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Heritage Expeditions ‘Secrets of Melanesia’ aboard the Spirit of Enderby

Daily blog – written by various cruise participants including Jenny Eglinton, Travelcom Mount Maunganui.  This amazing cruise travelled from Honiara in the Solomon Islands to Port Vila in Vanuatu, and visited some of the most remote islands in the region.

 Jenny Heritage Expeditions 2


21 October, 2014    Honiara Changeover

At lunchtime we were joined by the first of our new expeditioners who headed out to tour Honiara with visits to the Parliament, museum and markets. By 1530 the remainder of our new arrivals had joined the group and with the old hands continuing on from the ‘Melanesia Discoverer’ voyage showing the way, they were ferried to the ship by Zodiac. The late afternoon was occupied with briefings and introductions to life aboard the Spirit of Enderby before we sailed for our first port of call for this ‘Secrets of Melanesia’ expedition – Santa Isabel Island.

 22 October, 2014    Lepi Village Hospitality

Breakfast was at the leisurely hour of 0730 this morning after we had woken to find the Spirit of Enderby anchored in Thousand Ships Harbour beside beautiful Utuha Island. Soon after breakfast we were snorkelling right off the white sandy beach. This was a gentle introduction to the joys of snorkelling for some as they discovered some lovely corals, while the old hands ventured further offshore. A thoroughly enjoyable morning in the water and on the beach was had by all. Conor even saw a Moray Eel being valeted by both a Cleaner Wrasse and a Cleaner Shrimp! With all back aboard, the ship repositioned a few miles to be closer to Lepi Village, our destination for the afternoon. Here the hills which are blanketed by thick forests, rise abruptly from the coastline. Dotted amongst the trees, a few gardens could be seen holding on precariously to the hillside. The performance by the Lepi Village culture group was absolutely fantastic and they had us all enthralled with their rhythm and action as they danced around with their bamboo pipes. Afterwards there was time to wander through the village where the hospitable locals showed us their homes. The birders spotted many interesting species in the forests surrounding the village, so a great time was had by all. At the evening recap, Conor shared some photographic highlights from the snorkelling excursion and Suzanne talked about the systems that have been put in place for the upcoming general election. We are now sailing for the eastern shores of Malaita and another action packed day.

 23 October, 2014    Malaita & Ngongosila Island

Our exciting day began when we arrived off the coast of Malaita at dawn and found ourselves surrounded by a flotilla of small craft moving backwards and forwards across the bay, all in honour of our visit! The birders departed at day break to board the back of a 3 ton truck which took them out to photograph the Malaita White-eye and other sought after species. The rest of the group headed out to Leli Island where we were treated to an impromptu get-together with the traditional landowners and the paramount chief of the island before enjoying a beautiful snorkel along the sheltered shore of the lagoon. The reef was alive with fish and corals in such diversity that over half of the evening recap was dedicated to introducing just a small selection of the species we had seen!

When everyone was back aboard, we sailed into Kwai Harbour and after lunch we landed on Ngongosila Island, an artificial island in the harbour. The it seemed as if the entire population had turned out to give us a rapturous welcome on the beach, then chief Barry Saide and his men put on a captivating show of traditional dance and culture under the shade of the largest tree on the island

After the festivities we made our way across the island through the back alleys of this heavily populated island to learn about ‘bride price’ and shell money. The party from the Spirit of Enderby then erupted into spontaneous song with renditions of ‘Pokarekare Ana’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’. All too soon it was time to bid farewell to our new-found friends as we set sail for Makira.

24 October, 2014    Makira:   Na Muhga Village & Toro Village

Things seemed strangely quiet as we made our way towards the beach at Na Muhga Village and shortly after landing we found out why. Word of our impending visit hadn’t made it through to the locals as the local communication system was out of action due to a broken generator. However after a quick chat with the village elders, plans were rapidly put in place and messages sent by foot in all directions! The birders enjoyed a Zodiac cruise which featured sightings of large numbers of Duchess Lorikeets and then they walked along an old roadway where they found a number of the species endemic to Makira including 12 Chestnut-bellied Imperial Pigeons in a single tree! The rest of the group left the ship after breakfast and cruised through an impressive mangrove-lined waterway towards Toro Village. We landed at the end of this channel and started the beautiful short walk through the forest with Impatiens flowering along either side of the path. At Toro we were met by a warrior welcome from the village boys and a warm reception from the elders. The women treated us to some impromptu songs and their small market sold out of the entire stock of 30 beautiful hand woven fans. Toro Village faces out on to the rugged south coast of Makira and even on this calm day the swells were breaking on the reef offshore. On our walk along the shoreline we found boys with their home-made surfboards playing in the shallows and chatted with the locals.

On the way back to the Spirit of Enderby we stopped off in Na Muhga village where the Bishop of Makira had visited yesterday. A number of dance groups were still in town following the visit and gave us a fantastic performance, with lots of traditional Kastom finery on display.

The afternoon snorkelling excursion was interrupted by a very heavy rainstorm which curtailed our watery pursuits, so we set sail for Nendo in the Santa Cruz Islands.

25 October, 2014    Nendo Island Culture

For many aboard today was the highlight in a trip filled with highlights. We enjoyed a morning aboard the Spirit of Enderby hearing lectures from Adam on ‘The Birds of Melanesia’ and Suzanne on ‘Myth, Magic and Folklore in Melanesia’. Then after an early lunch it was time to head ashore to Lata, the main town on Nendo, the largest of the Santa Cruz Islands, where it was all action as a ferry was leaving for Honiara at the same time as we were boarding our trucks for the ride inland. The road was in surprisingly good condition as we rolled inland through lush vegetable gardens and plantations which graduated into forest as the journey progressed. It became apparent that this was no ordinary visit when we walked the last few metres into the village and the vegetation on either side of the trail erupted into life as warriors leapt forth to challenge their visitors. This exuberant surprise was eventually calmed by the arrival of the ladies who gave us a warm welcome.

26 October, 2014    Duff Island Dancing

This morning the sun rose from behind the jagged line of peaks, which form the Duff Islands. The largest of them, Taumoko, was our primary destination for the day. The morning scouting trip revealed that we would need to wait until there was more water to navigate the reef so we changed our plans and went snorkelling near Obelisk Island for the morning. With a persistent swell running from the south, the snorkelling was an adventure. The four local lads with us could snorkel to great depths or in amongst the surf with impunity, so their idea of a good snorkelling site and ours was a little different. We eventually found a suitable spot where the swell was a little less overpowering and we had excellent visibility which showed a wide array of marine life including 3 species of sharks. We returned to Taumoko for the afternoon and after an exciting crossing of the reef we cruised in past the beautifully constructed artificial islands in the lagoon to our landing at the main village. Here we were welcomed by Paramount Chief Noel and the Council of Chiefs who informed us that ours is the first ship with travellers to visit since 1978 when the only other expedition ship paid a visit. Once everyone arrived ashore we were treated to a warm welcome with the Polynesian ancestry of the islanders coming to the fore in the rhythms and words of the performances.

Afterwards when there was time to wander and explore, the birders found a profusion of Palm Lorikeets and several of our group provided the locals with the revelation that white people can dance. The only white people they had previously encountered were very serious, so it came as quite a shock that we can dance too! With the sun setting on the rugged green hills we returned to the Spirit of Enderby and the consensus was that we had crossed a divide somewhere in recent days and were now in the Pacific Ocean proper.

 27 October, 2014    Vanikoro Foxes

The swell from yesterday persisted overnight, so it was fortunate that the captain was able to manoeuvre the ship into an inner anchorage which allowed us to escape it for the day. The morning started with the birders heading ashore in search of Vanikoro endemics, most of which they succeeded in finding, along with great views of the two species of Flying Foxes that are found on Vanikoro. One of these species was considered extinct until the Spirit of Enderby visited earlier in the year, so it was great to have the opportunity for additional observations of this little known species. The main party headed out for a leisurely Zodiac cruise to view the reef through the calm clear water and watched baby sharks hunting in the shallows (see below) before paying a visit to the memorial to La Perouse, whose ship was wrecked on Vanikoro.

At the conclusion of the cruise we landed at a small village where we were hosted by an extended family for a snapshot of life on the island. They gave us a tour of their vegetable gardens and then we took a wander along the beautiful golden sand beach. A number of orchid varieties were noted with at least six observed in flower, including the scented green and purple Vanikoro Orchid (shown below).

 28 October, 2014    Vanua Lava, Vanuatu

There was a bit of movement aboard the ship as we approached Vanua Lava this morning and it wasn’t the crowd at the buffet. We arrived at our anchorage in Port Patterson at 0630 and quickly identified the customs officials as they were standing on the shore waving a large white sheet. Once aboard, they cleared us for arrival into Vanuatu and we prepared to start our day. By that time the weather had changed and the SE swell was rolling right into the anchorage we needed to use for our visit to Lalngetak Village, so back to Sola and our sheltered anchorage we went. What a revelation Sola turned out to be. We found exceptional birding along the main street with many of the endemic Vanuatu species to be seen within just a few metres including the Vanuatu Honeyeater, Streaked Fantail and Vanuatu White-eye. Some of our party headed into the beautiful forest with Moshe and discovered a world of medicinal plants while another group explored with Suzanne. They took a walk along the shore and then found themselves enjoying a kava ceremony and having a ‘sing-sing’ with the locals. So we went from what threatened to be a quiet day due to the weather, to a truly memorable day filled with unexpected experiences.

The Spirit of Enderby is now crossing the short distance to Espirito Santo where the birders will be going ashore at 0500 on their last early start for this voyage

 29 October, 2014    Espiritu Santo

The day started early for the birders, who were ashore at 0500 ready for their visit to the Vathe Conservation Area. By all accounts they had a successful morning with the highlight being a fantastic view of a Vanuatu Kingfisher. The rest of the party were ashore on Champagne Beach at 0730 and appropriately enjoying this beautiful stretch of dazzling pure white sand with a glass of champagne in hand. It was a great way to start the day and what a beautiful beach! Being early birds we had the place to ourselves as some chose to swim and snorkel from the beach while others wandered inland.

The snorkelling was surprisingly good with a large school of fusiliers escorting us in and out of the bay. All too soon it was time to drag ourselves away from this beautiful spot so we could explore the rest of Santo.

With all back aboard the Spirit of Enderby we sailed south to Oyster Island while Suzanne told us about the initiation ceremonies in Melanesia. After lunch it was time to head ashore for our tour of Luganville and the surrounding area. (while Jenny stayed on Oyster Island and had a relaxing afternoon of walking, swimming, Resort inspection and a Tusker Lemon beer!) With stops including Million Dollar Point and the Luganville markets it was an action packed afternoon of history before a brief stop back at the ship for swimming gear. We made our way up the winding Metevulu River which is surrounded by lush forest to the famous Metevulu Blue Hole with its crystalline blue waters and overhanging forest. Most of the group went for a refreshing swim and a surprising number also tackled the rope swing (Rope burns and all – Jenny!) before it was time to turn our Zodiac bows towards home and conclude a very busy and rewarding day.

 30 October, 2014    Maskelyn Islands Finale

Our final day of expedition activities dawned calm and sunny. After sunrise the Spirit of Enderby crept between the numerous reefs that surround the Maskelyn Islands to her anchorage. In the early morning light we could make out numerous sailing canoes for which this area in renowned, going about their business around the ship as the locals began their day. After breakfast we made our way in a Zodiac convoy to Laust Village where our arrival was heralded by the Laust String Band. After an exceptionally warm welcome we followed the trail through the forest accompanied by the calling of Dark Brown Honeyeaters and headed to a performance of the Smol Nambas Kastom Dance. Upon our arrival, men covered in yellowish clay and wearing only their characteristic small ‘Namba’ (penis sheaths) and high conical feather hats emerged from the forest and began dancing.  Ours ears rang with the rhythmic sound of the drums and stamping feet as they danced for us in the small forest clearing. Afterwards we returned to the main village for refreshments and enjoyed more music from the string band. Some of our group also took the opportunity to enjoy outrigger canoe rides or explore the village with Suzanne and the local guides. In the afternoon we based ourselves on a long stretch of golden sand with coral reefs and sea grass beds offshore. This beach with its excellent visibility and great diversity of fish life provided a fitting finale to our expedition to discover the Secrets of Melanesia. At the end of our final day the chefs prepared a magnificent farewell feast which included local Maskelyn Islands oysters purchased from the locals during the morning.

 31 October, 2014    Disembark Port Vila

After a final tasty breakfast, slight confusion ensued as the Vanuatu Immigration officers realised we were actually disembarking and not coming back. A hurried passport stamping and arrival card declaration was set up in the library. Then it was time to load the zodiacs one last time and ferry everyone ashore to their respective shuttle vans, either to the airport or to accommodation.

Jenny overnighted at Travellers Budget Motel, met Sabine and Julie in evening and took taxi to the Beach Bar out near Hideaway Island for the local ‘fire dance’ show., performed by a group of young people doing something good with their lives. Then Sabine and Jenny had dinner at the excellent and reasonably priced L’Houstalet restaurant.

01 November, 2014            Homeward bound!

Breakfast in town followed by visit to the new Handicraft Market, on the road to the Port. Good selection of crafts, but possibly a bit expensive. A visit to an op shop (there are some good ones, thanks to all the expats). Back to motel to pack then got local local bus – 400 Vatu/NZD$6 – for 3pm flight to Sydney.  A night in the very comfortable Pan Pacific Sydney Airport.

 02 November, 2014            Home at last

 Arrival in Auckland