ALOHA TO HAWAII; HOLLAND AMERICA LINE GETS STEAMY IN POLYNESIA

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Holland America Line is getting well and truly into the ‘Aloha’ spirit with s raft of leisurely, languid sailings between California and the Hawaiian islands. Beginning this autumn, the two ship operation runs through until April of 2019, and offers a glut of truly spectacular options to choose from.

The line’s Amsterdam and Eurodam will make some nine cruises in all, ranging in length from sixteen to twenty days’ duration. As well as the customary departure point of Los Angeles, the two ships will also offer some sailings from San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver.

As a standout point, each itinerary will offer an overnight stay in Honolulu, allowing passengers more than enough time to dine ashore, and of course, to see the ‘greatest hits’ tourist spots; Pearl Harbour, with the silent, deathly wreckage of the mostly sunken USS Arizona, and the massive bulk of the permanently moored USS Missouri.

There’s also Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head to contemplate in the roster of this Polynesian beauty pageant, but there are also two additional, stand out itineraries that really push the boundaries to the max in terms of sheer beauty and escapism.

First up is a sublime, twenty-eight day round trip from San Diego on the Eurodam, sailing on March 9th, 2019. As well as making calls at all the major Hawaiian hot spots, the gorgeous Eurodam surges a full thousand miles to the south to the stunning landscapes of French Polynesia, making landfall (and overnight stops) at both Tahiti and Bora Bora. This itinerary also includes a rare visit to Fanning Island, in the Republic of Kiribati.

Upping the ante by several notches, the Amsterdam makes a truly mind blowing, fifty-one day circuit of the entire South Pacific region. Leaving San Diego on October 28th, 2019, the ship once again visits all of the famed Hawaiian hot spots, together with Tahiti and Bora Bora, before continuing on to Fiji, the Cook Island, Vanuatu, Tonga, and American Samoa.

These itineraries are quite simply sublime, especially when cossetted in the plus, luxurious ambience that is the hallmark of the Holland-America brand. With lots of lazy, languid days at sea in between visits to some of the most visually alluring places anywhere on earth, this programme has all the hallmarks of being a winner.

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SAGA SAPPHIRE TO GO ALL INCLUSIVE FOR 2019

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Saga Cruises’ lovely Saga Sapphire is to become an all inclusive ship for her final full season of cruises, sailing over the course of 2019.

All drinks, including selected wines at lunch and dinner, together with beers, spirits and cocktails throughout the day and evening, as well as soft drinks and speciality coffees, will now be included in the fare on every one of those 2019 sailings.

It’s an appropriate gesture; a last chance to raise a glass to (and indeed on) a ship that has become a very popular stalwart on the UK cruising scene. The line recently announced that Saga Sapphire will be leaving the fleet in 2020, following the arrival of it’s first ever dedicated new build, the ravishingly retro looking Spirit of Discovery. And, although no actual buyer has yet been announced for her, I hope that this gorgeous, beautifully proportioned mid sized ship can continue to sail on, somewhere.

Originally built as the Europa for Hapag Lloyd Cruises in December of 1981, she was for many years the most prestigious deluxe cruise ship in the world. Today, with a capacity for just 720 guests, this grand, 38,000 ton cruise ship is still a very class act indeed.

As well as the new, enhanced drinks package, Saga also offers free tips and travel insurance for all passengers, as well as round trip, chauffeured transportation from anywhere two hundred and fifty miles in the country direct to the ship’s berth, which is usually the port of Dover in the case of Saga Sapphire.

Her passengers (and Saga caters to the strictly over fifties age group) also benefit from the large number of single cabins on board; a policy that is to be expanded on board the new ship. There is also a quite astonishing range of culinary delights to be sampled on board, from the smartly casual to the sublimely high end. And all of the dining options on board come without an extra cover charge.

There’s no doubt that Saga Sapphire will be missed, but she still has more than a full year of classically styled cruising left to serve up in her own, inimitable style.

My advice? Get out there, while you still can. That clock is now well and truly ticking.

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN; IN CONCLUSION……

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Dream islands. Islands of dreams…. Photo copyright is that of the author

It’s quite strange to realise that I have now been back home from my Paul Gauguin cruise for almost two full weeks. Right now, England is in the grip of both an extended, totally unexpected heatwave, and a frenzy of hope and expectation as we knuckle down to face off Sweden in the quarter finals of the World Cup.

Meanwhile, our government and other elected politicians, together with sundry, rabid commentators of increasingly questionable sanity, continue to mimic the PR firm responsible for promoting the Titanic. They still assure us that ‘it will all work out fine in the end’, so that’s OK, then. So, business as not at all usual here in the not so United Kingdom, alas.

All of which makes my looking back at that fabulous Paul Gauguin cruise just that bit sweeter and, conversely, just a touch wistful, too. It’s said that time and tide lend both distance and clarity. And, with that in mind, here’s just a few, final observations on what is, for many people, the ultimate ‘dream trip’.

BITE THE BULLET, AND TAKE THE JOURNEY…..

Yes, a thirty hour long haul journey is nobody’s idea of fun. And, if your holiday time (and budget) stretches to it, then try and get out to Tahiti a few days before the cruise, or even consider staying on for a few days afterwards. Better still, do both.

It’s not an easy journey, but it does not have to be as hard as you think. A little advanced planning and preparation works wonders. And-my word- once you do get out there, you’ll be so glad that you did.

DON’T EXPECT THE OBVIOUS…

Sure, French Polynesia and the Society Islands are almost heart breaking in their sheer, physical beauty, but don’t expect the massive tourist infrastructure of, say, Florida, or even the Bahamas. Bear in mind that the main currency is actually the South Pacific Franc, and also that- apart from Polynesian- the main language that you’ll actually hear spoken out here is French. That said, all of the locals I met spoke a better standard of English than many people located not a million miles away from me as I write this.

You won’t always have immediate access to ATM’s, either, so make sure you have a credit/debit card that will work for you handy. You can exchange cash at most of the resort hotels, of course, and at the main banks in Papeete itself.

EXPECT RAIN AT TIMES….

The lush, verdant landscape of Tahiti and her surrounding islands is not simply the product of all that gorgeous sunshine alone. When the rain comes here (and some does come most every day), it thumps down in buckets. Though the main ‘rainy season’ runs from July through September, rainfall is a key element to making this beautiful environment what it is. Think-and pack-accordingly.

RESPECT THAT ENVIRONMENT

This one really should come under the heading of ‘duh’, but honestly, it’s surprising just how careless and inconsiderate some people still are. Try and use the same plastic water bottle several times, for instance. It’s not rocket science, people. And please, try and cut down on the use of straws where and when you can.

One of the great things about the Paul Gauguin herself is that the ship is striving to be as paperless an operation as is practically possible. So, instead of the traditional daily programme that is normally put under each cabin door at night for the next day, Paul Gauguin has created an inter-active menu on your in-room TV that shows all food, entertainment and shore excursion options right across the ship. It even includes details of the tender operations from ship to shore on a daily basis. Yep, that’s right- the food menus for each day are right there on your television screen, and you can order food and drinks via it, too.

This fast, interactive system is efficient, constantly updated and, most importantly, it works like a charm. And, while all of this information is still displayed on bulletins inside each of the ship’s lifts, the daily blizzard of paper saved by it is a laudable, well thought out bit of work.

It takes a few minutes to get used to it, but it is my fervent hope that other cruise lines will eventually sail down this self same route. It seems eminently logical to me.

Just a few, final point that I thought worth mentioning here. Until the next adventure……

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN; GETTING OUT THERE…

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Flying over the ice floes of Eastern Canada on Air Tahiti Nui. Photo copyright is that of the author

Whatever anybody tells you, the most awesome psychological hurdle to doing a cruise around Tahiti and her islands is the actual journey to get there in the first place. From anywhere on mainland Europe, you’re looking at a journey time of around thirty hours in all, and perhaps even longer. And, when you finally do arrive in Tahiti you’ll find yourself a full, eleven hours behind UK standard time.

My route involved flying from Paris to Tahiti, via Los Angeles on the scheduled services of Air Tahiti Nui. As there are no departure airports in the UK that ATN flies from, you first have to make your way to Paris CDG International Airport, and then take it from there.

And, with yours truly hailing from near Newcastle, England, that meant once more submitting myself to the tender mercies of Air France for the short flight to Paris. Still, it was less than two hours’ flying time. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything, as it turned out. After all, it was Air France…..

Around sixteen hours before I was due to fly, Air France contacted me to tell me that my flight to Paris had been cancelled. There was not another flight from Newcastle to Paris that day that allowed me to connect with my onward flight to Tahiti at CDG. My blood pressure went through the roof like a 747 cleared for take off.

After some much heated debate, and a vicious flurry of angry tweets and messages on social media from yours truly, the protocol droids at Air France relented. What followed was a mad, post midnight, two hundred mile taxi dash (which they paid for in advance) from my home to Edinburgh airport.

Now that flight from Edinburgh worked just fine, depositing me into Paris CDG’s Terminal 2E more or less exactly on time and, most obviously, hugely relieved. Here, despite the fact that Air France and Air Tahiti Nui have a code share arrangement, I still had to retrieve my bags and make another mad, cardiac inducing dash to Terminal 2A, where I would check in yet again.

The Air Tahiti Nui check in was relatively easy, once achieved through the mad bedlam that is Paris CDG. Some well meant advice; if you’re going to make this trip, then fly to Paris the day before, and save yourself a great deal of needless hassle.

Air Tahiti Nui flies big, four engine A340 jets on the twenty-two hour long haul out to Tahiti. The stretch from Paris to Los Angeles occupies a full twelve hours. Once in California, you need to undergo a full, potentially bewildering customs and immigration procedure, for which you must take all of your hand luggage with you. No exceptions.

Once that is done, you get back onto the same plane (and into the same seat) for the final, eight hour leg out to Tahiti. By now, the plane has been completely cleaned, reprovisioned, and furnished with a new crew. Once all that has been achieved, then it’s off you go again.

Now, the seats on Air Tahiti Nui’s flights are configured in a 2-4-2 arrangement in economy. The actual cabin is light and airy, with almost everything in shades of soft, light blue. Some find the seats hard and uncomfortable, but I was quite fine with them to be honest. Disclaimer: I’m 5′ 6″, and found the leg room to be quite good, also. The fine white national flower of Tahiti- the Tiare- given to each passenger before take off is a truly nice, authentic touch.

Each seat had a comfort kit that contained socks, an eye mask and some rudimentary headphones. On each seat back was a small, nine inch screen with an entertainment system that was pretty limited on options compared to those on, say, Emirates or even Delta. Certainly, for such a long, potentially bone numbing journey, they could do with being massively updated. Perhaps this might happen when the airline takes delivery of the first of it’s new, Boeing 787 Dreamliners next year.

The saving grace on Air Tahiti Nui was, once again, the generally outstanding food and service. When was the last time that you were served an eminently palatable fish dinner in economy class? Desserts were tasty, too. And drinks, in the form of fine wines or 200 ml splits of sparkling wine, were available all flight. In addition, you could ‘raid’ the galleys any time for such treats as sandwiches, ice cream, or more drinks.

All things considered, the long journey to the west was not too bad, and surely about as good as anyone could realistically expect it to be in economy. Having done the self same trip a few years ago (and even on the same plane, as it happens; the evocatively named Moorea) I knew how to break the journey down with occasional power naps followed by drinks, some snacking, and the odd feature film. Among those was The Last Jedi, which left me more than a little perplexed, and Dunkirk, which I found to be pretty raw, gripping, no holds barred stuff.

We lifted off from Paris, and set course for somewhere just south of Iceland. I followed along on our on-screen route map as we flew over the Atlantic, and then on across the ice fields of Greenland and Nova Scotia. Then it was on to somewhere just south of Chicago, before we soared above the Prairies before beginning a gradual descent to our first landfall at Los Angeles.

LA was muggy and overcast; quite surprisingly so for the middle of June, for sure. Not all of our passengers made it through the entire, tortuous landfall side very quickly, and as a result we were a full hour late in taking off for the final, eight hour haul out to Tahiti.

Back on board the flight after the madness of customs and immigration, we lofted into a mist shrouded, searing, caramel tinted twilight. Soaring above Manhattan Beach we turned south west, and headed out over the vast expanse of the North and South Pacific.

Darkness, plus the mildly disturbing lack of mid ocean topography gnawed at me as I munched gamely away at some surprisingly tasty orange crepes, before kicking back with a bottle or two of sparkling wine. The darkened cabin was rent only by the cries of a pair of babies sequestered in bassinettes on the bulkhead row, just forward and to the left of me. Both had cried more or less on and off since we left Paris. And, while I genuinely felt for both the kids and their parents, my reservoir of goodwill was running on more or less empty by the time we finally came in to land.

When the door yawned open on the runway at Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport, the late evening heat came pouring in like molten lava. It was 2330 at night, and we were a full hour late because of our delayed departure from Los Angeles.

But this was still Tahiti achieved, and anything less than a lei flower garland greeting on the tarmac would have been a real disappointment. There was even a live band, playing sensuous. local stuff as we trooped, tired but dutiful, toward passport control and a hopefully emotional reunion with the luggage I had last seen in Paris, some twenty-three hours ago now.

Now Faa’s International Airport is something that looks exactly- and I mean exactly- like something from a sixties episode of Thunderbirds. It’s all curved staircases and clusters of big, tubular neon lights that are suspended in clumps from the ceiling. But it is very easy to navigate- petite as it is-and my luggage was mercifully quick to arrive.

So, too, was my driver. He was already smiling a greeting as my luggage and I emerged into the steamy embrace of a first Tahitian midnight. He gave me a much appreciated bottle of water, before ushering me into the blissful, air conditioned calm of a limo that purred along darkened, palm studded roads until a familiar landmark entrance loomed up out of the night, almost right ahead of us.

It was just ten minutes since I had left the airport, and here I was back at Tahiti’s swish, apparently deserted Inter-Continental Hotel. Check in was fast, friendly, and as warm as the evening air.

Within an hour, I was one of a small handful of people. clustered around a nest of tables sprinkled across the floor of the open air lobby bar, nursing a cold beer as I gazed out over the darkened ocean to where the mighty, fondly remembered mountains of Moorea crouched under a canopy of shimmering, impassive starlight. At once both tired and exhilarated, it was the perfect end to a very long, long day.

Newcastle. Edinburgh. Paris. LA. Just dots on a map now. Like markers on a route map, laid out under all of those stars. God, that first beer was so, so good.

Tahiti. So fondly remembered. So fervently desired. And so seemingly, impossibly far, far, away, had been achieved once again. And, with my blood pressure no longer pounding the ceiling, I began to truly relax.

Already, Polynesia had begun to work it’s subtle, seductive magic on me once again.

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN: TWO DAYS ON TAHITI

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Colours of Tahiti. Photo copyright is that of the author.

Straight out of a thirty hour, three leg flight across the North Atlantic, the continental USA and the South Pacific, I got to my hotel on Tahiti within thirty minutes of stepping off the plane. It was 11.30 at night, and Tahiti was warm, sensuous and welcoming. By that stage of the journey I was more or less running on fumes, and that cool night air felt like gently applied healing balm.

The Inter-Continental Hotel is only a stone’s throw away from the airport. It’s a low, sleek sprawl of three storey garden villas and bungalows set over the water, crouching around the edge of a truly stunning lagoon. The views out over to Moorea, just ten miles away in the moonlight, were nothing short of magical.

The hotel is a complete resort unto itself, with two main restaurants, a lofty observation bar set onto the third level reception lobby, a brace of outdoor pools and it’s own, massive Lagoonarium. There’s even a small beach area. It’s all manicured lawns and lofty, slowly waving palm trees.

You can have miso soup for breakfast if you’re so inclined (and it’s delicious) and watch a dinner show outdoors, complete with fire dancers and a live band For two days of much needed ‘R and R’, the Inter-Continental was a pretty swish, secluded sanctuary from such mundane concerns as reality. It lulled me into a kind of pampered, smiley daze for the duration of my stay.

Much more full on was the full day tour that I took the next day, into and through the lush, sprawling hinterlands of Tahiti itself. Strapped into the back of a rugged, no nonsense 4X4, we set off into some of the most magnificent scenery that I have ever seen in my life.

There’s good reason to be strapped in, as I soon discovered. Away from Tahiti’s sinuous, winding coastline, the roads inland soon deteriorated to the standard of dirt tracks. Each one was studded with potholes the size of Peru, and brim full of dank, muddy rain water. To say that we bumped and shuddered along for a full six hours was by no means an overstatement.

Those same tracks often disappeared for metres on end under a torrent of rain water. As we shuddered and lurched on our course inland, baleful wreaths of low, rolling mist draped themselves around the jagged peaks and long, ranging valleys that surrounded us. When the rain came, it thumped down in deluges so intense and spectacular that the canvas roof of our 4X4 literally sagged several inches under the weight of it.

But that same rain accounts for the fabulous, free ranging panorama that unfolded all around us, punctuated by spectacular, tumbling waterfalls that looked like the strands of so many spider’s webs when seen from a distance. Water- tumbling, fresh and vital- was absolutely everywhere.

There were still, silent lakes where spindly, rickety jetties jutted out into the azure blue hue. We rumbled across bridges and along rain sodden ravines, around narrow corners and along saturated, uneven lanes that gave way to one heart stopping vista after another. Tahiti’s interiors are a photographer’s dream, and a driver’s nightmare.

And our driver really was an expert, too. Gunning and coaxing our semi-waterlogged 4X4 with amazing dexterity and diligence, he was obliging to our repeated requests to stop and photograph one stunning scenario after another. We leapt down onto the soggy terrain, squelching through the mud to get more shots of yet another ravishing ravine or waterfall. It was all an adrenaline surge, one so hugely compelling that you quite forgot the rain at times. At moments, those towering peaks and sublime, mist shrouded valleys reminded me of nothing so much as summertime Norway.

Gradually, we began the slow, bumpy ride back to the coast. Right on cue, the sun re-emerged as we regained some thankfully more solid asphalt beneath our tyres. The scenery morphed into a medley of palm trees set against a gunmetal ocean, sprinkled with surfers riding the rip curls that lashed against the clumps of sparse, jagged rocks speckling the shoreline.

By the time I got back to the Inter-Continental it was ‘Happy Hour’, and I was very happy- in fact, downright ecstatic- to sag into a comfy chair at the outdoor Tiki Bar. Beer in hand, I watched the sun descend gently into the sea behind the blackened, brooding peaks of Moorea, just across the strait from my grandstand seat.

Dinner was a mellow, wine fulled affair, with a side order of native fire dancers performing on a stage for our viewing pleasure. This was a warm, wonderful way to wind down after our adrenaline fuelled foray through the heart- and the heat- of raw, primal Tahiti. And Saturday was going to be an awfully big day, too.

That Saturday morning, I enjoyed a gorgeous fruit breakfast on the lanai of my hotel room before the short, anticipation fuelled transfer down to the port of Papeete in mid afternoon. And there, snug against her berth, a familiar shape took form against the pale blue sky, looming above us as we came to a halt in her shadow.

This, of course, was the Paul Gauguin. Gleaming white and dressed in brightly coloured flags from bow to stern, the pert, pretty little ship was a totally bewitching sight. I was on board within ten minutes.

Five minutes later, and I was once again back on the open, aft facing terrace at La Palette, lounging in a rattan armchair with my first chocolate martini of the trip. My two days on Tahiti had, indeed, been an elegant, exhilarating appetiser, But now the main course was at hand, bathed in summer sunshine and cool shades of Polynesian luxe.

And, right at that moment, I couldn’t stop grinning like some sated, supine idiot.

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN: MUSING ON CRUISING

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Pool deck in Paradise; on board the Paul Gauguin off Moorea. Photo copyright is that of the author

Well, today is our last full day here on board the Paul Gauguin. We’re still anchored in the gorgeous embrace of Moorea but, at around five o’clock this evening, we will weigh anchor to make the short, ten mile or so canter back to Papeete, where I’ll be spending the night on board before disembarking tomorrow.

I am going to miss these islands- and this ship- more than I can possibly describe. ‘Dream Trip’ is an over used cliche that I personally detest but, in this case, nothing else will do to describe the deep sense of peace that this part of the world engenders in you. That, combined with the ease of accessibility, the casual, spectacular luxury of the Paul Gauguin herself, and the attentiveness of one of the best crews that I have ever encountered on any ship, all makes this one a very hard act to follow.

Not that I won’t try, mind you. Yep, I’m looking at you, Bermuda….

Highlights of this trip have come and gone like so many muffled drum rolls. Last night’s Polynesian themed dinner in the L’Etoile Restaurant is simply one of the best meals that I have ever eaten anywhere. The lobster was out of this world, and don’t even get me started on how scrumptious Tahitian vanilla actually is.

Our tenders- my preppy little ‘Gauguin Water Beetles’-run with the smoothness and efficiency of a Swiss watch. To be fair, they have now had twenty years to get this right, but the organisation remains impressive for all that.

The Paul Gauguin herself is spotlessly clean, and I mean ‘immaculate’. No sooner does someone get up out of one of the rattan chairs, than a staff member appears to plump the cushions, perking it up ready for the next weary lotus eater to sag into like some broken puppet with it’s strings cut.

I suspect that the sound of a ukulele will haunt me for many a month to come, and at odd, random moments when I least expect it, too. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a complaint of any sort. It’s just a way of explaining how the sound and the soul of French Polynesia have seeped so deeply into so many of us.

I’ll miss the sense of care and palpable concern that this crew has for the passengers in it’s charge. Like the receptionist who called me back the other day to advise me to take an umbrella ashore, as it looked like it might rain. None fell right then as it happened, but you get the picture. And I’ve seen so many examples of this kind of thing happening all over the ship.

I’ll sure as hell miss those magical evenings spent lounging on the terrace outside La Palette, with the stars twinkling over the darkened, dreamy peaks of Moorea as a brilliant half moon shines down on the waters below us. That warm breeze, the easy manner and sense of elegant fun of my fellow travellers, and their kindness and generosity of spirit. That last remark also applies unreservedly to this splendid, selfless crew.

Needless to say, there is always at least one unpleasant person aboard any cruise. In our case, it’s an irascible, addled ‘lady’ with a hefty sense of self entitlement. The poor dear seems possessed of the notion that the entire ship is her own, personal fiefdom.

To be fair to her, she may simply be in the last throes of Mad Cow disease, or something similar. In any event, she’s the one person on board that most definitely puts the ‘moo’ into Moorea. Most of us avoid her like the plague, but she has still contrived to make life hell for the crew who, unlike us, do not have that simple luxury of side stepping her.

Obviously, being the professionals that they are, they still treat her with unfailing courtesy. Personally, I’d tie a pork chop to each of her legs, and then tip her overboard for the sharks to play with.

Ah, but such things are like the rain clouds that glower over us for a few moments, only to be replaced by a rainbow. My own, personal rainbow awaits in the seductive little shape of the post breakfast Mimosa that I will shortly be taking on board. Because, while it is almost over for this trip, ‘almost’ is not quite ‘finished’, as it were.

And here, in the charmed universe that is the Paul Gauguin, many of us are still dreaming, wide awake……

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN: A SERENADE IN GREEN

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Good morning, Moorea! Photo copyright is that of the author

This morning, the Paul Gauguin arrived in Moorea for our penultimate, two day stay before we head back to Papeete on Friday evening. The weather has cleared, and the sky is such a brilliant shade of blue that it hurts to look at it for too long. A handful of yachts sit bobbing at anchor nearby us, looking like a gaggle of sated swans. The sea all around us is like warm bath water.

Moorea is the stuff of legends. It was the setting for James Michener’s famous book, Bali Hai. The mountain of the same name was immortalised in song in the world famous movie and musical, South Pacific.

Bali Hai itself sits about half a mile away from me as I write this. It resembles nothing so much as some mythical dragon’s molar, standing sharp and proud against the early morning sky. The other long, rolling hills and peaks draped around it look like ancient courtiers, bowing at the feet of this benign monster. Out here, everything seems to have a deeper, more mystical significance than a mere physical presence alone might suggest.

Yesterday, we said our farewells to Bora Bora, and it affected some of our passengers quite deeply as we sailed away from the massive, majestic presence of Mount Otemanu. A pod of dolphins formed a guard of honour for the Paul Gauguin, leaping and diving in and out of our bow wave as we stood out into the azure hue of the early evening Pacific.

As a moment, it was exquisite. As a memory, I’m pretty sure that time will prove it to be indelible. Truly, this region seeps into your bones, into your very soul, like nowhere else that I have ever seen.

Strolling inland on Bora Bora, you encountered the reality of daily life in the South Pacific. Chickens and roosters strut across patches of bare, red earth where docile dogs sleep in the hot afternoon sun. The plants, flowers and other fauna everywhere is so rich. full and intense both in colour and scent, that you feel as if you are wide awake in some vast, vivid dreamscape that is far too good to be true, And yet, there you stand.

Cobalt blue waters lap at the edge of a shoreline studded with masses of palm trees. Canoes in a myriad shade of hues dot the water’s edge, together with clusters of rickety houses. These are mostly single storey building erected on blocks, where lines of washing hang limp in the ghost of a breeze. Fruit sellers ply their wares from makeshift stalls that sprout along the edges of the roadsides. Surprisingly, there is far more traffic than you might expect in this rugged, remote slice of Nirvana.

Scooters buzz like agitated wasps around the hairpin bends. School buses that have long since seen better days wheeze and splutter in random, asthmatic spurts as they attempt to run through all of this gorgeous scenic splendour.Open top trucks and small, pristine hire cars rock and roll along the winding expanse of the sun kissed Pacific coast.

Fishing boats on raised stilts crouch like birds of prey, hovering over the still, largely silent waters of Bora Bora. On the landward side, hundreds of small holes betray the burrows of the local land crabs, a spiky, diminutive breed that often braves the barrelling traffic, and not always successfully.

Needless to say by now, I have gone more or less totally native out here. No looking for smart, waterfront, touristy bars to slake my thirst now. Instead, I make do with a perch on some worn, slatted wooden pier, where I can dip my feet in the water as I enjoy a cold beer or two from the ’emergency provisions’ pack that I have brought with me from the Paul Gauguin. Out here you learn to improvise and, as a result, you connect with all the wonderful stuff around you in a way that you would never do back at home. You raise your game on so many levels out here and, of course, it’s all life affirming stuff as well.

Later, as we catch the tender back to the ship, I’m musing on a million different technicolor memories, each one woven into the fabric of my mind like so many strands of fine stitching. Those tenders themselves- I have nicknamed them the ‘Gauguin Water Beetles’-have become such an intrinsic part of our daily lives out here, that we truly do take them for granted.

We climb down a stairway from the ship, and onto a floating pontoon. From there. we step into the tenders one at a time. We bumble backwards and forwards across this sublimely seductive seascape, before making landfall in this magnificent scenic smorgasbord called the South Pacific. Later, with the afternoon breeze in our hair, we tender back to our beautiful little ship. Truly, in a short space of time, the Paul Gauguin has become the centre of our universe. I wonder how I ever existed without her at odd moments.

We keep learning on board, too. I have discovered a new love, in the shape of the gorgeous, cinnamon flavoured scones served up each day at four at Le Grill. They are serially addictive stuff, but I had to bite back my laughter when one lady told her friend that these were actually invented by Paul Gauguin himself. Not only a first rate artist, but also a world class pastry chef as well, apparently. Clearly, quite a guy…..

My other epic discovery is the Blondie Martini. It’s a heavenly little glass full of magic that will get you, get you, one way or another. (OK, that’s quite enough Debbie Harry references right there, sailor).

Last night, I celebrated the summer solstice out here with a bottle of champagne, lounging in an armchair under a sky so full of brilliant stars that it drew people out on the deck in droves. A wry, smiling half moon hung over our wake, glowing ghostly silver as we surged towards Moorea. Venus and Mars were both plainly visible to the naked eye that night, and on every other night as well.

Benign and lustrous as they both were, I really didn’t need their twinkling, mesemerising brilliance to realise that I was already in Heaven.