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Cruising To New Caledonia

A week on a cruise ship and hanging out on islands in the South Pacific for my friend’s 40th birthday

2020 is the year that a lot of my friends will turn 40 and the first on the list was Shane Worthington, the one I’ve known the longest. We’ve been close friends since we were five years old, were in pretty much every class through primary and high school together, and were best man at each other’s weddings. We spent all of our childhood and teen years hanging out together and, although we hardly get to see each other for years at a time due to me now living in Singapore and him in Canberra, ACT, when we do it’s like we only spoke yesterday.
That’s why when he told me at the beginning of 2019 that he was planning a cruise to New Caledonia for his 40th birthday, I knew we had to go. Anna instantly loved the idea, but not everyone else invited was able to make it so in the end it was ultimately going to be an eight-day cruise aboard a ship carrying almost 2,000 passengers, 800 crew and staff, and Shane’s group that would consist of himself, his wife, Danii, their 18-month-old daughter, Evie, an older couple that he used to work with, Sam and Kerri, and Anna and myself. We were scheduled to board the cruise ship at 1:00pm in Sydney, Australia on January 8 and depart for New Caledonia, spending almost three days at sea, before reaching the islands of Noumé, Maré, and Lifou, spending a day on each before making the trek back to Sydney and arriving on January 16, Shane’s birthday. Let’s see how this worked out.

Monday, January 6, 2020
Anna had booked our flights months prior and the holiday period is the worst time of year to travel to Australia, because it’s so expensive! To put the prices in perspective, we’ve booked return flights to Los Angeles next month and Cape Town, South Africa in June and neither of those flights were as much as return 7.5-hour flight from Singapore to Sydney in the summer. Our tickets were over S$2,000 (US$1,486) each and depart after midnight so Anna later decided that, because we had paid so much for the seats, we may as well pay extra and upgrade to Business Class so we could at least sleep easier on the flight and feel remotely fresh when we arrived.

I woke up on Monday morning to a message from Shane, asking what our plans were:


That’s right, we had messed up the flight details. Anna was meticulous when first booking the flights, but she thinks she may have rushed it a little when she upgraded our seats, resulting in us being scheduled to arrive a day early. There was no way Anna could get the day off work, I could’ve gone that night, but she also gets nervous when I fly alone due to my track record for having seizures on overnight flights so she rescheduled the tickets for the same time the following night… for the small fee of S$3,600 (US$2,675). So, now we were over eight grand down and hadn’t even set foot on the ship.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but we were a little nervous for obvious reasons, the main one being that if there were delays of any kind we would more than likely miss the cruise. There was also the possibility that getting into Sydney could be difficult due to the bushfires ravaging nearby areas, but fortunately everything went smoothly and we touched down in Sydney at about 11:30am local time, actually a little ahead of schedule. Once through immigration we collected our luggage, took a shuttle to the port in Balmain, went through the entire immigration and customs process again like you would at an airport, and soon we were aboard the Pacific Explorer, later departing Sydney at 4:00pm. Once inside there were a few things that immediately struck us:

  1. You don’t realise how big these ships are until you are onboard. It was so easy to get lost on this one.
  2. Anything that wasn’t in the cruise package you had initially purchased was extremely expensive — AU$25.00 (US$17.20) to wear what in a hotel would be a complimentary robe and AU$15.00 (US$10.30) to use an umbrella is just unreasonable.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not so much retirees that make up the majority of passengers on cruise ships. Maybe it was because it was school holidays, but there were a lot of families on this one. There were also a ton of people who must’ve just heard the words “complimentary buffet” as well, because some of the passengers were enormous!

We took our luggage to our rooms, had a look around the ship, and then went to the already crowded buffet for our first meal of the day. What I expected from the buffet was the crappy quality bain-marie stuff you get in public school canteens, but that wasn’t the case on this ship. There were separate stalls serving different dishes from around the globe, as well as salad bars, dessert cabinets, everything. We just went to the first stall we saw, which was the Mexican one, and the food was really good, but it wasn’t the most popular option there, that’s for sure. We would only eat at the buffet a few times on this trip, but what was truly mind-boggling was the sheer amount of french fries people would eat over the course of the cruise. The fish ‘n’ chips stall perpetually had a queue of at least 10 people, closely followed by the one selling hamburgers and chips, some people just getting basket after basket of fries from both stalls. It would be safe to say that the fish ‘n’chip stall fed around 10% of the passengers at any given meal, leading me to wonder how many tons of frozen chips must be stored in the galley of the Pacific Explorer to last an eight-day cruise with 2,000 passengers who have access to unlimited fries? I will get to the bottom of this matter one day, mark my words.

The rest of the day was spent quietly trying out the different bars and catching up with Shane and Danii for the first time in five years, as well as meeting Sam, Kerri, and baby Evie for the first time, with dinner at an Asian restaurant called Dragon Lady thrown into the mix and finishing up at The Blue Room. The good thing with the bulk of the onboard restaurants is that they are also complimentary unless you order one of the specials.
This is what Wednesday looked like:

Thursday, January 9, 2020
The next couple of days aboard the ship en route to New Caledonia were just spent relaxing, it was really only the nights where anything truly happened. Shane was up early every morning to change nappies and hit the gym, Anna and I would go down to the cafe a few floors down for coffee and then come back up to the cabin and read while relaxing to the sound of the ocean. On Thursday we had a couple of drinks after that, Anna had an afternoon massage, and soon it was time for dinner, because due to there being six of us and a baby, we had to either book a table at 5:15pm or 7:30pm. The latter was too late for an 18-month-old so we would have had to go with the former, a time when very few people under the age of 85 eat. Instead, we had burgers and wings at an outdoor bar. Shane and Danii were rather tired, Sam and Kerri decided to go see Normie Rowe play so Anna and I went to a standup comedy show, on this occasion being Hung Le. In Australia Hung Le is probably most famous for playing the Vietnamese boss in the local film Fat Pizza. I have never seen the movie, but I remembered him from watching comedy festivals on TV as a teenager and had always found him funny back then, but I figured he must be a bit washed up now if he’s doing the cruise ship circuit, just like once legendary entertainers that now play nightly in Las Vegas. I couldn’t have been more wrong, he was absolutely hilarious. The show started at 10:30 and went for 45 minutes, but Anna was fading towards the end so we went back to the cabin afterward and had what we consider an early night.


The burgers there were great!

Friday, January 10, 2020
Friday followed a similar pattern to Thursday, but the problem was that Anna had a lot of work to complete before the cruise, preparing presentations for upcoming conferences, completing and submitting journal articles in time for publication, that type of thing, but I don’t think even she realised how exhausted she was. She woke up at 10:00am for a 45-minute acupuncture session and I was still asleep when she returned so Anna got back into bed. Now, we realised when we were in the Galapagos Islands a few years back that the gentle rocking of a boat makes it a lot easier to sleep, but I’m still not sure that the motion of the ocean is solely responsible for Anna sleeping again until almost 3:00pm. Once she was awake we went to get coffee and then meet the rest of our crew in one of the bars, on most occasions it was the Explorer Hotel, for a couple of beers before an early dinner. There were quite a few bar options on the ship, but some only opened at night or were hosting events. It was always really hot and sunny on the deck with kids running around and screaming so we cancelled those options out. The foyer in the middle had a bar, but there was almost constantly a guy by the name of Kingsley playing there, whom we went on to dub “Elton Joel.” Kingsley wore a gold, glittery, plastic hat and despite being a decent piano player, couldn’t sing if his life depended on it, yet he would spend hours at the piano playing covers, roughly a quarter of each were either by Elton John or Billy Joel, hence the nickname. Upstairs was the Ocean Bar, but it was kind of small for the seven of us and you could still hear Elton Joel in there so we went to the adjacent, but separate Explorer Hotel on most occasions.
After a few drinks and a chat there was a dinner reservation waiting for us at an Italian restaurant onboard called Angelo’s and once again the food was great and their pepper grinder was hilariously large, but there was a bit of a problem with the way we were spending time on the boat; most days we would meet up before dinner and have a drink or two, then have dinner at 5:15pm due to how the reservations worked. Even if we sat at the table and had more drinks before ordering, by the time it was eight or nine o’clock in the evening it felt a lot later than what it actually was and, despite still being light at times, Anna would sometimes start to get tired again. This was one of those occasions so even though she had only been awake for six or seven hours, she went back to the cabin and checked in early, only about half an hour after the sun had set.

Most nights on this ship, besides the regular shows and entertainment, there were themed parties and the theme that night was Back to School. Everyone who attended was trying to look sexy or classy in their school uniforms, but Shane and I figured we could just go in what we were wearing because our school didn’t really have a uniform. The idea of a school party had us reminiscing about stupid things that had happened when we were in high school, such as setting a bucket of glue on fire which resulted in a student getting suspended for eating a cookie from our overweight principal’s desk. Or the time a football was kicked over the chainlink fence into the junior campus of the neighbouring Catholic school, but instead of climbing the fence or asking a student to kick it back, someone just got some bolt-cutters from the shed where automotive repair classes were taught and just cut a giant hole out of the fence to retrieve the ball. Then there was the time that there was a stabbing at our school in retaliation to something that happened to my friend, Owen. It sounds worse than it was, sure, a kid did get stabbed, but it was only in the side of the leg, painful, but not fatal. There was a banner at the Back to School party along the wall that could be signed so we added our little tidbit that you will see in the next bunch of photos.

The school party wasn’t really our thing and we had other plans anyway, namely to keep drinking until karaoke started and then take over. We were the fourth people to sing and we had a decent amount of liquid courage inside of us, plus we decided to play the sympathy card with a crowd that was more than likely assuming we were homosexual due to a combination of Shane’s shirt and the fact that we had chosen the song Maneater by Hall and Oates. “I’m Tim, this is Shane,” I said as I was handed the microphone. “Shane’s wife is stuck upstairs with the baby, mine’s passed out in bed so tonight we’re going to party,” and then we tore it up. Our rendition of Maneater was a crowd favourite that night, even when we got bored during a one-minute guitar solo and decided to give a botany lesson on the many plants surrounding the stage. We kept drinking and then later Shane wanted to do another song, Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang. The initial idea was that my role would be the hype guy, kind of like what Flavor Flav is to Chuck D in Public Enemy, however, Shane knows this song like the back of his hand, not even needing to look up at the lyrics. Besides being able to get the occasional “Yeah Boy!” in when he was out of breath later in the song and at one point calling up a bunch of eight-year-old children onto the dance-floor, my role eventually left me relegated to sitting on the on-stage ledge with my beer, surrounded by ficus plants while Shane blew away everyone in the bar with his rendition of the old school hip hop classic. I’m just glad they only had the “short” six-and-a-half-minute version, not the 15-minute take, but regardless, he blew Maneater out of the water to the point where people would come up to us for the remainder of the cruise, some referring to me as “Goose,” an incorrect reference to the sidekick of the main pilot in Top Gun (I think they meant Jester). Once karaoke was done we went back to the Blue Room to see the end of a really good band’s set before the place filled up with attendees of the Back to School party. Danii and Anna still say that because there is no video evidence, they are skeptical about our karaoke dominance, but Anna’s also seen what happens when I get a microphone after a few drinks, be it karaoke or even if a band is playing. Just because I can’t sing, it doesn’t mean I won’t. Still there are these pictures and a couple of other videos of Shane in the general vicinity of the dance floor:

Saturday, January 11, 2020
One thing about spending two-and-a-half days on a cruise ship is it’s not long enough to get your sea-legs so any time you’re walking around it feels like you’re drunk but without the pleasure of the booze. Saturday was going to be an interesting day, because when we woke we were docked a short way off Nouméa:

Nouméa is the capital and largest city of the French special collectivity of New Caledonia. It is situated on a peninsula in the south of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre, and is home to the majority of the island’s European, Polynesian (Wallisians, Futunians, Tahitians), Indonesian, and Vietnamese populations, as well as many Melanesians, Ni-Vanuatu and Kanaks who work in one of the South Pacific’s most industrialised cities. The city lies on a protected deepwater harbour that serves as the chief port for New Caledonia.

At the September 2019 census, there were 182,341 inhabitants in the metropolitan area of Greater Nouméa, 94,285 of whom lived in the city (commune) of Nouméa proper. 67.2% of the population of New Caledonia live in Greater Nouméa, which covers the communes of Nouméa, Le Mont-Dore, Dumbéa and Païta.

We were off the ship just before 8:00am, took a small boat to the island, and immediately went across the road to a nearby supermarket to get something to drink. We then walked around some of the main areas of the town, just exploring different parts like Coconut Palm Square and walking through Chinatown and the Latin Quarter while we waited for the crowd to subside so we could take the island tour in comfort. After an hour or so we took a tourist trolley around the city, taking in sites such as some canons installed by Australians at a fort at Ouen Toro, an old prison, the craft market, and a library with a dinosaur statue out the front.
The trolley tour was a round trip so once we were done we decided to walk along the coast and find somewhere for lunch. We had our minds set on a restaurant out on the water called Le Roof, but when we arrived and saw the prices, also remembering how we had paid 2,700 F (US$25.00) on a latte each earlier, we figured this island is either obscenely expensive or they must just bump the prices up substantially when the tourists arrive, because we were looking at paying at least around S$45.00 (US$30.00) each for lunch. Instead we walked back down the road along the beach, passing one of the most rancid-smelling portable toilets along the way, and we found a reasonably priced restaurant that sold a bit of everything, but was predominantly Italian food. We ordered and were then brought a basket of bread to eat with a mixture of olive oil and an unmarked bottle of brown liquid that one would assume was balsamic vinegar, but it only took Danii one bite to realise that it was a little saltier than normal and not particularly tangy. That’s because it wasn’t balsamic vinegar, but soy sauce. Still, it wasn’t that bad.
After lunch we started to make our way back to the boat and arrived at around 3:00pm. Shane and Danii decided to board then so Evie could have a nap, but we still had an hour before we were departing so Anna and I decided to pick up some supplies, including seeing sanitary pads for men which I should’ve bought for future trips to Myanmar, and have a look at some nearby shops that we hadn’t had a chance to earlier. This included visiting an awesome pinball store called Flipper Addict that was clearly set up by a guy who had come into some cash and started his dream parlour as a hobby, as well as servicing and supplying other machines, not that we saw a lot around. We had also been told on our tour that Coca Cola tastes better in New Caledonia because of the quality of the water used. We were both skeptical that Coke was even bottled there and neither of us has drunk any soft drink in years, but Anna wanted to try it and find out anyway. It just tasted the same as I remembered.
It definitely was nice to spend a day back on solid ground again:

When we were back aboard, Danii and Shane had decided to spend the rest of the night quietly, just a few drinks before dinner, which they had at the bogan-buffet. Sam and Kerri weren’t feeling so hot, resulting in us having dinner to ourselves so we went back to Dragon Lady for what turned into a kind of amusing evening. The two of us were led by the waitress to our table, one situated next to another table with two rather large women, one about twice as old as the other, from a small town located about 600km (372 miles) inland from Brisbane. They had ordered the same set menu as we were going to and had several nights prior, but when we sat down the younger of the women was dry-retching at the thought of eating even the tiniest bit of the squid skewer in front of her, even offering it to us. The older woman spent the entire time encouraging her to eat a piece and wasn’t taking “No” for an answer so after about 15 minutes the younger woman managed to summon up the courage to close her eyes and take a bite, tears welling up as she did. Once they saw how much we loved our skewers, the two women got talking to us, the younger one explaining that eating the squid would’ve been easier if it didn’t look so much like a squid. In fact, it turned out she had never even eaten pretty much anything that she was served and was apprehensive at all of them:

  • Squid skewers — “I was able to eat half an octopus ball once, couldn’t do the whole thing though.”
  • Marinated pork ribs — “I’ve never eaten ribs, I just feed them to my dog.”
  • Sautéed eggplant — “I don’t even know what it is.”
  • Curried beef — “That was probably my favourite out of everything.”

When the older woman heard that the younger one liked the curry, she tried to “educate” her on how curry is made, incorrectly telling her that it traditionally takes about five weeks just to make the paste, however, she could just buy Ayam brand curry powder and do it in a slow-cooker. Apparently her niece had tried to make it herself, but it still took about five days to make the paste because she needed to blend spices from scratch. They later told us about their small town that consisted of a pub and one small store, the two of them both working in the store. They even needed to hire and train new staff so they could both come on this cruise. My guess is the younger one will be sticking to the fish ‘n’ chips at the buffet from now on.

Our entertainment for the evening was to be sitting in a live incantation of the Australian TV dating show, Perfect Match. There was no Greg Evans or Dexter, but what unfolded that night was trashy comedic gold. For the uninitiated, Perfect Match consisted of a male or female contestant listening to the answers of questions asked to three suitor’s of the opposite sex that he/she was unable to see and then choosing the one with which they would like to go on a date. On the first round of the ship’s version the questions were asked of four young women and as soon as the blindfolded male admitted that he recognised the name of one of the suitors because they had hooked up the previous night, followed by another female suitor yelling to someone down the back of the room to get her another drink and a bag of salt and vinegar chips, I knew I just had to get filming. Also, we were seated behind someone with a cornrow combover (below), but I can’t help but think that they missed the opportunity to braid the combover section across their head. It was even more shocking when said individual stood up and turned out to be a woman:

Anyway, it was a hilarious night, some of the female suitors were pretty trashy and the bulk of the male ones were as thick as pig shit so witness some of the Perfect Match train-wreck for yourself:

Sunday, January 12, 2020
We would be making landfall again, this time on the island of Maré for some sand, sea, and sunburn. We got up reasonably early, put on some sunscreen, grabbed our swimming gear, and jumped on a boat to ferry us over to Maré Island:

Maré Island or Nengone is the second-largest of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. The island is part of the commune (municipality) of Maré, in the Loyalty Islands Province of New Caledonia.

The island is 42 km (26 mi) long and 16 to 33 km (10 to 20 miles) wide. It lies northeast of Grande Terre, New Caledonia’s mainland. Like its neighbor to the north Lifou, Maré is a raised coral atoll, a former atoll that has been lifted about 120 meters. The interior of the island is the former lagoon, surrounded by a rim of higher land that was the ring of reef islets. Its fossil coral rock is honeycombed with caves, pools, and pits of all sizes, whose sharp edges make for difficult walking. Because of the lifting, the current shoreline is relatively recent and supports only short sections of nearshore fringing reef, unlike the extensive barrier reef found on the main island of New Caledonia, Grande Terre. The narrow beaches of Maré are often backed by cliffs.

Shane, Danii, Evie, Anna, and myself all boarded our boat just after 10:00am for the short ride over some choppy water and we were soon back on the land. The first thing that struck me when we got off the boat was how clear the water was and how fearless the children living there were. A few of them were just blindly running up and jumping off cliffs into the lagoon below them, not a care in the world.
We walked along the beach, passing some stray dogs that were sleeping on the sand, until we got to an area that wasn’t too crowded with our fellow tourists, planted our towels, and then Anna rented some old, mouldy snorkelling gear for the two of us. The others played with Evie in a shallow part while Anna and I slowly made our way out to a coral area to snorkel. I say slowly, because the water was a lot colder than over here in the tropics and, although it doesn’t bother Anna in the slightest, it takes me a long time to fully immerse myself in rather cold water, because I need to work up the courage to submerge the three areas that the temperature shocks the most; the back of the knees, followed by the testicles, and finally the nipples. Once in we snorkelled for a while and saw some colourful fish and areas of coral, but it wasn’t really anything special.

After swimming we just spent time walking along the beach, drinking cheap beers, and laughing at the Instagram influencers getting more and more annoyed while taking and retaking at least 10 photos to try and perfectly capture one sole representation of just how relaxed and hassle-free their island-hopping life is. There were several stalls selling coconuts and braiding hair so another activity that brought us all immense pleasure was listening to bogans outside of their natural environment. “Mum, can I get my mullet braided?” was one pearl of wisdom we heard out of a child, while an extremely overweight woman replied to a man offering her a coconut that, “Coconut is f__king gross!”, leading us to believe she had only ever had the desiccated type that comes on a lamington, but never the fresh variety. Shane at one stage tried to order a coconut from one of the stalls, but the two guys working there were so baked it took them a few seconds to realise he was even standing in front of them.

Soon we were back on the boat and we returned to the Explorer Hotel for a few drinks, followed by dinner, and back to the Explorer again to watch an Asian woman and an African-American guy do some fantastic covers, the dude able to make all the high notes when they did Prince tracks, particularly Kiss. When we first entered they were playing Wishing Well by Terence Trent D’Arby so I mentioned to Shane that he was in the bathroom while I was taking a leak. He thought it was cool that I got to meet D’Arby while having a piss and went on to tell me about the time he met one of the Australian cricket team in a public toilet, however, I was only referring to the guy out of the cover band we were watching at the time. There was the White Party that night where everyone wore white, however, Shane suggested that we all should’ve gone as Walter White from Breaking Bad, but we didn’t attend for the same reason as any of the other parties, it was just too crowded in a really small space. Instead, we watched a talent competition that was just glorified karaoke, everyone trying to get me to enter, but me declining on the grounds that I wasn’t drunk enough, before calling it a night.
Looking back on Sunday:

Monday, January 13, 2020
Monday would be our last trek onto land, albeit a shortened one, this time on Lifou Island:

Lifou Island or Drehu in the local language is the largest, most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands (Loyalty Islands Province), in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. With a total area of 1,207 square kilometers Lifou is located east of Australia

Irregular in shape, Lifou Island is 81 km (50 mi) long and 16 to 24 km (10 to 15 miles) wide. The island is flat with no hills or rivers, but has abundant vegetation, dense interior jungles, fertile soils, terraced cliffs and breath taking reefs and corals.

Lifou Island is a former coral atoll that was part of a submerged volcano. Nearly 2 million years ago, the island was uplifted to its present shape and elevation, today it sits at a mere 60m above sea level at its highest point. Since there are no rivers on Lifou, the water comes from rain that seeps through the calcareous soil and forms freshwater ponds.

The term Kanak is used for natives of the islands and their native language of the island is Drehu, with people descending from Melanesians and Polynesians. With a total of 19 different tribes inhabiting the three Loyalty Islands, six of which are on Lifou.

Anna was keen to swim again, but I had no intentions of taking my shirt off, because I didn’t want to add to the searing pain I was in from how sunburnt I had got the previous day while swimming. I had put sunscreen on my torso, legs, and lower arms and Anna had covered my back, but I missed my upper arms and shoulders which were now bright red. In fact, it was so bad you could map the way I had applied the sunscreen by simply examining the finger lines in the burnt areas! Seriously:

If not applying sunscreen correctly was my main regret from Sunday, wearing sneakers that I hadn’t worn since going to the gym back when we lived in New York years ago would be my regret for Monday as you will soon find out.

We boarded another small boat to take to Lifou and it was extremely windy while we were on our way to the island, but it wasn’t just at sea, the wind was strong on the land, too. We had a heavy bag with us so we planted that under a tree at the exact same time an elderly woman tripped over a tree root and slid down a small embankment, cutting her arm in the process, but she was okay so we went to explore our last stop in New Caledonia. We found ourselves walking past traditional grass huts beside the crystal clear ocean and we were only about 15 minutes into our trek when part of the sole of my shoe came off. I figured it was no big deal and kept walking when almost all of the entire sole of the same shoe immediately came unstuck. On the ship we had to use a swipe card to pay for things, as well as enter our rooms, and I had mine on an elastic band around my wrist so I took the band and wrapped it around my shoe in a futile attempt to keep the sole from coming more and more detached. The scenery was stunning and soon we were near an old cathedral on the island when the sole of the other shoe came right off. These things were just disintegrating and it was now time for me to make use of the band of Anna’s tag to keep that sole on so after a quick pitstop at the cathedral we were off again. The sole that had come fully detached shifted as I walked, something that wasn’t an immediate issue, but it could have disastrous consequences soon; our plan was to walk through some thick jungle and descend down a considerably steep path consisting solely of some extremely slippery rocks to reach an underground cave system so I would need all of the grip I could get, not soles attached to my shoes by elastic.
Besides the constant need to shift and adjust the soles we made it down to the caves just fine. It was a bit of a squeeze getting there and I had to duck through some low hanging areas, resulting in some local kids coming to the conclusion that I must be a professional basketball player, one even asking if he could have my cap. Once inside the caves there were freshwater pools that were about four metres ( 13′) deep where you could swim, but they were also freezing cold. It may have been able to relieve my sunburn somewhat, but I’m not a fan of the cold, let alone swimming in it, so we just had a look around and then made our way back up the path to the surface. Once at the top I tore the remaining portions of the soles off both sneakers, the end result resembling a pair of cycling cleats. We continued walking around the island, me in my disfigured shoes, before heading back to the boat. Shane and Danii checked out a vanilla farm and saw some wild pigs while they were in Lifou, but this is what Anna and I saw:

It was still extremely rough when we were back on the ship. In fact at one point when we were having a bite to eat in the buffet it felt like the ship dipped down and hit something, but it was nothing to really worry about, it was just a bit difficult walking around.

The rest of Monday and Tuesday were quite similar on the ship. We spent most of our time relaxing in the cabin, eating, drinking, and trying to avoid hearing Elton Joel. We saw more talent contests and karaoke that featured a young guy doing an over the top cover of Greased Lightnin’, hamming it up even more the following night in the final. We watched a band do a decent Amy Winehouse tribute show, Anna and Danii went to a stage show the next night while Shane and I just hung out, and we also went in a contest where the funniest answers to questions were read out, except when it came to ours, because we wrote down some messed up stuff that they refused to read. An ongoing theme on the ship was photographers asking to do glamour photos for you and then charge you extortionate prices for a printout, but Shane and Danii had paid for a photo package so they got some glamour shots done, dragging me into a couple with Shane. Also on the Tuesday night there was a 1920s themed ‘Gatsby’ party and Anna and I met an elderly couple from Liverpool, England (below) who had attended and got chatting to them afterward. He was telling me about how he grew up during the depression and had to steal pigs to feed his family, including his 11 siblings. He even taught me how to steal them. While we were having this conversation his wife was telling Anna that he also used to string guitars for the Beatles when they first came out and that he even played guitar for Cilla Black! He never even mentioned this until Anna told me and I asked him about it!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
It was the eve of Shane’s 40th birthday and our last day on the ship. Anna and myself went down to get coffee, passing Danii on the way who told us that there was a ton of fresh seafood available at the buffet today so once coffee was done we feasted on fresh prawns, mussels, and crabs.
After lunch we went to the Explorer Hotel early to try to secure a seat for that afternoon’s trivia competition. It’s difficult to get a table for trivia, because the place fills up with people playing cards, mainly Uno, and they won’t move until the trivia competition has finished. We managed to get a seat, but many others missed out due to the card players, and we ended up absolutely blitzing most of the competition. As soon as trivia was over, the table of Uno players next to us packed up their stuff, smirked like the asshats they are, and left the bar, but we weren’t going anywhere for a while, instead sitting around listening to one of the great cover bands we had seen on a previous night. Once we did leave, it was up to 400 Gradi for Shane’s pizza birthday dinner which concluded with us filling out a feedback form with the request that they never let Kingsley, AKA Elton Joel back on the ship again, or at the very least to not allow him to have a microphone. Once done we dropped into the The Bonded Store so Sam could buy Shane a top-shelf whiskey and then it was back to the Explorer for more drinks, but Shane was getting a tad sleepy. We sat through more karaoke, the winner of the talent contest finally choosing a new tune! We were all relieved, I even turned to a complete stranger and said, “At least it’s not f__cking Greased Lightnin’!”, to which she laughed and agreed. I guess I spoke too soon, because only a few songs later he was back with an even more amped up version of Greased Lightnin’, acting out the entire dance from the movie as he went. Seriously, I think this guy must’ve had to play the role of Grease‘s Danny for his recent high school end-of-year concert, it was still fresh in his head, and he figured if he pulled it out enough times he might be able to score his very own Sandy.
As it approached midnight I let the guy taking karaoke requests know that it was Shane’s birthday, grabbed a round of drinks for us, and welcomed in his fifth decade, Shane initially irritated at the thought that he was going to have to get up and sing, but I only got the karaoke guy to get the room to sing Happy Birthday. It all didn’t last much longer than that.

Thursday, January 16, 2020
It was time for us to all say our goodbyes when we got off the ship that morning; Sam and Kerri had to catch an early flight back to Brisbane, Shane, Danii, and Evie were soon going to be on the bus home to Canberra, and we would be flying back to Singapore later that night. However, we had the entire afternoon to wander around Sydney so we got the nearby train station to store our luggage and we took a train into town to have a look around. I’ve never really been a big fan of Sydney, but I did manage to buy something I’ve always wanted while we were there, a Manute Bol jersey from his rookie season with the then Washington Bullets:

All in all our first ever cruise was an absolute blast, far more fun than we had anticipated and we were expecting to be awesome anyway. I hope you had a great time for your 40th, Shane, it was cool to finally meet Evie and see Danii again, as well as hang out with Sam and Kerri, now you all need to come and visit us in Singapore!

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2 Comments on Cruising To New Caledonia

  1. Wow!!! A lot to take in. Beautiful.

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