Travel blogs generally are all sunshine and lollipops. Everyone always looks so happy, the pictures post an idyllic scene and there is a tendency to think that travelling is always great.
Whilst 90% of the time that is true, there are also times when a visit to a location can be disappointing. Take for example a recent cruise port of call stop in Fiji that we have now phrased - our “Sad Stop in Suva!”.
As part of our Christmas Cruise onboard the Pacific Dawn in 2017 our itinerary included a stop in Suva, Fiji. This was our first visit to this destination and we really did not know what to expect. We didn’t book any shore tours - in hindsight our biggest mistake - and instead thought we would explore the town on our own. Suva is the capital of Fiji, it must have something to offer right?
The weather was pretty awful when we arrived, warm but with overcast with showers which persisted throughout the day. And the scenery was pretty grim, the ship pulls up in a working industrial shipping port with shipping containers and workmen the greeting views. The plus side to this was that we were within walking distance of the town and no tenders required to get off the ship.
We were in Suva just a few days before Christmas so the town was busy and buzzing with locals getting supplies for the festive season. We took a shuttle bus from the port to the town shopping mall which actually took longer on the bus than if we had walked it due to the crazy traffic. However at least we were sheltered from the rain, we got to see a little more of the town and we were able to sit and watch the locals go about their pre-christmas shopping frenzy.
On route our bus guide made sure we knew the obligatory term “Bula” and gave us a few tips on what to do in town - a message skewed towards shopping at the shuttle bus sponsor Taperoo Centre (essentially a shopping mall).
In town we headed to the top level where we were told we could get WIFI. Upon arrival we discovered you could only get 15 minutes of wifi and even when we tried to connect it was such a poor connection we did not bother. Not that it mattered we had not had any connection for the 7 days on the ship it took to get here anyway, a cruise is a great holiday for a digital detox.
If you are looking for WIFI in Suva, it is not readily available in any of the cafes or restaurants. (Update, apparently there is WIFI - we just had no luck finding it despite asking at numerous cafe's. According to cruise forums it can be found at Jacks?).
One positive to our visit was that the markets were open and we happened to be there on the day of the weekly flower market. The colours and arrangements were bright, colourful and unique to the flowers we get at home. We always enjoy walking through markets and discovering the local fare and trying to figure out what it is! There is always a new and exotic fruit or vegetable to be discovered.
After walking about a km of the main street in each direction, stopping at a cafe for a milkshake, we decided that the highlights of Suva were not going to be found in the township and we were disappointed in ourselves for not taking the time to do some research before arriving.
We ended up walking back to the ship, it was located just behind the markets and only about a 100m walk. There were a few markets set up at the port so we had a look at them but then decided to call it quits and head back to the ship.
So no WIFI, showery weather (we were there in rainy season what could we expect), really busy shops (it was Christmas) and lots of roadworks making the streets muddy and hard to navigate - that was our Sad Stop in Suva.
Having said all that the paint of the blog is that I am sure Suva has some amazing areas to see and explore, if readers can take anything from my sad post it is to book a tour when in Suva. Get out of the town and explore the beauties of Fiji so that you too don’t have to write a post like this! A good tip to do some research before you arrive as sadly we did not do.
If you have visited Suva on a port day stop and had an amazing adventure - leave a comment and let us know what we missed.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Whilst a South Pacific cruise is mostly about relaxing, drinking cocktails and swimming there is more to do on the Island stops than just check out the local marine life.
If you are heading to the Isle of Pine and are after some physical activity and great views, there is an adventurous walk that takes you to a great summit, Pic N'Ga, that sadly very few cruise passengers venture to.
We have been to this island a couple of times and on both times enjoyed the walk. The first time, three years ago, we had planned to leave the kids at the beach with their grandparents whilst we tackled the mountain. However both the grandparents and kids decided they wanted to join us despite the fact that our then 5 and 8 year olds were wearing flip flops on their feet.
Our most recent visit on our 2017 Christmas Cruise aboard the P&O Dawn, the children now 8 and 11 years old were wearing appropriate footwear, carrying water bottles and wearing sunscreen and hats!
To access the walking track you follow the main road out of town and turn left at the intersection. About 200m down the road you will see a sign pointing you to Pic N’Ga that will take you to the off road walking track.
The walk starts through green lush forest like grounds and takes you along a stream that has only been dry when we have done the walk. I have read other reviews that have said this area can be quite muddy - both times we visited were in December.
About 300m off the road there is an official entrance with a donation box that the locals use to keep the track clear and signed for the tourists.
The walk along the stream is interesting, the kids watched out for any creepy crawlies lurking in the grasses but it made for a good adventure.
The walk then takes you onto rough grounds before going into a reasonably steep climb on gravel. This section is the hardest and it is very exposed with barely any shade along the way. It is important to take water, sunscreen and a hat as it can get very hot.
Once the incline is done, the views are amazing. You can see the ship, the beaches and the spectacular greenery of the island with uninterrupted views.
The walk is about a 4km round trip, is steep and loose ground in places, is exposed to the elements - but the views are worth it.
If you are after more than just markets and snorkelling on your trip to Isle of Pines, Pic N’ga is a great activity for the whole family young and old. And a great way to work up a sweat before you hit the beach for some awesome snorkelling!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
In 2016 we ended the year and started the New Year doing what we absolutely love - travelling! For the midnight countdown to welcome in the 2017 New Year we were sailing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean aboard the P&O Eden.
If you have ever considered taking a cruise that includes New Years Eve, here are a list of Pros and Cons to consider.
To prepare for the evening we had the option of three restaurants for dinner. There was a special festive menu served in all restaurants and no surcharge for it being NYE.
Lots of Options
All the bars were in full swing on NYE so there was plenty to choose from. Jazz in the blue room, piano tunes in the Mix Bar, DJ on the pool deck, acoustics in Oceans Bar, band in the Dome - there was so much to choose from. If the crowd or the tunes were not taking your fancy at one venue you could simply walk to another! And best of all - no cover charge!
As many locations now do - the cruise offered an option for families to celebrate NYE without having to wait for the official midnight countdown. The entertainment staff put on a great party from 7:30-9pm for all the junior cruisers (and their parents) to feel a part of the atmosphere with a rocking white-party on the pool deck. The kids got glow sticks, the parents joined in for the YMCA and a great time had by all.
No Taxi Needed
Wherever we needed to be on the night, whichever party we decided to attend - we were able to walk there! No-one had to be the designated driver. And at the end of the night we didn’t have to line up for hours to get a ride home, or pay a 10 x surcharge on Uber - we just walked back to the cabin!
Fireworks and NYE go hand in hand - however in the middle of the ocean there was no such thing. If fireworks are a requirement for your celebration - a cruise may not be your thing. We did however get an awesome 2017 ice carving!
No Live Television Coverage
If you have ever celebrated NYE at home - or at a home party - live coverage of how people are celebrating around the world normally forms part of the occasion. When you are in the middle of the ocean you are in a bit of a bubble from what is going on in the world - that includes the coverage of the fireworks at iconic locations around the world. I have no idea who pressed the button to release the ball in New York this year!
Celebrating with Strangers
Unless you manage to convince your friends and family to join you on your NYE cruise, chances are you will be doing the countdown amongst mostly strangers. If you prefer to be surrounded by people you know, this is not the celebration for you.
Limited Phone Coverage
Unless you have your phone on International roaming, you will not be able to call/text your friends and family at NYE and clog up their inbox with obligatory Happy New Year texts!
If you have ever cruise over New Year's Eve - how did you enjoy it? Leave us a comment.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
If you are taking a South Pacific cruise through Vanuatu, you may just be fortunate enough to have the amazing Mystery Island as part of your itinerary. So to demystify the location, here is what you can expect from a cruise day stop here.
Mystery Island is a tiny uninhabited island that is an absolute paradise for cruise passengers. If you wake early enough head out on deck and watch the convoy of small boats filled with Islanders and supplies that make their way to Mystery Island in preparation for your arrival.
The Island is small enough to circumnavigate by foot, yet large enough for an airstrip, and it is completed with some of the best beach and crystal clear water you will find anywhere in the world.
This is a tender port so you will need to take the small boats to arrive on the island where a jetty awaits.
There is an abundance of coral and sea life in the shallows here. The trick is knowing where to go. Many cruise passengers arrive by tender and hit the beach in front of them. Which is fine for swimming, however if you are after some snorkelling cross to the far side of the Island and walk to your right until you nearly reach the tip/end of the beach.
It is a bit of a walk to start, but you will be rewarded with an awesome snorkelling experience. The sands here are beautiful and the coral is a far enough distance out that reef shoes are not essential.
In my opinion, this is the best island for hair braiding. In the centre of the island there is a market set up with huts selling various fares. A collection of women await you in the central hut with beads and combs ready to go for the best and tightest braids going. They take their time for a great result that will set you back AUD$12 for kids and AUD$20 for Adults.
Mystery Island has a great set-up for massages. Dedicated huts with warmed and limber hands ready to take away the knots and stress from your body. Priced at AUD$30 per hour - you will be hard pressed to find a better price on any of the other Islands.
Watch Out For Planes
Believe it or not, Mystery Island has an airstrip. I don’t think I would ever want to have to utilise it, however on one visit we did actually see a plane land. So it is an operational strip believe it or not! Watch out over head for light aircrafts if you cut across the Island and cross the strip.
The locals will have an array of shell fish cooked and ready to display on a banana leave for you to enjoy. Prices vary depending on the size however average AUD$50. You know it is fresh and caught that day, so if you like your lobster this is a great place to indulge. You need to get in early as once they are gone they are gone!
Sit in the Cannibal Pot
Apparently cannibalism is a part of the history in this area - why when there is an abundance of fish and shell fish I am not sure why you would need to eat human. A trip to Mystery Island is not complete unless you have stood in the pot and had the photo! Of course you don’t actually get in any water and boil away - but it is a fun photo to take.
The Island will accept Australian dollars, but be sure to have small notes with you. Your cruise ship may also set up a drinks bar in the market stool area where you can take advantage of your drinks package or simply charge to your account if you do not have any cash.
Mystery Island is a paradise to simply unplug and relax. I am sure there are a myriad of other activities to do, however on each visit we have been so mesmerised by the clear water and snorkelling that we have simply stuck with that. Feel free to leave other activities for this port in the comments below.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
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Lifou Island, New Caledonia, is a popular location for cruise’s sailing through the South Pacific. If you are thinking of, or have booked, a South Pacific cruise and are wondering what to expect from this island port, here are a few tips and ideas of things to see.
The island is quite small so a tender is required at this port, the view as you are anchored out at sea is that of a picturesque and quaint island that calls you from the ship.
We have been fortunate enough to visit on three occasions, each time we managed something new. So for a small island there is plenty to see and do. Here is our guide of things to do and see at Lifou Island.
Notre Dame de Lourdes
Upon arrival you will notice a small white church perched up on a hillside to the left. This is Notre Dame de Lourdes. Once off the tender walk straight up the hill through the markets and take the main road and head to the left.
You will walk past a few village houses and, if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, a plethora of butterflies just begging to be chased and photographed by your youngsters. Ours had their water cups provided by the ship upon arrival that they used to catch and release.
At the end of the road you will come to a path of stairs which will take you up to the summit of the hill to where the quaint church is perched. It is a bit of a hike, but well worth the effort.
Visit the church and then take in the amazing scenery.
For those with a sense of adventure the local grotto is a must when at Lifou. Ship tours will not take you here, probably due to OH&S, but for those with a sense of adventure - it is worth a visit.
When you arrive at the island walk straight through the markets, past the transport and up to the main road. This time take a right turn and follow the road.
It is a good 8-10 minute walk past village houses until you reach a church on the right. Just past the church you will see a clearing and entry into jungle like terrain. A local will be standing near the entrance ready to take your entry fee.
The price is $10 AUD per person, however I have negotiated that down when doing a subsequent visit with a number of children.
Follow the path through the trees and down into the cave until you reach the grotto. When you reach it, you will not be disappointed. Crystal clear, beautiful water just begging you to take the plunge into.
The locals have set up some lighting inside the cave and one or two hang around to spectate the cruise passengers experience - but you are essentially on a self-tour at your own risk.
Melanesian Discovery Tour
On our most recent visit to the island we decided to do a P&O ship tour - Melanesian Discovery Tour. The tour took us via van to a local church - John the Baptist, where we were given a history of the island and invited to view the church.
Stop number two was a visit to a local parliament house. A large thatched roof hut we were invited to remove our shoes and take a seat on the floor whilst our guide explained the ins and outs of the government structure on the island.
Stop three was a walk to a local village where we watched a cooking demonstration of chicken and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and buried in the ground. A previously prepared meal was then shared amongst the group.
The tour was interesting, we got a good understanding of the make-up of the island, however priced at about $200AUD for the family, I was a bit disappointed that our only interactions with the locals was primarily one guide. I personally was hoping for a greeting from the villagers, a dance, ritual or the likes.
The far side of the island is the location for snorkelling. If you have packed your own snorkelling gear simply walk straight through the markets, take the main road to the left until you see the road veer off to the right.
We have not personally snorkelled here, the weather has not been great on our visits and the sea a bit too choppy. But if you get a clear day, the beach is within walking distance.
Even for those that don’t venture into the water, there is still opportunity to spot the sea turtles that frequent the waters here. The tender jetty is the perfect spot to get a glimpse of these beautiful and large creatures.
The water on Lifou is crystal clear so instead of just being mesmerised by the views as you arrive and depart, take some time to scan the waters and you may just be rewarded for it.
As with all the islands, you will have an opportunity to shop at local markets and have your hair braided. However a word of warning, this stop is one of the most expensive of the islands I have visited to get your hair braided. If your itinerary includes Mystery Island - wait until you are there if you are after some tropical braids.
Massages on Lifou are available upon arrival. Priced at AUD$10 per 10 minutes I found this to again be one of the more expensive islands to indulge. If you are heading to Mystery Island as part of your itinerary they have a much better set up and it is much cheaper.
Have you been to Lifou? Leave a comment on what you experienced on your visit. Or if you are heading here and have questions, feel free to ask.
Other blogs you may be interested in reading:
Family Cruise Holidays - 5 Helpful Tips
Look Out Zimmer Frame, Zip Lines Coming Through - Adventures at Sea
Magical Moreton Island
Santo Blue Lagoon
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Penny, an avid Trip Advisor Reviewer, is the author of ITCHY FEET FAMILY. A family of 4 living in Adelaide, Australia, and taking every opportunity to travel and explore the world.