Arrive in New Zealand
Meeting the MV Orion in Auckland, New Zealand, is a bonus before you even board the ship. Spend the day prior to departure with the lambs at Cornwall Park and getting a taste of a Maori hangi (it’s a feast cooked in the ground). Once on the ship you’ll head toward the Bay of Islands. There you can take a short flight to Cape Reinga for a ground tour and some dune sledding. For a more cultural thrill, take the Maori waka canoe trip to Haruru Falls with a Maori warrior. It’s an unforgettable encounter. Kayaking to the falls and Waitangi Estuary is another option, though without the flavor of a Maori chief leading the way.
Dive New Caledonia
Disembark at Kuto Bay off the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, an island famous for the towering Araucaria columnaris pine trees, soft sand beaches and pristine snorkeling among 350-plus species of marine life. Look for clownfish, anthias and colorful nudibranchs hiding among the staghorn, star and other hard corals. Spend time in Vao, the island’s only village, and meet the “little chiefs” of the eight tribes that populate Isle of Pines. Follow the path that leads up the hill that overlooks Kuto for one of the best views in Melanesia. For dinner, eat at the ship’s Delphinus Outdoor Café and then head up to the hot tub on the sun deck to stargaze.
Go Deep into Vanuatu
Hike up to the edge of the active caldera called Mount Yasur on Tanna Island, and experience an eruption with all five senses. Stay after dark for the best light show on Earth. After lava comes kava. Drink the potent stuff on the one-time cannibal island of Malekula after watching the matriarch of the village dance. The inhabitants of this island are fierce warriors known as the Small and Big Nambas, a designation given to them based upon the size of their penis sheaths. (You can guess which had the fiercer reputation.) Shop for exquisite wood carvings in the markets of Port Vila, and look for the tamtams, which are drums carved with human visages.
Find the Unseen Solomon Islands
Imagine an island that looks like Bora Bora but is mostly untouched by outsiders. That’s Utupua. The Polynesian/Melanesian kids here will melt your heart. Then listen to the pan flute-playing warriors of the island of Santa Ana, who also utilize a percussive musical instrument made of various sizes of bamboo lashed together and played by hitting with a flip-flop. See the small palm island where President John F. Kennedy hid out during World War II after his PT boat got sliced in half by a Japanese frigate. It’s called Plum Pudding Island and has become renowned for its snorkeling.
Ride on a boat across the muddy lagoon to the base of Papua New Guinea’s Mount Tavurvur, which erupted in 1994 and destroyed 80 percent of Rabaul’s buildings. Explore the surreal landscape surrounding the still-active caldera of Mount Tavurvur. Pack for your charter flight to Cairns, Australia, for the long trip home. After 17 days at sea and an itinerary crammed with unforgettable encounters, your head will be spinning with memories. Plus, you’ll have made an entire shipload of friends from around the globe.