untitled-66 Mooreauntitled-26 Resortuntitled-11Polynesian burial ground

Moorea – December 6, 2014

Pictures include: The scene of Moorea as we are anchored inside the reef, cottages from a resort over the water, and the ancient ceremonial alter from the polynesians before the Europeans came to island.

Also volcanic with huge peaks, Moorea is considered the “romance” island. Many films were made here about the South Pacific and one peak was filmed for a shot of “Bali High” in “South Pacific.” The highest peak is 4,000 feet. Island crops are vanilla, copra and coffee, but we also saw shrimp farms and Taro growing in marshy areas. Our morning island investigation took us on a ride to the top of several peaks for spectacular views. And, on the way down, we visited the sacred ceremonial area for the early Polynesians where their chiefs made sacrifices to the gods.

Back in the water, we snorkeled the reefs, but were disappointed at the destruction of them caused by their 2012 cyclone. However, coral is trying to rebuild in many areas. Fish were abundant and lots of dolphins played in the water as our boat came in. We learned that the dolphins play and rest in the lagoon during the day and then head for open waters in the night to feed. They are very entertaining. Our divers even got shots of them playing with different pieces of garbage in the water. We also swam and snorkeled from the beach where coral was just barely under our bellies as we swam into deeper waters.

In the evening we returned to Papeete (Tahiti) to refuel because this will be the last fueling until the Orion reaches the southern tip of Argentina the end of December getting ready for the Antarctica trips. However, we were lucky to arrive for the Papeete Christmas festival with an electric light parade, orchestra music and a spectacular fireworks display. Following fireworks, Tahitian dancers came on board to entertain us with song and dance. Of course they tried to teach us “Westerners”– stiff as we are–to move and dance. A wonderful evening in Tahiti!

The next day, Pearl Harbor Day, the ship returned to Makatea for divers to dive and some of the photographers who were not on the previous trip to walk on shore to investigate the wreckage from the abandoned phosphate mines. Alan and I chose to stay on board to work on reading, writing, and catching up on e-mails.


Tahiti and Bora Bora

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Tahiti- Papeete – December 4 & Bora Bora December 5, 2014

Pictures include: first three are Bora Bora where Alan was served his rum punch on a beautiful beach at sunset and where we climbed to see the WWII cannon that protected the island.  The second three pictures are in Papeete (Tahiti) where we visited an ancient ceremonial center, then a Catholic Church and finally were treated to fireworks at night for the celebration of Advent starting the Christmas season.

Tahiti is a booming city with a big airport and about 70% (or about 200,000) of French Polynesia live there.   This was changeover day for the ship where the last segment left and a new group of people boarded Orion. Alan and I took the day tour to visit several grottos, botanical gardens and a sacred burial garden with ancient pagan statues and a replica of the tribal ritual area where human, animal and plant sacrifices were made to the pagan gods. I loved the comment made by the guide when she discussed how the pagan gods respond to natural phenomena like rain, sun, good fishing, good harvest of coconuts etc. She reported that when missionaries came Polynesians were “civilized” and asked to wear clothes—as if becoming “Christian” was synonymous to wearing clothes. We also visited the home of an English man who had come to Tahiti when he was 25, 50 years ago. He now owns a beautiful home near the isthmus of Tahiti and Tahiti ita surrounded by gardens and overlooking the bay where much of “Mutiny on the Bounty” was filmed. His wife showed us the gardens and the medicinal significance of each tree or plant. He also owned the local restaurant where we had lunch and fed his hungry fish in his netted lagoon outside the restaurant—not particularly environmentally smart, but fun to watch the hungry fish fight for morsels. Polynesians brag they are the best canoe paddlers in the world—always winning international competitions. Too bad that is not part of the Olympics.

The economy here is not strong. A lot of discussions about the pros and cons of remaining part of France were made by the guides who admitted that their standards of living would be far less if they became independent. The French can over-rule the Tahitian government leaders and in fact just fired the President who was voted in by the Tahitians. Several resorts have closed due to lack of patronage and tour companies are crying for tourists. The cost of living is very high ($10 for gallon of gas) and about double of the United States for housing. Most people grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables in their gardens.

Today on Bora Bora, we visited by jeep, most of the island to catch views of the island and reefs, see some of the 20+ resorts, and even the abandoned Allied Forces defense system of gun emplacements on the tops of the volcanic mountains. The Japanese never were on this island. Allied defense was fairly weak with the use of 8 pre-World War I guns. However, we learned that Bora Bora had 6000 Allied Forces stationed here to repair ships, refuel and re-supply ships, and offer R and R. With many of the Polynesia men in Europe helping France and Allied Forces there, women were left alone on the island to propagate blue-eyed children. However, the Tahitian guide said when their Polynesian men returned, it is the Polynesian way to accept and love all children.

Tonight we snorkeled off a small motu (small island in the lagoon) with a beautiful beach. Our ship even had cocktails for us there at sunset before we headed back to the ship for dinner. Alan loved standing in the lagoon with sharks circling his feet and being served tropical punch and appetizers. Food on the ship has been superb with so many choices for each meal: lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as beautifully presented meals.

French Polynesia

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French Polynesia – Makatea and Rangiroa- December 2-3, 2014

The first pictures are of Makatea which is a coral uplift and rich with phosphate which was mined extensively.  There are a lot of old rusted parts to mining equipment on the island.  The picture of the pearl culture expert and the speared coconut high in the air (a game) are from our walks in Rangiora.

Rangiora atoll is the second largest atoll in the world—so big you cannot see across once you are inside the lagoon. We anchored for the first time in days. Up until now when we went ashore, the captain kept the boat in place with motor & bow thruster because it was too deep outside the other atolls to anchor. But, now inside the lagoon it is beautiful and calm with extremely clear water. We took zodiacs to one part of the island where there is a school, church and a few homes. A very sleepy town with only a few residents, who, we surmised, must work at local resorts. Alan and I walked through the neighborhoods admiring flower gardens, an occasional satellite disk, and some outrigger canoes for racing. We also admired people playing a spear coconut game where contestants throw spears into a coconut that is placed high in the air on a pole. Hot after our walk, we plunged into the water alongside the cut coming into the lagoon where currents ran strong. The afternoon we drove to another pearl farm learning a few new things about the pearl farming on this island. They are sometimes able to keep the oysters producing pearls after three seedings. They keep their oysters in the water longer for 3+ years, and the colors are more variable. Snorkeling around the interior island here is primo with clear water, beautiful reefs and lots of fish, big and small.

Makatea Island was very different. Once a phosphate mining operation from 1917 to 1964 there are still lots of signs of the mining operations: rusted rail lines, trains, gears and other rusted equipment. This is an uplifted coral island one of only two in the south Pacific. About 70 people still live on the island in fairly nice homes. The school was small but we sat outside and listened to the children sing. As in Mexican schools art and music is a very important part of their curriculum. The dominant language is French. However, most residents speak their Polynesian language to each other.

The highlight of this island was a walk—a very long, hot 6-mile (10 Km) walk in blazing sunshine to a Grotto where we could swim. I called the walk the “death march,” but once at the grotto, there was no way I was going to miss this very steep climb (hand under hand and backward) into the dark cavern to luxuriate in the fresh cool water. We climbed backwards over very steep rocks down into the cavern and then plunged into this beautiful deep cool water. Pretty close to heaven after the long hot hike to the grotto! Fortunately, we loaded into the flatbeds of local trucks to get back to the landing for the ship.

Kiribati and the International Date Line

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November 29 and Sunday, November 30th.

Pictures include scenes from several islands in the Kiribati Islands: several natives show the giant coconut crabs.  There is a marker for Millennium Atoll where the Frenchman lived on his old sailboat for 10 years.  Also pictured are black face boogie birds.

Skies clear, seas calm as we cruised to two of the most remote and pristine atolls on earth at 10 degrees latitude south. Flint Island is part of the Southern Line Islands and 400 nautical miles northwest of Tahiti. Magellan first landed here in 1521, but since there was not much here he sailed on leaving only rats to inhabit the island. Today we took zodiacs on shore through the reef with waves splashing violently on both sides. There is a very narrow cut through the reef our explorers found. We spent about two hours exploring the island that is part of the 1856 U.S. Guano Act meaning the U.S. could collect Guano for fertilizer if they wanted, but apparently never have. The island is a bird haven for nesting birds: boobies, frigates, terns etc. And, the inside of the island sounds like an aviary. Everywhere we looked were nesting birds. But, also rats roamed the island making it difficult for hatching. The surprising find were large coconut crabs—about 4 feet across with tremendous claws. The one we found on the beach had a huge egg case underneath.


The second day, we stopped at Millennium Atoll reputed to be the first place other than Antarctica to usher in the Millennium. At the edge of the Atoll is a monument to the Millennium and close by a pile of old champagne bottles. In the shallows black tipped sharks swam lazily. There is a sailboat on this island with a man living in it. We zodiaced over to talk with him—a Frenchman who said he’d been there for 10 years. It is a 5-day sail, he said to Tahiti. I used my limited French and he was very accommodating. He wanted us to take a letter to his mother.

Heading to the north part of the interior of the atoll, dodging huge coral mounds, we got out and snorkeled in a very protected bay with beautiful clams exhibiting colors of purple, blue, green and yellow obtained from nearby algae. Lots of reef sharks, angelfish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, and damselfish swam about us. With crystal clear waters, calm and clear, the snorkeling presented a wonderful array of underwater entertainment.

Both afternoons we snorkeled outside the atolls along the reefs, but the currents and surges made swimming more difficult than the pristine swims among beautiful coral mounds inside the atolls. It is assumed that barring any huge storms, these atolls will be filled in with coral in years to come.

A sighting today of beaked whales in a pod of about 10 swam off our stern. These are rare whales without much information on them. They are toothed and feed mainly on squid. Our divers jumped into zodiacs and tried to swim with them, but they never resurfaced.

One unfortunate happening today involved the Frenchman who lived on Millennium Atoll. Seven Kiribati officials on board are required for a trip like this and went on shore to confront the Frenchman. The Frenchman grew his own marijuana and probably had assorted other drugs in his cabin. The “officials” wanted our ship to confiscate the marijuana, but finally, they decided to just pull up the plants and throw them into the bay. The captain would not permit the marijuana on board his vessel. Poor guy had been living a peaceful life for 10 years there. The same officials yesterday took fruit ashore to entice the coconut crabs into their buckets. They wanted to eat the crabs, but National Geographic prohibited then from doing this since the crabs are very rare. The officials lied to the captain saying they were taking buckets ashore to keep themselves cool. So, their dishonesty seems all right for them, but not for the poor Frenchman who had peacefully been living on his boat in the bay for 10 years.

Cook Islands

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Cook Islands, November 25-27, 2014

Pictures include people on these islands who welcomed us. There was great ceremony with a priest who blessed us and village elders who welcome us. Always the children greeted us and we visited their schools.  Pigs are a part of their diet in most of these villages.

Nassau to Manihiki Atoll to Penrhyn Atoll

First of all we learned that atolls are created because the volcanoes have risen and then eroded while the coral around them kept growing up. So there is now a lagoon inside an entire reef island—like necklaces these atolls are scattered throughout the South Pacific.

After a day at sea we stop at Nassau Island in the Northern Cook Islands. However, on the day crossing a tired tern landed on the ship.   The villagers on Nassau are currently constructing solar panels for electricity for the island of 70+ people who greeted us with warm welcomes. We walked through their village where most homes now have metal roofs and cisterns for water collection. Pigs were tied under trees to root. Chickens also scratched around the pigs for pieces of grain. We were all offered coconut milk to drink and to pull out the meat. The highlight for me was visiting the school where the children and the chief sang several songs for us. I had a wonderful visit with the primary teacher who talked about teaching the children to read first in their native Maori tongue and then in English. She desperately needs books and specifically mentioned Big Books for the children. Only a few books are written in their native tongue. A rusted supply shipwreck from 1984 whose captain was purportedly drunk when he made landfall rested on the beach. Islanders told us we were the first ship to land on their shores in memory.

On Manihiki Atoll, the villagers were ready for us. This atoll is one of the most productive black pearl farming areas in the South Pacific. After a long welcome with a priest praying for us to welcome the day that the Lord has given us, we listened to other village elders welcome us, and then children danced and sang to us. I’m sure they were glad for the day off of school. Visiting a pearl seeding barn showed us the meticulous work that is done in very sterile circumstances with two Japanese brothers who live here nearly year around to seed the oysters. The seeds are from river clams on the Mississippi river and sent to Japan to carve out bits of mother-of-pearl then coated with antibiotics and shipped to Manihiki Atoll where they are placed in oysters along with additional mother of pearl for coloring then strung on ropes and placed in their lagoon for 18 months to grow into beautiful black pearls. We watched as divers pulled the ropes up and opened the oysters to reveal pearls that had been growing. From over 200 farms to 23 currently, the owners all must be island descendants. A Chinese man wanted to become a partner with one of the locals and that was allowed as long as he was only a partner. That afternoon we snorkeled in beautiful clear warm coral waters teaming with fish. The coral has been very healthy and the only indications from destruction come from storm damage. Now the healthy coral is rebuilding.

That evening right before sunset as we headed to Penrhyn Atoll, a large dark object was sighted—not an overturned boat—but rather a dead sperm whale. Despite the horrible smell, divers headed to investigate and photograph. They tried to take the whale teeth with a value of $100,000 but were unable to detach the jaw from the whale that had been eaten by sharks, fish, birds, and other marine animals.

Penrhyn Atoll was much like Manihiki but there were no pearl farms. The ladies were experts at weaving beautiful hats and fans called rito weavings from the coconut fiber. The hats cost in the range of $150 to $200. Again, we had an elaborate welcome from the Priest, the city fathers, and the children with song and dance. Again we visited the school—supported by New Zealand, several of their homes, and saw evidence of the 2012 hurricane (cyclone). Like the other islands, many homes have vacated because of lack of jobs. Most have immigrated to New Zealand.

The interesting history of this atoll is the long runway where B 17’s and larger bombers landed during WWII as a stopping from Hawaii to New Zealand. There is even the wreckage of a B24 off the runway. From the story we learned that although the landing crash caused total wreckage, all occupants escaped alive. Today a plane comes in once a week stays the night and then heads to Raratonga, the capitol of the Cook Islands. They say the one-way ticket is $1200. Like the other islands mopeds were the favored transportation. And, most young people held I phones with ear buds listening to music.

The Cook Islands were settled by Polynesians thousands of years ago, but the Europeans discovered them in the late 1700s. Sadly, slavers came to these islands in the late 1800’s taking many to work in the mines of Peru.

As with the other Atolls, we had a wonderful swim outside the reef with good looks at abundant fish including three types of sharks who swam lazily among the coral below us but never threatening us.

Fiji- Bula Bula!

untitled-4 neck cracker to crossuntitled-20 international lineuntitled-33 waterfall in Fijiuntitled-52 discussion of childrenuntitled-55Fiji men cooking Fiji- Tuesday November 18-Friday, November 21 Pictures:The first picture shows the neck cracker that transformed into a cross when the Christians came to Fiji.  I am standing at the divide of the International Date line.  We swam in this waterfall, I talked with a village lady as we shared stories about grandchildren and the village men prepared our feast. Bula, Bula Our introduction to the 130+ Fijian islands talked of cannibals who ate brains with brain forks, and had elaborate tools for cracking necks and skulls. But with the missionaries’ arrival to the islands in the early 1900’s much changed, even though a few early missionaries were purported to have been killed and eaten. But the presence of churches on the islands has had a significant impact on village life, schools, and religions that mix with their pagan rituals. Methodists and Catholics were the dominant religious groups, but also we noted a strong presence of LDS, Seventh Day Adventists and a few Baptists. Now, in the villages the church building is the largest building and is also used as a community center or gathering place. Right away as we arrived at Beqa Island, we were greeted with warmth and love, instead of a warring party, spears in hand as we’d been used to on PNG and the Solomons. They sang, offered us food, and of course had jewelry and baskets to purchase. They were proud of their village and entertained us on Beqa with dancing and fire walking. Here we swam and snorkeled, got massages from the wonderful ladies with strong hands, and for some tried CAVA, a root narcotic drink that numbs your mouth. Finally, they gathered to sing a farewell to us. Soothing would be the word for this visit. The next day in Lautoka we docked and took a town tour visiting another church village where the symbol for head cracking had turned into a Christian cross. In all these native villages we were asked to remove hats, and to cover our shoulders and knees. Stability in government is difficult because people vote for their tribal member (leader) and not issues. Another stop took us to a large orchid garden with hundreds of varieties of wild orchids, and finally to the marina for lunch. It felt very strange being in civilization, but Alan was happy to be able to buy a sula (Fijian skirt) and Bula shirt. The new passengers boarded and we bade farewell to most of the guests from the first two weeks. We then headed out to several more islands to explore, swim, snorkel, and get back to the native cultures where again, people were very welcoming. One village on Taveuni Island had prepared for months for us. They erected a shelter wrapped with braided palms and ginger flowers. The ladies prepared traditional foods complete with the banana wrapped chicken and taro roots. We were shown through their village that has just received solar panels for electricity to power a light bulb and their cell phones. Yes, they all have cell phones. Alan and I swam here and had a wonderful visit with several leading ladies of the village. We talked about our grandchildren and where their children go to school. They fully embraced us as we left with many hugs. I can see how Fiji draws so many Australian families: friendly, close for the Aussies, and affordable. Great emphasis is placed on preserving sections of ocean for renewal of fish populations. We met a lady whose sole mission is to help the villagers collect data on the health of their fishing places. So far, they are very successful. We also saw that the Chinese had moved in, living in their gated community while building a hydroelectric dam. Like the Clear Lake area in Houston, natives are concerned about their eroding shoreline and are now asked to build house higher in elevation and away from the shore. They are encouraged to plant mangroves and not sea walls.

Tonga to Samoa

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Tonga to Samoa (Apia), November 24 to Cook Islands November 25, 26, 27

Pictures: The first three are in Tonga of the church, the pig in the church yard and Alan pointing out the state of most cars in Tonga. The second three are in Samoa where RLStevenson lived the last four years of his life.  Dancers performed at his house.  The last picture is the Catholic church in Samoa.

The Tonga arrival early in the morning allowed us a half-day to wonder the streets. Alan and I chose to visit several sailboat-leasing companies including Moorings. We received sailing maps and got information about provisioning. The local market was also held close to the dock and we wondered through the produce stands and craft barns with a myriad of carvings, weavings, and jewelry and grass skirts. The fishhook necklace is the desired ornament for Tonga. We climbed to the Catholic Church sitting high on the hill overlooking the harbor and were amused to find a pig in the churchyard rooting along the edge of the church. Gospel singers performed on the opposite corner. Everyone was extremely friendly as we wondered the streets. The afternoon saw us anchored at a remote island for snorkeling and swimming. Coral, an array of fish and pristine beach made this a perfect place. And, coming up from our snorkel we were greeted by a bell—yes an ice cream bell! The wonderful staff brought ice cream bars to the beach for our refreshments. We hated to leave.


Part of the expedition called for landing on a reef atoll. However, once through the reef, the tide started to drop and with our boatman pushing the boat back across the lagoon, we narrowly made it back to the ship before the water dropped too low. As a result we snorkeled on the outside of the reef, jumping in from our zodiac.


That night as we left whales surrounded our boat and put on quite a show: humpbacks, two sperm whales and a pod of pilot whales. Amazing show! The sperm whale spouted many times and then flipped us his tale to dive deeply. What an ending to Tonga. A very tired tern landed on our deck and actually allowed the naturalist to pick it up.


Apia is the town we visited in Samoa. Samoa is comprised of three island groups. The one we visited was the middle group with about 40,000 people, but the most inhabited group is to the south. A visit to Robert Louis Stevenson home was the highlight for us. R.L. Stevenson only lived there from 1891 to 1895 when he died at the age of 44. After that dignitaries lived in the house until the damage from recent hurricanes. But several years ago a Mormon man from Arizona who had done his missionary work here paid to have the house restored. He still comes twice a year to visit the house that is a museum now. A group of Samoan dancers entertained us with a cava ceremony after the house tour.


Of course we visited the city cathedral, passed the Mormon temple, saw where several famous chiefs were buried, where their parliament meets, and where the government buildings stand. We took cabs to additional jewelry stores and then talked to people from the huge Norwegian liner heading on a 79-day pan Pacific trip back to Hawaii. We also had a very nice visit with an art professor who now runs a gallery show-casing local artists and their works: carvings, jewelry, paintings, handbags, etc.