewell to the Pacific Islands

13th  June. At sea.

We really enjoyed our brief stops in Vanuatu and New Caledonia and now have a much better concept of life in the Pacific islands.  The weather certainly has been kind to us on this cruise with calm seas and sunny days. Now we have two days at sea as we head back to Auckland.After breakfast we went to a cooking demonstration followed by a tour of the galley where all the lovely food is prepared. After lunch we read, went to the gym and got in some time for writing. After a nice dinner at the Waterfront we went to 'Please don't stop the music', another high energy musical production.

 

 
 

14th June. At sea.

Another calm day at sea. The weather certainly has been great on this cruise: fine when we have been in port and pretty smooth when we have been at sea. We had a quiet day with some reading, some writing, a movie and a session at the gym. After dinner we went to 'Starry, starry night', a show, followed by 'Transformation', a circus high wire show, then, overnight, sailed through to Auckland.

15th June. Auckland.

We docked in Auckland as we woke up. After breakfast we disembarked efficiently and caught the shuttle to the airport.

Highlights of the cruise were:

  • The comfortable ship and cabin.
  • Great on-shore excursions which gave us lots of insight into life on small Pacific islands in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
  • Great weather
  • Reasonable food and entertainment on board (but P&O is well below Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Lines in standard).

A wonderful 10 day cruise to the Pacific islands! Watch the video we made of this cruise here: Pacific Pearl 2013

Next stop, Fiji!

 

Fiji. June 2013.

15th  June. Auckland to Fiji.

We finished our Pacific cruise and flew to Fiji on a Jumbo jet. We were picked up at Nadi airport and taken to the nearby Smugglers Cove resort. What an idyllic place! It is a young people's resort with a backpacker section and a hotel, right on the beach. We arrived in time for a beautiful sunset! After dinner we watched the All Blacks beat France then crashed in our lovely 'Ocean front' room.

      

     

  

16th  June. Smuggler's Cove.

We had a quiet day enjoying some of the facilities of the resort. We went for a walk along the beautiful beach, fed the fish, watched the changing moods of the bay, read and snoozed. We adapted very quickly to Pacific island lifestyle! After dinner we watched the evening entertainment, this time Polynesian dancing including an amazing fire dance. The Smuggler's Cove resort was really pumping!

         

 

17th  June. Seaspray adventure.

We took a day tour to the Mamanuca Islands. We were picked up and taken to Denarau Marina, the main hub for the many cruises available. There we boarded a big catamaran and were taken to Mana Island, passing by South Sea, Bounty, Treasure and Beachcomber Islands. We then boarded the Seaspray, an old 83ft schooner. It was used for a TV series, Seaspray. We stopped at deserted Mondriki Island where the movie Castaway was filmed (starring Tom Hanks). There we had some of the best snorkeling imaginable. So many colourful fish! We then had a sumptuous BBQ lunch.

      

  

        

Next we visited Yanuya Island where there is a village of 600. We were welcomed with a kava ceremony and then explored the village. The people have very simple homes and are dependent on the sea for their livelihood. We saw a man throw a net and catch sardines; just enough for what they needed. The simple village life contrasts greatly with how we live! We were then returned to the catamaran (with some lovely Fijian singing) and then back to Smuggler's Cove.  A truly wonderful day.

         

18th  June. Smuggler's Cove.

We had a quiet day at the resort: walking on the beach; checking email; going to a weaving class; reading; resting and eating. Isn't that what you do when you're in a tropical island paradise?

  

 

19th  June. Tour of Nadi.

After  breakfast we went for a walk on the beach and nearly got caught by a tropical storm. In the afternoon we took the 'Thermal mud pool tour'. First we went to Nadi and visited a big Hindu temple. (50% of Fijians are Indian and many of these are Hindus.  Fijian nationals tend to be Christians). We then walked through the massive farmer's and fish markets. So much food for sale - all sold by the bunch. After a stop at a craft market we went to 'The garden of the sleeping giant' founded by Raymond Burr (Perry Mason) in 1977. It has lots of lovely tropical plants and orchids and is set way out in the country (on a very rough road). The final stop was at some thermal pools where we got covered in mud then hopped into a mud pool. Good for the skin! Then it was into a lovely thermal pool to clean off.  The 'spa' was way out in the country and very rustic - just some holes in the ground. Back at Smuggler's Cove we had dinner and watched another Polynesian dance show including the fire dance.

    

 

 

20th  June. Nadi town.

In the morning it rained so we stayed at the hotel and checked the internet. In the afternoon we took the local bus into Nadi Town. It cost $1.15 and the bus was a cultural experience! Noisy, open sides, poor suspension, rough roads.... In  Nadi we wandered down the main shopping street, fending off the salespeople who would give us a 'good price'. For the return journey the bus was 20 minutes late - Fiji time! We travelled home with lots of schoolchildren. They are very cute with their colorful school uniforms.

   

 

21st  June. Nadi to Melbourne.

We checked out of the Smuggler's Cove but stayed at the resort because our flight didn't leave till the early evening. We filled out the time reading, resting in the shade, going on a 'medicine walk' to learn about medicinal plants, and walking on the beach. After lunch we freshened up then took a taxi to the airport and caught our AirPacific flight to Melbourne.  Highlights of our trip to Fiji were:

  • Staying at Smuggler's Cove in a beachfront room. This hotel is a brilliant place to stay as it is right on a gorgeous beach, has lots of free activities and excellent night shows, has good food, is convenient to Nadi and Denerau and has reasonable rates. Highly recommended.
  • Seeing the beautiful sunsets from our hotel room. We knew we were in a tropical island paradise.
  • Going on the Seaspray to the Manamuca islands for fabulous snorkeling and an authentic island village.
  • Seeing the simple lifestyle of the Fijian people and their friendly, happy disposition.  We were always greeted with a smile and a friendly 'bula'.
  • Having a mud bath in a remote spa. Not something we do very often.

 Overall, this was a truly wonderful holiday.  Bula vinaka Fiji.  We'd love to come back sometime.

Watch the video we made of our visit to Fiji here:  Fiji 2013


Cruise to Fiji and Tonga aboard the ‘Pacific Pearl’.  April 2016.

                 

We were blessed to share this cruise with Tony and LaDonna Cheatham, friends from Kansas in the United States. Prior to the cruise we were able to show Tony and LaDonna around Kapiti and Wellington, then we all flew up to Auckland and spent a couple of days at Algies Bay.

Tuesday 5th April. We walked down to the ship from our central Auckland hotel and embarked on the ‘Pacific Pearl’. Embarkation happened smoothly and we were soon in our spacious cabin, number 4128. We left Auckland in fine warm weather and headed for our first stop – Suva, Fiji.  We have cruised on the Pacific Pearl once before so everything was somewhat familiar, but this was Tony and LaDonna’s first cruise.

We had lunch at the buffet and departed from Auckland at 4pm. After the sail away party we saw a beautiful sunset then had dinner in the Waterfront restaurant followed by a musical show about a circus. It certainly doesn’t take long to get into the rhythm of cruising!

     

Wednesday 6th April. At sea. We had a quiet day sunbathing and reading around the pool, interspersed with a Fijian language class and some exercise at the gym. In the evening we went to a concert by Grant Galea (like Bing Crosby) and then had a lovely formal dinner at the Waterfront restaurant.

Thursday 7th April. At sea. LaDonna and Tony went to the spa and LaDonna had a seaweed wrap and massage, and Tony had the detox that guaranteed to take 8” off. They emerged fit and healthy but Ross got a migraine and spent 18 hours in bed. Go figure! The rest of relaxed around the ship and watched the show “Don’t stop the music”.

Friday 8th April. Suva, Fiji. We docked in the middle of Suva and took a shore excursion to visit a typical Fijian country village. We travelled on a longboat canoe to Naililili Village where we had a look around the big church and the school. We then visited a nearby village where we were given traditional welcome, a kava ceremony, and a cultural display. The singing and dancing were wonderful! It was raining but the rain couldn’t stop the sense of fun and camaraderie that developed. The village has about 75 families and all ages live, work, sing and play together, and our tourism significantly helps them. After a (wet!) walk through the village we headed back to Suva and the warm ship. In the evening we watched some of the excellent musicians on board, then went to the music show “let me entertain you”.

   

                                

Saturday 9th April. Plantation Island, Fiji.  We stopped off Port Denerau, near Nadi and took a tender in to shore. There we picked up a catamaran and headed for Plantation Island Resort in the Manamuca Sea. What a beautiful place! Plantation is a large island with plenty to do and is very well set up for tourists.  We did some snorkelling and saw some nice coloured fish, but were a little disappointed compared to other places we have been. We then had a magnificent lunch and a sunbathe before heading back to Port Denerau and then back to the ship. We great day on the island – and all got a little sunburnt.  The day was a major contrast to yesterday where we had rain and visited a very poor area, but together both days have given us a good introduction to life in Fiji.

   

Sunday 10th April. At sea. We had a quiet day as the ship travelled between Fiji and Tonga. We tend to have a good breakfast then alternate a light lunch and dinner between the Waterfront restaurant and the Plantation buffet, but already we are starting to get sick of the food. We normally take the stairs and occasionally go to the gym so we get plenty of exercise or it’s easy to get bloated by all the food. In the evening we tend to watch the early show (tonight it was comedian Adam Dean), then listen to one of the great musical groups playing in the different lounges. We have been sleeping well, but have been interrupted a little by a big bang that occurs every now and then below our cabin.

Monday 11th April. Vava’u, Tonga. Vava’u is an island with a population of some 20,000 people. We stopped offshore and took a tender into the township. We were then taken in a rickety old bus to Ano Beach for a Tongan cultural display. We saw the locals putting down an umu, making tapa cloth and mats and holding a kava ceremony. After this there was some delightful singing and dancing. All in all a lovely, gentle cultural experience. We had a quiet afternoon and then went to the evening show with LaDonna and Tony and then had a lovely dinner at the Waterfront.

   

  

Tuesday 12th April. Nuku’alofa. We took the “Island encounter and Ancient Tonga” tour. From our dock in central Nuku’alofa we visited the King’s palace, the royal tombs, the Vaea blowholes, a flying fox bat colony and the wonderful ‘Ancient Tonga’ display. Here we saw another kava ceremony and a more detailed explanation of Tongan culture: tapa and cloth making, putting down an umu and their lovely singing and dancing. Fabulous! In the afternoon we wandered in to town and found some internet access – first for a week, then in the evening went to Follies Fantastique, a puppet show, then dinner at the Waterfront.

   

   

                                   

Wednesday 13th April. At sea. We had a quiet day as we headed back to Auckland. A special highlight was lunch at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill – probably the finest dining experience we have ever had. In the afternoon we sunbathed by the pool then went to the show: The Velvet Rope – a musical.

           

Thursday 14th April. At sea. Another quiet day. In the morning we played sports on the deck and in the afternoon got everything packed ready for home. In the evening we went to “the very last night show” and then had dinner at the Waterfront.

   

Friday 15th April. Back to Auckland. We had breakfast at the Waterfront then disembarked from the ship smoothly. We caught the bus to the airport and sadly farewelled LaDonna and Tony. It has been such a lovely couple of weeks we have spent with them, and so great to have been able to go together with them on the cruise.

   

Then it was onto the plane and we were soon back home. We now have lots of lovely memories of another wonderful cruise on board the Pacific Pearl and plenty to remember of our times in Fiji and Tonga.

Watch the video we made of our cruise here: Pacific Pearl 2016


Cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu on the 'Sun Princess'. August 2017

9 August. We flew to Brisbane on Virgin and got a taxi to the Airolodge - not far from the airport, and close to the Brisbane Cruise Terminal.

10 August. The Sun Princess needed extra disinfection for norovirus so we couldn't embark till 4pm - 4 hours later than expected. We took the opportunity to have a look around Brisbane city by taking the CityCat down the Brisbane River. We got off in the city and at Southbank and were able to explore Brisbane every easily. It brought back memories of previous visits many years ago, but there has been much construction, especially of apartments alongside the beautiful river. .

    

In the afternoon we caught a free shuttle back to the ship and boarded smoothly. We then settled in to our stateroom B742: right at the back of the ship on Level 10 with a balcony. The room is quite a bit smaller then on other cruise ships but is very comfortable, and meticulously clean (as is every part of the ship after its special disinfection). The ship itself is a bit dated reflecting that it was built in 1995, but everything is nice and fresh as it was refurbished last year. It is the original “Love boat” from the TV series which helped significantly in making cruising more popular). We definitely fit the demographic of passengers on board - even being slightly younger and definitely fitter than most! In the evening we had a lovely meal in the Marquis dining room, before exploring the ship, having our safety briefing and then going to a show by Sam McCool, a comedian. 

11 August. It didn’t take us long to get oriented to the ship and all its facilities. After breakfast at the buffet (which was served by the staff as part of the enhanced hygiene procedures) we went in a golf putting competition. After lunch Kathy went to the first choir rehearsal then we went to the gym and sat in the sun on our balcony. Later in the afternoon we went to a Captain’s Circle reception which included a welcome and a mini concert. After dinner at the Marquis we went to an excellent show by Annie Frances and the Sun Princess Orchestra. A very pleasant day at sea.

                 

12 August. After breakfast we went to an excellent lecture on Vanuatu and the ports we will visit there: Port Vila, Luganville and Champagne Beach. After lunch Kathy went to choir practice and later in the afternoon we chatted with other guests and then walked around the deck to get our required exercise. The formal dinner was excellent and then we went to another great show - this time by singer Patrick McMahon, “the superman of entertainment”.


         

    

13 August. Noumea. Our first stop was at Nou mea, the capital of New Caledonia - a city of about 200,000 people. It was Sunday and all the shops were shut. We took the hop-on, hop-off bus tour ($12 each) which was a great way to see the main sights. We got off at the markets, Lemon Beach, Anse Vata Beach and Coconut Square (which had wifi). Noumea is a city of contrasts with some places very rich and luxurious, and others quite poor with a lot of street people. We had been there before, but it was nice to see it again. In the afternoon we watched the lovely movie “Brooklyn”, then had a read in the sun. After another lovely dinner in the Marquis we went to a rather average Motown musical. Overall, though, a really great day!
 
  
 
 
14 August. Lifou. Next stop was Lifou, an island of about 12,000 people in the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. We had been there before and enjoyed it very much. We took a tender in to the beach and then a tour to the cliffs of Jokin. On tyhe way we stopped at the Botabic Gardens and saw how vanilla is grown. (Vanilla is the third largest source of income on Lifou after agriculture and tourism). The cliffs of Jokin are quite spectacular and are the edge of a coral reef that has been thrust up out of the sea. The village of Jokin had been hit by a cyclone 4 months previously so there was a lot of rebuilding going on (but obviously being done on 'island time'). Back at the beach we walked to ther quaint chapel of Notre Dame of Lourdes, built around 1900.
In the afternoon we watched "Hunt for the wilderpeople", then after another nice dinner in the Marquis enjoyed the super-energetic music of Patrick McMahon. Another excellent day!

       

       

15 August. Port Vila. Next we stopped at Port Vila, a city of about 25,000 people and the capital of  Vanuatu. Vanuatu was originally named New Hebrides by Captain Cook (after a town in Scotland). It became an independent nation in 1980. In the morning we braved the melee of taxi drivers on the wharf and took a taxi into town and then on to the Cascades waterfalls. We were somewhat harangued by our driver but were finally dropped off back in the city. After a quick look around we caught a water taxi back to the ship. This was a pleasant way to travel especially as on the way we were able to see many ships that were wrecked in cyclones and then abandoned. In the afternoon we went on a tour to Ekasup Cultural village. This was great and we were able to see authentic Vanuatu approaches to hunting, fishing, cooking etc. plus some lovely singing and dancing. After dinner the show was presented by Pearson and Harvey from the Four Kinsmen. It was a mixture of crazy songs and comedy.

  

 

16 August. Luganville. Luganville is the second largest city in Vanuatu, with a population of about 15,000 people. It is on the largest of the 83 islands that make up Vanuatu, Esperito Santo (Holy Spirit). Luganville was used as an American army base in WW2 and there are still remnants of the roads, buildings and wharves they created. Luganville is a great place for diving as the SS President Coolidge sank just off shore in 1942 and the Americans dumped cars, trucks, tanks, cranes etc. in the sea at Million Dollar Point when they left at the end of the war. In the morning we took a tour to see the traditional Melanesian water music dancing; watched the war dances and had a tasting of their main drink kava. (No better taste than previous times!). We then walked down to the town and saw the very laid back lifestyle of the local people. Luganville is pretty rough and not touristed up in any way. The roads in Luganville are exceedingly bad, but still, we enjoyed our visit here very much.

 

                 

  

In the afternoon we watched the movie ‘The Dressmaker’, then sat on our balcony reading. In the evening we went to the specialty restaurant the Sterling Steakhouse for an excellent steak meal. This was included in our cruise package along with a coffee drinks package which was also excellent value. Later we went to a great concert by the vocal group Le Stelle and finished the day by walking three times around the deck.

17 August. Champagne Bay.  Our final port stop was at Champagne Bay, a gorgeous beach on Santo, a little north of Luganville. We took a tender to get to the pristine white coral beach and then had a great time snorkelling and swimming in the crystal clear waters. The snorkelling was good with lovely coral and lots of brightly coloured fish. Champagne Bay really is a tropical paradise! (It is named Champagne Bay because bubbles come up at low tide making the water look like champagne). After a look around the markets we took a local tour into a village to swim in a "Blue lagoon" - a lovely refreshing river hole. Fabulous!

   

   

Back on the ship we watched the interesting movie ‘The Founder’ (about the early days of McDonalds), and then had another lovely dinner in the Marquis. After this we went to an excellent show as musician Andy Joy played different instruments and then watched a game show “Liar, liar”. Overall, a really great day! Now it’s back to Brisbane - two full days at sea.

18 August. At sea. We enjoy the sea days as there is so much to do on board the Sun Princess. Some of the activities we enjoyed were going to a seminar on love songs, playing quoits, listening to jazz, watching an ice sculpture, having choir practice, going to the gym, having a swim, reading our books and watching the excellent movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ A full day! In the evening we had our second formal dinner at the Marquis (including lobster!) and then went to another great show by the musician Andy Joy.

19 August. At sea. The sea was quite rough with 4 metre swells so that was fun - like being in a permanent earthquake! After breakfast and choir practice we watched a cooking demonstration by the head chef and then had a brief tour of the galley. We watched another excellent movie ‘The Zookeeper’s wife’ and Kathy sang with the choir in the Atrium. (A great version of ‘I call Australia home’ by a Kiwi)! After dinner we went to another show by Pearson and Harvey and then packed up ready for our departure.

20 August. Brisbane to Melbourne. We disembarked from the ship very smoothly and caught a taxi to the airport, then flew to Melbourne.

     

This was another very good cruise, so much so that we put down  a deposit for another cruise with Princess!

Highlights were:


The Sun Princess proved to be a great middle-sized ship and our balcony cabin was comfortable although rather small. The ship had excellent electronic communications, and on-demand movies which we hadn’t experienced before. The food in the main restaurant was excellent and the buffet very good. The on-board entertainment was variable in quality with some excellent shows, and others forgettable. Most of the passengers on board were elderly and many were on a repeat cruise. The Sun Princess catered very well for this particular demographic - which included us!

It was great to visit the five ports in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, and not a problem to re-visit Noumea, Lifou and Port Vila as we did different excursions to our previous times in these places. Excursions were available on shore at each port which were about half the price of those sold by the ship. The cultural experiences in the islands were once again very special and the swimming in Champagne Beach fabulous.


Overall, another great cruise.

Watch the video we made of this cruise here: Sun Princess 2017


Cruise to Papua New Guinea on the 'Pacific Aria'. February 2018.

Friday 9th February. We caught a shuttle to the Brisbane cruise terminal from the Gold Coast and embarked smoothly onto the ship. We are in 4012, an oceanview cabin on the bottom accommodation deck, towards the back. The cabin is clean and very spacious with a large bathroom, a bath/shower and very comfortable beds. The Pacific Aria carries 1265 passengers, so it is smaller than most of the ships we have been on recently. It was built in 1995 for Holland America as the Ryndam, but was transferred to P&O and refurbished in 2015. First impressions of the Pacific Aria way exceeded our expectations, in fact - we were highly impressed. Everything was fresh and clean and the ship is very comfortable with a modern feel.

               

We left Brisbane at 2pm and the sailaway party started immediately. After a nice lunch in the Pantry we explored the ship and identified the familiar towns of the Sunshine Coast as we headed north. Dinner at the Waterfront was excellent and we followed this up with a show in the Marquee, which introduced some of the main entertainers on board. A great start to what promises to be a most interesting and enjoyable cruise.

Saturday 10th February. At sea.

After breakfast at the Pantry we watched a presentation about shore excursions and then had a read in the shade by the pool. The Pantry is a new approach to buffets as it is more like a food court with Mexican, Chinese, Roasts, Salads etc in stations where the food is served to you rather than helping yourself. In the afternoon we went to an interesting presentation about New Guinea and then went to the gym before having a swim and a rest by the pool. Another interesting difference on the Aria is having free themed restaurants in addition to the main a la carte restaurant, the Waterfront, where seats need to be booked. In the evening we went to one of these, the Dragon Lady, and had a lovely Asian meal, then watched the show - a jazz performance by the Foenando Brothers. We really like the Pacific Aria!

    

Sunday 11th February. At sea.

After a nice breakfast at the Waterfront we tried out some of the many activities that were going on around the ship. Lots to choose from! Lunch was at the Pantry and then we tried more activities (including a golf putting competition) before our usual walk/gym/swim and read by the pool. In the evening we went to our second specialty restaurant - Angelo’s, which was Italian food and again very nice. Then it was on to the show -”Broadway and beyond” before supper and bed. Another lovely day at sea!

   

Monday 12th February. Alotau.

Our first port of call in Papua New Guinea was Alotau, the capital of the Milne Bay Province. Alotau is a town of about 75,000 people and is steeped in history and culture. It is the gateway to some of the most remote island communities in the world.

 

We took a ship tour to the “Alotau Cultural Festival”. This was a re-enactment of the National Canoe and Kundu festival in which locals and tribes from far afield dress up, play the Kundu Drums, race their canoes and perform traditional songs and dances. The costumes were quite spectacular especially the colourful headgear decorated with Bird of Paradise feathers. The children were adorable and very friendly. Everyone chewed the betel nut so their teeth and mouths were red. This is supposed to make you more beautiful. Most of the women had their breasts exposed but their thighs covered, which is their ceremonial dress in the villages. After watching a few performances and some interesting conversations with the locals we had a look around the handicraft markets and museum then returned to the ship. The Festival was a truly wonderful experience!

   

It was pretty hot but we decided to walk into Alotau to see the town and its beautiful harbour. The villagers were very friendly and we enjoyed looking around their markets.

 

      

The “Battle of Milne Bay” was fought in Alotau from August 25 through to September 7, 1942. This was a battle of the Pacific Campaign of World War II when Australian forces fought against the invading Japanese. An Australian digger, John French, was awarded a Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery. Relics from the battle are scattered around the area and the Australian War Memorial tells the story of what happened. It rained while we were in Alotau so we got quite soaked, but it didn’t matter. We had a fantastic time!

After lunch we watched the movie ‘Wonder’ and then had another great dinner in the Waterfront this time German food. The evening show was provided by Ka Weyova, a PNG singer, who was really good. A beautiful voice and lovely life story.

Tuesday 13th February. At sea.

A quiet day as we sailed from Alotau to Madang. In the morning we went to an excellent ‘Future cruises’ talk and in the afternoon we went to the gym and then watched the movie ‘Victoria and Abdul’. Dinner was in the Pantry for a change (rather than at a specialty restaurant) and we chose not to go to the show (too noisy!).

Wednesday 14th February. Madang.

Madang is the capital of the Madang Province which has a population of over 400,000 people. It sits under the spectacular 4,500-metre high mountains of the Bismarck Ranges, named because the region was colonised in the 18th century by the Germans. It saw heavy fighting during World War 2 and was taken over by the British. The Madang province is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse regions in the world with 173 different languages spoken by tribes in the area. The people are divided into four very different cultural groups: Islanders, Coastal people, River people, and Mountain people or Highlanders. Especially notable are the Goroka mudpeople. The region is famous for its string bags called bilum.

We were supposed to take a tour which took us to the Visitors and Cultural Centre to see art from throughout the region; Bilbil village, to see the traditional way of life (including the making of earthenware pots), and the market where fruit, vegetables and handicrafts are sold. Unfortunately there were reports of an anthrax outbreak in Madang so we didn’t get to go ashore. Instead, we cruised closer than normal to a number of active volcanoes on our way to Wewak: Karkar Island, Manam Island, Bam Island and Kadovar Island (which had a massive eruption a couple of weeks ago). Papua New Guinea is on the ‘Ring of fire’ around the edge of the Pacific so volcanoes are very much a part of everyone’s life.

 

We reverted to our usual sea day routine of lunch at the Pantry then a walk/gym/swim/read before another lovely dinner at the Waterfront. The evening show was by the violinist Patrick Roberts.

Thursday 15th February. Wewak.

Wewak is the capital of the East Sepik Province which has a population of over 400,000 people and about 90 different tribes and languages. It services trade east of the mighty Sepik River that runs 1,126 kilometres from its source in the Central Mountains to the sea. The Sepik’s annual flow of water makes it one of the world’s largest waterways. Major products are copra, cocoa, palm oil and vanilla. Fishing is big business here, and, increasingly, tourism. Wewak is steeped in history and culture. During WWII the Japanese based their largest airbase here and Wewak became a target for bombing by the allies on a number of occasions.

 

   

We anchored off shore and took a tender in to the Fisheries Jetty, which is just a short walk from the town. We wandered down the main street and enjoyed seeing all the people milling around, doing their shopping and banking, and chewing the betel nut. We then took the “Wewak Highlights” tour and saw all the main sights of the area including Mission Hill, a memorial for those who fought in the war; the Japanese gun mounts overlooking the town where in 1945 the Japanese surrendered to the Australian forces; St Mary’s School where the teachers sang for us (the children had gone home), and the Chambri Markets, where they sell traditional handicrafts, especially the bilim, a woven shoulder bag. It was so special to see and experience the raw and authentic way that people in Wewak live.

    

                 

 

Back on the ship we purchased a 250MB internet package - the first time we have ever done this. It cost $39 and was a bit of a disaster. We used our phone to sent out 4 emails and checked facebook for a few minutes and then found we had used up all of our data. The phone had been quietly updating everything in the background which quickly consumed the 250MB. Moral of the story - use a computer rather than a phone when going online aboard a ship and turn off all updates. Fortunately P&O gave us a little extra data when we explained our predicament.

In the evening we had dinner at the Waterfront and then went to the show where Jay and Seanna sang classic swing songs. Excellent!

Friday 16th February. Vitu Islands. (Scenic Cruising)

The Vitu Islands are a group of volcanic islands that lie 65km north of New Bintan Island in the Bismarck Sea. The main islands are Garove (Ile des Lacs), Unea (Merite), and Mandua, and there are five smaller islands. Unea is the highest of the islands at 591 metres. The Vitu Islands produce some copra and cocoa, and tourism is becoming more popular, especially for scuba divers. Formerly they were called the French Islands.

Garove is a volcanic caldera where one side has collapsed and the centre of the caldera has been  filled up with the sea. It was pretty special when Pacific Aria sailed into the caldera in the middle of the volcano, then did a U-turn and sailed out before leaving the Vitu Islands and heading for Rabaul.

              

In the morning we watched the movie ‘Dunkirk’ and in the afternoon went to the gym and enjoyed our time in the caldera. After dinner at the Waterfront we went to ‘Twice upon a time’, an incredible production dance show. We were amazed that such a high quality production could be presented on a cruise ship. We have never seen anything like it or of such high quality on any ship we have been on. Well done P&O!

Friday 16th February. Rabaul.

Rabaul is on PNG’s northeastern tip, and this province is certainly blessed with great natural beauty. It was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1937, then during WW2 it was occupied by the Japanese and regularly attacked by American, Australia and New Zealand forces. It was all but destroyed in the Battle of Rabaul in November 1943 and was rebuilt after the war. It was destroyed again in 1994 when nearby Mount Tavurvur erupted and wiped out the entire area. The commercial center was relocated 20 kilometres away to Kokopo, and around 2,000 residents have returned to the old Rabaul area, and the port is a bustling township of around 30,000 people. 

   

       

We docked close to the town and took a local Paivu Tour to see the main historic and volcanic sights.

We started by visiting some of the tunnels that the Japanese constructed in WW2 (using prisoners of war and forced local labour). The tunnels were used to service submarines which could dock in the deep water just off the beach. The Japanese made over 500km of underground tunnels and pathways and used them to store supplies, munitions and to protect themselves and their hospitals. No mean feat! Next we visited the Volcanological Observatory on Tovanumbatir, which monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes in the region. It gave us fantastic views across the caldera that was created in the 1400s and of the town of Rabaul and its surrounding volcanoes. Next we visited the area where Rabaul used to be situated, which is now just ash covered wasteland. We saw the old New Guinea Club which is now a museum; General Yamamoto’s bunker where he controlled the Japanese war efforts, and the site of the Japanese airstrip. Next we visited the base of Mount Tavurvur which so violently erupted in 1937 and 1994, and saw the beautifully coloured hot springs. No-one can go up Mt Tarvurvur now as it is still very active. Next we stopped at the Yacht Club for a cultural performance and at a memorial for the Montevideo Maru, a Japanese ship that was sunk while carrying 850 prisoners of war. Our tour finished in the bustling “Rabaul Page Park Markets” where locals sell their produce and handicrafts (and betel nuts!). Once again it was fascinating to see so many of the locals going about their normal lives. An excellent tour of a most interesting place!

                 

    

    

       

In the evening we had dinner at the ‘Dragon Lady’ and then watched a show by comedian Mike Harris.

18th February. Kiriwina Island, Trobriand Islands.

Kiriwina Island is the largest of the Trobriand Islands, and has a population of just over 12,000 people. It has one of the world’s most intact island cultures and its people live on one of the most beautiful, islands you will ever find. They have amatrilineal society” where women enjoy a higher status than men. Pigs are the main indicator of the wealth of a family or a village. The people retain much of their ancient lifestyle, living in homes with walls made from woven flax or long leaves, and rooves covered with palm leaves, or other simple materials. They have their own language, called “Kilivila” and are very polite and extremely friendly. They use a Kula ring bartering system of priceless shells to boost prestige and gain trust with other island communities. The island has few external influences as the locals prefer to live their natural life style, and vessels from other places visit rarely. The Trobriand Islands are known for a game that resembles cricket which can last for a number of days. The game helps reduce tension between island communities.

  

 
 

Kiriwina is a beautiful island with lovely beaches, basic houses, a very simple way of life and interesting shallow caves which may have been burial caves in ancient times. The swimming was great but it was a bit rough for snorkelling on the day we were there. It was such a privilege to visit this wonderful island and to see its primitive culture and happy people. We can learn a lot from the uncomplicated way that they live.


After an excellent dinner at Angelos we went to a Cilla Black show by Danielle O’Malley, then watched the movie ‘Churchill’.

Monday 19th February. Kitava, Trobriand Islands.

It is just 20km from Kiriwina to Kitava Island and the lifestyle on both islands is similar. The island is sublimely beautiful and seems very much untouched and natural, except for its modern school. Just 300 metres offshore from Novau beach is “Nuratu Island”, a sandy atoll. The island has a population of around 3000 and life for its inhabitants is pretty much the same as it has been for thousands of years. The villagers live in basic huts made from natural materials and their diet of root vegetables, tropical fruits, fish, and coconuts is one of the healthiest on the planet! On our arrival the local communities put on a number of performances by children from the local school and some of the villages. The snorkelling was better than yesterday with some lovely coloured coral. Kitava is a beautiful island paradise.

     

             

After dinner at the Waterfront we went to the production show ‘Sideshow Alley’ then were treated to an impressive  lightning display on the port side.

Tuesday 20th February. Panasesa Island - Conflict Islands.

Our final stop! The Conflict Islands are a coral atoll of 21 separate islands. The islands were first charted in 1886 and are named after HMS Conflict, a British Naval vessel based in Sydney. Today, the Conflict Islands are privately owned and P&O have an arrangement with the owner, Ian Gowrie-Smith so their cruise ships can visit one of the islands: Panasesa. There is a deep channel through the outer reef that allows ships to enter the atoll. The first ship visited in 2016.

 

 

 

Panasesa Island is gorgeous! The sea is a deep blue, surrounded by a mixture of pale blue to aqua blue, and pure white sand beaches with palm trees which encircle the island. No-one lives there but a small staff helps tourists whenever ships visit. There is a welcome centre, an airstrip, and many lovely walking tracks. A special feature is the turtle nursery.

We walked right round the island, did some great snorkeling (beautiful coral and lots of colourful fish), and got caught in a rain storm. Visiting Panasesa was a wonderful farewell to Papua New Guinea.  What a fabulous tropical Island!

After another lovely dinner at the Waterfront we went to ‘British invasion’ show by the Beats.

Wednesday 21st February. At sea.

Throughout the day we checked out some of the activities and music on the ship. This included a cooking demonstration and galley tour, a children’s concert, and ‘the world famous egg drop’. Dinner at the Waterfront was excellent (as always) and the evening had a Gatsby theme. The show was ‘The Velvet Rope’ set in the 1930’s.

Thursday 22nd February. At sea.

A quiet final day as Ross had a bit of a cold. Also the sea was a quite rough (after 13 days of flat seas!). We went to a farewell from the ship’s staff and a ‘Sherlock Holmes ‘ melodrama then after our final lovely dinner at the Waterfront, went to a show by magician Brendan Mon Tanner.

Friday 23rd February. Brisbane.

We returned to Brisbane on time, had breakfast and disembarked smoothly. We then caught a shuttle up to the Gold Coast with lots of happy memories of a truly wonderful cruise.

Special highlights were:

  • The Pacific Aria. While smaller than other ships we have been on, the Aria is in beautiful condition and the cabins are very comfortable and spacious. There is always plenty happening with quality shows, music, parties and activities.
  • The staff. Mostly Asian, the staff were incredibly helpful, attentive and hard-working.
  • The food. The Aria has a unique approach to food with the Waterfront (where the food is outstanding); two themed restaurants (The Dragon Lady and Angelos) which are included in the fare, two specialty restaurants where you have to pay (The Salt Grill and the Captain’s Circle), and a buffet called the Pantry, which is like a food court where the food is served to you.
  • Our port stops in Papua New Guinea. PNG is a fascinating country with such lovely people, a simple approach to life, and a very interesting culture. We were interested to learn about the effects that the Japanese invasion in WW2 had on the people and the influences of the volcanos that have created and regularly reshaped the land.

Overall, this was a truly wonderful cruise which way exceeded our expectations in every way. It was such a privilege to cruise to Papua New Guinea on the Pacific Aria.

Watch the video we made of this cruise here: Pacific Aria 2018


Cruise to New Caledonia on the Pacific Eden June/July 2018.

June 26th. We flew from Melbourne to Sydney on Virgin and then caught the train into Circular Quay. We boarded the Pacific Eden smoothly and settled in to our oceanview cabin 5050. We had purchased this cabin on a “Go fare” so were not able to choose the cabin number; rather it was allocated a week before departure. This turned out fine and cabin 5050 was ideal. It was spacious and comfortable a little forward of mid-ship and convenient to the restaurants and theatre.

The Pacific Eden is identical to the Pacific Aria we had enjoyed so much earlier in 2018 on our cruise to Papua New Guinea. Built in 1995 the Eden carries 1260 passengers so is a bit smaller than most of the ships we have been on previously. It was initially Holland America’s Statendam but was transferred to P&O and refurbished in 2015. The Eden will be sold on in 2019 so is coming to the end of its life with P&O. Everything was fresh and clean, though, and the ship is very comfortable with a modern feel.

                                     

  

We left Sydney at 4pm and the sailaway party started immediately. We had dinner at the Waterfront then went to the Welcome Aboard show with the Pacific Entertainers. It didn’t take us long to get into our regular cruising routin

June 27th.  At sea.

We had breakfast and lunch at the Pantry and dinner at the Waterfront, We decided to try some of the on-board activities we hadn’t done before so went to a craft session making paper roses, golf chipping, a paper plane challenge and trivia sessions. With a bit of reading, walking around deck 6 (550 steps to go once round) and going to the gym, the day sped by. In the evening we went to the show ‘Sideshow Alley” presented by the Pacific Entertainers.


                              

June 28th.  At sea

In the morning we went to a trivia session and then wandered around seeing the various activities on board. After lunch at the Waterfront we had a read, a walk and a session at the gym before dinner, again at the Waterfront. In the evening we to a show by magician Brad Manuel.

June 29th.  Isle of Pines, New Caledonia.

The Isle of Pines was named by Captain Cook because of its many tall skinny pine trees. Today it has a population of about 3000 people. It is often called 'the Jewel of the Pacific'. We were tendered in to the island and took an unguided “glimpse of our Island” tour. We saw Kuto Beach; Brush Island; Vao village with its lovely Notre Dame de l'Assumption church; prison ruins that housed French and Arab convicts, and a memorial at St Maurice Bay for the first Catholic church on the island. The first Protestant missionaries arrived in 1840 but this coincided with an outbreak of disease. The disease went away when the Catholics arrived so the whole island converted to Catholicism in 1848. Back at the main beach we saw the sacred island which can be swum around but not climbed on. The beach is truly stunning with white sands, deep blue water and great swimming and snorkelling. Truly a tropical island paradise, but too cold today for us to swim or snorkel.

  

              

After a read, a walk and a session at the gym we had dinner at the Dragon Lady specialty restaurant, then watched part of the dramatic show “Twice upon a time” (which we had seen already on the Pacific Aria). Later we listened to some of the lovely music around the ship.

June 30th.  Mare, New Caledonia.

Mare is part of the Loyalty Islands province and has a population of about 12,500 people. The township is very small with just a church, a school, and a few shops and stalls. We took a shuttle to the beautiful Yejele Beach for some great swimming and snorkelling. The water was just warm enough! In the afternoon we had a read, a walk and a session at the gym before dinner at Angelo’s, the Italian specialty restaurant. In the evening we went to “A night at the musicals” with Katie Findler.

 

 July 1st.  Noumea, New Caledonia.

New Caledonia is about to have a referendum on whether to become totally independent from France. The total population of the country is 270,000 and the capital Noumea has about 180,000 of these. We took a “Noumea snapshot” tour of Noumea which took us past some of the main tourist sites: the markets, Quen Toro lookout, Lemon Beach, Anse Vata Beach, the Catholic Cathedral and Coconut Square (which had wifi). It was Sunday so not much was happening! Noumea is a city of contrasts with some places very rich and luxurious, and others quite poor. We had been there before, but it was nice to see it again. After lunch we went for a long walk around the waterfront.

  

The three tours we took were a package called “The sightseeing lite tour” purchased on the ship for $76 per person. Pretty good value when shore excursions on cruise ships are notoriously expensive.

After dinner at Waterfront we went to a Billy Joel show by Jimmy Mann. Excellent!

July 2nd.  At sea.

A quieter day with a session at the gym, a cooking demonstration, a galley tour, and a “Musical murder mystery”. For lunch we tried the prawns which backfired somewhat! After dinner at the Waterfront we went to the musical “A velvet rope” which we had seen on the Aria, then looked in on the Great Gatsby party.

July 3rd.  At sea.

The sea was pretty wild - about the roughest we have ever experienced, but gradually calmed down.  In the morning they had the ‘Animal towel parade’, then we had a quiet day getting ready for leaving the ship. After dinner at the Waterfront we went to the final show: “Off the charts”.

July 4th.  Sydney to Wellington.

We reached Sydney early in the morning and disembarked from the ship smoothly. We had an evening flight back to NZ so left our bags in care and wandered around the city. We walked over the Harbour Bridge and around the Opera House, then up through the Botanic Gardens to Martin Place.

         

Late in the afternoon we caught the train to the airport then flew Qantas back to NZ arriving at midnight. Michael picked us up and soon we were home after yet another great cruise.

  • The ‘Pacific Eden’ is identical to the Pacific Aria so we were familiar with the restaurants and the various activities offered on board.
  • Small ships like the Eden and the Aria don’t offer the same range of food as bigger ships (even though they have a great restaurant booking system, and have three specialty restaurants included in the fare) so you can easily get sick of being offered the same food, especially in the buffet.
  • A winter cruise has a different dynamic to a summer one as you won’t spend time lying around in the sun - it’s too cold.
  • It was nice seeing different parts of New Caledonia. Our 8 day “Taste of New Caledonia”’ cruise complemented our previous cruises to the Pacific islands nicely.

You can watch the video we made of this cruise here: Pacific Eden Cruise




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