Journalist Dyson (The Hot Arctic) has fulfilled the dream of an Auckland boyhood in making this bittersweet tour of the South Seas--packing nautical lore, political history, and a writer's skill and sensitivity in his kit bag along with his ""no-walk-um-backwards' sandals. His encounters with old and new hands, natives, government officials, and tourists provide endless theme-and-variation on how it was in the old days and how sad the portents. The inner-island coastal traders and schooners are giving way to light planes and jet service to Sydney or Los Angeles. American Samoa and Tahiti are wastelands of corruption spawned by lavish government subsidies. In Tahiti, French nuclear testing brought a military influx, construction work for natives, fabulous salaries for clerks and for French administrators and teachers willing to come out to an Eden where there were no taxes. There is the ""terminal boredom"" of Paradise, the lack of stimulus that makes the young and educated ache to get away, while those who stay de their acquisitive best to achieve tape cassettes and digital watches. The sweetness remains: the breadfruit and pandanus, the blue skies, white sands, jade lagoons. The easy sensuous life, however, is a thing of the past--or of Club Med and tourists. Native girls are rather proper and often Methodist. (True, old hands did acquire native women--and one of Dyson's more colorful characters describes how the charming creature beside him once fed him rat poison to keep him away from other girls on a trip.) Dyson's west-to-east sojourn covers the Melanasian lands of New Hebrides and the Fijis, and the Polynesia of Tonga, Samoa, and Tahiti--with many stopoffs at polysyllabic atolls or coral lands in between. A memorable sea-and-island-scape.