Cruising forward

THE appeal of the Solomon Islands as a cruise destination continues to grow with 17 individual ship visits scheduled for 2017, which are expected to bring just over 13,000 visitors to the capital Honiara and a handful of small islands.

This year will also see more luxury cruise ships visiting the archipelago including Crystal Symphony, a mid-size five-star vessel in the Crystal Cruises fleet, and the boutique ship Paul Gauguin, the latter making two separate visits to the islands in May and June.

Last year P&O Cruises made history when its 1,500-passenger Pacific Eden became the largest cruise ship to ever visit Gizo, a region in western province set on the Vono Vono lagoon. It was also the first vessel to dock at the new Honiara wharf, during two 10-night cruises that also visited New Guinea.

This year P&O has upped the ante with three scheduled cruises (all round-trips from Cairns in September and October), bringing a total of 4,500 passengers to the region.

Sister line Princess Cruises will be back in 2017, operating three cruises on the 2,000-passenger vessel Sun Princess, departing from Sydney and Brisbane, and calling at Honiara.

Carnival Australia, owner of P&O and Princess, said a recent economic impact report it commissioned with the Australian Government and the World Bank found that cruise tourism in the Solomon Islands had the potential to grow five-fold from the $600,000 it currently generated to around $3.3 million by the end of 2017.

Both these lines have added Solomon Islands ports to their already-established Papua New Guinea itineraries. But while P&O has devised a range of shore excursions in Gizo and Honiara, Princess has not organised shore excursions for its day-long visit to Honiara. Passengers are given information on the port and can make arrangements for tours with local operators at the wharf.

Photo: Caroline Gladstone

This year will also see more visits by expedition and small luxury vessels as well as more calls at remote islands. Ponant Cruises’ 264-passenger ship L’Austral has scheduled two cruises with calls at islands including Mbike (Florida group), Njari (Gizo area) and at Vanikoro in the far-flung Santa Cruz group of islands, where explorer La Perouse was shipwrecked in the late 18th century.

Expedition vessel Caledonian Sky will double its presence in the region with two cruises (in February and September), also visiting remote islands including Santa Ana, Vanikoro and nearby Tikopia.

Five-star ship Silver Discoverer (Silversea Cruises) will operate three cruises in October. The 120-passenger ship will call at Mbike Island, Utupua and Marova Lagoon on seven and 14-night voyages, two of which are already sold out.

Also new is a cruise chartered by World Expeditions on the 50-passenger ship Spirit of Enderby where acclaimed scientist Tim Flannery will lead adventurers on a 14-day voyage in October through the Choiseul, New Georgia and Santa Isabel island groups.