Sail into a world that few have ever experienced; idyllic islands and isolated villages where unique time-honoured traditions and elaborately costumed dancers welcome us into their world. Sail from Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, to discover the beauty of the outer Solomon Islands. Relax as our ship glides into secluded bays, and takes us to remote oceanic islands where the art of traditional navigation lives today. On Santa Isabel the rhythms of life continue little changed, with daily life centered on the village and family. Malaita is culturally rich, the traditional currency, Malaitan shell-money, is still made on the island and is used as a dowry, and worn as a status symbol.
Vanuatu has produced a kaleidoscope of cultures and more than 100 indigenous languages. With over 80 habitable islands, islanders have closely guarded their own cultures and languages. Our expedition embraces some of these cultures and languages and offers a window into the happiest country in the world.
Our journey offers some of the greatest underwater experiences in the world, with an abundance of marine life and coral gardens that draws you in to explore a magical underwater world. During frequent snorkel excursions throughout the expedition everybody will have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty beneath the waves.
For birders this itinerary offers once in a lifetime species on remote islands where few have been before, endemic birdlife such as the Solomon Sea Eagle or the Vanikoro White-eye may be seen. The birding potential is exceptional and to allow birders to maximise the opportunities on the expedition there will be an optional specialised birding programme with customised excursions.
A picture postcard paradise awaits us as we uncover the Secrets of Melanesia.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), all on board ship accommodation with meals and all shore excursions and activities excluding optional specialised birding and kayaking programmes. Programme of lectures by noted naturalists.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas, extensions and travel insurance.
Birding Supplement $450 pp
Kayaking Supplement $915 pp
(All prices are per person in USD)
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
21 - 31 October 2014
For a Species LIst from this departure, please click here.
21 October 2014
Honiara Guadacanal, Solomon Islands
9 degrees.25’36 S 159 degrees.56’59 E
Warm air, warm smiles and music with Melanesian flair welcomed us to Honiara, as we sped through Customs and Immigration, met our Heritage Expeditions guide and were whisked to the Breakaway Café. From here we would take our Zodiac transfer to board the Spirit of Enderby, joining those who had already travelled on the first part of the Melanesia voyage or those who had arrived ahead of us and were already on board.
Once aboard the ship our global group of passengers gathered for introductions to staff and ship, for safety and Zodiac briefings as well as to learn our plans for the expedition, particularly the next day. “It’s an expedition” said our Expedition Leader, Aaron Russ. Excitement and anticipation was high as we were all keen to experience new places and new opportunities as we made our way through the Solomon Islands into Vanuatu.
Dinner and some stargazing at the Southern sky was quickly followed by bed as for many the time change from our homes to Honiara made the body believe the time was somewhat different to actual. Now we were on ‘planet ocean’ where our inner equilibrium balances with the slight oceanic swell. Let the expedition begin!
Birders Bulletin - The birders continuing from Melanesia Part One had an early morning start for a walk on Mt Austen and were rewarded with many good birds like the brilliantly coloured Yellow-bibbed Lory, the skulking Buff-headed Coucal and a very cooperative Ultramarine Kingfisher. In mixed songbird flocks we saw the Guadalcanal endemic Black-headed Myzomela plus Chestnut-bellied Monarch, Steel-blue Flycatcher and Midget Flowerpecker.
22 October 2014
San Jorge and Santa Isabel Islands
8degrees 29’11 S 159 Degrees 43’55
Rocked by an ever so slight ocean we crossed to San Jorge and the Santa Isabel Islands, arriving off Utuha Island in Thousand Ship Harbour in the morning. The early riser birders headed off first thing, while we newbies on board learnt the drill for snorkelling before donning our swimsuits and being whisked ashore by Zodiac to undertake our first snorkel in the warm waters. Inshore rich waters showed a strong growth of Sargassum, while further out there was an interesting range of soft corals, moray eels, cleaner fish and schools of cardinal fish for us study. The land owning chief had a family living on the island and many of us met with the friendly locals as we walked the tropical island paradise beach.
After a delicious lunch back on board, courtesy of our well organised chefs Lindsay, Sy and Cath who had also enjoyed the morning ashore, we were soon back in the Zodiacs for our next landing at Lepi village on Santa Isabel.
Our flotilla of Zodiacs arrived at Lepi where we were all welcomed ashore and ushered to the Canoe House, which is used as the meeting house. Bamboo made into pan pipes ranging from small to large hand held through to upright stationery instruments were played enthusiastically producing a distinct beat and rhythm for the male dancers in traditional bark and pandanus clothing. Shields of the ‘Nocturnal’ boys with skull and frigate bird motifs spoke to us of past eras where animistic culture and head hunting featured. Arriving in a sea of green cloth, the women’s presentation included the higher range of musical notes and more humour.
As the distinctive beat faded we were invited to explore the village, which we all did enthusiastically, talking with the locals to learn more about their everyday activities and way of life. Hornbills flying overhead attested to a diverse biology respected by the community or at least not hunted to extreme. All too soon it was time to farewell this warm and welcoming people and return to Spirit of Enderby.
Birders Bulletin – An impromptu Zodiac cruise allowed the birders a chance to get close looks at some widespread birds like Great Crested Tern, Pacific Reef Heron and also our first Nankeen Night Heron. We were delighted to find the area of Lepi Village to have fantastic birding and tallied many Cardinal Lory, Solomons Cockatoo and were especially pleased to see several White-billed Crows plus and Ultramarine Kingfisher.
A smile says a thousand words – it uses less muscles than a frown and gives happiness. And to smile with your eyes and mouth in response to the beaming faces of the children at Lepi was contagious – we will long remember them for their joy so willingly shared.
23 October 2014
Kwai Islands – Ngongosila Island, Malaita Island
8 degrees 46.012 S / 160 degrees 5.53 E
We arose after a gentle night at sea, our tropical paradise for today lay like emeralds across the glistening ocean. The local villagers met us on the beach in the morning where they had made a welcome hut adjacent to their selected snorkel area. Intricate shell work was the feature of the handcrafts. Our Expedition Leader Aaron and Marine Specialist Connor had selected a different snorkel site which proved to be extensive, richly diverse in corals and fish and easily accessed from the beach. White Bonnet, orange finned, and Clark’s Anemone fishes were some of the highlights. A small school of Tiera Batfish also provided some great photo opportunities and as the wind dropped throughout the morning, the sea’s surface cast a perfect reflection of the corals below much to the photographer’s delight. It was a privilege to witness the world through the window of my mask.
The Spirit of Enderby steamed to Ngongosila Island during lunch and the Zodiacs soon deposited us at the landing steps where we were met by locals who walked us through the village. We gathered under the trees to enjoy the traditional local welcome. The men dressed in grass-like skirts and accompanied by a tree log drum performed a range of dances, many similar to those we would see performed by women in other villages.
Moving through the high density accommodation on the artificially enhanced island we arrived to a sandy meeting area where women were ready to show us the bridal tradition of mat walking crossing from your single life into marriage. The enactment was accompanied by much hilarity, singing and symbolism through the mat pathway. The women demonstrated the sweeping to clear the path and the support in the sisterhood of women allowed us more than a glimpse into their world beyond the welcome performance. In honour of our visit the day was declared a holiday with many school children joining the crowd and many people coming over to the island for the day. The joy, enthusiasm and happiness so evident in these people who live in a very different world to ours made me wonder who is really civilised.
With late afternoon rain threatening we bade our farewells. As we departed I wondered whether our visit would become part of their story telling, as indeed it will in ours.
Birders Bulletin - An early morning start had the birders ashore to travel along the trans-island road of Malaita. It was a good chance to see the interior of the island and although heavily deforested, there were still many birds to be seen. The endemic Malaita White-eye was perhaps the most interesting and we also enjoyed excellent views of Solomon’s Sea Eagle, Pied Goshawk, Chestnut-bellied Monarch and Yellow-bibbed Lorys.
24 October 2014
Star Harbour, San Cristobal
10 degrees ’48’12 S, 162 de 17’38 E
Awakening in a new destination each day is just one of the joys of expedition cruising. Today we were entranced by the many armed safe anchorage of Star Harbour which has previously welcomed Queen Elizabeth and now us. The birders were soon ashore for their excursion.
We travelled by Zodiac along the winding waterway amongst full height mangrove forest to the streams end where the only way ashore was to plunge into the water for the promised wet landing. A steady stream of people followed the watery stream rushing to the inland or seaward side of the peninsula depending on which side of the saddle we stood. Our arrival to the seaward side was marked by warriors rushing along the path, fearsome in their charge, mud paint and calls.
The women came forward to welcome us with song and dance on arrival at the village green, which was in fact, a ‘sand green’. The notes and variations within the songs change from place to place but the rhythm remains and the enthusiasm and pride in each culture is evident. Suzanne had talked about traditional tattooing and today we met a lady of indeterminate age, perhaps 45, who had been tattooed as a teenager. The zigzag brown pattern across her cheeks only faintly showed, unlike the inks of today’s multi coloured designs. The seaward breeze, waving coconut palms and exposed reef with breakers on the outer reef line encouraged us to wander along the beach or pathways towards the cliffs. Many locals joined us on our walk and talked about their village, their life, their experiences and the joys of surf riding on locally made boards - boys only!
As I walked the beach path I met Daphne who told me she was the local kindergarten teacher, an unpaid position but one that she relished. Her belief was that education is the way of the future, her willingness to give of her time – humbling. MW
Later we returned to our Zodiacs and headed out of the mangrove forest to land on the arrival steps directly in front of the local canoe house at Ng Mungha village. The significance of this building was marked by a traditional totem pole on each of the four corners, with three facing inwards and one outwards. Exuberant groups of women greeted us as they presented songs and dances from their village. Interestingly I think we detected the different local interpretations between this and the beach village. The uniqueness of the head gear with flowers pierced on the end of coconut palms marked a distinct creative change.
Birders Bulletin - The birders had an exploratory morning around Namugha village and recorded a nice selection of the many birds that are endemic to Makira Island - Sooty Myzomela, Makira Honeyeater, Makira Starling and Makira Cicadabird. The best sighting was a flock of 13 Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeons sitting out in the open on the top of a large tree. This is a rare bird so it was great to see so many! We also taped in a shy Melanesian Megapode that came briefly on to the trail before seeing us and running back into the forest.
In the mid-afternoon we anchored and took to the Zodiacs looking for a spot to snorkel. However conditions were not good with an on-shore swell and some sea lice along with darkening clouds. As it turned out, these were the harbingers of adventure, as when the skies opened with a deluge the Zodiacs quickly collected everyone from the beach or sea and either wet from the sea or sky we happily sought sanctuary on the Spirit of Enderby. The afternoon birding programme encountered the same conditions and everyone returned wet but happy. After all it is warm rain and we do live on ‘planet ocean’!
Fiddler crabs (Uca vocans) scuttling in the mangrove forest with the males displaying their one giant red claw were a colourful addition to the dark soil and roots of the mangrove forest . AT
25 October 2014
At Sea, Nendo Island
10D 43’15 S, 165D 48’11 E
Our morning aboard was intelligently filled with presentations by Adam on the ‘Birds of Melanesia’, their many groups from tubenoses to pigeons including the rarities he has spent many hours searching for. He was ably assisted by Meghan who has contributed vastly to the images we all enjoyed and learnt from. Suzanne followed next with ‘Myths and Magic of Melanesia’ stimulating us to consider just who has learnt the most - our European style culture intent on one concept, one understanding or the Melanesian understanding of community, individuality, respect for creativity and the fluidity to evolve their traditions.
Captain Dimitry navigated the ship into Graciosa Bay and close to the Lata Wharf on Nendo Island. The coastal trader was alongside busily loading market goods bound for Honiara. Gracing one end of the wharf was a vessel which sank in 1996 due to uneven loading of market goods. Slow deterioration appears the main option for removal. The local crowd transferred their interest from the trading ship to us as we Zodiaced ashore then boarded the two flatbed trucks with moveable wooden cross bar seating so the ride inland could begin. Our ever careful drivers negotiated around the potholes, slowly over the unavoidable bumps and smoothly over the road as we climbed to 200 metres above sea level past well tended gardens, stacked milled timber and lush forest.
Leaving our chariots we gathered at the entrance to the inland village of Noipe for a warrior challenge (which included some arrows being fired) and were then led onto the village meeting area by the chiefs, village elders and dancers. A feature of Nendo is the bride money made from Cardinal Myzomela feathers. Our cultural programme showed how this was made commencing with the trapping of a male cardinal which is tied to a twig plastered with sticky resin; his singing attracts other males to defend their territory only to be trapped themselves. Their prized feathers are plucked and the birds released (survival rate unknown). The coils are measured in fathoms and we were fortunate to see one dancer attired with a wide band of feathers coiled as a coiffure on her head, while others had a pin of feathers as a reminder of our visit.
Traditional dancing, food and weaving featured in our village experience. Adam was soon away with a group of birders in the protected forest surrounding the village.
Birders Bulletin - Some early morning sea-birding turned up Tropical Shearwaters and the recently described Magnificent Petrel. The group had an afternoon walk in the lovely forests around Noipe and saw the endemic Santa Cruz White-eye, White-throated Whistlers, several Buff-banded Rails running across the road and the poorly known Temotu Flying Fox.
Later as the rain came bucketing down, tarpaulins arrived to provide a roof for us to sit under on the back of the trucks, though most were so wet already that covering the legs was a welcome treat without sitting right underneath. We left the village and more of the group climbed on as we travelled along the road. We all arrived back in Lata with happy memories and quickly transferred back aboard the ship which departed Gracoisa Bay under a pink hued sunset.
I hope I don’t ever get Alzheimers for today was a day I want never to forget. Everything from the “bus” ride in to the “bus” ride back was spectacular. To be approached by a young Mum wanting to be a penpal was the “jewel in the crown” for me. MW
During the evening recap we had a great introduction to traditional voyaging canoe making on the Duff Islands from canoe builder William who is joining us for the voyage to the Duff Islands. This was followed by a presentation from Dr Konrad on the impacts of World War II on Melanesia.
26 October 2014
9d 53’44 S, 167D 10”13 E
Clear skies greeted early risers as we steamed towards Taumako in the Duff Islands, where the ragged outlines of a tectonic ridgeline were silhouetted against the morning sky – very different geology from what we had encountered so far. Spray rising from the reef and shore line did not bode well for our morning landing and Aaron’s visit ashore across the reef at low tide confirmed the challenges.
In true expedition mode, our programme flipped to morning snorkelling with our local guides taking us to Obelisk Island for likely snorkel spots. Visibility was a stunning 25-30m, but we found that the islander’s estimate of depth being 5 metres was closer to our 15 metres! After checking the blowhole on the northern tip of the island we made our way to a more protected reef front. Despite warnings of a strong surge onto the reef we set off from the Zodiacs across a rich underwater world of corals and reef fish. The continuing diversity of textures and colours within the coral often appears more varied than the land vegetation, with the growth styles adding to the crevices and gullies where marine life can find shelter, feed or speed through on their way to the next coral head. The fish life was again different to the previous snorkel experiences from this voyage, with grey reef whalers, white-tipped and black-tipped reef sharks adding to the excitement. Our local guides along with Connor and Conrad rushed to Gretchen’s assistance when the waves caught and landed her on the reef, affecting a speedy rescue for her back to the Zodiac. We surfed the oceanic swells back to Spirit of Enderby, escorted by flying fish skimming over the waves
The afternoon saw us boarding Zodiacs once again to travel in convoy through the reef surrounding Taumako and across the shallows, past islands built up on the reef with coral blocks to give them more height above the sea and take them out of the mosquito zone of the main island. The almost surreal nature of these islands floating on the reef, backed by relatively high hills covered in verdant vegetation was extended by our landing to meet some locals. Having learnt the protocol to move onto a village dance ground by following the welcoming leaders we quickly arrived at the meeting ground and spread out around the edges to watch the presentation. Accompanied by sticks drumming on an upturned canoe we saw mixed female and male groups, female or male only and a wide range of attire enhancing the change in musical tempo as we have moved into a Polynesian outlier island where it was almost possible to feel the hips starting to sway. Palm fans featured as an addition and the degree of ‘hopping’ from one foot to the other throughout the dance was new in our Melanesian dance odyssey.
Trade items appeared with paddles, wooden bowls, woven baskets and some brightly adorned kete (bags) on display along with clam shell adzes. The volcanic rock plug immediately behind the village proved too tempting as some people decided to climb the lookout. Ancestral tradition has it that this lookout is a seat of the Gods, which is not hard to imagine as a local promontory on a land that is geologically slowly sinking. Our interaction with the villagers was highlighted through our reaction to music. As the beatbox started up, Julie and Kate danced to the rhythm and within minutes all the children had streamed across the field to watch, giggle or join in with the apparition of white people dancing.
This island is also home to a seafaring revival of outrigger style classic canoes using navigation by the stars and oceanic currents and sea swells. We were unable to see the full size canoe on site but it was good to know that the tradition is being passed and that the knowledge gained by these peoples of the South Pacific will continue through future generations. Re-crossing the reef and out through the deep water entrance we boarded our home away from home. What would it be like to live on this island, how would we adapt to the different pace and all the aspects of daily life?
Birders Bulletin - During a brief exploration of the village area, the birders were rewarded with excellent sightings of the Palm Lorikeet, a bird endemic to only a few small islands in the area and normally very difficult to see.
Swells generated by storms radiate around the globe. Our small boat journey today over these swells was as if the Zodiacs were stuck to the sea surface, hill and valleys of ocean where at times we rode high above the other boats or lost sight of them and the ship all together.
27 October 2014
Vanikoro also called Vanikolo
11d 39’49 S, 166D 58’12 E
Vanikoro Island loomed shrouded in cloud on the horizon. Captain Dimitry took us into relative shelter before we clambered aboard the Zodiacs for an exploration through Navaganero Pass into a sheltered and at times surprisingly deep inner water way. Mangroves were thick on much of the shoreline whilst the hillsides were gradated in green, the changes in colour showing the plant changes. Meghan soon spotted a tree cloaked in bats, or flying foxes. Manta ray, reef sharks and numerous small fish flitted across the shallows but the reefs were the highlight of the almost inner caldera as we found hotspots across the bay. Turning back towards Nambene Reef we caught glimpses of Mt Popokia, the highest peak on the island. Disturbingly the sound of a chainsaw rang out across the waters. We hoped it was just a local looking for timber for a fire and not the start of timber exports from this area which has no infrastructure.
Our Zodiac drivers and staff including Costa braved the shallows to take us across to an island of mangroves; just why we were going there was soon revealed as a monument came into view. The apparent removal of a metal plaque did not prevent us from understanding that this structure was built to commemorate the French expedition of La Perouse. Built in 2005 this memorial replaces an earlier structure, given the effects of worms in the wood and the loss of some of the roof boards, one would wonder when a replacement will again be needed. Astrolabe and other French words across the map remain as signposts of past French influence.
Our flotilla diverted shoreward on our return run through the pass and we were soon welcomed at Usili Village by Godfrey and members of his extended family. They proudly showed us their gardens and pigs as Suzanne explained the cultivation and use of the produce. The forest around their home has been self protected allowing us to see the full plant diversity. There were five varieties of flowering orchids alone, including the perfumed green and purple Vanikoro Orchid. We noticed that they grow close to the sea, so there must be regular rainfall (which we experienced) and there was little or no effect from salt spray so the winds must be light.
Birders Bulletin - A morning spent walking around Usili village was productive for the birders and they saw the recently described Vanikoro White-eye as well the Vanikoro Flycatcher, Rufous Fantail and Melanesian Whistler. There were also large numbers of Vanikoro Flying Fox about, a species that was feared possibly extinct until found here earlier this year on a previous visit by the Spirit of Enderby.
The birders returned from their excursion and we all managed to see the fantail, fly catcher and heron variant cloaked in white feathers.
Back on board we enjoyed lunch while the weather changed and the rain come through. The rain stopped in time for our afternoon programme and we were off snorkelling. What a site for snorkelling it turned out to be! Our experienced team of Connor, Conrad, Meghan, Adam, Suzanne and Aaron were checking out species they had not seen growing to such great sizes before. Vertical walls of coral were decorated with gorgonian fans, black corals and hundreds of purple fairy basslets, while closer inshore, the reef edge was punctuated with numerous caves and hidey holes for hatchetfish and flutemouth. Chef Lindsay performed an underwater ballet and everyone delighted in the colours, variety and size of the coral and fish life. The visibility was awesome - we looked and watched as life on the reef carried on all around us. Just how clear it was became apparent when closer inspection of a fish or coral was needed and the usual duck dive did not get you as close as expected.
Who would have thought from never having snorkelled before joining in Honiara to plunging off the Zodiac in the ocean and viewing the underwater world around the technicolour reef – brilliant and so many fish! Connor’s symbiosis presentation complemented our underwater experience with a reality check on just how marine animals work together, and perhaps how we could work together as people.
Our evening recap focused on Vanikoro, firstly its mammalian life in the form of bats and secondly its marine habitat with a feature on corals by Connor extolling its richness in comparison to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Galaxea coral, Merulina and purple anthias were highlighted along with Fox Faced rabbit fish – bright yellow with distinctive black and white stripes, which rabbit like kept swimming away every time I got anywhere close! Thirdly we discussed the mangroves. These plants grow in sea water which is 10% salt. Of this water the plants absorb 10% of the salt but only excrete 60% of this salt through a gland in the leaves. As Moshe our botanist said, “how do they survive with the remaining 40% salt in them, or do they rid themselves of this by other as yet undiscovered ways?”
The swell increased as we departed Vanikoro and the Solomon Islands as our course change southward affected the on-board motion. Numbers diminished at dinner and a bouncy night was had by all.
28 October 2014
Vanua Lavau, Banks Island - Sola
13 degrees 51.89 S, 167 degrees 33.45 E
We arrived at Sola in the Banks Island group to meet the local authorities, who were waving a white sheet so Aaron knew where to collect them from. Inspection of our passports and the ships papers quickly established our entry to Vanuatu. The sea conditions prevented us from our chosen landing further north, so in the spirit of expeditioners we turned again to Sola, in hope of better shelter from the prevailing south west swell which it appeared had arisen due to a storm off Australia.
Episode 2 of the BBC South Pacific series aptly named ‘Strange Islands’ screened, highlighting the island wildlife evolution and the impact of introduced mammals from man to rats.
During our afternoon ashore at Sola we divided into three main groups. The trekkers set off with Moshe in search of plants, the culturalists with Suzanne seeking knowledge and understanding of what it means to be Vanuatuan and Adam led the birders on the feathered quest. Accompanied by locals, each group pursued their separate pathways meeting other locals along the way. Sola appeared relatively prosperous and clean, the people were building new houses in both traditional style and concrete. Pupils at the primary and high school were busily taking lessons, the plant life was described in reference to medicinal usage and the birders quickly saw two species of White-eye, Honeyeater, Fantail and a Southern Shrikebill. The chilled out culturalists shared in the kava ceremony and local dancing before we all wandered back to the landing site for our departure.
The local kava is made from Piper methysticum. The root is ground to paste and water added to make a drink, the first taste being offered to the chief in a deferential manner. Its calming effect is best for the afternoon!
Birders Bulletin - A birding walk around the village of Sola was excellent with birds in abundance and easy to observe! Top sighting was numerous Vanuatu Honeyeaters but also much appreciated were the many Vanuatu White-eyes, a Southern Shrikebill and a fruiting tree with about 25 Tanna Fruit Doves in it. Conor’s mimicry on the reef lecture cleared any confusion as to what we did see on the reef – yes there is any number of options for a species to look and still all be the same!
Guide Robert led us on a botanical medicinal tour highlighting the use of the piper leaves used in the kava as treatment for measles. The freshly picked leaves are boiled in water, the brew is left to cool and the affected child is then bathed in the brew. The child must then drip dry to make sure the healing solution stays on the skin, with the treatment to be repeated daily for 3 – 4 days. MW
29 October 2014
Espiritu Santo Island
15D 08 ’00 S 167D 06’56 E
The birders departed at 0430 and headed off to the Vatthe Conservation Area on their daily search for feathered friends in the forest and skies. At a more sedate but still early hour, the non-birders breakfasted and then Zodiaced to Champagne Beach. Our arrival on the pearly white half-moon shaped bay was celebrated with champagne. The early morning beach party included snorkelling on the surprisingly rich reef, floating in the balmy waters and languidly lounging on the sands. How special to be there with no-one else in sight, though word of our arrival eventually spread attracting local traders plying their wares, especially those selling sarongs which fluttered in the breeze.
Birders Bulletin – We had a very early start and a long morning to visit the beautiful Vatthe Conservation Area. The highlight of the successful excursion included amazing views of the endemic Vanuatu Kingfisher and Buff-bellied Monarch. There were lots of other species seen and we enjoyed a very nice lunch in the village by the beach.
When everyone was back aboard we attended Suzanne’s fascinating presentation on ‘Initiation Rites in Melanesia’ in which she passed on insights gleaned over her time with the people of these islands. The actual rites proving manhood proved not for the faint hearted amongst us. Afterwards we enjoyed an early lunch and then went ashore at Oyster Beach for a tour of Luganville. The focus of the day became the impact of World War 11, culminating at Million Dollar Point where the US forces dumped equipment into the sea rather than leave it for the then New Hebrideans to have for free. Infrastructure developed on the island from runways to roads to camps for forces and the supporting services men often seek (such as brothels) appeared in the guide’s presentation as places of great interest. Strangling ficus, epiphytic orchids and buttressed roots were vegetative highlights while fruit such as fresh pineapple, bananas and paw-paw all ripened naturally gave us a true taste of the South Pacific.
We made a speedy return to Oyster Beach and transferred out to the ship to change for our Metevulu Blue Hole expedition where a Zodiac convoy quietly steamed through the ever enclosing forest. The water already stunningly clear in the sea turned to fresh the further upstream we went till we arrived at Metevulu Blue Hole. Everyone had the chance to jump in and several of us missed the buoyancy of the sea, while others swung from the overhanging rope. If you closed your eyes it sounded like a horde of children enjoying the water – some of us never grow up! Flying Fox or Pacific Bats were rustling, flying or swooping through the trees as we cruised back just on dusk to the ship. It had been a day full of surprises, variety and memorable experiences.
30 October 2014
Maskelyne Islands between Sakao and Ulivea Island
16 degrees 30.91 S, 167 degrees 48 .87E
Our overnight steam had brought us to Iles de Maskelyne at the foot of Makakula Island. The extensive reef system surrounding Sakao anda Ulivea Islands looked enticing for our afternoon snorkelling, but first we were to land at Lutes Village for a welcome and customary dance. The Smol or Small Nambas are a sub group of Ni Vanuatu who sheath the penis with a pandanus cloth and dance. The customary male dancers clothed in coconut fibre hats, glued with yam starch and decorated with feathers, plus an obligatory cordyline leaf on their back and decorated in mud. They performed several dances with traditional storylines. The striking changes in rhythm were expressive within the Hot dance, whilst the canoe dance told an intricate story of canoeing, baling out water, following the birds and arriving to land.
We were serenaded by a string band whilst enjoying refreshments and then followed our guides on a walk through the village. Bread ovens, weaving, homes, an accommodation lodge, gardens and the school opened our eyes to the life of a local. The warmth of the welcome and their hospitality, as always, astounded us.
Our final snorkel and beach excursion ashore on Sakao was a delight and included some unexpected encounters including the wasp fish pursued in the shallows by Meghan, numerous black nudibranchs foraging in the seagrass and several moray eels tucked away from the commotion above. All too soon our time ashore was over as we and our Russian crew who had come for a swim returned to the ship for our final briefing. This was followed by the expedition recap of beautiful photographs which was expertly compiled by all the staff and Meghan in particular. After a celebratory final dinner we viewed Connor’s video of the voyage.
Thank you to everyone – the expedition team for their planning and skills, their knowledge and the enthusiasm to share it; the chefs who fed us ever so well each day; the crew for taking us in safety to so many destinations; and especially to each and every traveller for their camaraderie and sense of adventure as we joined together on the inaugural ‘Secrets of Melanesia’.
31 October 2014
Port Vila, Efate
170 degrees 44.26 S, 168 degrees 18.21 E
All too soon the stars faded and we arrived off Efate Island, packed our bags, said farewells, completed an unexpected immigration clearance and headed off on the continuing adventure of our individual lives. Thank you for sailing this ocean of exploration across the islands of the Pacific scattered like the stars of the southern skies.
That’s all – em tarsol!
Team Extraordinare: Expedition Staff
Aaron Russ – Expedition Leader
Meghan Kelly – Cruise Director
Conor Jones – Marine Ecologist
Suzanne Noakes – Cultural Specialist
Adam Walleyn – Ornithologist
Konrad Richter – Medical Advisor
Lindsay Thorpe – Chef
Please contact us for further Trip Reports
" We had a terrific time on this trip. Visiting unique villages, gorgeous snorkelling spots, eating fantastic meals, enjoying the company of our fellow passengers and that of our enthusiastic, helpful and informative staff....being out of range of the internet...wow...what's not to like? It was both wonderfully relaxing and exciting, in a very enjoyable mix. "
" Thanks for a truly wonderful trip. A great insight into the lives of the people of the Solomon islands and of Vanuatu. Wonderful snorkelling opportunities. A great crew! Thankyou Aaron for yr very capable and calm leadership. Thanks to Suzanne for yr knowledge of local customs and the informative notices pinned up daily. Katrin for looking after our hospitality needs so well and the chefs for great food! Also a great bunch of fellow travellers!! "
" “... it was a privilege to have experienced such a special place…” "
" “I’d go anywhere with you guys and know it would be fascinating, adventurous and that I’d be well taken care of “ . "
" It is always well worth to see and feel different parts of our blue earth, to meet different people and see another landscape and animals. A worthwhile trip, a lot of people will enjoy this, just like I did. "