Well, we are finally off the boat. It was enjoyable and we came away with alot of fun, new memories and experiences. However, being greatly outnumbered by people old enough to be our parents, or even grandparents, was an interesting experience in itself. We love ya, but 29 days stuck on a boat with ya is beyond our limit. Now we know! I’ll probably post a full write up of what we thought of Holland America Cruise Line in a future post, but first, I have to catch you up on everything between Hawaii and now! (I’m technically skipping what we did in Hawaii on this trip because I plan on writing a post solely on the Hawaiian Islands and what to do there).
Pago Pago, American Samoa
Five days of straight sailing from Hawaii took us to our first port (pronounced “Pango Pango”) outside of the 50 states. It was a loooong 5 days of cruising, but thankfully the seas were calm the entire way. American Samoa is the easternmost island of the group and has been Americanized since April 17, 1900. The islands of western Samoa have been controlled by Germany, Great Britain, and New Zealand in the past, before finally declaring their own independence in 1962. We hiked a section of the WWII Heritage Trail in the morning before we were rained out. While out exploring, we encountered “wild mountain chickens” and friendly stray dogs around the island.
There is a rich culture here and the Samoans are a very resourceful and happy people. Although it is becoming a lost art among younger generations, women get together to weave fine grass mats for weddings, funerals, and various ceremonies. It is a very labor intensive process that takes days to prepare the leaves, dry them, and finally start weaving. Large mats can take up to a year to weave with many women working on them, but the results are amazing. The practice of weaving can be found among all the Pacific Island nations today. We stopped into the National Park Visitor Center to learn more about the park (and get Emily a lapel pin for her collection). Sam was the Park Ranger on duty and we talked to him for almost 45 minutes about Samoa’s history, culture, and the park. We learned that the US National Park Service doesn’t actually own the land. It’s the only National Park in their system that leases the land (and ocean) from the native people, which we thought was pretty awesome. Oh, and right before the ship left port we saw what looked like large birds circling and making a racket in the trees right across the road from the port. Well, they turned out to be GIANT fruit bats! They were eating bread fruit which is common in the tropics. For size comparison, they are larger than your average beach seagull. They are everywhere in the islands and we have actually seen them in the trees in the suburbs of Sydney as well.
Suva is the largest city on the main island of Fiji. Very busy roads, no traffic lights, and they drive on the opposite side of the road. A little hectic but survivable. We went on our own walking tour of Suva to see some of the sights and to find free internet. Let’s just say there is no such thing as “free internet”… not even at McDonald’s. Man, where is a Starbucks when you need one? We walked through a botanical garden and to the Fiji Museum, but decided not take a tour ($10 Fiji). Stopped at ATM and took out $20 Fiji for afternoon snacks, their money is beautiful and we decided to keep a $5 note as a souvenir.
We were on the hunt for our favorite drink Boba (Bubble) Tea from Thailand. A Fijian lady overheard us asking for directions and said she knew what we were looking for and could lead the way. A little skeptical at first, we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. Her name was Mila and she is a kindergarten teacher. Following Mila to the city mall called Tappoo City, she showed us to the food court and there was a little kiosk that offered Boba Milk Tea. Exactly what we were craving!
While enjoying our drinks, Mila told us about herself and her family, and we told her about our trip and showed her some of our Bible Literature. She knew of Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of the local Kingdom Halls, but not much more than that. We informed her that we were headed to the local branch office for a tour that afternoon and asked if she’d like to join us. And she did! It was such a treat to bring her with us. The Fiji Branch houses around 80 full-time volunteers and mainly focuses on translation work for 6 languages that are spoken in the surrounding islands. The printing is then completed in either Australia or Japan, depending on the type of publication. There is ALOT of unassigned territory in Fiji and the surrounding islands. So if anyone wants to expand their ministry to a tropical island nation, Fiji is the place to go!
We thoroughly enjoyed getting a tour and meeting some of our “extended spiritual family.” Mila seemed to really enjoy learning more about the work being done and meeting some Fijian Jehovah’s Witnesses as well. We hope to visit them all again one day soon!
After the tour we made our way back towards the cruise ship and wandered through a market full of fresh fruits, vegetables, taro, exotic flowers, and the leaves used in making grass mats. It had been overcast all day, but the rain finally cut loose and was coming down in buckets. We said goodbye to Mila and put on our rain ponchos. We were so grateful we decided to pack them in our backpack before leaving the ship!
Dravuni Island, Fiji
The day started off rainy and did not look promising for a snorkel, but we went out on the first tender boat anyways. Dravuni Island is tiny, being approximately 1 mile long and less than a 1/2 mile wide. We met some new JW friends on the ship, Bryan & Catherine, and their nephew Zeppelin, who moved to Tijuana Mexico 12 years ago to help in the field ministry. We also met a young guy named Dave who was on the cruise headed home to Australia. They joined us snorkeling and it didn’t take long for the sun to come out and light up the turquoise blue water. We have seen some pretty amazing creatures while diving or snorkeling in the past, but these waters teemed with life! We saw giant clams, blue starfish, sea cucumbers, lobster, tons of juvenile reef fish and coral every color of the rainbow. After snorkeling, Zeppelin, Dave, Michael and I hiked to the top of the island and took in the amazing view. On our hike up to the top there were coconut trees and mango trees everywhere. Afterwards, we got back into the water to cool off one last time and check out more of the marine life before heading back to the ship.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
We decided to only do one excursion through the cruise for budget reasons and it was here in Vanuatu. Technically we were supposed to hike up to a waterfall, but since they have had extreme drought for the past 8 months, there wasn’t an actual flowing waterfall. For this reason, they gave us a small refund since the excursion would be modified slightly. On the excursion we hiked up to a high point on one side of the island to take in the views and swam in a refreshing spring-fed pool. On the hike up we saw more coconut trees, breadfruit trees, taro, and tapioca plants. We wished we could have spent more time here, but it was a short stay on the schedule. Guess we will just have to come back some day!
Easo, Lifou, New Caledonia
The small village of Easo is located on Lifou, part of New Caledonia. French is the primary language on the islands of New Caledonia. This small island offered up some beautiful snorkeling and picturesque scenery. We napped on the beach after we had taken a walk up to an old church with a beautiful cliff overlook. It’s a small population on this island and many of the locals lived in grass huts that were very well built. We have learned the simple life is a happy life.
Noumea, New Caledonia
If you plan on visiting New Caledonia, it would be a good idea to brush up on some basic French word and phrases. We made it around town just fine on our own since most people speak English as a second language here, but it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more fluent. After taking a shuttle bus from the busy port to a tourist center, we grabbed a map of the city and headed out to explore. There was a strong sea breeze that day which made the weather near perfect, with bright blue skies and warm temperatures. Definitely wear a hat and sun screen while traveling in the Pacific Islands. We are used to Florida sun beating down on us like a heat lamp, but out here with a constant sea breeze you can’t always “feel the burn.” We developed tropical tans even with applying sunscreen diligently along our way. We really enjoyed using the French currency here and kept about $1.65 CFP as souvenirs. We checked out the Museum of New Caledonia (only $2 CFP per person) and learned all about the native culture before French colonization took over, as well as artifacts from New Caledonia and surrounding islands.
We checked out the local market down by the marina, bought some French pastries for lunch, and took advantage of the FREE WIFI that was available all over the city. FINALLY! I guess we are a little spoiled with fast internet and free wifi around every corner.
We had 2 final sea days to Sydney and on the last day we encountered some rough seas. We have been very lucky to have such a smooth sailing this whole time, but on Monday the ship was slamming through 10-12ft swells with winds at 40-50 knots (46-57mph) and wind gusts at 68 knots (80mph). Just a bit windy! Most passengers stayed in their cabins on that last day, ourselves included apart from a couple of onboard events. Like I said, we had a great experience overall, but we were glad to finally get off the boat.
So, I hope you made it here to the end. This was a long one! We only have a few days left here in Sydney before heading to our final destination: New Zealand! Be on the lookout for a post all about our visit to Sydney. It will include everything we did while on short holiday, travel tips on getting around, itinerary and sightseeing recommendations, and of course lots of pictures of the beautiful city.
Take care and thanks for reading!