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Rangiroa, French Polynesia

March 7, 2014 – Friday – Rangiroa, Tuamotu Group, French Polynesia

The ship arrives at Rangiroa before 7AM, and enters this atoll’s lagoon. Like Fanning Island, this atoll is remote, but unlike Fanning, the entrance to the Rangiroa atoll is sufficiently deep to allow ships to enter the sheltered lagoon through a proper navigation channel. Tendering to the little town of Avatoru is easy in these calm waters.

The snorkeling on the one-hour excursion to the little islet in the lagoon is wonderful. The water is clear and about five metres deep, and there are lots of fish, despite the same location being used by a half dozen boats. There are some sharks swimming along the bottom. The coral is in good shape, and there is no current where we are snorkeling. This is my last opportunity to snorkel on this cruise, and it is probably the best experience of them all.

Although we have clear skies while I’m snorkeling, the clouds soon gather in the afternoon, so it is grey but warm at 29℃ and 72% humidity. Although the islanders have power and communications, they must collect rainwater for drinking and washing. Our snorkeling guide tells us they had had four days of rain before our ship arrived, which they are very happy about.

Rangiroa satellite image

Rangiroa satellite image

I grab a late lunch in the Lido and take it down to the Ocean View pool, a deck lower on the stern. As I eat and sip a Beck’s beer in the shade, I gaze at the view inside the lagoon and soak in the heat of the day. This is what cruising is all about!

We leave Rangiroa promptly at 5PM, and clear the narrow channel out into the open ocean by 5:30PM. The pilot departs, and we are on our way to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas group. We have a day at sea before we arrive, since the Marquesas are a considerable distance away.

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Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

March 4, 2014 – Tuesday – Raiatea & Taha’a, French Polynesia

My excursion this morning is called Land and Sea of Taha’a, which involves a boat ride to Taha’a, the sister island to Raiatea, where we are picked up by 4X4 trucks and taken on a tour of a black pearl farm, and then a vanilla plantation. Then we return to the boat and go to a motu for a swim and snorkel. I’m very impressed with the island of Taha’a. The roads are paved, the houses are neat and tidy, and the infrastructure is all there. This contrasts with Bora Bora, where they have dirt roads and everything is done in a haphazard way. The swimming and snorkelling is in shallow water, and I spot several Puffer fish – a first on this trip.

Our departure this afternoon is most interesting! Instead of leaving through the opening in the reef adjacent to the harbour that we entered through, the captain and pilot opt to take us on a scenic cruise between Raiatea and Taha’a, heading towards Bora Bora, but along the shoreline of Taha’a. A spectacular sunset occurs just south of Bora Bora as we sail away, and there are rain storms and huge cumulo-nimbus clouds to the west of us. We even see a funnel cloud appear out the bottom of a particularly large, dark cloud!

I had hoped to see a Green Flash as the Sun set this evening, but it was not to be. Despite this, I take some wonderful sunset photos, some including Bora Bora in the distance. The shoreline along Taha’a is absolutely stunning as we sail along in the early evening hours. It is a beautiful ending to a wonderful day, as I go back inside to get dressed for dinner.

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha'a

Map of my photos taken on Raiatea & Taha’a

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Bora Bora, French Polynesia

March 3, 2014 – Monday – Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I have some breakfast in the Lido early, since I have to be ashore for my excursion by 9AM. Another cruise ship has anchored beside us, replacing the one I saw yesterday. Bora Bora is obviously a popular port-of-call! After breakfast, I take the 10 minute tender ride ashore, and eventually we are collected and board our catamaran. We actually depart a bit early since everyone is on board from the ship. Moana Adventure Tours runs this excursion with four Tahitian guys. They are well-rated on TripAdvisor and I can see why – I had a great day, as did the others from the ship on this excursion!

First stop on the tour is just around the seaward side of the closest motu (islet) to Vaitape harbour, so we arrive there in only 15 minutes. We see Stingrays and Black-tipped sharks in the shallow water. Most of the people get into the water with them, however I stay aboard and get some great photos and video from the deck.

Next stop is about 20 minutes away: a small, private motu where there are coral reefs and a nice sandy beach. It is a wet landing, so everyone gets in the water here. I have a wonderful hour poking around, taking photos and video of the fish and the coral formations in the shallow lagoon. The excursion guys serve snacks and drinks under the shade of the palm trees before we return to the catamaran for the trip back to Vaitape harbour. This 3.5 hour excursion couldn’t be much better, but I’m very glad to head back to the ship’s air conditioning, since the oppressive heat hits us once we are back in the town of Vaitape.

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

Map showing the location of my photos taken on Bora Bora

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Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

February 22, 2014 – Saturday – Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

2014 Maui Photos Map

2014 Maui Photos Map

The ship anchors offshore from Lahaina, and tenders are used to transport passengers ashore. Early this morning, I see Humpback whales from the ship, and I manage to take some pretty decent photos of them “flipper flapping”, blowing and breaching.

I am on an excursion today – the West Maui Snorkel Cruise, which uses Trilogy Elua an excursion catamaran sailboat. As it turns out, the whale watching as we motor to our snorkel location is the highlight of the trip, since we see a mother, baby and escort Humpback whale perhaps 10 to 20 metres from the boat. The bonus is that I shoot video of this encounter! The crew deploy an underwater speaker so we can hear the whales communicating, which is very cool!

After returning to Lahaina, I give the tacky little town about 10 minutes of my time before returning to the comfort of the ship.

Elika Santos is a young Hawaiian male singer who gives a terrific performance in the Showroom At Sea this evening. He is trained in opera, so has a very powerful voice. He sings pop, opera and Hawaiian songs. I’m going to look him up when I get back home, so I can buy some of his music to listen to.

Elika Santos

Elika Santos

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Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

November 17, 2012 – Saturday – Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

Beach dogs enjoying some attention from a tourist on Ile de Lifou, New Caledonia

I have the morning to myself, despite the ship being anchored offshore and tenders running to the little village of Easo. I take a 2.5 hour tour called “Luecila Beach & Scenic Drive” leaving at 12:15PM. We are taken to a beautiful white sand beach near the main town of We on Baie de Chateaubriand. Richard is our tour guide, and does a good job describing their local customs as we drive for half an hour it takes to get across the bushy central part of the island to our destination on the other side.

The fine white sand beach has to be at least 3-4 kms long, and has some very nice coral and fishes, which I snorkel out to see. The water is a bit cloudy because of the swell coming into the bay, but in spite of this, I enjoy the hour swimming in the tropical waters. I see a few fish, and some live coral, and even spot a small shark briefly. There are only about a dozen people on the beach, other than our group of about 30 tourists and a few beach dogs.
Richard tells us there are only about 10,000 people living on the island, despite it being geographically quite big. Tourism is their only industry, so the economy is not great, since they only see about two cruise ships per week on average, and they have one 4 star hotel located in We.

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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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Huatulco, Mexico

Friday, December 16, 2011 – Day 26 – Huatulco, Mexico

Since I’m not interested in all the tourist shops available at this cruise port; I go on a snorkel cruise excursion this morning. It is quite a bit of fun, and provides a good opportunity to get away from the ship for a couple of hours. They make us all sign waivers and wear a silly yellow floatation device (which is deflated), but otherwise it is a well-run activity. They take us on a ten-minute boat ride to one of the little bays we saw this morning as Rotterdam pulled into the port.

The group of snorkelers is lead by the crew, and despite several hundred other people swimming in the same bay, there are still a surprising number of fish to see and photograph. I even see a lobster on the bottom before we return to shore. The flippers they give us earlier are necessary, since there are some fairly strong surges as we do the circuit, especially when we are lead into a cave with a narrow opening.

As always, I’m happy to return to the ship to have a shower and put on fresh clothes. I spend part of the afternoon doing one final load of laundry before the end of the cruise. My friends and I have some Becks beer on the stern deck as we pull out of the bay. We decide to have a casual dinner in the same place since the weather is so warm.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria is docked beside Rotterdam at the pier. It is an impressive new ship, with five decks of veranda suites. She is huge – much wider and higher than our ship, but not too much longer. Cunard still runs their larger ships with two classes of passengers, so I expect the two gangways are for First Class and Tourist Class. Seeing this ship brings back memories of when I sailed aboard the Cunard Princess in the 1980’s from Vancouver through the Panama Canal and the Caribbean. The Cunard Princess was a small ship with some 800 passengers, so it was a single class (Tourist Class) ship.

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Half Moon Cay, the Bahamas

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 – Day 2 – Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, the Bahamas

The Rotterdam anchors in the beautiful tropical bay this morning, and by 9:30AM tenders are ferrying passengers ashore 300 at a time. This is a highly organized day at the beach for the 1,400 passengers, with everyone being accommodated no matter what the disability, unless the person is completely wheelchair-bound.

Since I wake up this morning around 8:30AM, I miss the crowds of early birds who want to catch the first tenders ashore. I pick up a cappuccino at the Explorations Café and have a leisurely breakfast in the Lido before going back to my cabin to get ready to go ashore, packing snorkel gear and changing into a swimsuit and beach wear. The tender I take ashore around 10AM is only half full.

This part of the island is dedicated to giving Holland America’s cruise ship passengers an enjoyable day at the beach. They certainly succeed at this, providing everything any cruise ship passenger might want: a wonderful long curving sandy beach; clear, warm and shallow water to swim in; a place to snorkel and see some fish; shopping; personal services such as massage and spa treatments; sports services such as horseback riding in the surf, parasailing, small boat sailing, walking tours; and of course a BBQ lunch. I expected the beach to be crowded, but everyone spreads out so it turns out to be a very relaxing experience.

I have a clamshell reserved, which is a small half tent to provide some shade from the tropical sun, including two lounge chairs. I take my snorkel gear and wade into the warm water, not expecting to see much since there are lots of people in the water, however I’m pleasantly surprised. There are several varieties of fish swimming around, and I even spot two Barracuda and manage to take a picture and a video of them! The BBQ lunch was good, and afterwards I return to the clamshell for another hour before deciding to return to the ship.

JoeTourist: Rotterdam, the ship &emdash; Explorations Cafe counterAfter having a casual dinner in the Lido with my friends, we go to the Explorations Lounge to listen to the “Adagio Strings” – four young women who are a string quartet. They sound very good, which is a pleasant surprise for us, since the “Adagio Strings” quartet who played aboard the Volendam cruise last year were nothing short of dreadful. This quartet obviously practices and actually cares about how they sound!

I decide to skip the entertainment in the main show lounge this evening, since it is a Las Vegas headliner who sings and tells jokes – not my type of entertainment. I return to my cabin and work on the photos and video I shot today and yesterday. I like to keep up-to-date with the results from my camera work while traveling. I find putting a caption on each photo and the location makes it much easier to cope with all this material when I return home. I also write a journal while traveling, which I find invaluable for creating blog entries as well as using this material for my main JoeTourist website once I return home. I enjoy the ritual of sitting down and reviewing the day, and then committing it to words.

This evening I sign up with Rogers for their roaming package, which give me voice coverage for Central and South America. This ensures I get a more reasonable per minute rate for voice calls than standard roaming, so I can use my iPhone to call home when we are ashore. Cellular service is offered aboard ship, but it is outrageously expensive, so I will wait until we are docked or ashore to check in with the family. While aboard ship and offshore, it isn’t too expensive to send and receive email using the Internet access package I signed up for yesterday.

The ship is bucking a 30kt headwind as we head south towards Cuba. Our speed is 14.5kts, which is certainly slower than last night.

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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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Luganville, Vanuatu

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

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 again, and the water is not too warm. We drive past the nearby abandoned WWII 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 looking place…in fact it is a rather run down little one street town. The ship is docked at an industrial wharf which is covered in oil. The passengers tramp all this gooey stuff throughout the ship. The poor cleaning staff spend days cleaning the carpets aboard the ship!

My friends and I go casual for dinner this evening aboard ship, dining at the Lido buffet restaurant. I have a New Zealand salmon dish that is really nice – tartar sauce, veggies, and rice complete the meal.