I’ve been to paradise

The cruise staff and crew aboard the Captain Cook Cruises liner Reef Endeavour are quite simply the friendliest people I have ever had the fortune to travel with in my time as a travel writer.

I recently went on a seven-night voyage to eastern and northern Fiji to explore the cultural and colonial history of the islands.

It was also a cruise featuring great natural beauty including the famed Garden Island of Taveuni and some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling experiences.

However it was the crew who captured everyone’s hearts, giving guests a real taste of the famous Fijian hospitality.

They sang, they danced, they smiled constantly, they welcomed us with a heartening “bula” and “vinaka” at every opportunity; they wined an dined us in style and when it was time to say goodbye, tears flowed as they sang the hauntingly beautiful Fijian song of farewell, Isa Lei.

Under the guidance of skipper Ian Davison and cruise director Carol Crumlin, they took us to isolated, unspoilt places only a few people from around the world get to experience.

Reef Endeavour is a top of the range luxury expedition ship, perfectly appointed to provide a unique experience in paradise.

It has a large expedition boat which is easy to access on a hydraulic ramp and is simply lowered into the water and away you go. The expedition boat doubles as a glass bottom boat and snorkeling and diving base.

Captain Cook Cruises is known for its quality diving experiences and they have two expert instructors on board.

The reefs of the Somsomo Strait and the surrounding area have some of the best soft coral displays anywhere on earth and the divers on board raved about them.

And how refreshing it was after a stunning day of exploring and snorkeling to sit on the back deck, enjoy a cleansing ale with new-found friends and watch the sun go down over the endless South Pacific.

The evening meal was a la carte with a quality selection of Australian and New Zealand wines and plenty of excited banter among the guests. The meals are always a highlight and Reef Endeavour well and truly matched the constantly high standards of the cruise line.

Taveuni, the legendary Garden Island, has been on my list for many years and it didn’t disappoint.

We went ashore in the expedition boat and a local tourist bus was waiting to take us to the base for the easy walk to Tavoro Bouma Waterfall and rock pool in the Bouma National Heritage Park on the eastern side of the island.

The cool waters of the pool are a refreshing reward as the waters of the raging falls plunged more than 20m through virgin rainforest. That night we went ashore again for a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony and concert, followed by a luau at a local village on the shores of Taveuni.

The old Fijian capital of Levuka on Ovalau Island was a highlight of the cruise. It is the best preserved island town in the world and has gained World Heritage status for its wild west-style buildings stretching along Beach St, framed by vertical, rainforest-clad mountains.

At Savusavu, visit the capital of Vana Levu, the northern or “second” island of Fiji.

Locals say you will never want to leave – and I could soon see why. It is a beautiful place, with quiet beaches framed by Indian rain trees, hot springs that occasionally turn into geysers, a bustling commercial area and old wharves straight out of a Somerset Maugham South Seas story.

The water is so clean and pure in the bay, a giant volcanic crater flooded by the sea, that pearl farmer Justin Hunter has set up a unique operation in conjunction with the local community. His farm produces the world’s rarest pearls in shells that dangle suspended under the ocean on secured lines.

We also visited the former leper colony at Makogai Island, in the heart of the Lomaiviti group, where more than 4000 sufferers from throughout the Pacific were sent to battle the devastating disease.

The quiet, deserted cemetery is testament to the tragic end of that long battle for many patients.

However Makogai is now bringing new life and hope to the region in another way.

It is home to an experimental station that is growing giant clams and returning them to the sea.

The clams have disappeared from the reefs of Fiji due to cyclones and harvesting, but they are now being replaced. The clams play a vital role in keeping reefs healthy and eliminating crown of thorns starfish prodigy.

This cruise adventure was relaxing, fun-filled, friendly and unique, typical of the line’s excellent itineraries and experiences. It is ideally suited for singles, couples, mature travellers and extended family groups.

To find a deal visit captaincookcruisesfiji.com or your local travel agent.

 Feature supplied by wtfmedia.com.au