A year in the making, Blue Lagoon Cruises has created a world-first tourism opportunity for visitors to Fiji in the process becoming the first cruise operator to offer itineraries to the area known as ‘The Exploring Isles’ - the rarely visited Lau Island group.

Effective 16 May 2011 the boutique cruise specialist’s 35-berth MV Mystique Princess will set sail on its inaugural voyage to the Lau Islands as part of a seven-day itinerary.

The ship’s crew will be complimented by a local cultural expert who will join the voyage to provide presentations and background on the unique regions to be visited en route.

The itinerary encompasses a cruise along the southern side of Vanua Levu towards isolated Kioa Island. A highlight of this port of call is the greeting afforded by the local people who paddle canoes out to meet the ship resplendent in traditional costume.

From Kioa, MV Mystique Princess sails for Rabi, home to the Banaban islanders who settled there in 1945, before setting sail for the ‘garden island’ of Taveuni. Highlights of the visit include a visit to the majestic Bouma Falls and a crossing of the 180th Meridian which dissects the island.

From Taveuni the cruise heads east for an early morning passage to Vanua Balavu in the heart of the Northern Lau.

Highlights of the Lau visit, first seen by Captain James Cook in 1774, include Qilaqila Island, the jewel in the crown of the Lau group’s ‘Bay of Islands’.

This is where passengers will in effect be among the first ever humans – certainly the first non-Fijians - to have swum in these crystal clear waters where visibility extends beyond 80 feet.

The ship’s passengers will also have a fantastic opportunity to immerse themselves in Lauan culture when they visit Daliconi and Sawana villages, many of whose inhabitants have never met people from beyond their island chain.

A high spot of the visit to Sawana is a performance of a ‘Meke’ – a traditional dance – seldom seen outside of Lau.

The cruise concludes with a visit to the island of Ovalua and the World Heritage listed Levuka.

Here passengers will have time to explore the former federal capital before heading back to Blue Lagoon Cruises’ home port of Lautoka on the northern coastline of the main island of Viti Levu.

Blue Lagoon Cruises CEO Tim Stonhill said the new Lau cruise represented a tremendous opportunity for cruise lovers seeking something very different to experience a beautiful part of the world hitherto side-stepped by international tourism.

“Not only will our passengers be some of the first people to visit this pristine region, they will also be presented with a rare insight into four ancient, unique and living cultures – Melanesian, Micronesian, Polynesian and Lauan,“ he said.

“Our decision to sail into this region opens up a new and exciting chapter for Fiji tourism.”

“At the same time by operating this program in a very controlled manner we are helping to create a sustainable and environmentally responsible tourism opportunity to the benefit of all Lauan people.”

Echoing Mr Stonhill’s words, the Chairman of The Vanua Balavu Tourism Council, Mr Jone Vave, whose committee has played a major role in helping to make the new program possible, said he is over the moon with Blue Lagoon Cruises’ decision to begin cruising into the region.

“Everyone here is thrilled and very excited with this development and the opportunity it presents for us to present our unique culture, history and unspoiled natural environment to the world,” he said.