Pacific Explorer Tour

Samoan DancersThe British tour operator Undiscovered Destinations has announced a 27-day Pacific Explorer Tour beginning and ending in Fiji. The itinerary is quite remarkable in that it visits some of the most remote Pacific islands, including Wallis, Grande Terre, Efate, Tanna, Guadalcanal, Kosrae, Tarawa, and Upolu. That means the aspiring globetrotter will be able to tick eight separate jurisdictions off their travel bucket list.

The tour departs Nadi, Fiji, on 20 July 2017, costing £9,750 (British pounds) per person. In 2018 the price rises to £10,450. If you want a single room it’s another £850 (you can avoid this by asking them to match you up with another same-sex traveler who will become your roommate).

Included in the price are all accommodations, most breakfasts, nine lunches, seven dinners, all transportation (from Nadi), airport transfers, sightseeing described in the itinerary, admission fees, and local guides. Not included are travel insurance, visas (probably none will be required), alcoholic drinks, and tips. A maximum of 12 persons will be accepted each year.

I have traveled with Undiscovered Destinations many times and have always found them very reliable. Emailed questions are answered promptly. Although not cheap, this tour provides a far more hands-on experience than South Pacific expedition cruises offered by Silversea and other companies for a similar price and I consider it better value. I don’t know of any other of Pacific island tour like this.

Coincidentally, the 6th edition of Lonely Planet South Pacific will be released on December 20, 2016. Although Lonely Planet doesn’t cover Kosrae and Tarawa and may mention Wallis Island only in passing, anyone considering this tour should certainly order a copy. New editions of the Lonely Planet guides to Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa & Tonga, and Vanuatu & New Caledonia have also just been released.

Lonely Planet New Editions

1786572176-250Lonely Planet is finally bringing out new editions of five of their South Pacific guidebooks: Lonely Planet Fiji, Lonely Planet Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands, Lonely Planet Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga, Lonely Planet Tahiti & French Polynesia, and Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia.

All of them will become available on October 18, 2016, and Amazon.com is already taking advance orders (use the links above). The author of all five guides is “Lonely Planet” and individual authors are no longer credited. This is appropriate in a way as all current LP updaters are “writers for hire” who must sign away all rights – including moral rights – in order to secure a contract. They are paid flat fees which cover their travel expenses and no royalties are paid. With newbie authors lining up to work for Lonely Planet, the publisher sets the terms.

Interestingly, four of the five new guidebooks contain 256 pages which indicates that they all follow the same rigid template. LP has exactly as much to say about Tahiti & French Polynesia as they do about Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands. Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia has only 224 pages, perhaps reflecting the complete absence of a competitor there.

No new edition of Lonely Planet South Pacific has been announced and it is quite possible that the 2012 edition will be the last. Researching remote island groups like Niue, Tokelau, Wallis & Futuna, and Tuvalu is expensive and the returns are minimal. On the brighter side, such places don’t change a lot and even the 2004 edition of Moon Handbooks South Pacific – which you can buy on Amazon.com for under a dollar – should suffice.

Frankly, even guidebooks to popular places like Fiji and Tahiti are not big money makers and about the best result publishers can expect is to break even after paying the updaters, editors, printers, and distributors. Of course, maintaining a worldwide presence is important to the Lonely Planet brand and niche titles like Vanuatu & New Caledonia are subsidized by best sellers like LP Australia and LP China. The gap of four years between the previous editions and these new editions is indicative of the low profitability.

In any case, hats off to Lonely Planet for keeping the fires burning. The excellent maps and down-to-earth information in all of these new editions will be much appreciated by Pacific travelers.

(Listings of the latest editions of virtually all Pacific island travel guidebooks appear on MapSouthPacific.com.)

The Resilience of Easter Island

sebastiaan230 The Resilience of Easter Island, a new historical ethnography by Sebastiaan Roeling, outlines the history and culture of the island based on archaeological research and old ship logs. The Dutch author has always been intrigued by the tales of Dutch explorers such as Jacob Roggeveen. Even as a child, Roeling wanted to visit Easter Island. His studies of the Lacandon Maya in Mexico and employment with an environmental agency in The Netherlands helped prepare him for his research.

In his book, Roeling challenges the widespread belief that the Rapa Nui themselves were responsible for the collapse of their culture. Environmentalists like Jared Diamond have used Easter Island as an example of what can happen when limited resources are abused. They point to the overexploitation of the island’s palm trees for the transportation of megalithic statues called moai. Others have claimed that it was the introduction of the Polynesian rat that caused the deforestation. Roeling disputes these claims and cites studies of rat colonies on other Polynesian islands where the rodents caused no deforestation. Roeling suggests that the deforestation of Easter Island was caused by the uncontrolled use of firewood in traditional earth ovens and open fires intended for heating.

While admitting that the Rapa Nui were complicit in the deforestation, Roeling disputes the concept of cultural collapse. The Rapa Nui encountered by explorers like Roggeveen have been portrayed as starving thieves, prostitutes, and cannibals huddled on a barren and isolated island. Yet the original sources do not report a famine prior to the arrival of Peruvian slave traders in the 1860s. The 1722 log of Jacob Roggeveen mentions the fertile soil of Easter Island and later explorers like Cook and La Perouse also noted the fertility of the island and the impressive agricultural innovations of the inhabitants.

The book describes the appearance, dwellings, customs, festivities, religion, myths, stone carvings, and cults of the Rapa Nui, and through these cultural aspects, Sebastiaan Roeling demonstrates that the popular image of the early Rapa Nui as thieves and prostitutes is false. Roeling cites explorers who described the islanders as caring fathers, loving husbands, and friendly hosts. The collapse of Rapa Nui culture was caused by the Peruvian slave traders. The Resilience of Easter Island shows how the Rapa Nui were able to overcome negative outside influences, providing the world with an example of resilience rather than a warning of doom.

Top 10 Travel Destinations

Machu Picchu To help you with your travel planning I’ve selected 10 countries I feel confident in recommending based on four criteria. First, there must be lots to see and do. Second, access must be easy without oppressive visa regulations or tourist taxes. Third, the country must be relatively safe. And fourth, the cost of travel must be reasonable. My choices span the globe with all five continents included. Bon voyage!

Armenia: The monasteries, museums, and mountains of Armenia are unsurpassed with loads of attractions packed into a small area. And unlike many of its ex-Soviet neighbors, visas are easily available upon arrival (best months June to September).

Azores: This is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. The nine inhabited islands of the group are supremely picturesque with wonderful streets, buildings, museums, waterfronts, and hiking possibilities. All nine islands are conveniently linked by air (best months June to August).

Cuba: The colonial cities of Havana, Camaguey, and Santiago de Cuba are living repositories of Afro-Cuban culture. I strongly suggest you go soon before the Miami hordes arrive (best months November to April).

Ethiopia: This colorful country has more attractions than any other sub-Saharan destination with historical monuments in the north and tribal life in the south. The food will delight vegetarians and many people speak English (best months November to March).

Malaysia: This Southeast Asian country has much of the color of Thailand without the chaos. Some of the best street food in the world is served nightly in Penang and the monuments of Kuala Lumpur are just fine (best months June to August).

Mexico: So long as you avoid the areas bordering the United States, Mexico is quite safe. The people are friendly, the culture appealing, and the choice is what to see and do is unending (best months November to April).

Morocco: The ancient cities of Fez, Meknes, and Marrakesh are a delight to wander around. Accommodations, food, and transport are all readily available at prices half those of Turkey (best months April to October).

Peru: Peru has more pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial sites than the rest of South America combined. The Amazonian, Andean, and coastal regions are each quite unique (best months May to November).

Romania: The mystery of mountainous Transylvania and the sophistication of urban Bucharest are a winning combination. Visit now before the introduction of the euro leads to a spike in prices (best months April to October).

Samoa: It is easier to get close to nature in this small South Pacific country than anywhere else in Oceania. Staying in a Samoan beach fale resort run by a local family is one of the world’s top travel experiences (best months June to September).

Reach For Paradise

Reach for Paradise Author Andrew Rayner writes that his book Reach for Paradise, a journey among the Pacific Islands, just crept up on him. When he set sail on a trip around the world it was to last three years maximum, then he would return home to build some form of pension for himself. The three years segwayed into eight and his experience begged to be communicated. There seemed to be a need for an entertaining travel book that conveyed the remarkable spirit of the island people. Just as the various Polynesian languages are quite different from one another but have a common root, so too the islands as a whole have a sort of unified magic in spite of their remarkable differences. The furthest reaches of the Pacific, sheltered by a lack of resources and insulated by time and distance, are quite unlike any other region of our globe. Paradise is a horribly abused word, but there’s no better label for the islands, imaginary or real.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that the first love, the first sunrise, and the first South Sea island are memories apart and touch a virginity of sense. James Norman Hall added, “And so are the tenth or the fifteenth island. The purity of perception is not lost by repetition of the experience. There is a magic about these islands that is time-defying.” Andrew Rayner calls them “fragments of perfection”.

The area covered in Rayner’s book excludes the cosmopolitan islands of New Zealand, Japan, and Hawaii. What’s left are some 10,000 lesser known islands and Reach For Paradise is a celebration of those islands rather than a sailors’ handbook. It’s a personal story, as all proper travel stories are. The context begins with the destruction following the arrival of the first Europeans, colonization, further disruption during the Pacific War, and eventual independence. Key themes to understanding it all are custom, tradition, the canoe, life without modern gadgets, dancing, music, generosity, and beauty. Reach For Paradise is a fun read, regardless of whether the reader ever intends to venture into the Pacific, although the book may inspire just that.

Top Tourist Attractions of Fiji

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

Photo courtesy of Fiji Airways

Fiji is an island paradise everyone should experience at least once. Fiji`s idyllic vistas and natural beauty surpass even the glossiest brochure photos of the country. Well known for its white sandy beaches, super surfing, and pure relaxation, Fiji has much much more to offer. Although the weather is great year round with average temperatures of 25 degrees celsius, the best time to visit the country is during the cooler, drier season from May to October when both children kids and adults can enjoy range of exciting outdoor activities.

Visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant, just 10 minutes’ north of Nadi by car, is an ideal attraction for families. These lovely landscaped gardens, situated at the foothills of the Nausori Highlands, are home to over a thousand orchid varieties plus a wide variety of Fiji’s endemic plants. Extending over 20 hectares, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant allows admiring to admire the local flora on jungle walks through the native forest.

Pump your adrenaline with Fire Walking
For those in search of a unique holiday activity, Fiji provides the opportunity of witnessing not one, but two styles of firewalking. An ancient religious ceremonial act dating back to 1200 BC, firewalking involves walking over hot stones (in the Fijian tradition) or over ashes and glowing embers (in the Hindu purification ritual). Many large accommodation providers in Fiji stage firewalking shows for tourists.

Participate in a Kava Ceremony
Kava (also known as yaqona) is the traditional drink of Fiji. The consumption of the beverage is a ceremonial and social unifier, and tourists can immerse themselves in Fijian culture by witnessing a kava ceremony. Guests take part by sitting in a circle facing a hand-carved mixing bowl called a tanoa, then the kava is sipped from a coconut shell cup with the village chief always drinking first. You can book participation in a kava ceremony through most hotels and resorts in Fiji.

Visit Kula Eco Park
Set in a beautiful coastal rainforest reserve, Kula Eco Park is a popular tourist destination dedicated to the preservation of the country’s indigenous fauna. During a visit to the park, travelerss can see creatures such as the crested iguana, experience hands-on interactions with a variety of animals, and learn about Fiji’s amazing wildlife.

Hike the Falls of Taveuni
Nature lovers are sure to enjoy hiking near the three Tavoro Waterfalls on Taveuni Island, lying just off the east coast of Vanua Levu. Taveuni is known in Fiji as the “Garden of Eden” and much of the interior and east of the island is protected within Bouma National Heritage Park. A hike through this terrain provides access to rare orchids, clear waterfalls, natural waterslides, and ancient tree ferns. Those wishing to spend longer than a day on the island can book accommodation at a variety of guest houses and resorts.

Getting there and Away
Daily flights to Fiji depart most of Australia’s major airports including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane and flights to Fiji on Fiji Airways (Fiji’s national carrier) start from as little as $259AUD one way. Direct Fiji Airways flights from points all around the Pacific Rim are also available.

Adventures of Walt Christophersen

By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking During the 1980s Walt Christophersen worked in Europe as a television journalist and later he wrote a memoir titled A Temporary European about those times. Christophersen’s second book takes us back to the 1960s and 1970s as he travels the world By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking. The story begins in Micronesia and the South Pacific with an account of sailing around the Marshall Islands, Yap, and Fiji on copra boats. The last third of the book is the story of his overland journey from Beirut to Tokyo.

Imagine sailing through the outer islands of Yap for three weeks on a 178-foot copra boat, exploring atolls most tourists have never heard of, all for a fare of $56.60. An extra $5 a day bought you endless meals of corned beef and rice. There was no charge for the shower, which was turned off for 12 days to save water. That’s how it was in the early 1970s as Walt hopscotched his way across the Pacific, recording his experiences for the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Toronto Star, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Examiner.

Readers of By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking tag along as he thumbs his way around Tahiti, attends a royal birthday party in Tonga, and surveys war debris on the shattered island of Peliliu. Christophersen’s affinity for ships also leads him to other parts of the world, including cruises down the Amazon and up the coast of Norway. His longest journey was a nonstop seven-month overland odyssey from Beirut to Tokyo via Afghanistan at peace and Vietnam at war. By Ship, Train, Bus, Plane & Sometimes Hitchhiking is available in a Kindle edition as well as paperback.