Friday, 18 November 2011

A Dose of Real Aloha

Safari Explorer carries just 36 pax
by Roderick Eime, Adventure Cruise Guide

Vessel: Safari Explorer, 36 pax
Location: Molokai, Hawai'i

"Cruise Ships not welcome!" "Cruise Ships Go Home!" You'd think with placard-wielding protesters and chants like this greeting you at the wharf, you'd washed up on some hostile, alien shore. The truth was quite the opposite. Here on the Hawai'ian island of Molokai traditional cruise ships would not be welcome. There's no infrastructure to speak of and it's a shallow little port with no tender access or embarkation facilities. Heck, there isn't even a McDonalds or set of traffic lights. There is absolutely no danger of seeing a Carnival or Celebrity ship here any time soon.

Diving the famous Cathedral on Lānaʻi
"It's their right," Thadeus, our guide and a local for over 40 years, tells us,"and it's not that we disagree with them. They just don't understand you're not a cruise ship. "

Molokai is home to around 7000 permanent residents who live a blissfully remote, traditional Hawai'ian laid-back lifestyle. There's organic farming of coffee, root crops and frangipani flowers. What little tourism there is consists of hiking, dinky museums and cultural experiences. Since the other Hawai'ian Islands have succumbed to a westernised, somewhat sterile, mass market tourism the imperative to preserve one island with an unadulterated Polynesian persona is strong – and the locals all agree on this. The issue is not banning tourism, it's managing it sustainably and respectfully. Small groups with low impact and high relative yield is exactly what Molokai needs - and the community leaders know that.

Native Hawaiian, Barbara-Ann,
enlightens visitors to Maui
Aboard American Safari Cruises' (ASC) tiny 36-passenger vessel, Safari Explorer, we are greeted by a delegation of the most senior Molokai community elders. It's made very clear to us that we are welcome. Each one of us is met with a traditional Hawai'ian 'honi' forehead-to-forehead greeting and a giant bear hug that typifies the sincerity of the Polynesian way of life here.

As every passenger is ferried from the wharf in two minibuses for our day's excursions, we are stopped at the end of the street by a young woman holding a sign that says plainly, "No cruise ships". "Oh, that's my daughter-in-law," says Thadeus with resignation, and with that she beams a big grin and waves back. She approaches the car and leans in to kiss Thadeus. "Good morning! Don't worry, we know you're not a cruise ship!" she says waving us on our way.

The message is clear. Tourism needs to be managed delicately and the ASC offering is exactly that. If each weekly ASC visit was full for the entire five month season, it would equal less than half a regular cruise ship. Our cultural and nature-based experiences are electrifying, or to use the playful local phrase "gives you chicken skin". From the commercial intensity of Waikiki, through the middle ground of Big Island and Maui, there's room for a closely guarded backwater of authenticity - and Molokai is the stronghold. I wonder if there's a 'No Cruise Ships' T-shirt? I want one.

Best known for their Alaska products, ASC's new 7-night Hawai'ian itinerary visits Big Island, Molokai and Maui. For details, contact Ultimate Cruising www.ultimatecruising.com on 1300 662 943