SWEET ISLES OF MINE
In some places, people are still living the way they were 10,000 years ago and there’s very few spots on the planet where you can see that,” says Michael Mihajlov. Some would say Michael has the best job in the world, finding exotic new locations for cruise ships to visit. As destinations director at Carnival Australia, most recently he launched the Conflict Islands as a destination for P&O Cruises – a privately owned atoll of 21 islands, home to one of the world’s most biodiverse reef systems.
“I think that what we’ve got in our own back yard truly is the best in the world,” he says. “We have these incredible environments that are just a couple of days’ sail away.”
With 42.4 per cent of Australians who go on a cruise heading for the South Pacific, Michael has these tips to get the most out of your experience.
Southern New Caledonia and Vanuatu are the core when it comes to South Pacific cruises and Isle of Pines is still a long-term favourite.
I’m a little bit partial to the Cairns itineraries, the ones that touch the Solomons and also the Trobriand Islands and Conflict Islands. Conflict is owned by a guy originally from Dubbo, believe it or not. He bought this thing sight unseen because he really wanted to get some good fishing.
You can take a glass-bottom boat along the reef edge as well as go snorkelling on this incredible reef system. We also have walking tours and, occasionally, a nice surprise for some guests is Ian, the owner. He actually joins them, so they can meet this eccentric millionaire. He has some great stories.
Papua New Guinea is probably a great mystery to most people and I think being able to peel back the layers creates its appeal.
It’s got 800-odd unique languages ... and the diversity is incredible. It’s got some of the best dive sites in the world.
The culture is very intact, particularly when you get to places like the Trobriand Islands. You can go back and see these people who are still eating the traditional diet they’ve been eating for 10,000 years. Being able to have that snippet into a world like that is something quite remarkable.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Some of my earlier expeditions would have required me to travel all week to get there and back for a one-hour meeting, so being able to touch four or five of these destinations in a week makes them so much more accessible.
The deployment manager at the time told me I had a better chance of taking a cruise ship to the moon than to PNG. End to end that was about five years (to get PNG cruises off the ground). We had no charts to access what’s called the hydrography so we couldn’t tell for sure what was underneath the water because a lot of these charts hadn’t been updated since Captain Cook.
It’s a long process and it’s fraught with a lot of doubt but in the end when it comes off and you see the ship arrive in these remote communities, it’s all worth it
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
My advice is to do a little research into the countries you’re visiting because although they are similar in some ways, they all have their own unique culture, customs and geography. You can have as good a meal in Noumea as anywhere in France if you do a bit of homework, and also practise a little bit of lingo.
If you’re considering doing a South Pacific cruise you should book early. I’ve been recommending six to nine months out to get the cabin and itinerary you want.