Saturday, 7 February 2009

Blue Lagoon Cruises Historical and Cultural Cruise


By James Shrimpton, specialist cruise writer and former Travel Editor, (AAP)

LAUTOKA, Fiji, AAP - A sparkling greeting from locals ashore awaits the infrequent shiploads of tourists which venture around Fiji’s distant northeastern islands, far from regular sea routes.

From scores of villages and isolated homes, using hand-mirrors reflecting the sun’s rays, they flash signals of welcome directed to passengers and crew,

Aboard the cruising ships, those with similar mirrors respond in kind, while crew members on the bridge may use other reflecting implements such as silver-coloured CDs.

Blue Lagoon Cruises (BLC) sends one of its four small cruising vessels on seven-day northeast-bound voyages three or four times a year, in aqddition to its regular three- or four-day sailings from Lautoka, Fiji’s second largest city. around the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups off the northwest coast of Viti Levu, the main island.

Our "historical & cultural" cruise was on the 1,228-ton catamaran Fiji Princess, carrying up to 72 passengers, which joined the fleet three years ago from the African side of the Indian Ocean where she operated as Pearl of the Seychelles in and around that island republic.

Atmosphere on board is laid-back Fijian friendly, with crew and passengers on a first-name basis from the opening get-together in the ship's lounge when it was hand-shakes all round, from skipper Saulo Tuiloma (who also plays guitar in the ship’s band!) and cruise director “Big Joe” to the ever-attentive stewards of both sexes.

On the cruise were a good mix of travellers from Australia, New Zealand, England, the United States, Canada, Austria, Germany, Italy and Sweden.

All cabins are compact, en-suite and have TV carrying recent DVD movies.

The program mixed excursions ashore to white-sand beaches for swimming, snorkeling and diving with informative and entertaining looks at the history and culture of some of the more remote of Fiji’s 322 islands and their people - preceded by night-before talks from local experts Allan Griffin from Blue Lagoon and Fiji-born Alan Roxburgh.

On its northeastern voyage, Fiji Princess was also a seaborne aid project, delivering to needy villages goods donated by BLC and Australian groups such as Rotary and Variety Club Queensland.

They included 20 sets of bunk-beds and mattresses for weekly boarders at a school at faraway Druadrua on the north coast of Fiji's northern and second largest island Vanua Levu, and items such as books, pencils, teachers’ aids, toothbrushes and toothpaste to other village schools.

(Druadrua head teacher Mosese Cabecuva touched many passengers' hearts when he described how his boys practised rugby using coconuts because of a lack of footballs.)

BLC has been one of the pioneers of Fiji tourism since it began virtually from scratch in the early 1950s by New Zealand stockbroker Trevor Withers after he abandoned plans with Australian aviator partner Harold Gatty.