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Tonga Welcomes Oriana 1974 - Prince Philip Remembered by Pacific Islanders

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

In the early 1970’s P&O changed track from voyages and started to concentrate on the cruise market.

In 1973 Oriana was converted from a two-class liner to one class, catering to this new market.

Each November she would set sail from Southampton and take about five weeks to complete the voyage to Sydney. Here she would undertake Australian cruising. I joined Oriana shortly after this transformation to one class and enjoyed my first voyage down under.

From Sydney Oriana cruised the South Pacific, often calling in at Auckland, Suva in Fiji, and of course the delightful Tongan Islands.

The main port of call in Tonga was Nuku’alofa the capital of Tonga.

Looking back this was exactly what you would expect of a South Pacific island,

stepping a few yards from the quey you were in the market, where all sorts of basket ware and carvings were on display for the passengers to take home as souvenirs. One of my early purchases was a woven linen basket that traveled with me around the ships and my various homes until recently when it finally gave up the ghost forty-five years later.

On one of these cruises, we went to a new Tongan port of call – Vava’u.

Nestled in the islands of Vava'u — a group of more than 50 islands in the northernmost part of Tonga — lies Neiafu, the second largest town in Tonga.

Vava’u was a delight. Oriana was one of the first cruise ships to call there.

It was absolutely lovely to be welcomed with open arms by these gentle friendly Tongan people.

News of Oriana’s arrival had spread and the village green had been laid out with all the basket and shell ware that the islanders had been making for our arrival. There was even the Vava’u tea shop (see video).

Neiafu Catholic Church - Vava'u

When the Oriana departed the islanders stood on the dockside throwing shells to the departing passengers. That first day in Vava’u was a day that I shall never forget.

Oriana Visits Tonga in 1974

I visited Vava’u a couple of years later on Pacific Princess. Cruise ships had started to call regularly and sad to say this beautiful place had lost a little of its magic. The village green was now surrounded by galvanised metal sheds instead of the grass umbrellas of my first visit. I hope the islanders have benefitted from the tourist dollar and their lifestyle had not been ruined.

During our cruise season in 1974 Prince Charles had taken up his position in the Royal Navy on HMS Juniper and had visited Suva. But we met up with HMS Juniper a few days later in Nuku’alofa, she was docked near Oriana but we did not get a sighting of Prince Charles.

King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV succeeded the throne in 1965 after the death of his mother, Queen Sālote. Here, the King greets Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip upon their arrival in Tonga in 1977.



For decades, the 400-strong South Pacific community on Vanuatu Island of Tanna has worshipped Prince Philip, praying every day that he would protect their banana and yam crops.

The residents of Yaohnanen on Tanna saw him as an honorary tribesman.

It's not entirely clear how the Prince, who never visited the island, came to be seen as a deity.

It's believed tribesmen had seen large portraits of him with Queen Elizabeth when they visited Port Vila in the 1960s, and impressed that he had married a 'powerful white queen' on the other side of the world, started to believe he was the incarnation of a volcano spirit who would one day return to Tanna.

The duke had an open invitation to feast with them and sent him a war club known as nal-nal. Philip sent them back a photo posing with the weapon. Pigs, bullocks and chickens have been slaughtered ahead of a week of mourning on the island.


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