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Noumea, New Caledonia – 2012

November 15, 2012 – Thursday – Noumea, New Caledonia

View of the lagoon from Amédée Lighthouse, Noumea, New Caledonia

View of the lagoon from Amédée Lighthouse, Noumea, New Caledonia

I depart on an all-day tour to Amédée Lighthouse, which is located on an island by the same name offshore from Noumea. This was not the tour I wanted, but it was the only one available which offered some snorkelling, after I boarded the ship a few days ago. We are taken to the boat basin, where we are joined by passengers from the P&O Pacific Jewel. Needless to say, there are lots of people on this large excursion boat, the Mary-D. The passengers from the P&O ship are mainly Australians, and many are families with young children. This is not my ideal tour, since it is quite noisy!

Despite that, the tour was well done. The lighthouse on the island is made of metal, and was shipped prefabricated from France in 1862. We had a superb lunch with wine and punch included, and with entertainment from a singing and dancing troupe. I enjoyed the lovely (alcoholic) fruit punch, along with the BBQ pork and seafood, and lots of salads and pasta dishes. The only real disappointment is the snorkelling in the lagoon on one side of the island. I snorkel after lunch and find the reef is totally dead, although there are a few fish swimming around, and the Striped Sea Snake (poisonous) also makes an appearance! They also offer glass-bottomed boat rides and rides out to the edge of the reef, but I don’t bother with those excursions. After snorkelling, I prefer to just sit under a shade tree.

I learn from the Pacific Jewel passengers that on eclipse day their ship missed being on position on the Line of Totality. Apparently about 600 passengers had booked their cruise predicated on that happening, although there was also a large group of passengers who didn’t care one way or the other. That would be totally devastating for those who expected to observe Totality, but didn’t get the chance. Apparently the ship left port a bit late, and encountered strong headwinds, and couldn’t get to the position in time.

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First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

November 8, 2012 – Thursday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

First Landing Resort is located quite close to where I will embark the Paul Gauguin in a couple of days. In the mean time, it is nice to have time to get that much-needed sleep in a seaside bure (cottage), and adjust to the time difference. My taxi driver assures me that First Landing is known for good food, and he is correct. All the meals I have at the resort are first rate, and all the staff are very friendly and helpful.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Restaurant patio areaI arrive a bit after Noon, and my bure isn’t ready, because check-in is normally after 1PM, so I need to kill some time. They serve me my welcome drink at the bar, which appears to be nothing more than some fruit juice and bar flavourings over ice. I also have some lunch in the restaurant: grilled Walu, which is a tasty white-fleshed fish served in a wonderful coconut crème sauce. At lunch I talk with several people who are also going on the Paul Gauguin Solar Eclipse cruise. They arrived early this morning (5AM), and are just now moving into their bures after having a temporary room assigned to them for most of the day.

After lunch, I am taken to my nice clean bure overlooking the water, where I settle in and get cleaned up. I take a quick walk around the resort, seeing all the facilities offered: pool, sports activities, cultural activities, spa (I have a free coupon), Wifi (modest charge), and the Vuda Marina is right next-door (where Craig & Barbara stayed while sailing on Sequoia back in 2004). After my walk, I sleep most of the afternoon, and wake up refreshed to explore the resort a bit further. There is this Left Foot Island, which you can see best from Google Earth if you search for First Landing Resort in Lautoka, Fiji. I’m not sure what the story is behind this large manmade water feature. The resort has a coral beach (typical for this side of Vanua Levu), which means it is not soft, white sand, so you need reef shoes to go walking and wading. The reef is very shallow and close to shore in this area, which means the modest one foot tide exposes the reef and sandy areas each day, limiting ocean swimming. Of course, the resort has a nice pool, so there is no problem finding a place to swim.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Sunset with palm treesBefore supper, I take some sunset photos from just outside my bure, and after supper, I take some wide-angle photos of the beautifully dark western sky. The whole of Scorpius is easily observed, and the Milky Way is surprisingly bright considering I am standing in a resort with their grounds lit up at night. Having a dark ocean westward makes the beautiful celestial show possible. I identify some of the constellations found in the southern sky using Starmap Pro on my iPad 2. Once I tell the software where I am located, it works really well. I can see Cygnus flying up from the Northern horizon. Mars is flickering in the atmospheric muck at only 6 degrees above the horizon. Altair, Terazad (red star), Peacock and Toucan constellations are all visible, and a nice globular cluster NGC 6752 pops out. I observe all these treasures using my Canon IS 12×36 binoculars while sitting on a lounge chair on the beach – pure bliss!

After the night sky observing, I’m ready for more sleep, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow in the tropics.

November 9, 2012 – Friday – First Landing Resort, Lautoka, Fiji

I am up fairly early in the morning, and take some time to have a couple of cups of coffee while looking out over the ocean at the soft colours of the morning. I’m finally ready for the Continental breakfast, which is part of the room tariff. The morning meal hits the spot with fresh Fijian fruit, homemade pastries, and other delights.

I stay at the resort today, with nothing more planned than to try out my solar eclipse photographic and observing gear while I am still on solid land. First though, there are fish to watch under the causeway, sailboats to spot through binoculars as they drift by on what seems the edge of the ocean, and I take time to contemplate the shadows of the palm trees as they caress the beach. This is a sublime place.

JoeTourist: Lautoka & Nadi &emdash; Hot Pot: Fish Curry in coconut sauce with riceI walk over to Vuda Marina, where Craig and Barbara moored their sailboat Sequoia on their trans-Pacific journey. I was lucky enough to share passage with them when they sailed from Opua, New Zealand to Suva, Fiji. I also have my first Fiji Bitter beer today before lunch. It goes down well with a very tasty Fish Curry Hot Pot in coconut sauce with rice.

I get out my solar observing and photography gear this afternoon and have a trial run on the lawn in front of my bure. It is going to be a major challenge to keep the Sun in the field of view of my camera while on a ship’s deck. Achieving sharp focus is another issue when your observing platform is moving under your feet. I’m sure we will be given lots of advice about solar observing and photography by the enrichment speakers onboard the ship, but I can already see the challenge. In any case, I take some useable photos of the Sun, which is all I can do for now.

Turning my attention to the 24 day old waning Crescent Moon proves rewarding this afternoon. The Moon has a rendezvous with the Sun on the 14th (the Total Solar Eclipse), so it will soon disappear from daytime view and keep its celestial appointment.

I have a Fiji Bitter beer and potato wedges (bar snack) for dinner, since I’m not interested in the beach BBQ and Meke show being staged by the resort staff this evening. There are too many clouds to try more astrophotography this evening, so I return to my bure. Time for more rest, since I board the cruise ship tomorrow afternoon.

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San Blas Islands

Saturday, November 26, 2011 – Day 6 – San Blas Islands, Panama

JoeTourist: San Blas Islands &emdash; Cuna woman in traditional dress with Molas and young girlIt is 10:30AM and there is great excitement aboard. Everyone is milling about waiting for tenders to go ashore to what must be the tiniest island destination for a cruise ship: Carti Tupili Island, which is one of the San Blas Islands. There are Cuna Indians in canoes circling the ship as we anchor, waiting for all those US$ to flow into their eager hands…or in this case diving for coins being thrown down by the passengers. I stay on the ship this morning since I want to avoid the madness of jostling for the first few tenders. I use this time to catch up on my travel journal and blog, and take some photos of our approach to the islands. I partake of the delicious BBQ lunch served on the Lido pool deck, and then decide it is time to get a tender ticket and go ashore. I only have to wait a couple of minutes before my tender leaves.

There are hundreds of Cuna Indian women and children selling stuff. The women are mainly selling Molas, handmade delicately sewn artwork made by arranging brightly coloured fabric into layers and patterns. Others, especially children are offering themselves for photo ops at $1 a shot, with some just looking incredibly cute, while others offer puppies, kittens, rabbits, birds and even a monkey as additional props for the tourists to photograph. Some men are also selling wares: mainly carvings from coconut wood or husks, or artwork. I find this all rather sad to see, and since the whole scene mainly turns me off, I catch a tender back to the ship after about 15 minutes of walking around.

Of the 378 islands and cays in the archipelago, 49 are inhabited. As you can see by my photos, the inhabited islands are densely populated – every bit of each island’s land mass is used. There is no electricity from the grid available on these islands; only power from generators is used for a few hours each day as households determine their needs and what they can afford in fuel costs. Transportation to the islands is poor to non-existent unless you own your own seaworthy boat. There is no fresh water available on these islands. Water must be brought in by boat. These islands consist of sand, and are essentially at sea level – there is no elevation to speak of.

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Tauranga, New Zealand

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 21, 2010 – Thursday – Tauranga, New Zealand

My friends and I are scheduled to go on a sailboat cruise around the harbour this morning, but the wind is so fierce the sailboat can’t dock. Our Mount Classics Tours tour coordinator quickly arranges a very nice private land-tour in a minivan with our own driver taking us around Tauranga. First stop is The Elms Mission Station, then we drive north of town and see the city from an overlook. We then drive south of town, with the first stop being Kiwi360 in Te Puka, where all things to do with kiwi fruit are on display. We drive a bit further south and stop for lunch at a small seaside café in Maketu. The tide is out, and the Maoris are gathering shellfish in the huge tidal flats in this area. On our way back, we stop at the Comvita Visitor Centre in Te Puke to see the honey display and have some wonderful honey ice cream before we return to the ship.

Tonight I face up to the fact I have to pack everything that has been in the cabin closets for 30 days back into my single suitcase. It is a daunting task, but I finally fit everything inside and put my bag out in the hall for collection before going to bed aboard ship for the last time. All 800 disembarking passengers’ bags will magically appear ashore in the departure hall tomorrow morning. What a job!

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Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Oct 20, 2010 – Wednesday – Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

This is our first port of call since our departure from New Caledonia. We are anchored in the Bay of Islands, so we are tendered ashore to the Waitangi wharf. They have shuttle buses to take passengers to Pahia, which is the main town for the area.

We go ashore on the tender and take the lunchtime version of Darryl’s Dinner Cruise. We find the boat on the pier in Pahia, and have a very nice time with a bunch of Australians, who are on a bus tour of New Zealand. It is a bit choppy out on the harbour, however we travel around the little bay by Pahia, as well as down to within sight of Opua, then around Orongo Bay. There are some beautiful glimpses of Volendam before we return to Pahia wharf. Along the way, we are served our choice of New Zealand Lamb Chops, roast venison, or catch of the day, along with salad, steamed potatoes, and even a bit of chocolate for dessert.

JoeTourist: Food &emdash; Wendy McDonald's birthday aboard ship in the Rotterdam dining roomAfter walking around Pahia for a while, we return to the ship mid-afternoon. It is Crew Performance Night in the Rotterdam Dining Room, so the dining room serving staff dance between the tables, starting with placing napkins on everyone’s lap through to serving Baked Alaska (sans sparklers). After the Baked Alaska, the servers surround my friend who is celebrating a birthday and sing her a version of “Happy Birthday” in Filipino. Her chocolate cake is served in addition to the Baked Alaska, so everyone is overstuffed by the time we leave the dining room.

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Noumea, New Caledonia

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 17, 2010 – Sunday – Noumea, Grand Terre, New Caledonia

Welcoming dance troupe on the dock at Noumea

Welcoming dance troupe on the dock at Noumea

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 put 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.

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Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 16, 2010 – Saturday – Kotu, Ile des Pins, 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 by 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.

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 deck, 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 until our morning arrival in Noumea.

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Port Vila, Vanuatu

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

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 see more varieties of fish, coral, and other creatures in the hour and a half we have 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.

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. 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 home-away-from-home.

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Suva, Fiji

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 11, 2010 – Monday – Suva, Fiji Islands

I set the alarm this morning in order to see our arrival in Suva. It brought back memories of sailing the SV Sequoia through the same channel in 2004, when I crewed the open ocean segment from New Zealand to Fiji with the Johnstons. This time my mode of transportation is a bit more luxurious!

Our arrival at King’s Wharf is heralded by the Suva Police Band – they march up and down the wharf playing some very catchy tunes. It is overcast today, so it is not as hot as Pago Pago was (our previous port of call in American Samoa). I call my Fijian friends several times this morning, but there is no answer, so I find my onboard friends and we go ashore together.

Downtown Suva & office buildings

Downtown Suva & office buildings

We walk along the waterfront to catch some views of the harbour. It is Independence Day in Fiji, so most shops and offices are closed. We meet several Fijian families who are enjoying the day off. We walk past the derelict Grand Pacific Hotel and take an obligatory photo of the guard dressed in a ceremonial uniform (including a sulu) who is posted at the Governor General’s mansion. We then wander through Thurston Gardens and see the Fiji Museum. The last time I toured this museum was in 1975. At that time, cannibalism artifacts were prominently displayed, but there wasn’t a sign of them during this visit. When I pay for the admission to the museum for myself and my friends, the guy at the desk notices my “old” bills. I had saved them from my last trip six years ago, so I guess they have updated their currency since then.

Despite the cloudy weather, we still find the walk to be hot and exhausting. We stop in town to poke around the few shops that are open. A friendly Fijian “sweeper” directs us to the shops that sell t-shirts, jewellery, and other tourist stuff. I buy a Fiji Bitter beer t-shirt for FJ$22 (CD$12). We also walk through Prouds, a high end department store, but buy nothing. After returning to the comfort of the ship, I head for the Sea View pool to cool off, and then grab some lunch in the Lido.

The Suva Police Band is once again there to serenade us before our 5pm departure. They have an incredible repertoire…not just marching tunes, but also pop and rock and roll! Their performance has to be one of the highlights of this trip. What a change from the last time I saw the band in 1975, when it was a pretty ordinary marching band. I shoot some high definition video to capture some of their wonderful performance. The ship was waiting in Suva harbour for the arrival of New Zealand customs and immigration officers. They were delayed about two hours…so we waited, and the band played on (as the old saying goes). What a show – this is no ordinary marching band!

Fiji 2010 from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

HINT: Click on the little four segment icon beside the “HD” in the lower right corner of the video window to view the video in high definition mode.

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Cruising from American Samoa to Fiji

2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Oct 10, 2010 – Sunday – At sea, enroute American Samoa to Fiji

We lost Saturday, Oct 9th last night as we crossed the International Date Line.

This morning we pass by Niuafo’ou, an island in Tonga. It is a volcanic island which most recently in 1946 forced evacuation of its inhabitants. We sail quite close to the shore – perhaps within five miles. Thank goodness for image-stabilized telephoto lenses!

JoeTourist: Activities & Services &emdash; Lunch with The Star Lady & friendsWe have lunch with Donna and Dan in the Rotterdam Dining Room. She passes out “star” glasses, which we all don and then ask the waiter take our photo (much to his chagrin). We think it is funny!