Review: Caledonian Sky
Cruise - Expedition Cruise
Across the Tropic of Capricorn
164 people found this review helpful
New Zealand is a very long way away. So I was happy that Noble Caledonia had arranged to break up our long journey with an overnight stay in Singapore. Having arrived at our hotel in the morning, the afternoon was free. Together with two other passengers I went to visit the newly opened Gardens by the Bay on land reclaimed from the sea. Two “domes” were similar to the Eden project at home, the Flower Dome displayed plants from around the world and the Cloud Forest was pretty spectacular with a huge waterfall, lots of pipes puffing out “clouds” and a seven storey high wall covered in plants. En route back to our hotel we stopped off at Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar; I had two as I considered they had been a bit mean with the amount of alcohol content!! Next day we were taken altogether to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. I was not too keen on bits of seaweed and jellyfish … Then for a city tour with an excellent guide, Ben, ending up at the amazing Orchid Garden before going on to the airport for our night flight to New Zealand.
We landed in Auckland 40 minutes ahead of schedule so must have been blown along, as it was a bumpy flight and not much chance of sleep. But the temperature on arrival was pleasantly warm and fresh after the humidity of Singapore. Next day was Christmas Day and we were all taken for lunch at the Sky Tower, just round the corner from our hotel. We took a lift to the 51st floor to the Observation deck and then up another floor to the revolving restaurant. Not quite the Christmas lunch we would have had at home but I sat with the Noble tour manager who had accompanied us out from Heathrow and with whom I had worked forty years ago – of course I was only 10 years old at the time!! Needless to say we had a lot to talk about.
A cousin of mine, together with his wife, had been on the cruise which ended in Auckland on December 26th and, as they were not flying home the same day, we were able to meet for lunch and they gave me the details of their cruise and a brief summary of the passengers who were due to stay on the ship for the next cruise, Across the Tropic of Capricorn, and told me who to socialise with and who to avoid! Useful information when I boarded the ship at 4 p.m. and we sailed soon after 5 p.m.
Next day we arrived at Bay of Islands, the northernmost tip of New Zealand and left the ship at 8.30 for a fairly long zodiac ride across the bay to Waitangi wharf and then on to buses for half an hour drive to the Waitangi Treaty House where the British signed a treaty with the Maori. Surprisingly there was no information about this on the reverse of the Daily Programme placed in the cabins, which had always been the routine on previous cruises. Information which I found lacking on this cruise. However, a very jolly lady gave us all the details of the history of the House. On to the Puketi Kauri Forest – Kauri trees are huge; tall as redwoods but all the foliage right at the very top, a bit like baobab trees. An hour’s drive back to the zodiacs, I hadn’t realised we had gone so far. I also hadn’t realised we were on the mainland – I thought “Bay of Islands” meant we were on an island. Silly me. There are 144 islands in the bay, so I was told. In the afternoon we went across to Russell, a charming little seaside town and once the capital of New Zealand; with allegedly the oldest hotel in New Zealand, the Duke of Marlborough.
Next day was a whole day at sea. It was grey, wet and windy and just the day for lectures. Damon, an Australian, gave a very good talk on Melanesia’s Oceans, followed by Kevin (I kid you not) who gave a very tedious talk listing every seabird known to mankind and showing copies of pages from bird books. Much better to have concentrated on the few species we were likely to see on this trip. Two more lectures in the afternoon were marginally more interesting. It was the Captain’s Cocktail Party and dinner in the evening. A few people were missing, as the sea was a teensy weensy bit choppy.
Next day was a pleasant change and we had calm seas for the rest of the journey. We landed at Norfolk Island, a penal colony in the 19th century and which belongs to Australia. It’s a very green island with many small hills and apparently has no income tax, 1,500 inhabitants, 3,000 cars (does each inhabitant drive two) is self sufficient in fruit and vegetables and only imports potatoes, onions and garlic. Sounds idyllic. We drove to the shore to see the convict buildings and then to a delightful garden for tea and scones with jam and cream! A visit to a delightful little church dedicated to St. Barnabas was followed by a sandwich lunch and a visit to a Botanical Garden – a lot of greenery with trees and bushes but no flowers or colour. It was a pleasant island and many of our group said they would like to stay there. Back to the ship for a barbecue tea: hot dogs and beer!!
After another day at sea we arrived at Iles des Pins, part of New Caledonia a dependent overseas territory of France. We spotted an enormous cruise ship which overtook us. Let’s hope is does not stop on “our” beach, I wrote in my diary. But of course it did. Our zodiacs started before 8 a.m. and the beach we landed at was beautiful – long white sandy beach and warm clear sea. I established my base camp but had chosen badly; it was subsequently invaded by about 50 children, evidently from a holiday home on the island. By the time we returned to the ship to sail at 11 a.m. the beach was packed with local French people (fair enough, the island belongs to them) and 2,000 passengers from the Sea Princess.
It was New Year’s Eve and for some inexplicable reason dinner was at 7 p.m. which meant we had finished by 9 p.m. and there was almost three hours to wait after eating until midnight to see in the New Year. Quite a few people gave up; me included, and went to bed by 10 p.m. 6a.m. next morning I padded along in my dressing gown to the lounge for my early morning cup of tea. Despite it being the morning after the celebrations quite a few others were also there and Peter Warwick, the naval historian guest lecturer had a good turnout for his 9.30 a.m. talk His talks were all interesting and well presented.
We disembarked at 1.30 at Port Vila, the main town of Efate Island. Vanuatu is an archipelago in the South Pacific east of Australia and west of Fiji that comprises about 80 islands. Having carried my umbrella and rain jacket around all week, today I left them behind and of course it poured with rain! We were supposed to visit a local village but someone had died there the night before (didn’t make it to 2014) and we were not permitted to visit. On to the Secret Garden which could have been interesting if it hadn’t been raining so much. There were a lot of signs with information about the history, the people and the wildlife of the island but not enough time to read it all and there were a few creatures and birds in small cages. I averted my gaze. The Sea Princess, the big ship we had seen two days before, was in Port Vila again with us so the 2,000 passengers were everywhere we were.
On Espiritu Santo, next day, our ship docked at the jetty in Luganville, the capital, so we went down the gangway on to the dock and on to ten minibuses all old, with battered seats and cracked windscreens – definitely an island which has few visitors! We drove to a local village where the people arranged a show of music, dancing, how to light a fire by rubbing two sticks and a fierce war dance by men in grass thongs covering their bits (but they had cheated and wore underpants!) Women in grass skirts and bras and flowery headdresses did an entertaining water dance show in a small pool. Then on to the Blue Hole, a freshwater lake with beautiful blue water where we could swim. Several of the group went for the Tarzan option – swinging on a rope across the lake then letting go to fall into the water. After lunch on the ship some of us went to Million Dollar Point, a private beach where we could swim and snorkel.
At last an island away from the big ships! In fact the last time Vanikoro Island, in the Solomon Islands, saw a cruise ship was in the 1980’s! Not absolutely true, I think it was just the side of the island where we anchored. The zodiacs had to negotiate a reef to get into the shore and it was quite a long ride as the ship had to anchor outside the reef. As we approached the shore some men and boys wearing grass thongs and headdresses came running out into the shallows pretending to be very threatening and waving machetes and bows and arrows. We, in turn, pretended to be very frightened. The chief of the village gave a welcome speech that was followed by dancing. The men had grass fronds over their underpants, one pair clearly marked “Calvin Klein”!! They were very keen dancers and good fun. The energetic and the birders from the ship then went off for a walk and the rest of us walked around the village; a monument to the French admiral Perouse who lost two ships on the reef in 17something, a police station which didn’t look as if it had ever been opened, a museum with photos and drawings, mainly to do with Perouse, and a few vegetable gardens. Dinner on the ship was to be a Tropical evening. The Lido deck was decorated with palm fronds, all the staff wore Hawaiian type shirts and we were given a coconut/rum cocktail in a coconut shell. There was music and singing, the staff worked very hard and the (free) wine flowed. All very jolly.
Day 15 was supposed to be a day at sea but someone decided we had enough time to stop at another island unscheduled on our itinerary. This was Ndendo Island where we were met by the local chief who spoke very coherently and welcomed us apologising that there was no dancing but they didn’t know we were coming. Nor did we. After a wander around the village it was back to the zodiacs and time for snorkelling – the best for ages. The zodiacs were tied by a coral reef that dropped away in a sheer wall to very deep water. But there was lots of coral and a great many fishes. Excellent. As we returned to the ship lots of children in dugout canoes appeared from nowhere and were there to see us off. One little blonde haired boy (quite a few blondes in this area, nothing to do with 18th century European sailors, but something in the genes, so I was told) was in a very small dug out canoe which kept capsizing. Undeterred he popped out from underneath, turned it the right way up and scrambled back in. Very entertaining. In the afternoon we did a brief detour to sail round Tinakula, a very live volcano, followed by lectures. Kevin, who shouts into the microphone, showed slides of himself and gorillas – in the Solomon Islands? For heavens’ sake … After dinner there was a 50’s and 60’s evening in the Panorama Lounge which brought out jokes about us all being in our 70’s and therefore not entitled to attend.
On the island of Santa Ana we were treated to a long but very professional and entertaining show of music and dancing. The musicians were amazing: a band of about 10 men & boys played bamboo pan pipes of different sizes and another four chaps played long hollow bamboo poles tied together by hitting them with the backs of rubber flip-flops making a fascinating plinketty-plonk sound. A similar group to the one we saw can be viewed on www.narasirato.com. There were various dances; first of all by the women with grass skirts and a wide variety (size and colour) of bras and bunches of screwed up Christmas ribbon on their heads. Then the men, dressed as warriors, and then the women again. Finally some masked men and boys entirely coated in orange stuff, a bit like the Mudmen in Papua New Guinea. They were apparently the “baddies” and were pursued by the warriors amongst cheers from the, by now, huge local audience and chased by lots of small children. Many local people were on holiday or had come home for Christmas and New Year so this was huge entertainment for them too, spotting grandma wiggling her bottom in a grass skirt and bra.
Day 17 brought us to Guadacanal Island and Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands. There are over 900 islands in an area of 1,600 kms of ocean, so I learnt in the local museum. The ship tied up in port so we climbed into five minibuses on the quayside. First stop to the local market, always a fascinating sight and this one, apart from fruit and veg, had some interesting craftwork, for locals as well as tourists. Our local guides gave us a lot of interesting information about the intense fighting which took place here during World War 2 between the Americans and Japanese. I was woefully ignorant of this period of the war and our morning tour visited the US memorial where marble slabs bear detailed descriptions of battles fought during the Guadacanal campaign. This was followed by a visit to the National Parliament and Museum. It was all a bit of a scrum with 90+ of us all arriving at each place at the same time. Mercifully for our afternoon tour to Henderson Field, the US wartime airfield and to the Japanese Peace Park Memorial someone had the sense to organise two buses to go one way and two the other way so we had space to see everything.
Our last island visit was to Vangunu Island one of the New Georgia Islands in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and here we entered the Marovo Lagoon “the world’s finest double-barrier-enclosed lagoon. It contains hundreds of beautiful small islands, most of which are covered by coconut palms and rainforest and surrounded by coral” according to Lonely Planet. This was a fitting end to our cruise which had taken us 2,916 nautical miles from Auckland, in New Zealand on Dec 26th to Rabaul, in Papua New Guinea where we left the ship on January 9th.
164 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
Silver Travel Advisor Recommended Partner: Noble Caledonia - Small Ship Cruises