Travel Comment

Ponderings on all aspects of travel - both at home and abroad.

Jim Eagles: Word perfect tropical worlds

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The second-best thing to do when the icy winds howl from the south and the rain pours down is to turn up the heating, make yourself a pina colada and settle down to a book set in the tropics.

Reading tales of repartee in the market at Avarua or absorbing pictures of lucky people swimming in the warm seas around Manihiki is almost as good as being there.

Gone Troppo
by Stu Lloyd
(Monsoon Books)

Not on sale in New Zealand yet but can be ordered from Amazon.com (US$10.37) and Amazon.co.uk (£7.53) as well as from Monsoon Books (S$23.50)

This has to be the dream assignment for a travel writer. Stu Lloyd persuades his publisher to let him write about searching for the perfect tropical paradise.

The money in the bank, so to speak, he reckons he selected his targets by throwing darts at a map of the tropics.

If so, he's obviously good at darts because the places selected are Durban, South Africa; Langkawi, Malaysia; Koh Samui, Thailand; Singapore; Luzon and Bohol, Philippines; Delhi and Goa, India; Oahu, Hawaii; Tijuana, Mexico; the Caribbean coast and San Jose, Costa Rica; and Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

There are only a few of those that people might consider interesting rather than heavenly, but they all sound great places to visit. It's certainly an itinerary that offers Lloyd plenty of scope for pursuing his personal definition of paradise: somewhere warm, beautiful and interesting with plentiful supplies of cold beer and gorgeous women (at a distance).

It also allows full scope for his whimsical style of writing which is amusing, informative and, mostly, tempting.

His adventures along the way are described with a wonderful mixture of cynicism (about commercial tourism), awe (at the natural beauty of the world), humour (at the foibles of the human condition), curiosity (about all the people he meets) and good old-fashioned joy (at the pleasure to be had from a cold beer on a hot day).

The book is both an entertaining read and a good stimulus to visit some of those candidates for paradise... and to avoid others.

And does he find the perfect tropical paradise? Yes, he does. But you'll have to read the book to discover where.

Manihiki Island: Our Paradise
by Renee Hollis
(Renee Hollis, 79 Panorama Drive, Stoke, Nelson, $59.95)

Manihiki Island, about 1200km off Rarotonga, is reckoned by many to be the most beautiful atoll in the Cook Islands - but few outsiders have seen it.

One who has is Renee Hollis who spent a year on Manihiki as a teacher in 2005, the first white teacher to do so, surviving "hurricanes, extreme heat, a limited diet of coconuts and fish and the language barrier".

She also took 5000 photographs of the atoll, with its ring of 40 islets, and the daily life of the 600 or so residents.

Over 300 have been combined into this book which, Hollis says, is "my gift to the people of Manihiki".

This is not brilliant photography but it is a marvellous record of life in a small, isolated but seemingly tranquil Polynesian island community.

The image that emerges from the 154 pages is of smiling faces, glorious blue seas, rich sealife (including the black pearls on which the local economy is based), an intriguing mix of cultures and perpetually sunny skies.

If Manihiki looks so much like the paradise of the book's title that you want to go, there is a weekly service operated by Air Rarotonga and tourist accommodation at Manihiki Lagoon Villas.

Passage to Torres Strait
by Miles Hordern
(John Murray, $29.99)

Anyone with even a vague interest in the early exploration of the Pacific Ocean will find Passage to Torres Strait a fascinating read as author and yachtsman Miles Hordern follows in the wake of the first Europeans to visit Melanesia.

Hordern has excellent sailing credentials, having written his previous book, Voyaging in the Pacific, after sailing single-handed from Britain to New Zealand in 1990.

For this latest adventure he set sail from Waiheke Island, aiming to trace - as his book's sub-title puts it - "four centuries in the wake of great navigators, mutineers, castaways and beachcombers".

First port of call on his solo voyage is the Vanuatu island of Erromango, where scented sandalwood forests drew profit-hungry traders in the 1800s. But the ferocious islanders repelled all comers, including missionaries, one of whom, the Rev John Williams, was eaten for his troubles.

That rather sets the scene for the voyage with each destination bringing its own story, of sailors who deserted their ships for life in a tropical paradise or luckless mariners shipwrecked on hostile shores, of Europeans who gained chiefly status or others not so fortunate who ended up as sacrificial lambs.

There are stories of the 20th century too. On Tanna, also in the Vanuatu group, Hordern explores the John Frum myth with locals who still follow this extraordinary cargo cult, apparently originating from the arrival of a United States plane reconnoitring the area before World War II.

Like the early mariners Hordern faced many dangers but his small ship was sturdy, as well crafted in fact as the story of his journey.

- NZ Herald

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