South Pacific Islands are the big winners from the boom in cruising Down Under this summer.
As more cruise lines add Australia and New Zealand to annual itineraries, the search is on to find new regional ports to excite cruise passengers. There is no doubt that most of those on board cruise ships are in search of sun and sand, as well as a dash of culture to show the cruise has been “to another country”.
Pacific islands such as New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji, have all experiencing a growth in visitor numbers with more frequent cruise ship arrivals, and have lifted their tourism game to meet the needs of this new breed of traveller.
The South Pacific has long been a favourite with P&O Cruises’ five ships – Pacific Aria, Pacific Eden, Pacific Pearl, Pacific Dawn, and Pacific Jewel – which are all based in Australian waters year-round.
Now they are being joined by ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Holland America, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleets.
Australian-based Caroline Brunel, of New Caledonian Tourism, says that 20,000 visitors fly into the capital Noumea annually for a holiday. However, recent figures show that over 400,000 visitors also arrive on cruise ships to spend time in Noumea, the capital of the main island Grand Terre, as well as at the port of Lifou on the Loyalty Islands, and on the Isles of Pines.
Caroline says it is great to see so many visitors arriving by ship, but their short time in port means that they do not see a great deal of the islands.
“Often they arrive on a Sunday or Monday when many places are closed, so they do not have time to experience New Caledonia’s culture which is rich in French and Melanesian flavours. However, they are have a taste of island life and often come back for a longer holiday on land.
Caroline says those who return can easily drive around the main island, Grande Terre, which it is about 350 km in length and about 70 km wide in most places. Many visitors will stay overnight in a Kanak (traditional islander) village and enjoy a bougna feast of meats and vegetables soaked in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves, and buried in the ground to cook for several hours.
australiancruisingnews.com’s favourite fare when visiting the French territory is to head to the marked to buy the crustiest baguette, the ripest cheeses, and a reasonably priced bottle of French wine to create “a picnic made in heaven”.