While the words ‘South Pacific’ evoke sunshine and blue skies we have to remember we’re cruising in winter, and sure enough the weather was cool, grey and windy when we arrived at the Isle of Pines. (Fact file: Known as Kunie to its Melanesian inhabitants, the island is part of the French-Pacific territory of New Caledonia. Situated at the southern tip of this archipelago, it sits almost astride the Tropic of Capricorn at 167¼ longitude and 22¼ latitude south.)
Pacific Jewel’s lifeboats tendered passengers from the ship to the tropical island, where we were greeted by islanders who present every new arrival with a woven headband made of coconut palms and flowers.
The tour bus took us to the ‘natural aquarium’, a traditional fish reserve at the lagoon edge of Oro Bay, where we met our charming tour guide Rick. We then walked through rainforest and shallow water to snorkel in this beautiful clear lagoon, which was several degrees warmer than the air outside and teeming with brilliant fish and marine life.
Back on board I met executive chef Uwe Stiefel, who created the menu for La Luna. He has been at sea for 20 years and said there’s “barely any port in the world I haven’t seen”. His years of experience in China are distilled in the dishes at La Luna, which are based on cuisine from all the provinces and combine “spices and fragrances”. The eight courses include such delicacies as Yunnan Steampot Chicken, Sweet Guandong Blue Ginger Duck Salad and Guangzhou Tamarind, Pepper and Honey Prawns and some of the most delicious pickles I’ve ever tasted. Uwe is also responsible for the recipes in the new P&O Cruises cookbook Holidays, which I’m proud to say was produced by Edge, the company that publishes Cruise Passenger and P&O Cruises in-cabin magazine Pacific among many other titles.
And continuing the foodie theme, we had dinner that night at Luke Mangan’s Salt Grill which was so outstanding we immediately booked to go again on our last evening on the ship. A show in the Marquee rounded off the night – Australian performer Jenifer Green belted out a collection of Shirley Bassey favourites and totally charmed the appreciative audience.