I have a hermit crab for company and a volcano erupting in the background. I have just strolled from one tiny island to the other on the sandbar that links them and is now fast disappearing under the rising tide. Blue skies and brilliant sunshine, it is hard to imagine this idyllic place was once the scenario of devastating naval battles and air bombardment during the battle of Morotai, part of the Pacific War that began in 1944. Until I board L’Austral.
The water lapping at my feet finally sweeps away my companion, the hermit crab.
Compagnie du Ponant, has recently entered Australian waters with one of their deluxe small ships, appropriately named L’Austral. She is chic, sleek and French.
The Maluku islands, part of the fabled Spice Islands that lured European adventurers from the 15th century onwards, are the first port of call, or should I say visit, as neither port or jetty are necessary for landing.
L’Austral can throw anchor anywhere and deploy a flotilla of Zodiacs to deposit passengers on any distant shore.
The seafarers’ community is a tightly knit, spontaneous society that transcends nationalities and onboard L’Austral we had the opportunity to see it in action.
At the sighting of a disabled fishing boat drifting ahead, Captain, Mickael Debien, orders an investigation. Two fishermen (father and son) had been adrift for 10 days.
The fraternity of the sea kicks into action. Food and water are delivered to the men.
The faulty shaft is brought onboard, repaired, re-installed and tested. Not contented with this, the Captain follows the fishing boat for about two hours (at a considerable slow speed) until he is satisfied the fishermen are on their way safely.
This meant L’Austral had to adjust the schedule lightly but all onboard felt proud to have saved two lives.
Feast for the senses
This cruise is a feast for the senses: Bitung in Sulawesi (Indonesia) has dozens of ancient stone sarcophagi waiting to be decoded by anthropologists.
Sandakan, Sabah, East Malaysia, is not only a pilgrimage site to remember the Death Marches of WWII but a place to come into contact with Orangutans and the Proboscis monkeys – both endangered species.
At Bohol, (Philippines) we have close encounters with the mysterious, elusive tarsiers at the Tarsier Conservation Centre.
At Coron, Philippines, we swim under natural rock bridges into tidal lagoons of spectacular beauty and then enjoy the beaches of Palawan.
Hong Kong’s nightly Sound and Light show is especially good from the main deck where French Champagne flows enhancing the experience.
Adventure cruising from a luxury vessel is unbeatable.
Designed to catch the natural light but at the same time provide a soothing haven of relaxed intimacy, L’Austral’s décor is all shades of grey, taupe, white and ivory with touches of cinnamon and caramel throughout. There is nothing strident here.
L’Austral’s spacious two restaurants (with exceptional gourmet cuisine) and two gorgeous lounges never feel crowded.
The cabins have exquisite leather panelling, superb beds and bathrooms from where you can see the ocean as you shower.
Orangutans, tarsiers, desert islands, French Champagne and a rescue at sea are imprinted in my mind together with that solitary hermit crab on Dodola Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Nature, drama and unashamed luxury. An unbeatable experience.
132 outside cabins
Length : 142m (466ft) * Beam : 18 m (59ft)
139 crew members
Elevators to all decks
Dynamic positioning system
Maria Visconti was a guest of Ponant