South Pacific Diaries 3 - Cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia

25th July to 5th August 2009

Our cruise on the P&O cruise ship Pacific Sun was planned as our main holiday this year. It was a bit of an experiment, as - apart from a slightly stressful Mediterranean cruise with the whole family a few years ago (another story…) we normally go for small ship cruises. We weren't sure if we were going to enjoy it, but went into it with an open mind and prepared to give it a try.

The cruise got off to a bumpy start before we'd even left home. The cruise was for 10 days, starting and ending in Auckland. We were supposed to be visiting 'Mystery Island', Port Vila (Vanuatu), Ouvea (Loyalty Isles), Isle of Pines, then Noumea (New Caledonia). In fact, Ouvea was swapped for Lifou due to 'local unrest', and the Chief from the Isle of Pines was afraid we'd bring Swine Flu so has stopped all cruise boats landing! (can't say I blame him too much…) So we get an extra half-day in Noumea instead.

One reason for choosing this particular cruise was the attraction of no long journey or flights to get there. Getting to Auckland was going to be an easy 35 minute ferry journey (with wine) from Half Moon Bay, just down the road from our house. Then a stroll of 100 metres around the harbour-front to Princes Wharf.

The Ship

First impressions of the Pacific Sun were good - comfortable, not overly-luxurious, reasonably spacious. Ditto our cabin. We were at 'the blunt end' (aft to all you sailors), looking out over the propellors - a bit shaky at night but you get used to it. The worse thing was the lack of temperature control. Just as well we took fleeces…

Food was (too) plentiful, with either buffet-style at the Lido (a bit like a busy cafeteria) or waiter-service in one of the two restaurants. We generally hit the restaurant for a relaxing brakfast and dinner, with a quick snack from the Lido for a late lunch. Really we couldn't fault the food - generally it was well cooked. We were very careful not to overindulge too much, which paid off - only 2 lbs gain!

The entertainment was plentiful. If you wanted to, there's something to do all day. There was a fitness program (and a gym), you can learn to line or ballroom dance, or play table tennis, shuffleboard or crazy putting. Then there's the horseracing (a bit like snakes and ladders), quizzes and of course Bingo. And for those that just want to relax there are sun loungers, swimming pools, bars, and spas. The evening saw shows from professional entertainers, dancing, drinking, whatever….

Best description we can give of the whole experience - it's the ultimate 'Butlins on Sea' (anyone non-British, that's a holiday camp).

Mystery Island

Our first visit was to 'Mystery Island', just off Vanuatu. This is an uninhabited and very beautiful islet off a larger volcanic island. The sand is golden, the sea is blue, the land is green. Pit about the other 1500 passengers sharing it with us :) It took an hour to take a slow stroll round it. There's coral, and the snorkellers had a ball. Don't forget to take the sunblock, hat, towel and an umbrella. The latter proved very useful protection from the sun and an unexpected short tropical downpour.

We headed back to the ship reasonably early and before lunch. It was lovely to find an uncrowded boat.

Port Vila, Vanuatu

As predicted, Art couldn't resist a scuba dive in Vanuatu. This could only be booked through the boat, so - as per usual on cruise-organized trips - we paid through the nose. But the dive was worth it. We saw some of the best coral we've seen in a long while. One of the dive leaders did find a 'Crown of Thorns' starfish though. These eat the coral, and have ruined some other coral reefs. They seem to have kept them in check near port Vila though. The starfish was gingerly picked up and brought back to the boat.

After returning to port, we stayed in town, and found a bar for a taste of 'Tusker', the local beer. There were a couple at the next table who were from Gisborne, and had sailed their rather large and beautiful yacht across the South Pacific. Slightly less social and a bit bumpier than our 1500+ passenger ship!

Then on to the Internet Cafe to see what was going on at home. This was a bargain! On the ship the internet costs 75 Aussie cents per minute - on Vanuatu it was 100 Vatu. That's less than 10 cents. 20 minutes later we hande over 2 AUD and everyone was satisfied.

Port Vila is very busy, and there doesn't seem to be much traffic control. There was a great vegetable market to wander round, and shops selling 'genuine' Billabong and other branded clothes. We paid $25 AUD for 2 Adidas t-shirts and 2 Billabong swim shorts. A share in a mini-bus back to the boat was $3 AUD each. We think we did well, but other people's experiences weren't so good. One couple were quoted $60 AUD for a 2-hour tour, More to follow

holidays/abroad/2009_cruise.txt · Last modified: 2009/09/19 15:11 by art
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