Along the edges of the Coral Sea lie idyllic islands lush with jungle and edged with white-sand beaches that saw some of the fiercest battles of the Pacific Theater during World War II. Next to vibrant reefs, shipwrecks and discarded armaments now bristle with coral, making for exhilarating discoveries under the sea. As the National Geographic Orion makes its way from Papua New Guinea to the Solomons, Vanuatu, and Fiji, we’ll snorkel and dive pristine reefs and famous wrecks, trace the history of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the legends of the ancient Melanesians, and get to know the exuberant cultures and friendly peoples that make their home here.
Snorkel or dive the spectacular lagoons of Papua New Guinea’s Louisiade Archipelago and meet the islands’ potters, traditional boat builders, and other craftspeople
Go birding on Kennedy Island, where young John F. Kennedy swam when his PT-109 was sunk during World War II, and dive the incredible wreck of the S.S. Coolidge
See ancient cave art in Vanuatu, and learn about local legends on a visit to the burial site of Chief Roi Mata, a UNESCO World Heritage site
Enjoy traditional dances and ceremonies as we visit island villages, and watch the famous firewalkers of Fiji make their way across white-hot stones.
Itinerary - 16 Days
Days 1, 2, & 3 — U.S./Cairns, Australia
Depart for Australia, crossing the international date line, and embark the National Geographic Orion upon arrival. (D)
Day 4 — At Sea
Spend a day crossing the Coral Sea on our way to the far eastern reaches of Papua New Guinea. The reefs and islands of the Coral Sea are rich in birds and aquatic life. Join our naturalists on deck with your binoculars, attend talks by our team of experts, and settle into life on board. (B,L,D)
Days 5, 6, & 7 — Papua New Guinea
Discover the sights of Milne Bay Province, from the colorful markets of the mainland to the reef-fringed volcanic isles scattered off the coast. Visit islands like Kwato and Samarai, and explore a turbulent history of colonialists, missionaries, headhunters, and world wars. Examine World War II artifacts on land and underwater, and snorkel, dive and kayak the reefs and lagoons of the idyllic Louisiade Archipelago, where the residents of each island are skilled in different crafts, including pottery and building traditional sailing canoes. (B,L,D)
Days 8, 9, & 10 — At Sea/Solomon Islands
A day at sea brings us to the jungle-clad peaks and vibrant reefs of the Solomon Islands—an unlikely backdrop for the fierce battles that took place here during World War II. Today the islands are some of the least visited, most dive-worthy islands in the South Pacific. Snorkel, dive, or kayak Marovo Lagoon, one of the world’s largest double barrier-enclosed lagoons, and admire the intricate work of local woodcarvers. Explore the haunting war relics at a U.S. supply depot on Guadalcanal Island, and discover the bird life of Kennedy Island, named after John F. Kennedy, who swam ashore here after his PT-109 boat was sunk during the war. Then, on the tiny isle of Owaraha (formerly known as Santa Ana), we’re greeted with a traditional dance performed by villagers in elaborate costumes and masks.
Days 11, 12, & 13 — At Sea/Vanuatu
Cook named these islands the “New Hebrides” because they reminded him of the rugged isles off Scotland’s coast. On the main island of Espiritu Santo, snorkel, swim, and kayak in Paradise Lagoon and then set out for the Blue Hole Grotto, a jewel-blue freshwater source surrounded by jungle. Ride Zodiacs to Lelepa to explore Fels Cave, whose walls are decorated with ancient petroglyphs, and visit Vanuatu’s first and only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the final residence and burial site of 17th-century Chief Roi Mata. Snorkel Million Dollar Point, where many tons of military equipment were dumped after the war, or experience one of the best wreck dives in the world: the S.S. President Coolidge, a luxury cruise liner used as a troop carrier during World War II. (B,L,D)
Days 14 & 15 — At Sea/Beqa, Fiji
In 1789, Captain William Bligh and 18 loyal crew members sailed past the islands of Fiji following the infamous mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty. Numbering more than 300, the islands are home to pristine coral reefs and sun-drenched villages steeped in a tranquil tropical atmosphere. Our first stop is the island of Beqa (pronounced Mbengga), located just off the southern coast of Viti Levu. Dive or snorkel the surrounding coral reefs, go on walks in the jungle, and paddle sea kayaks along mangrove-lined channels. The island is also the home of the Sawau people, known for their tradition of firewalking. Witness this incredible feat first-hand, and learn about the everyday life of the islanders. (B,L,D)
Day 16 — Lautoka, Fiji/U.S.
After breakfast, disembark in Lautoka on Fiji’s main island of Suva, and transfer to the airport for your return flight home. (B)
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