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.
The morning sun found a few early travelers on the bow of National Geographic Orion searching for birds with naturalist Mike Greenlander. By 7:00 a.m. we were within view of our destination. The views of Owaraha Island and the varying shades of aquamarine in the surrounding reef were simply breath taking. The coral island of Owaraha in the Solomon Islands is a touch over twenty-five square kilometers, with three separate villages and just under 4,000 inhabitants. A very personal feeling of magic was felt – plunging your feet through the water and into the soft white sand beneath as you walk along the beach. We were guided through the village by elders and ecstatic children slapping five and asking our names. The center was lined with wood carvings and abalone shells. We left with more than a few souvenirs. Our guests were shaded from the sun beneath a shelter and treated to a truly remarkable experience of local heritage. As musicians in grass skirts played vibrant songs, throngs of dancers took center stage. The first songs told stories of butterflies, the collection of food, and life on the island. As the show went on it built to a battle of the mud men, with villagers covered in black mud defeating those in red for the favor of the women of the village. The two-mile trail over the hill where the school lies leads to the village on the opposing white sandy beach. All along the way, children surround us. Near the water is an open walled sacred structure known as the spirit house. To enter you must climb over a few logs that serve to mark the space. Inside, on opposing sides, the ancestral clans of Turtle and Snake are represented. In those spaces lie the bones of each clan’s chiefs. It is believed that the spirits of these chiefs live within this house. When we left, the sun was hanging directly over us and the walk back was a challenge. The guests of National Geographic Orion earned the drinks awaiting them on board. There was a playful energy throughout lounge as our freshly showered guests laughed and reminisced about the day and settled in for the journey to Vanuatu.
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.