Port Vila is the capital and largest town of the republic of Vanuatu, southwestern Pacific Ocean. Located on Mele Bay on the southwest coast of Éfaté, Vila is a port and the commercial centre of the island group. In the 19th century, French settlers established the municipality of Franceville, which declared independence in 1889 and became the first self-governing nation to practice universal suffrage without distinction of sex or race. Although the population at the time consisted of about 500 native islanders and less than 50 whites, only the latter were permitted to hold office. Although the town is French in appearance, the population is multinational, including British, French, Vanuatuans, and Vietnamese.
Malakula is the second largest island in the Vanuatu group, once known as The Cannibal Islands due to the fierce reputation of the predominant tribal groups known as the big and small Nambas. The island is also the most diverse, culturally and linguistically, with over thirty distinct languages spoken. Sandalwood does not grow on the island and so it attracted little interest from the ruthless sea traders of the 1800s, leaving the culture virtually intact and the inhabitants unscathed by the slaving and introduced Western diseases prevalent elsewhere in the South Pacific.
During WWII James A. Michener, then a lieutenant in the American Army was stationed in Santo along with 100,000 other army personnel. Such was the effect of this place on him that here he wrote the legendary Tales of the South Pacific. From Espiritu Santo, Michener would gaze across the sea to the volcanic island of Ambae, often with its summit shrouded in cloud and dream of "Bali Hai". Relics and reminders of the war remain everywhere today.
Orion will be anchoring in an area dubbed by the locals as “Paradise Lagoon” where you will land on a small island. The island forms a perfect backdrop for photo opportunities and gives Orion guests access to some great snorkelling locations.
Included Expeditions for guests include swimming, snorkelling and sea kayaking in the crystal clear South Pacific waters! You will also delight at the range of cultural performances arranged for your entertainment today.
Optional Shoreside Expeditions
SANTO – WWII HISTORY TOUR Duration: Half Day
Price: To be confirmed
RIRI RIRI RIVER CANOEING Duration: Half Day
Price: To be confirmed
SS COOLIDGE SCUBA DIVE Duration: Half Day
Price: To be confirmed
SANTO – FISHING TOUR Duration: Half Day
Price: To be confirmed
Part of the volcanic Santa Cruz Island group, the remote and rarely visited Utupua has been described as a small Bora Bora with its lagoon and barrier reef surrounding the high island. Once ashore you'll find the island is densely forested, the island's 750 inhabitants cultivating lush vegetable gardens in the rich volcanic soil. Like several other islands in this region it’s considered a Polynesian outlier with the population made up of a mixture of Polynesian and Melanesian people.
The island's barrier reef offers great opportunities for snorkeling over brilliant coral formations teeming with fish. Today will be a true “expedition day” on this remote, seldom visited island as you never know what surprises the locals will have in store.
Today Orion guests can access the local village where the island’s inhabitants will engage you in their cultural activities and artefacts will be on display available for purchase. Communication with such a remote island is near impossible, and although attempted, it is not unusual to arrive at Utupua “unannounced” as such which adds to the excitement of the day. The island’s surrounding barrier reef of brilliant coral and crystal clear waters ensure a wonderful experience for swimming and snorkeling.
Early this morning Orion will navigate through the picturesque channel separating Santa Ana and Santa Catalina Islands before dropping anchor on the west coast of Santa Ana just outside shallow Mary Bay. The islanders are well known for preserving ancient traditions so as we step ashore from the Zodiacs don't be surprised if we are greeted by songs and elaborately costumed dancers. The craft work from Santa Ana includes magnificently carved fishing floats, ceremonial black bowls inlaid with shells and intricate animal designs. In the afternoon, snorkel or dive the reefs to view clownfish, soldierfish, and brilliantly hued wrasses or join a guided walk across the island through a shady forest to the village of Nataghera with its Spirit Houses. Women are not permitted to enter these buildings as they contain the bones of chiefs laid in carved caskets taking the shape of fish or canoes.
After a few hours to see the megapodes on Savo, the ship will reposition across Iron Bottom Sound to Nggela Island, part of an area named by the early Spanish explorers as the Florida Islands. On the south Western shores of Nggela is Tulagi Harbour and Tulagi Island, the one-time British capital of the Solomons Protectorate and a significant Japanese base during WWII. Tulagi was the scene of some very heavy fighting after landings by US Marines. Our destination this afternoon is Roderick Bay inside Sandfly Passage. A stunning white sand beach with huge trees growing right down to the water’s edge with abundant marine life living in colourful coral reefs a few metres off shore in the crystal clear waters awaits us here. To add to the this stunning environment, nosed up onto the beach, listing heavily to its port side is the wreck of the World Discoverer, a cruise ship beached here in 2001 after an unfortunate mishap in the top half of Sandfly Passage (our vessel will not be entering into that area). Snorkel around the wreck, which now has large ferns growing where the spa pool was and fig trees spreading across the anchor deck. This place has to be seen to be believed. Paradise with its very own (permanent) cruise ship!
In the heart of the New Georgia Islands is a place James A. Michener once described as the eighth wonder of the world - Marovo Lagoon. The world's largest double barrier enclosed lagoon, this isolated spot in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands has been proposed for World Heritage listing. Marovo's isolation accounts for the outstanding diversity and richness of life here, both above and below the surface of the water. World famous for its intensive coral reef ecosystems, the waters teem with tropical fish and boast exceptional dive sites. This afternoon the expedition team will select a snorkelling site where even the inexperienced can explore the fringing reefs and huge coral bomboras. The only way to get around is by boat so embark on a visit to Chubikopi village for the opportunity to sit down with locals and learn something of village life. Most villages sit on stilts over the waters edge within the lagoon. Expert Marovo carvers are justifiably famous for the intricate pieces they create from king ebony with inlays of rosewood and mother-of-pearl.
The tropical port town of Rabaul has always been famous for its spectacular setting at the eastern end of the island of New Britain. Nestled on Simpson Harbour, the township is surrounded by six volcanoes providing a sensational backdrop for our visit. Musicians, drummers and traditional dancers heraldour arrival, providing a boisterous welcome. The Volcano Observatory affords panoramic views of the harbour but a helicopter flight is the ideal way to take in the scale of the 1994 eruptions that destroyed two-thirds of Rabaul. You'll fly over empty streets and what was the town's municipal swimming pool - now just an outline of blue ceramic tiles, the pool filled with ash. Rabaul was the focus of fierce battles during World War II and the steep coastal cliffs are riddled with tunnels filled with relics. Explore Admiral Yamamoto's bunker and touch the wreck of a Japanese Betty Bomber for intimate reminders of the Japanese presence. This evening join the expedition team on an encounter with the surreal Baining Fire Dancers whose elaborate costumes and trance-like dance will leave you with an unforgettable conclusion to your voyage.