IN MICH­ENER’S WAKE

He­len Hutcheon looks at the grand variety of South Pa­cific cruises on of­fer

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

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.

Check­list

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

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