As we sailed away from Sydney, watching the iconic view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge fade away into the distance, I started to feel a little emotional. Australia had been our home for three months, and continuing our journey eastward marked a fundamental turning point in our journey. Although we were taking a rather long, meandering and somewhat adventurous route, we were now officially “on our way home”.
Our last few days in Australia were also some of the happiest. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in the Blue Mountains, felt amazed by how fast time flies when you are having fun, and we (almost by chance) met up with our friend Emma from Durham University in the small town of Katoomba.
From Katoomba we took a train to central Sydney, and enjoyed our final night in Australia with our good friend Grant, who we have previously travelled with in Central America. Grant took us out to Bar Luca in the city center to sample the best burgers in Sydney. Having tried the best burgers in Singapore at Potato Head, and the best burgers ‘in the world’ at Fergburger in New Zealand (definitely oversold – our Fergburger burgers weren’t even the best we had in New Zealand, let alone the world), Shane and I always welcome the opportunity to add another delicious ‘best’ burger to our international burger repertoire, and the ‘Blame Canada’ burger did not disappoint. We then went to the Opera Bar to enjoy picture perfect views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
By the next morning the view of Sydney Harbour had changed. There was a giant cruise ship (the Celebrity Solstice) right in the center, spoiling the perfect view for hundreds if not thousands of tourists. For us, however, this cruise ship was so much more than a terrible eyesore contaminating the Sydney skyline. This cruise ship was our new mode of transportation and our home for the next three weeks. The Celebrity Solstice would take us right across the planet’s biggest, deepest ocean to the other side of the world.
Embarking on the Celebrity Solstice ship was like saying goodbye to one life and saying hello to another. As this particular cruise was a “repositioning” cruise (to move the ship from one place to another), it was a surprisingly budget-friendly way to travel for three weeks, but involved living a not-very-typical-budget lifestyle (ideal).Gone were the days of bed bugs, horrible hostel dorm rooms, $2 Hungry Jacks burgers and long, tedious car journeys through blank landscapes. Instead we were in for a life of luxurious accommodation, all-you-can-eat extravaganza buffets and constant entertainment aimed at the over 65s. We quickly adapted to our new surroundings, making the most of the endless food, and taking a dip in the pool and hot tub while gazing at views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. Eventually it was time to set sail, and we watched as our new home slowly made its way out of Sydney, away from Australia and towards the big blue Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean is huge. If all of the world’s land area were squished up together and put in one place, it would still be smaller than the Pacific Ocean. On average, the Pacific Ocean is 4,000 metres deep, but reaches down as far as 11,000 metres deep at its deepest point. Cruising across from Australia to the USA involves looking out over a large expanse of blue water for a long time, but long days at sea were punctuated with stops at some extremely beautiful (and isolated) Pacific islands, and by lots of fun in the sun on board our floating hotel.
We settled into a relaxed routine on our days at sea. We would get up around 8.00am, and hit the gym in an attempt to counteract the millions of calories consumed at the buffet (and to prepare for our upcoming trek to Machu Picchu). Then Shane would have breakfast and we would meet for a 10.00am ‘brainwaker trivia’ quiz, which despite being aimed at people born before 1950, we somehow managed to win on one occasion (I’m not sure what that says about our youthful mentality). At 11am, we would usually go to a lecture on some aspect of Polynesian or Hawaiian culture or history, delivered by the ship’s resident feminist historian Mary Amanda, and then it was time for lunch. We spent our afternoons relaxing at the pool, watching movies, attempting more trivia and sometimes taking part in other entertainment activities (such as the guests vs officers paper aeroplane competition, which saw Shane’s paper aeroplane sail through the hoop of destiny, winning the accuracy component of the challenge, but being sadly beaten in the distance element by someone with a little too much time on their hands who had spent days preparing his extra large aeroplane).
In the evenings we would have dinner with another younger couple – Rahul and Neha – from the USA and UK respectively, who were also on their honeymoon, and then we would settle into some good old fashioned cruise ship entertainment in the form of a broadway-style show, comedian, or other variety act. The standard of these shows was a little mixed, but a particular highlight was show called ‘Euphoria’, which featured all of the Celebrity Solstice singers and dancers, seemed to be based on Sweden’s winning 2012 Eurovision song (‘Euphoria’, by Loreen), and contained a giant inflatable octopus. By the time the ‘entertainment’ was over, we were usually ready for bed.
After a few days on board and a couple of stops back in New Zealand, we reached a monumental moment on our journey: we crossed the International Date Line.
The concept behind the International Date Line is central to the plot of Jules Verne’s book ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, where Phileas Fogg attempts to travel eastward around the world in 80 days. To win the bet with his friends, Phileas Fogg must return by 8.45pm on Saturday 21 December, but he is delayed. When he arrives at 8.50pm on Friday 20 December, he believes it’s Saturday 21st and that he has lost his bet by five minutes. Of course, because the International Date Line did not exist in 1872, he has added a full 24 hours to his clock as he has travelled around, but in fact, it’s still Friday 20 December, and luckily for him everything is fine.
One good thing about slowly making your way around the world is that you never really encounter jet lag. Like Phileas Fogg, Shane and I have travelled eastward around the world at a gradual pace, and time usually shifts by just one hour at a time. When we cross a border into a new country, we often lose an hour of our lives. The effects of this are usually limited, but sometimes (particularly while driving on the Mongol Rally), we still had to watch out and be aware that shops, and hotel check-in would close an hour earlier over the other side of the border, and sunset would seem to come quicker every day.
Of course, this loss of time couldn’t go on indefinitely as we continued around the world – otherwise, like Phileas Fogg, we would end up a day ahead of ourselves by the time we made it back to the U.K. – so at some point time has to reset, and the result is an imaginary line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, half way round the world from the Greenwich Meridian. When we crossed the line, instead of setting our clocks forward by yet another hour, we set them back by 24 hours. We gained an entire extra day all at once!
In practice, this meant that for Shane and I, Monday 16th April happened twice. We got up in the morning, and it was Monday 16th April. We went to bed at night, and it was still Monday 16th April. We got up in the morning, and it was Monday 16th April (and so on). We took great delight in this, and celebrated by dancing the night away (on Monday 16th April) at the ship’s International Date Line party, complete with Beyoncé and balloons. Anyone who had a birthday on Monday 16th April was lucky enough to celebrate twice, and Celebrity Cruises provided copious amounts of cake, two days in a row. Shane also took great delight in continually asking the staff at guest services what the date was. All in all, a great time was had, and we thoroughly enjoyed our extra day on Earth.
Crossing the International Date Line also marked the transition from one side of the world to another. We were as far away from the Greenwich Meridian (and from home) as it was possible to be. From Tuesday 17th April onwards, we started moving closer to home instead of further away from it.
As if crossing the International Date Line wasn’t enough of a highlight, we then enjoyed three incredible days in French Polynesia. We had spent our sea days actively preparing for our arrival by attending lectures on the region’s history and culture, as well as by watching the Disney movie Moana, set in Polynesia.
Our first stop was the island of Tahiti. We docked in the region’s capital, Papeete, and were greeted to beautiful views of the green, mountainous landscape.
We wandered through the vibrant and colourful city of Papeete and picked up a hire car for the day, which allowed us to drive around the island in a loop and visit black sand beaches, white sand beaches, waterfalls, tropical gardens, caves and other hidden treasures.
It was hot and humid but it was also lush and tropical, with beautiful flowers around every corner.
The next day we took a four-wheel drive tour around the neighbouring island of Moorea – smaller and less developed than Tahiti, but with equally beautiful mountain views. We visited a number of beautiful sights, including Magic Mountain, a pineapple plantation, a rum distillery and the famous Belvedere viewpoint.
Our final day in French Polynesia was also our favourite. We stopped in the island paradise of Bora Bora. Bora Bora has been on my list of places to visit ever since the scene in the movie ‘The Parent Trap’ where Annie (who is in California pretending to be Hallie), is caught making a phone call to Hallie (who is in London pretending to be Annie) in the middle of the night and explains her actions by saying she was calling her friend who “lives in New York, but is on vacation with her family in Bora Bora”.
Other than this slightly obscure reference, I had no preconceived ideas about what Bora Bora would be like.
It turned out to be the most beautiful place we have ever been. Even more beautiful than the beautiful islands in Thailand, and the beautiful deserted beaches in Sumatra, and the beautiful Lake MacKenzie on Fraser Island, and the beautiful Whitsundays, and all the other beautiful places we have been lucky enough to visit on this trip and all other trips we have ever taken
As it is so expensive to get there and stay there, Bora Bora has relatively few visitors. The water is completely clear. The sand is perfectly round and soft. The islands are mountainous and green. The colours are vibrant, and it is simply paradise.
We took a snorkeling tour of the crystal clear waters, and were able to swim with more fish, sting rays and more sharks than we could count. Although the reef sharks and lemon sharks were smaller than scary great whites, they still had sinister expressions, white eyes and rows of sharp teeth, which still gave me a fright when they came straight towards me.
We also paddled in the empty beaches, and took a short trip to a private island where we had lunch on picnic benches in the sea, and saw stunning views of the whole area. “I think I have just taken the most beautiful photo anyone has ever taken of anything, ever”, I said to Shane at one point. The serenity and the beauty of Bora Bora blew us away, and if only we had wifi, I would have been googling “how can I move to Bora Bora” within the hour.
French Polynesia (especially Bora Bora) was the ultimate paradise, and is somewhere that despite the long journey time from home and the inevitable associated expense, we would really like to come back to.
The journey from French Polynesia to Hawaii involved five days at sea, but with the continued entertainment on board the Celebrity Solstice, it felt like it took no time at all to reach the Big Island of Hawaii.
We had two stops in Hawaii on the way to the ship’s final port of call on Oahu – the most populated Hawaiian island. First we stopped at the Big Island, where Shane and I hired a car to visit the Volcanoes National Park. We arrived at the perfect time – the volcano was starting to erupt so we were able to see some molten lava bursting up through the surface – but not enough to cause the damage to buildings, road closures and state of emergency which followed a few days later.
We also walked through a lava tube, and hiked down into a volcanic crater.
We finished our day on the Big Island by visiting the famous ‘Rainbow Falls’ – which was a nice waterfall but missing its signature rainbow effect.
Next we stopped at the port of Lahaina on Maui, which was a beautiful historic town filled with lovely shops and restaurants. It had a distinctly ‘Hawaiian’ feel, and it was difficult to resist buying a suitcase full of souvenirs. We settled on a surfboard-shaped chopping board, and left it at that.
From Maui, we stayed on the ship for the short journey to our final port of call – the island of Oahu – where we would be staying for another 10 days of Hawaiian fun. While we were sad to leave our luxury cruise ship (Hawaiian prices mean it’s back to a joyful non-air-conditioned dormitory for us), we were still delighted to be in Hawaii, and to have successfully crossed the big, blue Pacific Ocean.
After days spent gazing out at the ocean, enjoying a relaxed lifestyle on board a cruise ship, encountering the wonders of French Polynesia and ending up in the Hawaiian islands, I realized that any sadness or apprehension I had felt about leaving Australia had disappeared the moment we sailed away from Sydney. We had a wonderful time in Australia, but the new chapter of our adventure has well and truly begun.