Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Through the Tropic of Capricorn

Today we're catching a slow and salubrious boat to Fiji and Tonga. For decades the Pacific Pearl has carried partygoers and pensioners from wintry southern latitudes across the tropic of capricorn. Since the spread of the zika virus to the tropical Pacific the ship's owners have struggled to sell tickets for their 'Tongan Discovery Cruise', and have had to resort to massive discounts to fill cabins.

The Pearl has its own art gallery, and I'll be reviewing its contents for John Hurrell's EyeContact journal. If I can get away from the kids and into a deckchair, I'll read my way through the literature produced by the palangi of earlier generations who cruised or ferried their way from Auckland to the Friendly Islands. I want to sail slowly through Edward Tregear's lush account of his visit to Tonga with empire-making Premier Dick Seddon in 1900, as well as James Cowan's marvellous article 'A Volcano Factory', which describes a journey north out of a New Zealand oppressed by winter and the First World War.

The Tongan archipelago straddles a tectonic plate that regularly raises new volcanic islands, and Cowan described the 'never-dying lava fires that made lighthouses in the dark for the cautiously steering navigator'. As his ship pushed north, into the Tongan Trench, the world's second deepest piece of water, the writer felt 'a quality of...limitless space...before which the mind is almost appalled'. He realised that ' two peaks like our Aorangi' could fit into the trench and 'leave scarcely a tip to show above the waves'. Today's cruise liners have cocktail hours and casinos and art galleries to distract voyagers from the eerie facts of geography.

Although plangi New Zealanders were distracted from the Pacific in the decades after World War Two, thanks to the emergence of international air travel and the cult of distance and isolation created by a generation of nationalist intellectuals, vestigal longings for the tropical south seas remained. In 1967 n otherwise undistinguished band from the North Shore of Auckland recorded 'The Tropic of Capricorn', a defiant dream of escape to a winterless and cashless north.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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Is it cheaper by ship? I suppose not if it is a tour. Remember that Len Lye made his way to England by working as a stoker on a merchant vessel. Remember that as you lean back sipping martinis and watching young women in bikinis etc....

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