Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vanuatu and New Caledonia

Cherries Jubilee being flambeed - Pinnacle Grill
Oct 13, 2010 – Wednesday – Volendam at sea, enroute to Luganville, Vanuatu – It looks like the North Pacific outside: grey clouds down to the deck, rough seas, and drizzle. Of course, step outside on the Promenade Deck and the warmth and humidity immediately hit you in the face. The next four days will be interesting, since we have four ports of call starting tomorrow with Luganville, Vanuatu. We then stop in Port Vila, Vanuatu and two stops in New Caledonia.

We all went to the Pinnacle Grill for dinner to celebrate my birthday. I had the seafood skewer and a Cherries Jubilee for dessert. Both were flambéed at the table, which is pretty special. It was a nice way to spend my 58th birthday - aboard ship and at sea in the South Pacific.

Underwater Aircraft wreck at Luganville, Vanuatu
Oct 14, 2010 – Thursday – Luganville, Vanuatu –I go on my first shore excursion this morning. We are driven to a nice private beach, however it is pouring rain. I go snorkelling anyway, as do most of the other people…after all, how wet can you get? I take some photos of a small WW II aircraft that is sitting on the bottom just offshore in a couple of metres of water. The old WW II US airfield is only a short distance away, so obviously the pilot didn't make it! After taking a few photos, my underwater camera packs it in. I try to get it going again, but no joy. Our next stop is a Blue Hole, which is an upwelling of fresh water over limestone. This causes dramatically blue coloured water. Several in our group go swimming, however I don't bother since it is raining and the water is not too warm. It is located near the abandoned US airfield, which can still be picked out despite being seriously overgrown.

We drive through Luganville on our way back to the ship. This is not a particularly nice place…in fact it is a rather run down little one street town. We go to the Lido for dinner. I have a New Zealand salmon dish that is really nice – tartar sauce, veggies, and rice complete the meal.

I check my email and post my blog for Fiji this evening from my room. One of the emails is from Epeli Naua, my Fijiian friend. He is in Kuala Lumpur on a course, so that's the reason he couldn't meet me in Suva when I was there a few days ago. I have created a DVD commemorating our two families since 1960, which I had prepared onboard over the last few days. It contains still photos from the 1960s, and my visits in 1975 and 2004, and some 8mm home movies my parents took in the 1960s when his father was a crew member of the Lakumba lumber freighter at the time. I will send Epeli and his brother Iniasi a PAL format DVD, so they have this nice keepsake of our two families.

Nemo on the reef at Paradise Island, Port Vila, Vanuatu
Oct 15, 2010 – Friday – Port Vila, Vanuatu – It is cloudy again today in Vanuatu as we pull into the dock in Port Vila right on time. I take another shore excursion this morning to Paradise Cove, which is only a short distance on a motor sailboat from the main town. The underwater wildlife in this area is nothing short of amazing. I saw more varieties of fish, coral, and other creatures in the hour and a half we had to snorkel than all my other snorkelling adventures combined. Too bad my underwater camera is hooped; however I get a copy of someone else's underwater photos, so at least I have a record of what I saw. When I return home I can buy a new underwater camera.

Port Vila is much more prosperous than Luganville, and is such a pretty location, with the harbour surrounded by a series of small islands. There are lots of upscale resorts and homes built around the harbour, and some very exotic yachts are to be found in this harbour. There is no rain today while we are in port, but it continues to be overcast the whole day, with the sun peeking out from the clouds for brief moments.

As with yesterday, it is nice to return to the comforts aboard ship after our shore excursion. Hot showers, good food, air conditioning, clean surroundings, and warm greetings from all the staff make for such a welcoming environment.

Oct 16, 2010 – Saturday – Kotu, New Caledonia – We cruise by the southern tip of La Grande Terre, the largest island in New Caledonia this morning on our way to Ile des Pins. Volendam anchors in the bay of the little town of Kotu at noon. The scenery is strikingly beautiful, with the Araucaria pine trees this island is known for visible all around the bay. The water is a beautiful tropical blue colour; the weather is warm without being too hot – there are a few clouds in the otherwise sunny sky. We are at anchor from noon to 8pm this evening, so we have lots of time to go ashore.

Baie de Kanamera, Kuto, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia
My friends and I choose to stay onboard until later in the day when it is cooler and the crowds have dissipated somewhat. It's nice to just sit up on the Lido, have some lunch while sipping on a Beck's beer, and watch the beautiful scenery all around us. We take a tender ashore around 4pm and explore the two gorgeous white sand beaches that are on Baie de Kuto and Baie de Kanamera. It is an easy five minute walk between the two beaches under the shade of some lovely trees. Kids and tourists play in the water, and people tell me there is some good snorkelling out by the rocks in Baie de Kanamera. I'm not swimming today, since I did so much swimming and snorkelling yesterday. I just sit in the shade of the trees drinking in the magic of this beautiful island. Its idyllic reputation is well deserved. We wait on the beach at Baie de Kuto to watch the sun set over the Volendam before taking a late tender back to the ship. We set sail on schedule at 8pm, and slowly cruise in a circle until our morning arrival in Noumea.

Welcoming dance troupe on dock at Noumea
Oct 17, 2010 – Sunday – Noumea, New Caledonia – We arrive in port on time this morning at 8am and are serenaded by a local dance troupe performing Polynesian dances on the dock. Noumea is a large, and well developed city, however since it is Sunday, most stores are closed. "Casino", the supermarket across the street from where we are docked is open until noon, which according to my friends who lived in France is "very French", since Sunday afternoon is reserved for time with family. The prices in the supermarket are as I expected: about three times higher than anywhere else for foreign imported goods, and reasonable prices for local goods and those items imported from France. New Caledonia is a French colony.

I quickly decide during our little excursion to the market this morning that it is too hot to bother with any tours. I return to the ship and have a swim in the Sea View pool. There is lemonade being served poolside, so I soon cool down. I go out on the Promenade deck and sit in a lounge chair in the shade and work on my journal and photos – watching the world go by. There are huge numbers of sailboats moored in the harbour…almost to the point of it being crowded. People in power boats scoot alongside our ship, waving hello before taking off again.
A local dance troupe Temonoroa Dance Group puts on a terrific show of Polynesian dancing in the show lounge aboard ship this evening. They get some audience participation going, with both the men and women in the audience appearing on stage. The Volendam departs right after the show, once the troupe goes ashore with all their costumes and gear. She creeps out of the harbour dead slow past all the sailboats that are moored for the night.

Once again, the ship's clocks turn forward one hour tomorrow morning, so we lose an hour after gaining all those hours as we sailed westward across the Pacific earlier in the cruise.

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