PORT OF BRISBANE 1993
Let me take you back to 1993 when the port of Brisbane was nothing more than an old tin shed on the side of the wharf and we were a lot younger! This is where our ship the “Mikhail Sholokov” was leaving from and together with our friends, Yvonne and Murray, we said bon voyage to our families and boarded the ship ready for our South Pacific adventure.
We chose this particular Russian ship not because it was one of the nicest or most popular cruise ships at the time but mainly because of its amazing itinerary and small size (300 passengers and 175 Officers and crew).
The ship would sail from Brisbane to Noumea in New Caledonia then onto Lautoka, Fiji to Nukualofa, Tonga, Pago Pago in American Samoa, Apia in Western Samoa, Suva, Fiji and finally to Lautoka where we would disembark and spend a couple of days at the Fijian Resort Hotel, Yanuca Island, Fiji and fly home.
After checking into our shared cabin we headed to where any red blooded Aussie and Kiwi in the case of our friends would go and that’s straight to the back of the ship to the cocktail bar. Cocktail of the day was A$1 made by Vladimir who I would have to say is the best cocktail maker I have ever met. We had several every day!!
This is also where we met our new friends for the cruise a group of 3 couples all from Ipswich. After a few cocktails they nicknamed us Harry, Larry, Mary and Carey – don’t ask me why!!! Amazing what you come up with after a few drinks. What a good time we were about to encounter.
NOUMEA, NEW CALEDONIA
Short History: New Caledonia is a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific. It’s known for its palm-lined beaches and marine-life-rich lagoon, which, at 24,000-sq.-km, is among the world’s largest. A massive barrier reef surrounds the main island, Grand Terre, a major scuba-diving destination. The capital, Nouméa, is home to French-influenced restaurants and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashions. (World Bank).
We all work up early this morning to watch the ship come into port. It was a magnificent sunrise, calm seas and an amazing view.
We docked quite close to the town and decided to stretch our sea legs and walk around Noumea, do a little shopping and have a look at the markets. Then we hopped on board a local bus which took us to the beach. It was a great way to see more of Noumea and also to get a very small insight into the local population.
After a nice but cold swim at the beach we caught the bus back to the ship where we hopped on our “Champagne Train” a little train that takes you to a scenic lookout and on the way gives you a short history of the country.
Back in 1993 A$1 was worth 70 Pacific Francs which is not much different today with the exchange rate at the time of writing being A$1 equals 79 Pacific Francs.
Short History: Lautoka, city on the northwest coast of the island of Viti Levu, Fiji, South Pacific Ocean. Situated on the dry side of the island, Lautoka (originally called Namoli) serves as an important sugarcane-growing district and is Fiji’s leading sugar export port.
We arrived later than expected because of very rough seas during the night. Not enough time to do a tour so we visited the local market which was interesting and sold many items especially local fruit and vegetables. Learnt a few Fijian words, of course the one everyone knows “Bula” hello, ni sa Moce pronounced “more-they” for goodbye and Vinaka veka levu for thank you.
Our ship will be docking in Suva on our return so we weren’t too disappointed that we didn’t have much time there this time.
RELAXING AT SEA
Our days at sea were spent relaxing on the pool deck and making up stories about the other passengers. One in particular had caught our attention. He was a German man who wore lots of gold around his neck and arms. The most fascinating thing about him was he would read a page from his book then tear the page out and put it in the bin!! We figured he must have been a secret KGB agent as every port we docked at he would be picked up in a limousine and taken “somewhere” then be driven back to the ship. Mmmm I wonder.
We also played games on the top deck with other passengers and some of the crew.
The band was also another source of amusement for us. They called themselves “Klinger” and one of the band members was keen on the big Russian bar manager. We nicknamed her No. 9 as she looked like a front rower. One of the band members was quite keen on her and he used to sit on her lap and hug her, quite funny to watch. The staff had many parties below deck and one morning our waitress had a very bad hangover she was not popular with the maitre d.
Short History: In 1845, the scattered and pristine islands of western Polynesia became united as the Kingdom of Tonga, and 30 years later officially became a constitutional monarchy and British Protectorate. The first King of this united Tonga was George Tupou I, and the modern Kingdom of Tonga is the only Pacific Island nation never to lose its indigenous governance or to be colonised. Located just west of the International Date Line, Tonga is also the first country to experience the new day each morning. (The Kingdom of Tonga).
Coming into port here was strange as the country is flat with no mountains. Travelling on the bus to Oholei Beach we passed through the local villages. Tonga is known for it’s pigs and just about every family has at least one running around. I think they must have right of way here as there were lots on the road.
Another fascinating thing about Tonga is they bury their relatives in the front garden and the graves are beautifully adorned with colourful tapa cloth and flowers and of course beer bottles.
We arrived at our destination where we walked along the beautiful sandy foreshore, relaxed on the beach and had a delicious umu lunch and then into Hina Cave for a traditional native fire dance. A delightful day for all.
The bus dropped us off in Nuku’alofa where the locals were selling their wares at the markets. Such lovely people the Tongans and so friendly. It was the end of the school day whilst we were there and about 1,000 school children converged upon us. The population of Tonga in 1993 was 95,644 (Source: World Bank) and by the look of it the population has a lot of room for growth!!
After a lovely day we walked back along the oceanfront to the ship. Time hasn’t yet caught up with this place and it truly is a beautiful and peaceful dot in the Pacific.
MORE DAYS AT SEA
Sailing around the Pacific you eventually cross the international date line and in our case we had two Fridays which was quite amusing. The boys played volley ball in the pool but when it was rough there would be no water up one end of the pool and it was tipping over the edge at the other end, funny to watch.
PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA
Short History: American Samoa consists of several islands east of the 171st meridian of west longitude. It is separated from Western Samoa by a Strait which is 60 kilometers wide and over 2,000 meters deep. The main island is Tutuila with an area of 135 square kilometers. The population of American Samoa, in 1977, was 30,600 with more than a third of the population (11,000) living in Pago Pago which is the main town and administrative center of American Samoa.
We didn’t know much about this country and we were very excited to explore. From our ship you could see if was quite different from Tonga. Very lush and tropical with mountains that came right down to the ocean.
It was raining when we arrived but that didn’t dampen the welcome we were given by the local band and some dancers who were on the wharf waiting for us as were many local buses. These were all very colourfully decorated and looked amazing. We bartered a good price and hopped on board for a tour of the town. Very lucky that we had the bus all to ourselves. Our driver was Ioane (John) and he showed us some beautiful spots and told us about the Samoan way of life.
All families live in a village of their own with a chief. They have meeting houses in each village and meet there every Sunday after church.
Once again such simple lifestyles and everyone appears to be happy, I love how they are so family orientated.
Not many cruise ships go to Pago Pago any more which is a shame because this is certainly one of the most beautiful Pacific Islands we visited.
APIA, WESTERN SAMOA
Short History: Guided by the stars, the Polynesian ancestors made their way across the Pacific in ocean-faring canoes thousands of years ago. In 1830 the Reverend John Williams arrived in Savai’i and it was through him that the Christian gospel had an impact on Samoan life. Today Samoans are a devoutly religious people with much time devoted to church activities.
Western Samoa a place of great natural beauty. Our ship docked in Apia the capital which is home to the famous Aggie Grey’s Hotel.
There is mix of old colonial houses along with modern Western-style houses, many which were built after the nation was granted its independence in 1962. These are intermixed with the traditional “Fale” Samoan style houses. This makes for an interesting contrast of the old and new.
Our tour today took us to Coconuts Beach a beautiful drive through stunning rainforests, volcanic mountains and cascading waterfalls The snorkelling at Coconuts Beach was amazing as was our walk along the spectacular white sandy beach. We enjoyed a traditional Samoan barbecue after which we headed back to the ship. On the way we stopped at a local market where we bought sarongs for A$8. We also went to writer Robert Louis Stevenson’s home known as Vailima. It was being renovated but you could see what this grand old home was an amazing piece of architecture. (I understand it has since been restored to its former glory.)
Short History: In 1877, it was decided to make Suva the capital of Fiji, as the geography of former main European settlement at Levuka on the island of Ovalau proved too restrictive. The administration of the colony was moved from Levuka to Suva in 1882. At the 2007 census, the city of Suva had a population of 85,691. It is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the southern Pacific Ocean and has become an important regional centre.
After disembarking in Suva we were converged upon by what was commonly known as the “sword sellers”. They warned us not to buy anything from these guys as they will tell you a price then ask you your name and engrave it and then charge you more, you then have to buy it because it has your name on it. Oh well what do you do, we got sucked in and bought something from them after Lee did a lot of bargaining. I understand that doesn’t happen any more in Suva. Walking around town we could see there were many duty free shops and at the markets we enjoyed the bartering and got some good bargains.
Then it was back to the ship and do some packing and ready for our last night on board. It was sad saying goodbye to our new friends and of course the staff who had also become our friends. The “Mikhail Sholokov” was an amazing cruise ship – a little rough at times – but because of the small number of passengers it was easy to get to know everyone on board and we all had a truly memorable experience.
We docked in Lautoka once again, this time we disembarked and headed off in our private transfer vehicle to the Fijian Resort Hotel on Yanuca Island. We were to stay here for two nights then fly home to Brisbane from Nadi.
Upon arrival at the resort we were greeted with the obligatory Bula Bula and some very friendly smiles and shown to our room. Was quite strange to be on firm ground after 14 nights at sea.
Our room was wonderful and overlooked the beautiful Pacific Ocean. We swam in the clear warm waters, snorkelled off the shore and ate beautiful meals and of course a few drinks.
It was a fantastic way to end such a great holiday. Little did I know just how many times I would return to one of my favourite places in the world “Fiji” in the future. (More blogs about Fiji coming up).