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A trans-Pacific voyage
A trans-Pacific voyage

Swaying palm trees are no match for the swaying hips of beautiful Tahitian dancers with flowers in their long, thick hair who greet us as we dock in Tahiti's capital Papeete.

We adjust quickly to the tropical heat after the fresh winds from days in the vast Pacific Ocean on the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas and set off to explore the islands of French Polynesia that are invariably described as the most beautiful in the world.

Here we find the raw tropical beauty that captivated artist Paul Gauguin, writer Robert Louis Stevenson and author James Michener, who found inspiration for the mythical Bali Hai in his Tales of the South Pacific.

We find undulating landscapes sweetly fragrant from plantings of jasmine, ginger, bird of paradise, heliconia, and tropical fruits. Beaches around the coastline are black volcanic sand that glints in the sunlight and the five-star resorts have over-the-water villas with sundecks stepping down into vast coral gardens.

It is the gently lapping waters around these islands - we visit Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora on this trans-Pacific voyage - that dazzle. Here the sea is warm and silky and an ever-changing mosaic of blue hues. Below, the coral is alive with rainbows of fish that dart alongside harmless reef sharks and manta rays.

Papeete is a mishmash of development and not the truly tropical paradise we expect, being more a laid-back commercial heart with offices, shops and low-key housing smothered by hot pink bougainvillea. It takes a drive into surrounding country to find the island's hidden beauty amid jagged volcanic cones.

Before sailing into French Polynesia many passengers on Radiance of the Seas were kissing frozen fish, had raw egg dribbling down their chests and spaghetti and tomato sauce clinging to their hair in a traditional crossing- the-equator ceremony.

Presiding over festivities was a grey-bearded King Neptune, the Roman god of the oceans, as the ship approached the equator on a cruise to Hawaii via New Zealand and French Polynesia.

Radiance of the Seas will return for her second season in Australia in October this year on a trans- Pacific voyage when another madcap re-enactment by pollywogs (passengers crossing the equator for the first time) will take place.

A revelation is that those on board are not all "oldies", with a good mix of parents with children (who have their own supervised club to give parents a real break), honeymoon couples (who need time to relax after their wedding build-up), boomers (spending the kids' inheritance), and older men and women who love the ease of cruising as they can do as little or as much as they wish.

Adam Armstrong, of Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia, says these trans-Pacific itineraries are growing in popularity as they evoke feelings of a bygone era when great distances could only be crossed by sea.

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A 17-night trans-Pacific cruise leaves Hawaii on September 24 for French Polynesia and New Zealand, and arrives in Sydney on October 12, from $2421 per person.

An 18-night trans-Pacific cruise leaves Sydney on April 19 for Hawaii via New Zealand and French Polynesia from $2165 per person. royalcaribbean.com.au

Veronica Matheson was a guest of Royal Caribbean Cruises Australia.