Friday, 30 March 2012

Aboard Hapag-Lloyd MS HANSEATIC in the South Seas


Expedition Südsee (South Seas) from Tahiti to Fiji 

Day 2: Huahine, Society Islands

One of the greatest thrills of expedition cruising is turning up on some of the most out-of-the-way locations. Hapag-Lloyd's Expedition Südsee is one of those rare itineraries where many of the seldom, if ever, visited locations are included. 

One day out from our embarkation point, Papeete, and we're tying up at a tiny wharf at theport of Fare on Huahine, the smaller, somewhat forgotten neighbour of Bora Bora in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Reminiscent of the otherwise overlooked ports in the Marqueses I saw aboard Aranui3, this little village barely stirs even when a relatively massive vessel reverse parks on their meagre wharf. By the end of the day, local kids are climbing the mooring lines and plummeting 10m into the harbour amid whelps of fun. 

The island still relies on tourism to bolster its economy along with agriculture and fishing. The dominant accommodation is family-owned B&B, perfect for this sized island of just more than 6000 inhabitants. For getting around I chose not to join one of the pre-arranged tours and just get on a scooter (4800PF, about $40) and get lost. In three hours I'd circled both Huahines – Nui and Iti. The two-part island is joined by a single bridge that crosses the magnificent Baie de Maroe which locals claim is the most beautiful in the Pacific. Sure, it makes the shortlist. 

As I circle the island on the surprisingly good road, I tick off the sights: the ancient archaeological sites and tidal fish traps, pearl farm, vanilla farm, surf beach and site of the intriguingly named sacred blue-eyed eel, revered by the locals. Out of morbid curiosity, I also stop by the derelict Sofitel Heiva, once a premium over-water destination resort, but now a woeful shambles pounded by the elements. A groundsman, however, still keeps the lawns and gardens in perfect trim. 

Unfortunately our brief stay precludes investigating some of the other attractions that include underwater shark feeding and the circle tour of the islands by jet-ski. It's a popular spot for scuba divers and cruising yachties as well as serious 'Course Hawaiki Nui' canoe racers. 

After a busy day touring, HANSEATIC's 150 passengers sail away into the setting sun, champagne flutes waving, amid a Tannoy rendition of the ship's theme song; kind of a cross between a Munich Beer Hall sing-along and a patriotic anthem in old German style. After all, she has a her own distinguished maritime heritage to sing about. 

Next: the Cook Islands 

Read a more detailed account of HANSEATIC and her features in next week's Cruise Weekly.