Words by Vanessa Pellaschiar
Departing from Brisbane on the ship ‘Pacific Aria’ for a voyage to Papua New Guinea in August this year was an interesting & cultural experience. During the cruise we were able to learn about Papua New Guinea from our Guest Speaker Mr John Hucknull, who was a Patrol Officer and his wife Morag who shared their experiences of living and working in PNG in the 1970’s with their presentations during our voyage.
Cruising from Brisbane we entered the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, passing the Northern tip of Fraser Island and then headed north through the Coral sea to our first port of call Alotau, the capital of PNG Milne Bay Province. A place still enriched with its traditional culture and its developing town. We were greeted at the port with the island’s traditional dancers. Various shore tours were available and were extremely well organised with many small white mini -bus awaiting us. Each coach had a Driver and a Guide who were passionate and knowledgeable people wanting to share their stories of their life and country. Our tour ventured into the hinterland, passing through one of the world’s largest Palm Oil Plantations, before visiting a village where we saw their traditional way of life with the locals. It was wonderful watching the children dancing and being able to sample their local dishes cooked in the traditional way in clay pots. We then saw a native war canoe, visited the Milne Bay War memorial and learned of the war history in the area and other stops.
Our next port was Rabaul. Upon navigating our way through Simpson Harbour with beautiful views of the landscape and volcano cruising into the bay we arrived in Rabaul. The former capital has had an unlucky past as destroyed by volcano eruptions in 1937 and 1994, as well as all being flattened in World War 2. It is amazing how the people have kept their spirits and rebuilt. We viewed some of the kilometres of the underground tunnels built by the Japanese, visited the Kokopo war and cultural museum and viewed the collection of relics including fuselage, vehicles, historical photos and artefacts. Also visiting the Bita Paka War cemetery home to 1000 graves for Allied and Australian soldiers who died defendng Rabaul. It is an immaculate and beautiful place with the gardens and some of the guests from the cruise came especially to lay flowers for their family members here so it was quite emotional.
Our other smaller ports of call were to the Islands of Kiriwina and Confilict Island. These islands are tender ports with our ship anchoring in the coastal waters. Kiriwina was stepping back in time to the very traditional way of village life. Many guests were not expecting the Island or markets to be as primitive as it was, but this is real life for the people here. Women enjoy higher status than men, pigs are an indicator of wealth and us foreign visitors are referred to as dim- dims. The islanders displayed their wares of baskets, wooden carved items etc and it was customary to pay for any photographs that were taken of their children in their local currency of kina. Conflict Island was very different-this is a tourist resort island with guest accommodation, a bar, kayaking, outrigger canoe rides and water activities. Tourists fly here to spend a week to relax and enjoy the beauty of the island and picturesque views. We walked around the island along beautiful paths, tropical gardens, beaches and there is also a turtle conservatory that you can visit.
An excellent experience and I look forward to being able to give you more information and options of this destination for anyone interested in visiting.