Oliver is…

He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man

…done with cruising

After one nice cruise roughly a year ago, it was decided that when I made my move to Canada with my Aussie-Thai hybrid that we’d do it by ship. Flights were obviously cheaper and more direct, but for a few hundred more dollars we could spend more than three weeks sailing the Pacific, accommodation and food included, stopping off at a number of tropical islands before arriving in Vancouver. With no time restraints on us it seemed perfect.

Holland America MS Oosterdam in Sydney

The day after leaving our jobs, we stepped onto the ship with a load of other retirees to our new floating house. We were travelling with Holland America on the MS Oosterdam, which was a beautiful place to call home for the next 23 nights. At full capacity the ship holds 1800 passengers and although crew members kept telling us it was full, it certainly wasn’t. Although only a small lie, this contempt shown to us was something we’d have to get used to with the way some of the staff on board, and back on land, would treat us.

If there were 1800 customers on board, at least 1775 of them were 60+. People gave all sorts of reasons for this (“The young people probably can’t afford it” – as if saving up two grand takes a lifetime to do), but really most people just don’t have the time. We found four other couples around our age to spend most of our time with, bonded by our common ages.

Unlike my last attempt to fully document a cruise, I’ve been updating this in a Notepad document as we go. If you can’t be bothered reading, I’ve tried something new and made a video compilation of the trip, roughly one second per day.

Noumea

Oldmea, more like. We’d been here before on our other cruise and weren’t too impressed with the city centre or the beach areas we’d been recommended. We found amazing ice cream, though, and that place was still around.

This time we hired scooters and a fun buggy thing with two couples we met on the ship. We toured the island seeing many different sides, from where the rich French retirees live to the dirty industrial areas.

Noumea rented buggy

We broke down at one point because the steering on our buggy locked and we hadn’t been told how to fix it. The Frenchman who rented it to us took ages to come find us (we weren’t far away) but by chance one of the group managed to fix it before he arrived. We had no way to contact him so thought we’d set off and we’d probably pass him on the way down the hill. We did but he wasn’t happy — when we got back he went proper mental at us but he’d clearly forgotten to give the full instructions although wouldn’t admit this. Even when he explained what he thought he’d told us earlier, it wasn’t what fixed the problem. He marred what was otherwise a lovely day, and one that improved my impressions of the New Caledonian (it still doesn’t look like Scotland) capital, but I’m in no rush to return.

Noumea, New Caledonia

Suva

Poova, more like. There’s nothing really to do in Suva, except get a bus somewhere nicer. It was cleaner than Nadi which we’d visited on a previous trip, but the cities on these islands aren’t really much cop. We wandered down to a museum that was recommended as a great source on the island’s cannibalism history (dating up to the 1920s, apparently) but when we got there they were trying to charge us to walk round a tiny room that we could scan from the entrance. We asked someone outside if we had the right place and he assured us we had, and that there was a book in there from someone who was eaten or something. Not quite what we were expecting.

Amazing Fiji advert

Other people on our cruise went on a tour to see a waterfall, which was little more than “a stream trickling into a pond”, so at least we didn’t waste time and money on that.

Dravuni

An isolated Fijian island that was little more than a beach with a hill to climb. The snorkelling was average — perhaps we’ve been spoiled by previous trips to the area — there were colourful fish but not many different kinds, and not much coral for them to breed in. Bright blues, yellows, clown fish.

The island had one good side, but I explored the other side in vain for about an hour trying to find a better spot because I couldn’t find a way back to my starting point. Eventually I got back to the main side and sat in the sea for a couple of hours until hunger set in. In the middle was jungle, banana plantations and a decent sized hill to explore.

Dravuni Island, Fiji

Apia

Apia, and Western Samoa in general, was easily the best stop on the trip and ranks highly in my all time places visited. Waking up in a new port every day is a strange sensation to get used to, especially when the windows offer nothing but endless ocean for days on end, but in most ports there’s nothing but ugly shipping containers to look at. Apia was different and compared to towns on other Pacific islands, that are generally ugly and dirty, it was beautiful.

We didn’t spend much time actually in the city because not long before our cruise I stumbled across a picture of To Sua Trench, which looked absolutely beautiful. Having raved about it on board, we had a group of nine who wanted to see the place and we hired a minibus to take us to the other side of the island. The trench is hard to explain, so here’s a picture.

To Sua Trench, Samoa

It’s a 30 metre drop and filled with water from the ocean that’s a few metres on the other side of that cliff face. The water ranges in deepness from spots that you can easily stand in to a few metres deep, and it’s deep enough in most directions to jump from that pontoon. Because you’re not actually in the ocean, the water’s perfectly still most of the time and floating around is almost a surreal experience.

Jumping in To Sua Trench

After that we went to some sliding rocks, which is essentially a river/stream with mini-waterfalls. You slide down the rocks into pools of water. I’m not really selling it, but it was fun.

Sliding rocks, Apia

Pago Pago

After a great day in Apia, it was followed by a more sedate time in Pago Pago. We headed to a nearby beach, right next to a private beach that a hotel was cheekily trying to charge $5 to make use of, and lazed on the sand/in the sea with majestic mountains in the background. We went to an ocean research centre too, but that was boring. Some of our friends hired a taxi to drive around the coast and were awed by the scenery.

Pago Pago beach

Nawiliwili (snigger)

The first time I stepped onto American soil since I was a boy was on the Hawaiian island of Maui (although geographically Hawaii’s about as American as Canada is English). Despite Holland America’s best efforts to scupper our plans (I understand their desire to push their own extravagantly priced tours, but simply lying about the availability of local transport is just plain bad customer service), we joyfully made our way halfway round the island for the princely sum of $2. Passing through the picturesque Kapaa (which, unlike Nawiliwili [chortle], had a bit of character about it) we ended up in Hanalei which was a bit of a hippy town with a nice beach attached.

Hanalei beach, Hawaii

Honolulu

While Nawiliwili (guffaw) offered free shuttle buses from the ship to town (admittedly to big chain stores that obviously had an agreement with the cruise line), Honolulu’s only free shuttle was a complete farce. Offering to take people to two different locations, it sounded great at first, but first it took you to a pearl shop in the wrong direction which forced a ten minute wait before a 30 minute tour and a further 20 minute wait for a bus to where we actually wanted to go. Some of our friends walked to Waikiki in about 40 minutes, which sounds a much better option (as does the bus for $2.50). After that wait which put most people in a bad mood, we eventually got to the tourist area of Waikiki. In what might be horrible precursor of what to expect in America, the city seemed to be nothing but chain stores with an overly populated beach attached.

Waikiki beach, Hawaii

Overall experience

The ship we travelled on was amazing, the food was excellent and the drinks didn’t cost too much. The staff in general were very helpful and cheerful with only a couple of exceptions. As we were ending the cruise we really wanted to stay on board, or extend our cruise to Alaska, but the price prevented this. There may well be a second part to this story, depending on the outcome of e-mails with Holland America staff.

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2 Responses

  1. Lynsey May says:

    I like the look of the Sua Trench. Good luck with the emails!

    • Oliver says:

      Some places aren’t photographed very well and I don’t think my photo does it real justice. Go there! I bet you could have an ace writers’ retreat in Samoa.

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