Les Peters discovers whether this P&O cruise ship Aurora can really deliver the trip of a lifetime.
THERE are comedians who would have us believe that round-the-world cruises are nothing more than care homes at sea. This is, however, grossly unfair to cruise lines which allow the well-heeled silver surfers to retreat from the British winter.
We linked-up with the Aurora for one leg of its 109-night cruise, joining the ship in Singapore for a 21-night journey to Cape Town.
Some 750 of our fellow passengers had been on board since it left Southampton.
They are the bedrock of the ship; many having enrolled in arts classes, learned to play bridge or tap dance; attended Spanish lessons or simply gone to a show every night while improving their golf swing or deck quoits.
For my part, what other holiday would have allowed me to sample the delights of the shopping Mecca that is Singapore; the lush terrain and chaotic roads of Sri Lanka; a game reserve and the “Garden City” of Cape Town in little more than a fortnight.
Few will forget the bus ride from Colombo to Kandy, the last Sinhalese kingdom and home of the Temple of the Tooth, the most sacred Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka. It houses a casket containing the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha, which was brought to the hill town in the 16th-century.
Five coaches set out on the 72-mile journey with four police on board two white Yamaha motorcycle acting as outriders. The policeman on the back, wearing long white gloves with red flashes, ordered, cajoled and gesticulated to traffic travelling both directions that they should move over and let the cavalcade of coaches through.
Many of the other drivers had other ideas wishing to progress in our slipstream as we made our way along a road littered with roadside stalls – selling everything from cashew nuts, rattan furniture, to car accessories and bathroom suites – and the ever-dangerous hairpin bends.
The town of Kandy, itself, is worth the effort of getting there; memorable for its lake in the centre of the town and surrounding countryside of tea plantations and river paddies.
Needless to say, we lost our escort on the return journey, arriving back late from the nearly 12-hour journey, but just in time for the ship to leave on time for Mauritius.
On route we had sight-seeing tour of Kuala Lumpar and gentler go-it-alone trips in Langwaki in the Strait of Malaca and the volcanic island of Reunion.
Coach and jeep excursions are par for the course these days, but P&O also now cater for thrill-seeking trips.
I was one of 13 passengers to sign up for a “trip of a lifetime” when the ship docked in South Africa at Port Elizabeth. Our destination was the Pumba Private Game Reserve and Spa on the Eastern Cape, about an hour and three-quarters drive from the port and it didn’t disappoint.
The thrill of looking out for Africa’s Big Five wild animals was matched by the quality of service and hospitality offered at the Pumba lodge. As we arrived at the Water Lodge, six white lions walked across the wasteland less than 100 yards from the lodges which would be our home for the next two nights.
For our drives, we were split into two open-topped Land Rover 4x4 vehicles and made our way across the wide open spaces of the bush, which totals some 7,000 hectares. So what did we see? We were lucky enough to repeatedly watch the male lion and lioness, an elder sibling and three playful white lion cubs.
We were only yards away from an elephant and watched a baby elephant and four others drinking at the lake.
There were zebras, giraffes, buffalos, wildebeests, rhinoceros, hyenas, jackals, kudus, waterbucks, springboks, and impalas, and birds too numerous to mention. But we failed to see the cheetah or leopard... but this did not spoil our overall experience.
Halfway round the drive, our 4x4s came together for hot (alcoholic) drinks, and nibbles. Not that we wanted to eat.
The Pumba Water Lodge, which is set amongst dense bubshveld, overlooking Lake Cariega, was the perfect setting for five-star hospitality and the 12 stone-walled thatched, waterfront chalets, gave us a private setting with views across the lake, with outdoor showers and plunge pools.
All too quickly we were boarding an internal flight for the delights of Cape Town, shopping (and more eating) at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, and our last night on board Aurora.
We ended our personal leg of the world cruise with a two-night stop-over at The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, just outside Cape town. Perched on a dramatic mountainside with views over the ocean, this was the perfect contrast to the game drives and allowed us to unwind, watching glorious sunsets over the sea before the long flight home.
This is one of the of the leading small hotels in the world, where service does really matter, and just a 20-minute drive from the more hectic bright lights of Cape Town’s waterfront.
This proved no problem as the hotel offers a free hourly shuttle service to Cape Town and the neighbouring upmarket, beach resort of Camps Bay. And, of course, there was always the wonderful sunset to be watched from the Leopard Bar for cocktails and the Azure Restaurant, which offers a fine dining experience.
There has never been a better time to visit South Africa with the pound-rand exchange rate providing excellent value. Two days in Cape Town simply wasn’t long enough... and in less than a week, I have discovered a new found enthusiasm for the reasonably priced Cape wines.
This certainly had been the trip of a lifetime.