July 9, 2014
Posted in: Guest Stories
On 2 January 2014, Queen Victoria set sail on her 2014 World Voyage. Guest Richard Smith spent four months on board sailing from Southampton to Southampton. In the second of a two-part blog, he talks about his time sailing back home to Southampton from New Zealand… First stop – Tonga…
I suppose that we remember the Kingdom of Tonga because of Queen Salote, the large lady who made a name for herself at Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953.
Sadly we just missed seeing her grandson, King Tupou VI. We had just set off in a taxi on a tour of the island when a motorcade arrived at the Royal Palace with the King.
Tonga is great. Out of town we drove through acres of palm trees, heavy vegetation, pretty villages and beautifully dressed school children. The south coast produced deserted beaches ringed by coral reefs. Back in town there was a vast colourful market. Tonga was terrific. We will return!
Next stop was Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, situated on the island of Tutuila. The island is lush – coconuts
and bananas galore. The massive rainfall that Samoa experiences helps to keep everything green. The beaches are idyllic and the villages neat and tidy. They are dominated by the multitudes of churches and fale tele (meeting houses).
In September 2009 an earthquake off Samoa sent a tsunami into Pago Pago harbour causing extensive destruction to villages, buildings and vehicles. There is still evidence of the damage, but the majority of the restoration work appears to have been completed.
We had a wonderful departure from Samoa and set off to the Hawaiian Islands. After five wonderful days at sea we arrived at the largest of the Hawaiian Islands – known as Big Island or Hawai’i. The capital is Hilo. Although the first inhabitants
settled there in about AD 400 the first European to find Big Island was Captain James Cook who arrived in January 1779. He was treated like a god initially, but when he returned a month later there were problems between his crew and the locals and during a fight he was killed.
Hawai’i became the 50th US state in 1945. It is a fabulous place to explore and nobody misses the two main volcanoes, Mauna Loa and the more active Kilauea in the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.
When we were back at the ship, Dragon Boat racing was taking place alongside.
The sun was shining and it was hot as we approached Honolulu on the island of Oahu the next day. A beautiful day and Honolulu looked splendid as we came alongside the pier.
We had stayed on the island in the past and had visited Pearl Harbour, so this time took a tour to areas we had not seen before.
It took us through Waikiki, which was just waking up, although the surfers and joggers were already out; then Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay, past glorious beaches and into the lush green tropical forest.
We then cut across the island back to Honolulu to give us time to dress for the Full World Voyage black tie dinner that evening.
We travelled in coaches to the Hawaiian Convention Centre for the dinner and were led onto a vast terrace for cocktails and canapés. A group of young girls then sang and danced for us before we moved to the vast hall.
We ate and drank very well and were entertained by an orchestra and a variety of singers. It was a truly memorable occasion.
As soon as the coaches had returned us all to the ship, the gangway was raised and we set sail for San Francisco.
Old friends of ours from the UK, who have lived in California for 30+ years, met us at Pier 35 and we spent our time with them in their new home in Danville to the east of the city.
It rained for much of the time but we looked down on the Golden Gate Bridge from one of the newly constructed viewing points set up above the bridge. I was reminded of my first visit to San Francisco, as a student, 49 years earlier, when I drove across the bridge in a 1957 Buick that a group of four of us had bought to travel around the USA.
We had 2800 miles to travel to Putarenas in Costa Rica and then a further day before we arrived at the Panama Canal.
The Canal opened in August 1914 – one hundred years ago. The day transiting the Panama Canal is long and can be exhausting but it is a fabulous experience not to be missed.
As many of you will know the route through Panama was made by building the Gatun Dam and then flooding a vast area of land. Once the lake had been created, channels had to be dug to join the Atlantic to the lake on one side and the Pacific on the other. As the lake would be 85 feet above ocean level, locks had to be built to take ships up to the lake and then down on the other side.
Queen Victoria fits into the Canal with two feet to spare on either side. The ship uses its own power to propel it through the locks and 4 locomotives on each side of the ship keep the ship away from the walls of the locks.
Guests found their own viewing points. My favourite was towards the stern of Deck 3 where one could touch the edge of the lock and shake hands with the locomotive drivers.
It was a great day and after another day at sea we arrived in Aruba – One Happy Island! It was new to us and we took a tour to the Natural Bridge on the rocky northern coast. Sadly it had collapsed in 2005!
On the southern coast we found Palm Beach and Eagle Beach and some magnificent looking hotels. Aruba was a pleasant surprise to us.
Next stop was Grand Cayman, an anchor port with 3 other ships nearby. There was plenty of bustle as the large number of tourists took the opportunity to buy gold and silver jewellery at very competitive prices.
Those who had travelled from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Lauderdale were nearing the end of their journey. We would be saying goodbye to a large number of new friends.
Two of the celebrity speakers were also leaving us. Captain Robert “Hoot” Gibson and his wife Dr Rhea Seddon were selected for the first Space Shuttle Astronaut program in 1978. They flew 8 space flights between them and their presentations to us in the theatre were awesome.
Admiral Lord West, Peter Snow and my favourite, Roger McGuinn, founder of The Byrds.
From Port Everglades, we had a fairly gentle crossing to Madeira. Suddenly we began to realize that the four months on our second home were coming to an end.
We toured the island on a sunny and clear day travelling to Polso at 1400 metres. The road was steep and twisting but the views were magnificent. We returned to the ship by travelling under the airport runway, constructed on stilts to lengthen what had been one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
We then had three days at sea before arriving in Southampton on 28 April 2014. We could easily have managed another couple of months on board!
People ask me to tell them about the highlights. There were so many, but the day at Pitcairn Island probably sits at the top of my list with Brisbane and Sydney close behind.
Queen Victoria is a very happy ship. Nothing is too much trouble for the smiling crew who looked after us magnificently wherever we were on the ship. The voyage was a triumph for Cunard.
Thank you Richard for sharing your World Voyage story with us… If you’re thinking about joining one of our three Queens for a World Voyage in 2015, you can find out more by visiting the Cunard website.