This is the cruise that started the whole trip to New Zealand and Australia. We signed on for the cruise and later decided to make it part of a longer trip. Now with our exploration of New Zealand and Australia behind us we are exploring another part of the world. Our cruise started in Fiji on Saturday, May 31 in Lautoka, Fiji. Leaving Lautoka at sunset we sail for a day and a half to the island nation of Vanuatu. Once known as the New Hebrides Islands, this group of many islands is sparsely inhabited with many small villages on each island. We visited three islands starting in the north at the island of Ambrym and traveling south to Efate and then Tanna. At Ambrym we were stationed offshore near a small village. Known as the Black Island for its practice of black magic and its black sandy beaches, Ambrym has a population of 8000 on an island about 20 miles in length. There are two volcanoes on the island and we were planning to visit one of those volcanoes in a driving tour and hike to the volcano rim. That tour was canceled so we missed our chance to visit the island. There was one tour that did go ashore for a welcoming ceremony which included a native dance which features custom made masks. Those who were on the tour said it was quite an impressive ceremony.
At the island group known as Efate, we put in at Port Vila, the capital of these islands. These islands are like a state in Vanuatu. This is a commercial center for the islands and has shops and stores that you would expect in a poor nation. We signed up for a tour that included a visit to the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary on Tranquility Island. We were driven in vans through the city to a small harbor and transported by small boat to a larger sailboat. From there we were transported across Havana Harbor to Tranquility Island. On the way across Havana Harbor we are told that the harbor hosted many Allied warships during WW II, serving as a servicing and replenishment base for those ships. The harbor was named for the British warship, of the same name. During our visit to the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary we learn about their mission to prevent the extinction of these beautiful turtles from this part of the Pacific Ocean. We were served a barbeque featuring local fruits, vegetables, breads and meat. Following lunch those who wanted could snorkel the reef just offshore of the island. We took the boat ride to the reef and spent a half hour snorkeling an amazing reef. It wasn’t huge but it sported an amazing array of coral and a wide variety of reef fish.
Tanna was our third and last island in the Vanuatu islands. As we continue south the weather gets cooler. This is after all the southern hemisphere and we are weeks away from the beginning of winter. The voyage from Port Vila to Tanna had been a rough ride with the ship rolling constantly. At Tanna we were not in port but were stationed off shore with service to the shore on tenders. We had signed on for a beach day with tender transportation to the beach. That tour was canceled due to rough seas. Operation of the tenders for the remaining tours was very slow due to the high swell. Even with two tenders running it took until noon to get everyone who had a scheduled tour to the shore. Shortly after noon one of the tenders broke down so the entire effort was shifted to getting everyone on board. We spent the day relaxing on board the ship.