Lifou Island, New Caledonia, South Pacific, 3/6/2023, National Geographic Orion
National Geographic Orion
Australia and New Zealand
Located in the Loyalty archipelago, Lifou Island is a populated island community within the French territory of New Caledonia. The limestone cliffs surrounding the bays were dotted by emerging Araucaria conifers, the relic trees of Gondwanan times. Kanak people have a mix of Melanesian and Polynesian heritage, and they gave us a warm welcome to their delightful island today. Upon our arrival, we were treated to a traditional welcome with cultural dancing and singing from local men and women from the town of Easo.
Lots of activities kept us busy throughout the day, including a nature and photo walk with expedition naturalists, swimming at the local beach, and a guided tour of the nearby region in the afternoon.
Erin Katie is a biologist from the Northern Territory Australia. Having grown up in remote parts of the country such as the Kimberley and Central Australia where she developed a curiosity for landscapes, ecology and particularly the wildlife.
National Geographic Orion entered the barrier reef of Utupua just after sunrise, and we anchored in a sheltered bay. Soon after breakfast, we went ashore and were greeted by smiling faces and a traditional welcome. We learned about life in the village and observed some incredible dances. Later, it was time to explore. A Zodiac ride through the mangroves, self-exploration of the school, and kayaking amongst the mangroves were enjoyed by many. My favorite part was how the local kids played with us on the kayaks and Zodiacs. It was absolutely incredible to see how much fun could be had. We set sail in the afternoon, leaving the village behind. Until next time!
The early bird got the worm this morning aboard National Geographic Orion . In the wee hours, we circumnavigated the active volcanic island of Tinakula. Arriving around 4:00 a.m., those willing to wake up early were greeted by the sounds of rocks plopping into the ocean, the gurgling of the lively mountain, and sights of red-hot magma piercing through the darkness. It was a fitting start to a true expeditionary day. The afternoon brought us to the awe-inspiring Reef Island of Fenualoa. We were greeted by a few villagers who showed up for our arrival. Tradition is prominent in these off the beaten path villages, and our guests participated. After a welcome from the chief, we enjoyed cultural performances from the villagers and the musical talents of a conglomerate of nearby tribes. It was a true site to behold and a cultural display that will certainly remain in the memory bank. As the performances came to an end, the logical thing to do was refresh with a coconut and cool off in the waters off the beach. It was only right that all the kids joined in the fun. We had bonded with the tribe, and children were jumping off shoulders and playing games with everyone in the water. It was a truly sensational day. We capped off the evening with a Polynesian barbecue outside on our aft deck with decorations of palm fronds donated by the village.
In the early morning, National Geographic Orion pulled alongside a dock just outside of Vanuatu’s second largest city, Luganville. After being hit hard by back-to-back tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin, we were the first ship able to clear into the country. The island of Espiritu Santo wasn’t hit as hard as some of the more southern islands, but our arrival was a welcomed distraction, nonetheless. Upon arrival at the dock, we sent out our passionate birders into the highland jungles in search of island endemics. These brave individuals endured heat, humidity, and a downpour, but luckily, our local guide brought along “natural umbrellas.” The rest of the group took a tour of a World War II museum that showcases the impacts of the war in the Pacific, specifically Vanuatu. The tour was followed by our first snorkel outing of the trip at Million Dollar Beach. The area gained the name because at the end of the war, it was too expensive to transport all the gear and vehicles back to the states, so the U.S. military essentially drove all the remaining vehicles into the water. The submerged relics are now home to corals and reef fish, and they offer an interesting and historical snorkel. Post snorkel, we were treated to kava, a local drink. In the afternoon, we took vans slightly north to a remote and secluded blue hole. We sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the beauty of Espiritu Santo in this freshwater oasis. Guests enjoyed swimming, swinging from a rope into the water, and just decompressing as they took in the view. We were also treated to a water performance. Women of the village create beautiful performances by singing and making beats using the percussive properties of water manipulation. The performance was enjoyed by all.