SWEET ISLES OF MINE

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - TOUR GUIDE PACIFIC CRUISING - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

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.

THE HOTSPOTS

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.

MYS­TE­RI­OUS ISLES

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.

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