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The Many Faces of Melanesia
Spread across an expanse of the vast South Pacific, from New Guinea to the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, the islands composing Melanesia present a dizzying array of indigenous cultures, magnificent bird and marine life, tropical flora, volcanic islands, and coral atolls. We've designed our Faces of Melanesia expedition, departing 08 November 2002, to present as complete a picture of these islands as possible, an 18-day voyage aboard the Clipper Odyssey. This voyage of discovery, combined with our pre-extension to the Papua New Guinea Highlands and Sepik River, and our New Caledonia post-extension, represents a comprehensive Melanesian exploration.
Traveling on the Clipper Odyssey, we will experience the ways of a different culture every couple of days. We will visit with the Trobriand Islanders of Kitava to view energetic, age-old dances imbued with ritualistic significance. Villagers welcome us with the blowing of conch shell trumpets and traditional songs as we come ashore on Santa Ana in the Solomons. Our stop on Tikopia well illustrates the cultural richness of the region. While Tikopia is geographically part of Melanesia, its inhabitants are actually Polynesian.
The artifacts and handicrafts reflect the ethnic melange. From the canoe builders of the Laughlin Islands to the woodcarvers of Ghizo and the crafters of the elegant headdresses of Ambrym, the artisans of Melanesia preserve the techniques of their forebears. Despite the many differences, the islanders share one trait: hospitality. We shall be warmly welcomed wherever we land.
In addition to our encounters with these thousands-of-years-old cultures, we shall witness history of a more recent vintage. A dramatic juxtaposition exists between the tranquility of island life today and the historical reality that this was the setting of the savage battles waged as Japan and the United States strove for control of the Pacific in World War II. Guadalcanal, in the Solomons, was a turning point in the war. There, we will visit war memorials and Henderson Field. Offshore, divers and snorkelers can explore Iron Bottom Sound, so-named for the large numbers of Japanese and American ships sunk beneath the waves. Today, these sundered vessels provide habitats for colorful reef fishes and luxuriant corals.
The natural wonders match the variety of the human inhabitants. Geologically, the islands represent three types found in the Pacific: volcanic, uplifted coral, and coral atoll. The Vanuatu Archipelago remains a hotbed of seismic activity. Its nine active volcanoes, two of which are below sea level, form part of the Ring of Fire. The dramatic terrain of some Melanesian islands was another factor that kept the human populations divided into small cultural and linguistic communities and impeded their penetration by outsiders.
The remarkably fecund landscapes make for spectacular birding and botanizing. During our Faces of Melanesia expedition in 2000, we identified 140 different species of birds. With our naturalists, we will hike the forests and marshes of Espirutu Santo, home to the rare chestnut-bellied kingfisher, mountain starling, and Santa Cruz ground pigeon. Other colorful species we may encounter during our travels include lorikeets, black-naped terns, and the greater frigatebird.
The undersea world dazzles with its kaleidoscope of life. As an ichthyologist and a diver, I am greatly anticipating November's departure. The seas of Melanesia are some of the warmest and clearest in the world. We will be able to snorkel or dive nearly every day of our voyage. Whether you prefer to snorkel off a pristine sandbar in the Laughlins, or join our dive master over a reef drop-off, you will come face-to-face with an astonishing variety of fish.
The vivid underwater landscape presents a tapestry of hard and soft corals, ranging from delicate seafans to staghorn formations, replete with colorful sponges, anemones, and giant Tridacna clams with iridescent blue mantles. Fish species are too numerous to list, but, among others, they include parrotfish, neon damsels, striped harlequin tusk-fish, and elegant Moorish idols. Of special interest will be our exploration of the USS President Coolidge, a troop ship that sank near Luganville during World War II and is one of the world's greatest wreck dives.
It is impossible to catalog all the wonders of this region. Come with me this November aboard Faces of Melanesia and experience firsthand the fantastic natural setting and time-honored traditions of Oceania.