From Victoria, our first stop in Hawaii is at Hilo on the Big Island, a distance of approx 4300 km, if crows flew that far, or 7 days. Days at sea are a great opportunity to do nothing, to read, to look out over the ocean, to attend lectures, dance classes, go to the gym and/or catch-up with boring tasks which should have been done weeks, if not months, before. Making the most of sea days requires preparation and self-discipline otherwise it’s too easy to slip into the habit of allowing the first glass of champagne to control the rest of the day. In our case, the day is structured around the day’s highlight, the trivia quiz, as we’re on the most successful team, having won the last 2 tournaments (correction…3). We now have a vast selection of Seabourn “stuff”, that in our infinite generosity we allow the girls who look after our room to choose what they want. This is at midday, the online app then allows the intervening hours to be filled (or most commonly, not) from a rare item of interest from the timetable of events for the day. As an example of the events available to Seabourn guests: there are myriad possibilities to meet (otherwise known as spend money with…) with the spa team to rejuvenate, improve mindfulness, undergo acupuncture or get rid of those pesky wrinkles. Alternatively, learn to play bridge, or meet with fellow alcoholics at the euphemistically named “friends of Bill W”, or partake in afternoon tea to the lovely tunes of the resident pianist. In the evening there’s often a drinks reception, followed by more music, more drinks, dinner, poolside parties etc etc.
In addition there are lectures from speakers on a range of subjects, shows performed by the resident theatre group and the occasional comedian, magician or ventriloquist.
As we approached the Hawaiian islands bird sightings became more common, with the occasional Frigate bird or one of the 3 species of Boobies which live in the area. These are structurally similar to our Gannet and fish in a similar way, targeting the flying fish disturbed by the ship. In addition shearwaters and petrels can be seen, skimming the waves in gliding flight in their everlasting search for food.
On reaching Hawaii we had 1 day at Hilo on Big Island, 2 days in Honolulu on Oahu, single days on Kauai and Maui and then a final day at Kona, again on Big Island but on the opposite side to Hilo. We had arranged excursions on all but one of these days, leaving one day free in Honolulu. Being in the middle of the Pacific wind plays a huge part in dictating the climate and weather of all the islands and all the islands have a wet side and a dry side, with tropical rainforest cloaking the coasts exposed to the prevailing winds, the opposite side being arid and parched.
Our first tour out of Hilo was in a small van driven by a tour guide from Kona. The big attraction was the visit to the Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park where we were promised a walk along the crater rim and views across the still active caldera. En route we were supposed to be stopping at a coffee plantation and a winery but the itinerary changed and we ended up at Rainbow Falls in Hilo, a less-than dramatic water fall just out of town. This was followed by a stop at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm, or more precisely, the associated farm shop. The next stop was to an art gallery run by an artist who’d moved from Brooklyn whose first action on welcoming us was to hand round glasses of wine followed by lunch in the garden. This was a beautiful location but not quite the attractions we’d been led to expect. Finally we headed up hill to the national park where we stopped at viewpoints, the first where steam was issuing from large holes in the ground, a couple overlooking the crater and the final stop was a lava tube through which we could walk. Good views of the volcano were obtained, although the scale of the crater makes it difficult to capture on film.
As we left the lava tube the van broke down, effectively ending our tour. Luckily, being booked through Seaborn, the ship waited for us to return before leaving. In the end we were only 5 minutes late for the “all aboard “ time.
On day two, now moored in Honolulu, we went on a tour of the North Shore, a coastline of wild surfing beaches, accessed by crossing through the wild and mountainous interior of the island. The itinerary gave the impression that we’d be stopping a various places to be able to take photos and explore the coast but the reality was very different. We drove through the incredibly dramatic volcanic centre of the island without stopping, being encouraged to take photos through the bus window. We went past beach after beach without stopping and finally ended up at a Japanese temple which was pretty impressive but not really what we wanted
We then stopped at a sequence of what can only be described as shopping malls, one linked to a ranch where some of the Jurassic Park films were set, an area of stunning scenery
Another was a pineapple farm where the fruit could be bought in an infinite number of different flavours and presentations. The tour leader, billed as a naturalist and expert on the island, was no such thing and his inane babble, combined with a hugely irritating voice, caused a lot of anger on the coach. We now know a lot about how much motorways cost, golf courses cost, the films made on Oahu, everything except anything interesting.
So our first 2 tours, the first disappointing, the second, hopelessly inadequate, were not deemed a great success and a number of complaints were received by the Seabourn destinations team but things were set to improve.
On Kauai we’d booked on a tour up the river, first to a viewpoint overlooking the river where we saw our first tropic birds nesting in the cliffs.
Followed by a trip up-river to a famous fern grotto, often used for marriage ceremonies. Indeed a couple on board were married at this very place, 37 years previously.
That afternoon, on returning to the ship, we walked into the local town, Nawilwil
The next day saw us docked in Lahaina on the island of Maui, setting off on a tour of the island led by a laid-back Aussie who first took us to a memorial garden set in the fantastic mountains. The garden was designed to remember the various nationalities (Korean, Chinese, Indonesian, Polynesian and Portuguese) who came to the island to work on the sugar plantations 100 years ago, the centenary being in 2003. A smaller version of National Arboretum in Staffordshire England.
Our trip then took us to one of the more impressive surfing beaches on the island, complete with a number of large green turtles and a headland conserved for breeding Wedge-tailed shearwaters.
Our final and least impressive stop was at a plantation, now converted to a tourist destination selling all sorts of produce from the island. Most notable was the way that old plantation equipment had been re-used to create features across the estate.
That afternoon we ventured into Lahaina, a nice-looking town with some interesting stores and ice-creams
Our final day in Hawaii was back on Big Island, but in Kona on the dry side of the island. A submarine tour in the morning for one! (One of us not being brave enough!)
followed by a zodiac trip along the coast to a protected zone for snorkelling. The water was warm and the enclosed bay was still enough to allow good views of fish, the best being the Parrot fish, a remarkable creature that bites off and eats chunks of coral, extracts any nutrients and expels what’s left, thus creating the sand that makes up the beaches of Hawaii. When snorkelling the crunch of each bite can be heard quite clearly as they munch through the corals on the seabed. The captain of the zodiac was great and she encouraged the least brave one of us to go in snorkelling with a noodle to use as an aid to stop drowning. After initial trepidation in the water, relaxing proved easy and made a good trip great.
The bay was where Captain Cook landed at some stage on one of his 3 voyages in the area and near to where he was eaten for upsetting the natives. Only his bones were sent home (allegedly).
After a poor start, our visit to Hawaii proved to be a good one, we saw 4 of the islands, learned a lot about how they originated, their culture and history. The birds of Hawaii, however, haven’t had such a great time as the majority of endemic species (i.e. species that are found nowhere else on the planet) are no more, killed off by the many animals and insects brought in by explorers and merchants from the west. The most remarkable story concerns the humble mosquito, an insect previously not found in Hawaii but one that now spreads disease amongst the endemic birds of the island. The only reason why any survive is that mosquitoes only live near sea level so species of birds in the mountains are able to survive as the mosquitoes don’t get that far. This makes finding these birds very difficult as they are only now found in the most remote locations. In terms of biodiversity and endemic species, Hawaii was once the equal of the Galapagos islands, but this is not now the case.
Leaving Hawaii for a 6 day sea crossing only one thing lay in our way, the equator and the tradition of the equator crossing ceremony. To say the cruise director, John, is enthusiastic would be an understatement and his deck parties and general demeanour have been consistent in that respect. On the occasion of the reaching the equator, staff and guests not having previously crossed the equator need to be “initiated” and this took the form of a mock trial where made-up misdemeanours were punished by King Neptune by having to kiss a fish, get covered in dye and pushed in the pool. You are transformed from a Polliwog to a more acceptable Shellbac!
We have on board an Expedition team who are hoping to lead some trips in French Polynesia. They have ornithologists, sea mammal and fish experts and a chap whose expertise is in the practical side of being at sea. On sea days the team are available on deck every morning to look for birds & mammals, play with the sextant and discuss upcoming trips.
We are now looking to tomorrow and arriving in Fakarava our 1st stop in “Paradise?”