Pacific Islands Cruises
Looked at on any map, the Pacific resembles nothing so much as a vast turquoise canvas, populated by tiny specks that resemble random splatters from a child's paint brush. But as you look closer the detail becomes more apparent, and you realise that the entire region is, in fact, one of the most exquisite pieces of art ever displayed on earth's fantastic natural canvas.
Four lazy sea days out from America's west coast, balmy Hawaii is the perfect introduction to the pleasures awaiting you on your way across to Polynesia. Here, legendary names trip off the tongue one after another. Tahiti, Fiji, Suva, Pago Pago, Tonga, Samoa ...
Clichés inevitably abound but, like all the best clichés, this is because they are almost entirely true. And they pale completely when confronted with the real thing. Visions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific become reality writ large as huge, jagged mountain ranges loom out of shimmering emerald seas, their faces carpeted in dense, lush foliage and replete with an abundance of exotic fruits. The wakes of outriggers appear like delicate silver threads as they arrow across the briny with their nets full of local fish. Silent, impassive volcanoes sit in stony splendour, their summits kissed by flocks of brilliant, cotton candy clouds.
Ashore, native villages on stilts are still often a random rash of grass huts crouching under the shade of legions of idly rustling giant palms that stand like sentinels, just as they have for centuries. The cries and shrieks of local wildlife barely register in the calm of a sublime, blazing sunset.
Nights sailing under the Southern Cross are bizarre, splendidly surreal. An ink black sky packed with masses of twinkling, benevolent stars, perhaps with a side order of a glorious full moon, hangs overhead as you stand out towards the next random smear on the map. Dawn reveals an emerald smudge against the horizon at sunrise, and perhaps the faintest hint of a beach, nothing more than a blond smear on a turquoise splay. The sun rises; definition grows and excitement quickens. Canoes appear; palm trees gain definition; features harden against a powder blue sky. Another Pacific landfall is at hand.
More immediately poignant are the battlefields of the Pacific, dotted amongst all the scenic splendour like raw wounds that are only just starting to heal. Guadalcanal, the Solomons, Iwo Jima, Okinawa...
Jungle shrouded and silent, these islands retain their own, ageless inhabitants. A Zero shot up on the ground, careened at a crazy angle across an airfield long since reclaimed by jungle. Rust cankered anti aircraft cannon pointing drunkenly at a sky where nothing more hostile than a hummingbird hovers for a moment. A wrecked destroyer crouching in sullen silence in an emerald lagoon, masts lying across half submerged decks like broken limbs.
Truly beautiful, and mute witness to events all too familiar and brutal, the Pacific is a multi hued, mesmerising region of astonishing scale, grace and beauty that few people ever really appreciate fully. All the better reason, then, to savour the rare majesty and mystery of one of the last true great frontiers.