Pastor Tua Fili is in full flight. The Methodist priest and caretaker of Makogai Island, a former leper colony on the Lomaiviti Archipelago, is using a well-thumbed Fijian bible to explain why there is only one path to heaven.

A dozen children from the local school sing hymns and dance. What the world needs is redemption, the 72-year-old explained. And there is only one way to get that.

His church is a local research station that is indeed promising some kind of redemption.

It is conducting research into how giant clamps can help coral reefs survive bleaching. Two 30-year-old Australian giants are in a tank outside. And dozens of plastic containers hold spawn that will soon turn into young clams and be spread on the reef.

A Captain Cook Fiji expedition…

The results have been positive. Coral replanting is now a major industry. Captain Cook Cruises private island of Tivua has already discovered that seeding coral which has survived a bleaching attack is creating more resilient colonies. Their DNA seems to contain an antidote.

Redemption indeed for what climate change has done to our planet.

Coral planting is just one of the big, bold experiments Captain Cook Cruises, a family offshoot of the famous Sydney Harbour ferries and over 50 years old, is conducting today. The other may be tougher: turning a land famous for big family resorts into a luxury expedition destination rivalling The Kimberley or French Polynesia?

The ingredients are there: fascinating culture, friendly people, attractive climate, golden sands, and great snorkelling and diving. Fiji has a host of remote islands. Its people welcome tourists to unspoiled beaches and happily show off their local customs.

The company has taken the Pacific Plunge, buying Caledonian Sky and crewing it with a majority of Fijians. They are busily training others in luxury cruising. We all know about Fijian time. But luxury guests are an unforgiving bunch, and getting things right takes time and education.

Island elders make kava before a dinner at

The 33-year-old vessel, once the private yacht of a Dubai prince and APT’s Kimberley flagship, will eventually be flagged in Fiji. She will serve Fijian food cooked by local chefs. And most importantly, provide immersive shore excursions to far-flung islands steeped in local culture.

There are plans for a refit. She’s had some work already, but she needs more. Her beautiful metalwork alone has run the country out of Brasso, the famous British cleaner that keeps her interior metalwork spic and span.

What’s on board an expedition with Captain Cook Fiji

Caledonian Sky is a classic. Her wood-panelled corridors and suites are beautifully preserved. And her main dining room on deck 2 is in amazingly good repair.

Captain Cook Cruises has launched Caledonian Sky as a luxury expedition ship in Fiji with big savings. What is life aboard like?

She has room for up to 100 guests and a crew of around 70. There are 10 expedition staff running lectures, steering the Zodiacs, and ensuring visits to remote villages run by tribal elders go well. This process involves the copious gifting of kava, the local drink that induces relaxation).

The ship has only been sailing since November, and getting the product right is now a high priority.

Itineraries and pricing

Price has been difficult. At one point, a seven-night cruise like the one we took – Ultimate Lau and Kadavu – would have been $1100 a night. Recently the company has launched a special promotion offering three nights free on all seven-night itineraries for 2024.

That’s a huge saving of up to A$3297 per person. Fares start from A$4,396 per person twin share per cabin. As the line builds the product and returns the ship to her former glory, that seems sensible.

Guests can choose from five seven-night itineraries to discover the unexplored Fiji and South Pacific, including a cruise through Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands, expeditions to the Northern and Southern Lau archipelagoes, a discovery of the remote north region and an ultimate cruise to Lau and Kadavu.

The ship and crew do well to create an expedition atmosphere. The local villages put on an amazing show of welcome, with schools especially happy to see books, crayons and pencils as gifts.

There is snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and guided hikes to secret lakes. Scuba diving is available at additional cost.

A limited selection of wine, beer and soft drinks is included at meal times. There is a tiny gym, a spa where treatments are very reasonably priced, an open sky deck, two lounges and alfresco dining.

Suites are mostly big, and well-appointed.

Citizen science

A visiting scientist program has been launched where marine experts join select cruises to lead citizen science and conservation activities.

The line-up of visiting scientist guest lecturers includes experts in marine biology and reef conservation, providing a fascinating, firsthand discovery of the South Pacific’s submarine world while cruising its waters. Confirmed in the program to date are Dr Alison Green, Dr Anne Hogget, Dr Lyle Vail and Dr Penny Berents. 

Dr Alison Green is the scientific advisor for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program. She was previously formerly the Senior Marine Scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the Director of Science, Technology and Information Group at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Directors of the Australian Museum Lizard Island Research Station (LIRS) Dr Anne Hoggett and Dr Lyle Vail will join the seven-night Remote North Discovery cruise departing on May 18, 2024. Together the husband-and-wife team develops and manages the internationally renowned coral reef research facility on the northern Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station.

Caledonian Sky’s 2024 sail-for-seven, pay-for-four offer is on sale now until March 31 and is valid for all seven-night sailings from March 1, 2024 – March 31, 2025.

You can win a cruise aboard Caledonian Sky with Cruise Passenger here.

For further information and bookings, click here.