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Discover the South Pacific Islands of Melanesia
Thousands of islands dot the Pacific, and some, like Fiji, Moorea, and Tahiti, are the stuff of daydreams and honeymoons. Silversea’s South Pacific Islands expedition cruise goes deeper, honing in on some of the region’s least familiar yet most compelling destinations: the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. To the northeast of Australia, these two countries are centers of the Melanesian peoples of the Pacific, who share a culture with that of New Guinea and distinct from that of the Polynesian islands to their east. 

This 10-day journey will take you to atolls long inhabited by fierce headhunters and islands where magic is still an element of daily life. You will meet the members of a cargo cult, and walk atop a very active volcano. The cultural highlights of this trip are indelible and authentic, as you’ll be setting foot in places where tourism and contemporary civilization have barely made a mark. Natural beauty abounds too and you’ll get to snorkel in blue lagoons as well as springs known as blue holes. 

It’s appropriate that as you follow in the wake of Spanish explorers and the legendary Captain Cook, you’ll be doing so aboard Silver Discoverer. This 120-guest expedition ship will take you to untamed landscapes while offering all the comforts of civilization.
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    Day 1
    Your adventures get underway in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands, a country with six major islands and some 900 smaller ones due east of Papua New Guinea. Honiara is on the island of Guadalcanal, a name that should be familiar to students of World War II as Japanese and American forces fought for control of the island for six months, from 1942 to 1943. Before you meet your ship and start your Silversea expedition cruise, you may want to explore on your own and visit some of the memorials to soldiers of both countries that can be found throughout the city, along with civic buildings, while some time on the wharf provides an introduction to the laid-back local atmosphere.

    In the afternoon, you’ll head to your ship, Silver Discoverer. You’ll have an opportunity to meet some of your expedition team, which includes naturalists and other experts, and then attend a safety briefing. In the evening, you’ll have time to explore the ship, meet your fellow travelers, and enjoy the first of many memorable open-seating meals in the Restaurant.
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    Day 2
    Marovo Lagoon
    Your first stop as you travel westwards will be the Marovo Lagoon, one of the world’s largest, covering some 270 square miles of blue sea dotted with islands and islets. Writer James Michener described it as “one of the seven wonders of the natural world” and it is in fact being considered for UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. While the people of the islands here do not dance, because of their religious beliefs, there may be opportunities to hear some of their traditional music. Locals are also known for their elaborate wood carvings and you will have a chance to see, and even purchase, pieces.

    The lagoon is even more famous for the life beneath the sea, and snorkeling through its coral forests and gardens, you’ll marvel at giant clams, sea turtles, manta rays, eels, reef sharks and an astounding diversity of fish in a rainbow of colors. On dry land, kingfishers, kites, and ospreys can be spotted in the trees along the lagoon.
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    Day 3
    Vona Vona Lagoon
    In the 19th century, visitors to the Vona Vona Lagoon proceeded with caution. First, there was the confusing maze of reefs and islands to navigate, a challenge for every captain. Second, the warriors of the islands were famously fierce, and to this day it is possible to see the skulls of vanquished enemies on the appropriately named Skull Island.

    Aboard Silver Discoverer, you leave the task of navigating the shoals and reefs to the experts, your ship’s crew. Once you have dropped anchor, you can head out in a Zodiac to explore the lagoon and nearby tidal rivers. As you follow the twisting passages through the lagoon and its mangrove-lined islands, you’ll see rare freshwater fish, tropical birds, and saltwater crocodiles. Your expedition leader knows the best places to snorkel in the clear waters so you can get a closer look at the marine life. Finally, if the tides allow, you’ll be able to visit the shrine of local warrior chiefs on Skull Island and learn about the area’s headhunting past.
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    Day 4
    Russell Islands
    The Russell Islands were the staging ground for American Marines prior to their advance on Guadalcanal, but there are few traces of their presence left today. Instead the most important influence on the islands’ culture has been its coconut plantations. These farms have long drawn a mix of Polynesian and Melanesian workers, and the islands offer opportunities to experience a true South Pacific melting pot.

    In the morning you’ll explore the island of Karamolun. If you have an underwater camera (or a waterproof casing), this is the day to be sure to bring it along. The coral reefs support a diversity of colorful, tropical fish that you’ll get to see up close if you opt to go snorkeling. In the afternoon you’ll continue on to Pavuvu, the largest island in the group. There you’ll enjoy cultural presentations as well as time to relax on the beach or snorkel alongside turtles, tropical fish, and maybe even a dolphin or two.
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    Day 5
    Roderick Bay
    You’ll arrive early at Roderick Bay, on the western coast of Nggela Sule, one of the Florida Islands. It’s worth getting up early, with your camera at the ready, to observe the day breaking and the sun rising above the sea.

    The bay itself includes a number of shaded picture-perfect beaches. You’ll head ashore with your expedition leader for an opportunity to snorkel around a shipwreck—a German ship that has sat here just off the coast of the island since it sank in 2000. Over time the vegetation on the island has begun to spread to the ship, adding to the picturesque quality of this eerie wreck. Around the ship’s hull, you can see a variety of corals, sponges, lionfish, octopus, and other marine life. In the afternoon you’ll return to Silver Discoverer to depart for your next port of call, Santa Ana.
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    Day 6
    Santa Ana
    Spanish explorers gave the island of Santa Ana its name when they came upon it in 1568, though it is also known by its Melanesian name, Owaraha (or Owa Raha). Your morning on this small coral island provides a fascinating glimpse into Melanesian culture. You’ll travel by Zodiac from Silver Discoverer to a small white-sand beach at Ghupuna, the largest settlement on the island.

    It’s a charming lesson in traditional Melanseian architecture—namely, houses constructed on stilts—and culture as the island’s residents will perform traditional dances. Locals travel from the island’s two other villages, as well as Ghupuna, to welcome Silver Discoverer whenever it stops here. If you are interested in souvenirs, such as a carving or an item made from the shells long used as currency, a number of stands sell works inspired by local stories and legends.
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    Day 7
    Utupua Island
    Your last stop in the nation of the Solomon Islands will be Utupua, part of the distinctive Santa Cruz Islands group. While politically they are part of the Solomon Islands, this archipelago sits some 250 miles to the southeast of the rest of the nation.

    You’ll enter a deep bay on the western side of the island in the morning, and then a short trip via Zodiac will bring you to Nembao, the village that will host you for the day. You’ll be welcomed by villagers performing dances and songs. You can wander Nembao and see its houses, small farms, and canoes—the people of the Santa Cruz Islands are famous for having constructed ocean-going outrigger canoes capable of traveling hundreds of miles. Depending on the tides, you may also be able to explore the mangrove-lined shores of the bay, in search of its unusual birds and fish.
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    Day 8
    Espiritu Santo
    Spanish explorer Pedro de Quiroz made it to Espiritu Santo, the largest of the 80 islands that make up the nation of Vanuatu, in the early 17th century. When you arrive, you might feel like not much has changed since his visit. This island paradise seems remarkably lost in time, although like the Solomon Islands it was the site of some significant World War II battles (a number of shipwrecks testify to that moment in history).

    Your primary stop will be Champagne Beach, a reference to the tiny bubbles that are sometimes caused by subterranean volcanic activity. You can swim and snorkel on the shaded strip of sand and meet locals who will share aspects of Vanuatu culture. It may also be possible to venture inland to one of Vanuatu’s famous blue holes—natural freshwater springs that emerge through the island’s limestone surface.
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    Day 9
    Pentecost and Ambrym Island
    Today’s pairing of islands will expose you to Vanuatu’s range of spiritual and cultural practices. First up, a morning Zodiac ride will transport you to Pentecost Island where you will see some of its young men dive from a 100-foot tower headfirst, connected by vines. These so-called land divers perform this ritual to coincide with the yam harvest, and it’s a celebration that involves the entire village, not just the brave divers who are the most famous participants. After this unique spectacle, you’ll tour the village and meet children who will guide you to their school and share some favorite songs.

    In the afternoon, Silver Discoverer will continue on to Ambrym, famous as Vanuatu’s magical island. In this case, magical doesn’t refer to its dramatic volcanic topography or its black-sand beaches. Instead, you will have a rare opportunity to see the mystical Rom dance performed. Your expedition leader will explain the significance of the dances, music, and masks used in this ritual that portrays the struggle between good and evil spirits. There may be time to check out Ambrym sand drawings, beautiful works of art that are also used to record and pass on essential elements of island traditions.
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    Day 10
    Port Resolution
    You’ll continue to sail south in Vanuatu, until you arrive at the island of Tanna and stop at Port Resolution, named after Captain Cook’s ship (he called near here in 1774). You’ll meet locals who belong to the John Frum cargo cult, a religion that emerged in the early 20th century. They will perform and explain aspects of their lives and beliefs before leading you on a village tour.

    The glowing light of Mount Yasur inspired Captain Cook to come ashore at Tanna, and the active volcano still attracts visitors, including you and your fellow cruisers. You’ll board a 4WD vehicle and ascend to a point close to its summit to observe the fantastic display of lava and gas exploding from almost constant eruptions. Access may be limited depending on the level of activity; expedition leaders stay aware of the best and safest places to witness this phenomenon.
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    Port Vila
    You will arrive at Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, this morning and then disembark at the end of your expedition cruise. If you have time to explore the city on your own, you’ll note an unusual mix of British, Chinese, French, Melanesian, and Vietnamese influences. Afterwards, head to the airport to begin your journey home.