Monday, 10 April 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Mystery Island, Vanuatu

The thing (or things) I like about cruising is the way one is treated so special. No need to make a bed or cook or clean up after, just do as one pleases. So, after another day at sea, relaxing around the pool, reading, trivia, and practicing our new 'dabbing' move (Peter is still working on it) we arrived at Mystery Island.

We have been to Mystery Island before and absolutely love it.
It is a tiny, tiny island on the southern most tip of Vanuatu. It is a tendering port and the island consists an air strip, and some makeshift huts used on cruise ship days as markets and massage areas. Mystery Island is really named Inyeug Island and the first time we were to go there, way back in 2009, there was nothing but pristine white beaches, and the ship offered beach cricket. 
Today there are many local snorkelling tours and visits to the villages on the bigger island nearby. Tours can be booked on board ship, or with the locals at a cheaper price. We just go to enjoy the cool waters and to have a walk around the markets and along the beautiful beach.
Mystery Island is uninhabited, and comes alive on cruise ship days.
There are local markets, and if one is wanting to buy 'island' type souvenirs, this is the best place to get them. They are not only cheaper than the other islands (including Vila), it also helps the local population who are very poor. In the centre of the market stalls there are hair braiding stalls and local dances. Last time we were here it was a Sunday and the school children were singing. Donation boxes are set up.
There are also a few photo opportunities and for $5 one can take as many photos as one wants.
The water is warm and the snorkelling, even close to the shore, is good. The snorkelling was great, lots of fish of different sizes and colours. I would recommend reef shoes as the sand along the beach is mostly broken shells.The island is small and can easily be walked around. When walking from the jetty, it is a short two minute walk across sand to the other side of the island. There is plenty of room to snorkel or lie on the beach, even plenty of shade. We now take a beach mat, which has been great for relaxing and keeps a lot of the sand out of the towels.
The last time we were here the ship provided a bar near the tendering jetty, but this trip the locals have taken over with limited drinks available for sale. 
Apparently the ship provides the ice to keep the drinks cold.
My lovely sister and her wonderful husband.
Mystery Island is one place I would not get tired of visiting. Remember to take water, snorkel gear, and sun screen - and what ever you want to make it comfortable. Maybe next time I will pack a fold up chair 😊

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Suva, Fiji.

Day 6 we arrived on the other side of the island at Suva. Suva is the capital of Fiji, and is known as a very green area due to the high rainfall. We docked at wharves in the centre of town, and again didn't book any tours.
There were a lot of locals selling tours and merchandise and hair braiding and henna body painting. It was interesting to watch the 'free shuttles' literally take tourists less than 2 minutes walk around the corner to a department store. All the tour buses also ended at the same store, so there must have been a kick-back.
The Voyager of the Seas offered 7 tours, ranging from $60US to $190US. Again, we have previously been on tours and decided to have a walk around the historic area of Suva. Once one has left the ship, one is bombarded with locals selling tours. We had watched them from our cabin. On port days, we rarely rush off the ship. We let the crowds go first and then we can leisurely walk off in our own time.
Like other passengers we were offered a 3 hour tour of the historic areas, Raintree Lodge, waterfall, local Village tour and entertainment, and a city shopping mall. Well.... my sister talked the seller – Kaiviti Tours - down from $40AUS each to $25AUS. We knew the ship was leaving at 5pm, and it was barely midday, so we knew we had time for a 3 hour tour. We waited over 25 minutes for the bus, and were told it was held up in traffic – I'm not sure this was true, as there was not much traffic around. An eight seater car arrived and 5 of us got in. The windows were tinted, but still ok for taking photos. First stop was the petrol station for fuel – strange, and then we had to wait for another petrol station customer to put air in their tyres so our driver could put air in ours. Really think this all should have been done BEFORE the tour started. This whole process took 15 minutes.... so we finally started the tour! We drove past a few old buildings very quickly, so barely had time to take a photo let alone take on board what was being said.
Next was old Parliament House, where the Fijian uprising took place with George Spatt. It is now abandoned, as we were told by our tour guide Big Joe, that no one knows what to do with the buildings. We went past a lovely park that would have been good to have spent some time walking around there, but we were on our way to the Raintree Lodge. As we drove up into the mountains, past some interesting and colourful suburbs, we drove though some villages, and this was when Big Joe said we would NOT be doing a local village tour and entertainment because it was Sunday. Fair enough, but Kaiviti Tours should have been honest enough to tell us this BEFORE we paid for the tour.
The second stop, after the petrol station, was Raintree Lodge. This is obviously a tourist destination where the tour guides get a kick-back. We were at a loss for what to do there. There is a cafe, on a small man -made lake. We are from a cruise ship – a food freighter – with so much food and drink, we really didn't need or want a cup of coffee and a snack.
We wandered around and tried to fill in time. Really wasn't a tourist site, unless one wanted to stay in one of the lodges - and even then it was not really a resort.
We were told not to say cheese, but to say bula -hence the 'sour' faces!
It started to rain and Big Joe said the waterfall wouldn't be good in the rain. This was the first of many excuses:- will be very busy with other tour buses; ...there are many stairs up and down; will be an extra $5 each to enter the park (should have been told that BEFORE we paid for the tour); …we will get in the mud with the rain and you will not make it back to the ship; ...the park will close if it rains too much; and the best of all...”this is a hire car and I don't want to damage it”. So no village tour and entertainment, and no waterfall.
Next stop was a lookout, where we were able to get out and take photos – guess by now Big Joe realised that the tour was a really quick tour, not three hours as we paid for.
As brother in law is a fire-fighter, we asked if we could visit a fire station. Big Joe said sure, there is only one in Suva and we can go there. We headed back down from the hills and into an industrial area to the fire station. Brother in law had a chat with the Suva fire-fighters, and it turns out there are three fire stations in Suva. Wonder what else Big Joe made up!!
Anyway, we were taken back to the department store where all the other shuttle buses were, and from there we walked back to the ship. The whole three hour tour had taken 90mins, and that was including the 15 minute petrol station detour, and the 15 minute fire station stop.
At the end of the day, we did get to see a little more of Suva than simply walking around, and it may have been worth $25, but honesty by the tour guide would have lead to a better review. Promising all the extras when they had no intention of providing them was dishonest. The cruise ships always say how their tours are guaranteed, and they are, but they are also so expensive. I would not recommend Kaitivi Tours in Fiji.
Next time we would simply go for a walk around the port as it is in the centre of town.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Lautoka Fiji

The last time we were in Fiji it was our honeymoon – 37 years ago. This trip, sailing on Royal Caribbean Voyager of the Seas, Day 5 saw us in Fiji again. 
The ship offered about 10 port tours ranging from $70US to $200US. We chose to do our own thing. When one goes to many of these pacific islands, although different in many ways, we find the tourist experiences to very similar, so we no longer do these tours.
Lautoka is a port that is on a small container wharf. It is a 15-20 minutes walk to town, but the ship provided tickets for a return coach ride for $8US each. It was recommended on board to get tickets prior to disembarking to avoid the queues at the wharf – well we need not have bothered, as we queued to get tickets the day before arrival, and then had to queue again behind with those who had not obtained tickets, while they purchased them – for the same price and were also able to charge to the cabin. No advantage booking on board.
After room service breakfast on the balcony overlooking the dock and watching the locals selling goods at a pop-up markets, we headed to the bus and the town.
Lautoka itself wasn't much. Retail shops, smelly fish markets. The locals were friendly and many smiled and said Bula. We walked around a few blocks and Peter bought a swimming rashie. I did find a fabric shop and purchased over 6 yards for fabric for about $35 AUS.
The shuttle bus dropped us off at a department store, which was crowded with ship passengers.
We caught the shuttle back to the ship to enjoy the un-crowded decks. We did look at the dockside markets, and almost bought another 'ship dress, but didn't. In total I think we spent about 90 minutes away from the ship.
Is Lautoka worth getting off? Yes and no. We would probably get off next time and walk into town, just to spend more time seeing different things - and to go to Maccas to use their free wifi, certainly won't need any food. As we slowly sail off into the sunset.