IN MICHENER’S WAKE
Helen Hutcheon looks at the grand variety of South Pacific cruises on offer
NO other cruise region conjures such a sense of romance as the South Pacific. Maybe it has something to do with the frangipani, that subtle aphrodisiac women throughout the islands wear in their hair and put around the necks of strangers.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical SouthPacific , based on James A. Michener’s Pulitzer prize-winning book, added to the allure of the region, and whenever a ship’s band plays SomeEnchantedEvening I think of Nellie Forbush in the arms of Emile de Becque. The designer of boutique liner Paul Gauguin must have also been thinking of the American nurse dancing with the French plantation owner in the warm air under impossibly bright stars.
The 320-passenger liner, operated by Regent Seven Seas Cruises and permanently based in Papeete for cruising around French Polynesia, has an outdoor dance floor where complimentary champagne flows and every evening is enchanting.
While you won’t find Emile on the ship’s private island, Motu Mahana off Tahaa, you may have the opportunity to swim with the dashing Jean-Michel Cousteau, a regular guest lecturer. He will be on board a special 14-night voyage Paul Gauguin will make on November 18 from Lautoka to Papeete via some of the most beautiful ports in the South Pacific: Yasawa, Savusavu, Nuku’alofa, Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Bora Bora, Motu Mahana and Moorea.
Air Tahiti Nui, the international carrier that launched a non-stop Sydney-Papeete service two years ago, is an airline partner with all the cruise products in French Polynesia, including Paul Gauguin, Bora Bora Cruises’ Tia Moana and Tu Moana, the passenger-cargo vessel Aranui 3 and Princess Cruises’ Tahitian Princess.
The last-mentioned, which has been based in Papeete since 2002, will operate two seasonal programs next year, from January to May and October to December.
Another cruise ship will take up residence in Papeete at the end of this year. The French Polynesian Government, which has announced it will open a dedicated Tahiti tourism office in Sydney, has chartered the 170-passenger Star Flyer from Star Clippers Monaco for four years.
This luxurious clipper ship will make its first seven-night round voyage from Papeete on December 30. It is a dream itinerary, with overnights in Huahine, Tahaa, Bora Bora and Moorea’s Cook Bay and Opunohu Bay, as well as a call at Raiatea. A highlight will be Saturday night on board in Papeete before disembarking the following day.
At every seductive port in the Pacific someone will tell you it is Michener’s mythical Bali Hai. You will hear the same thing when you call at Kauai on a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. NCL America’s Pride of Aloha, Pride of Hawaii and Pride of America operate seven-day and longer round voyages from Honolulu on Oahu to Kauai, Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii) throughout the year.
Exploring this other South Pacific paradise immortalised by Michener in a luxury liner beats the alternative of a merry-go-round of packing and unpacking, transfers to and from airports and checking in to and out of hotels. Compare the cruise option, too, with the cost of flying from island to island, taxis, accommodation at the top resorts and dining in fine restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sailing around Fiji has another advantage, visiting pristine places with names such as Nanuya Lai Lai and Wailagilala, which can be reached only by small ships. Blue Lagoon Cruises has vessels that operate two, three and six-night itineraries from Lautoka, and Captain Cook Cruises’ 120-passenger Reef Escape makes three, four and seven-night voyages from Denarau year-round.
Some of the world’s most magnificent ships, notably Cunard’s 90,000-tonne Queen Victoria, which will be launched on December 11, will sail through the South Pacific next year. Passengers who join Queen Victoria on January 30 in Los Angeles during its maiden world voyage will visit Honolulu, Pago Pago and Lautoka, as well as New Zealand and Melbourne, before arriving in Sydney on February 23.
A 24-night segment is available on Seven Seas Voyager’s world cruise from San Francisco on January 6 to Auckland via Lahaina, Hilo, Honolulu, Bora Bora, Moorea, Papeete, Rarotonga and Bay of Islands.
Crystal Cruises is offering a 13-night Enchanted Islands leg on Crystal Serenity’s world voyage from Los Angeles on January 19 to Papeete via Honolulu, Lahaina, Raiatea and Moorea.
Holland America Line’s Amsterdam, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ Black Watch, Princess Cruises’ Pacific Princess and P & O UK’s Aurora will also call at South Pacific ports on world cruises next year.
On September 28 this year, Royal Caribbean International’s 78,000-tonne Rhapsody of the Seas, which has RCI’s signature rockclimbing wall and carries 2435 passengers, departs Honolulu for Sydney via Lahaina, Papeete, Moorea, Bora Bora and Lautoka. On October 15, under charter to Cruiseco, it will make a maiden 12-night round cruise from Sydney to Noumea, Ouvea, Suva, Vila and the Isle of Pines.
Carnival Australia will have a huge presence in the South Pacific with Pacific Dawn (the 70,000-tonne former Regal Princess) joining Pacific Sun and Pacific Star in November as the company’s third resident ship. It was also recently announced that the 1950-passenger Sun Princess, which was scheduled to operate Princess Cruises’ sixth annual South Pacific program from November this year to March 2008, will stay in Australia indefinitely.
As well as round voyages from Sydney and Brisbane, Carnival Australia will offer Victorians three door-to-door South Pacific cruises when the 77,000-tonne Sun Princess is positioned in Melbourne from November 2008 until March 2009.
A sister ship, the 77,000-tonne Dawn Princess, will arrive in Sydney in October next year for an extended program that will include the South Pacific ports of Noumea, Ouvea, Isle of Pines, Lifou, Port Vila, Suva and Dravuni Island.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned about the frangipani.
To find a travel agent who is a qualified cruise specialist, visit the website of International Cruise Council Australasia: www.cruising.org.au. Enter your postcode for a list of its members in your area or phone (02) 9905 9001.
Enchanted evenings: Clockwise from top left, Crystal Serenity; arriving at Rabi in northern Fiji; Star Flyer; Dawn Princess; Cunard’s yet-to-be launched Queen Victoria