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Cruising the South Pacific

Suvi, Vita Levu, Fiji Islands

Fiji’s capital since 1882, Suvi is a modern city, where the multilevel downtown shopping mall was open for business on the Sunday of our arrival. However, it was the Fijian people, as well as the island’s tropical rain forests, that captured the attention of most Oosterdam guests.

Available shore programs included a performance by the Fijian Firewalkers; visits to native villages to learn about the traditional preparation of kava, witness a kava ceremony and meet a village chief; and a journey through the jungle canopy on a zip line 90 feet above the forest floor. I chose A Walk on the Wild Side, which featured a guided hike through the lush, green Colo-i-Suva Forest National Park, teeming with interesting plant and birdlife, scenic waterfalls and clear mountain pools.

Others, such as Roy and his wife from Amsterdam, “just enjoyed walking around and exploring on their own,” and Doug from Ontario “liked getting to see the Grand Pacific Hotel, which was beautifully restored.”

There, as on all the islands we saw before reaching Hawaii and despite the fact that many South Pacific natives earn little money and live relatively simple lives with few luxuries, we found smiling, friendly people and no panhandlers, whatsoever.

Pago Pago, Tutuila, American Samoa

Should you have an image in your mind of a breathtakingly beautiful South Pacific isle with shorelines bordering brilliant blue waters, you have a good idea of the appearance of Tutuila. Here sheer, verdant green cliffs, pristine beaches and spectacular viewpoints are the norm rather than the exception. The only local industry other than tourism is the Starkist Tuna cannery, where a “Charlie the Tuna” statue greets passers-by, and the National Park of American Samoa, on the north-central part of the island, preserves Tutuila’s natural splendor for perpetuity.

The town of Pago Pago is quite picturesque. I joined 55 shipmates on the official, ranger-conducted National Park Service tour — not sold aboard ship. There is no other way to describe what I experienced other than spectacular and awe-inspiring, although the local, handmade “buses” weren’t particularly designed for passenger comfort.

As for the Oosterdam’s own shore excursions, Liz from Vancouver told me that A Taste of Samoan Village Life was “very good and very well organized,” and Ian from Adelaide, Australia, noted that Myths and Legends of Tutuila was also “very good and informative, since the young lady who was our guide was particularly well informed about her country,” which is a U.S. territory.

Nawiliwili, Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai is known worldwide for its exceptional scenery: towering waterfalls, the magnificent Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast, the Wailua River and Fern Grotto, and Hanalei Valley, as well as a wide variety of recreational opportunities.

As a repeat visitor, I opted for a pleasant three-hour Kings, Trains and Waterfalls tour to Opaekaa Falls and the Kilohana Plantation, home of the island’s largest sugar estate mansion, plus extensive gardens, tropical forests, fruit orchards, agricultural fields and farm animals, all viewed from a trip on the Kauai Plantation Railway.

Maxine and Peter, a couple from Lake’s Entrance, Victoria, in Australia chose the Kauai’s Grand Helicopter excursion, and loved it. Although not inexpensive, the best way to experience the scenic splendor of the Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon and Falls, and the isolated Na Pali Coast is by air.

An Oosterdam deck barbecue made a fine conclusion to the day as we sailed past the lush green coastline of Kauai on a beautiful evening.

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Oahu is the most visited island in Hawaii, and Holland America offers shore excursions to all of its key attractions, including Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, the Oahu circle and the Polynesian Cultural Center. Having visited the island numerous times in the past, I was fortunate that an old college buddy, who has retired with his wife to Maui, flew over to Honolulu for the day so we could get together for a little more esoteric sightseeing.

I had made special advance arrangements to see one of the newest units of the National Park Service, Honouliuli National Monument, created by President Barack Obama this past February but not yet open to the general public. Two park rangers gave us a comprehensive tour of this remote site that had been a Japanese-American internment and prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.

Next, we visited the excellent Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii and met with members of its staff, who had spearheaded a 6,000-signature petition for the creation of the national monument. Finally, neither of us had previously climbed famed Diamond Head, so we huffed and puffed our way to the summit, where we were rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Waikiki, Honolulu, and the beaches and blue Pacific below.

The Oosterdam’s itinerary was well planned and nicely balanced. Every port we visited was named as the “favorite” by several of the more than two dozen guests I chatted with at the end of the cruise. If exotic South Pacific locales, fascinating Melanesian and Polynesian cultures, consistently warm weather and beautiful scenery appeal to your travelers, this is a part of the world that deserves inclusion on your group’s bucket list.