Saturday, 24 December 2016

Cruise Log: Gizo & Njari Island

#expeditioncruising .

L´Austral – Saturday 24th December 2016
Gizo & Njari Island
Western Province, Solomon Islands

L'Austral at anchor off Gizo (Justin Friend)
By Justin Friend

Since leaving Rabaul we have been steaming full ahead into the territorial waters of the Solomon Islands. Once shared between the German and the British, the German claim to the islands was relinquished during the aftermath of WWI. Independence came to the Solomons in 1978 and after a period of turmoil and civil war in the late 1990s and early 2000s today the islands have returned to their peaceful ways, a lifestyle that has earnt their nation the nickname of the “happy isles”.

To allow for official clearance procedures we were required this morning to make a port call in the town of Gizo on the island of Ghizo, the administrative capital of the Western Province of the Solomons.

Being Christmas eve the small outpost of Gizo was very quiet. In addition, a large portion of the population are Seventh Day Adventists, and being today was Saturday and Saturday is their Sabbath, there were very few carvers and merchants selling their wares. However casually wandering the streets we were still able to get a good feel for this sleepy little township. Lining the main street were multiple “Chinese stores”, the generic name given across Melanesia to the general stores started by early Chinese migrants that sell everything from hardware to underwear under the one roof.

The PT-109 bar, named after the patrol boat captained by one John F Kennedy that was sunk just offshore from Ghizo during WWII, had even sold out of beer, apparently the aftermath of a giant pre-Christmas party the night before our arrival. But Gizo served its purpose of meeting the arrival regulations in the Solomon Islands and with Solomon Island’s officials onboard now this allowed us to move offshore slightly to Njari island to spend the afternoon enjoying the environment around us.
Many of you will know the original itinerary plan was to visit Kennedy Island. Kennedy Island was the island where the crew from PT-109, including JFK, hid from the Japanese and were eventually rescued through the efforts of an Australian Coastwatcher.

However Kennedy Island today is owned by the Gizo Hotel and is currently being turned into a waterside bar and restaurant, and apart from essentially being a construction zone, much of the offshore reef has been destroyed. So we sought out another island as a substitute and by all reports Njari was the perfect substitute. Those same afternoon black clouds that have appeared almost every day once again made an appearance, although the rain itself held off. From all reports the coral and marine life here was impressive with many of you commenting “the best so far” in describing the reef experience this afternoon.

Being a French ship we followed the European tradition of celebrating Christmas on the evening of December 24th. Many of you participated in a special pre-dinner Christmas concert in the theatre, which included performances from our younger fellow guests as the “Cool Kids” performing their “Kids-mas” dance presentation, and our fellow guests from Taiwan performing Christmas carols in English and Mandarin together with a traditional Taiwanese song for our entertainment. But the main event was of course our Christmas Dinner, with the executive chef, his entire galley team and of course the restaurant team presenting us with yet another scrumptious feast to cap of our first day in the Solomon Islands.