BEST DAY ON EXPEDITION | CHRISTMAS AT GIZO
Submitted By: Warwick Forrest
What an interesting challenge: to select the ‘best’ from 121 delightful days cruising with Coral Expeditions. From our first cruise on Oceanic Discoverer’s (now Coral Discoverer) maiden voyage return from Broome to Darwin in 2005, from all the many destinations since. So many delightful days, places, crew members and fellow guests come quickly and delightfully back to mind.
Maybe the ‘best’ day was spent engrossed by the kaleidoscopic colour and form beneath the surface at the Ribbon Reef, natures aquatic wonderworld; or the more intimate, breathtaking corals of Melissa’s Garden, Raja Ampat, like swimming in a tropical aquarium? Or the day when Captain Gary found anchorage under the path of the solar eclipse; we sat on the sundeck under umbrellas with little optimism as the light rain fell steadily. But magically, right on schedule, the clouds parted and a window of blue sky opened; lasting for just that critical hour the moon passed across the face of the sun, darkness fell, daylight was restored and then, with the eclipse completed and barely time for champagne celebrations, the clouds closed in again and the rain returned.
Or was it the day on that remote section of the Kimberly coast where we were introduced to aspects of indigenous culture, including the initiation of boys into manhood and learned a little from the extraordinary rock art. Or the most memorable experience rounding the southern coast of Tasmania to enter Port Davey on that once-in-a-thousand picture-perfect windless day, cruising slowly on the Xplorer through Melaleuca Inlet, finding the historic huts and seeing at close hand the beautiful, rare orange belly parrots?
Or possibly it was being greeted by the indigenous community of Nguiu on Bathurst Island, learning something of their history and culture, with further insights at the church, museum and craft workshop, then engaging in an emotionally charged smoking ceremony? Or even the day we swam across the Equator en-route to the Spice Islands; with GPS precision Captain Gary slowed the ship for us to jump from the lowered platform and swim across the line, and later participating in the traditional enactment with King Neptune.
So many wonderfully memorable ‘best’ days.
But I have selected as our most memorable day 25th December 2010, Christmas Day. We had cruised overnight from Melanesian Bundaduna Island to Ghizo Island in the Solomon Islands New Georgia Group, dropping anchor off the pretty township of Gizo. The first delight ofr the day was a lovely champagne breakfast. Then a short run in the Xplorer to the town wharf. Many chose to visit the hospital nearby where, consistent with Coral Expeditions practice, needed supplies were donated. But Joan and I chose, with others, to sit in on the Christmas morning service at the nearby Wesleyan Methodist church. The friendly welcome and the power of the music as the Islander congregation sang the much-loved Christmas hymns was overwhelming.
Then a stroll through town; many shops were closed but wide open was the friendly spirit of the local community and the cheerful bar at the Hotel Ghizo. Bells rang and car horns sounded as utilities drove through the colourful streets bearing Melanesian Santas and others dressed for the day having great fun and wishing us all “Merry Christmas”.
Back on board, a short cruise to a mooring near Kasolo Island, renamed Kennedy Island, for Christmas drinks and a delicious Christmas lunch with festive trimmings. We were reminded by a couple of Rotary guests on board from Gizo of the Battle of the Coral Sea, how close WWII action came to the shores of Australia and, right here, the story of John F. Kennedy and crew of the PT 109, sunk by a Japanese destroyer, taking refuge on this small island. After lunch, a brief walk around the island and the usual in-water activities until a squall came through and we happily returned aboard to prepare for dinner. A truly magic, memorable day.
For contrast, on Boxing Day, 26th December we witnessed the hatching of 156 baby Hawksbill turtles and watched them tumbling down the sandy slope into the water’s edge at the Arnarvon Community Nature Preserve, but that’s another story.