Carved Papua New Guinea mask
Papua New Guinea is a wild, untamed land full of sorcery, magic and bizarre rites and practices. Some tribes are yet to see their first white man. Take this scene, add the 4.5 star rated MV Orion, and you too will fall under the spell. Words and photos: Roderick Eime
ur beachhead is Fergusson Island, site of the famous Dei Dei hot springs, just one of numerous excursions we make during MV Orion’s 11-night Highland Cultures expedition along the ‘spine’ of PNG’s mainland. ‘Highland’ because one optional excursion is a charter flight to Goroka to see the famous mud men. “Gonna gonna bobbowarna!” That’s ‘good morning’ in the local language of the Dobu Islanders in the D’Entrecasteaux Group just north of Milne Bay and one of more than 700 indigenous languages in this incredibly diverse country. In response, we are met with broad, beaming smiles and reciprocal greetings as the Zodiacs nudge up to the shore. “Please,” implores Justin Friend, our larger-than-life expedition leader, “when we get to the springs, stay on the paths. Do not go wandering.” Justin’s pleas may sound melodramatic, but the Dei Dei hot springs are more than hot – they are boiling. Local urban myth is the story of three boys who decided to go for a refreshing dip in the crystalclear waters, plunged in and were immediately cooked. Magic and myth abound throughout PNG and especially within the matrilineal societies of the D’Entrecasteaux Group, where it is believed the women are the source of all magic. What little the men have is closely guarded in sacred ‘blokes only’ rituals. Yes, I can see heads nodding. Perhaps this explains why the sacred spirit of the hot springs is called ‘Seuseulina’. The locals believe that after a lovers’ tiff, this beautiful woman threw herself into the boiling spring. By tossing in rocks and calling her name, the geyser spirit erupts in anger. “Seuseulina dasurabe udaseura sundine ama oagao sida ital!” we all shouted as the rocks flew. It took a few goes, but the geyser sure did erupt.
Tami men perform for Orion passengers
Going ashore by Zodiac
It’s events like this that put the adventure in adventure cruising and why Papua New Guinea, our nearest international neighbour (just 150 kilometres across Torres Strait) is rapidly emerging as an exciting and enriching expedition cruise destination. Orion, meanwhile, puts the ‘cruise’ in adventure cruising. It is a credit to Orion Expedition Cruises in the way these visits are conducted. Local protocol is www.cruisepassenger.com.au summer 2009 27
Mud Man at Goroka performance
Samarai Island children
Japanese bomber wreck, Rabaul
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Expedition leader, Justin Friend
respected, customs followed and the all members of the villages welcome us with the sort of genuine and heartfelt hospitality that has all but run dry in our busy, cosmopolitan world. Tami Island (near Finschafen) and the village of Watam, near the mouth of the mighty Sepik River, demonstrate a special bond between Orion and the local communities. To smooth the path, Justin (who speaks fluent pidgin) had previously submitted himself to a chief’s initiation ceremony. Photos of him dressed in the local regalia were gleefully waved about by his new surrogate family, much to amusement of all. Orion engages wholeheartedly in the humanitarian aspects of the journey. Most vessels visiting PNG leave valuable resources for the local communities such as school materials, books, simple medical supplies, clothing and hand tools. The company’s managing director, Sarina Bratton, dedicated a new schoolhouse built at Watam exclusively from corporate and passenger support. The itinerary culminated at the volcano-ravaged port of Rabaul. This was my third visit to Rabaul and, despite a new covered market being built, little has changed. The constant downpour of gritty volcanic ash from Mount Tavurvur offers little incentive to clean up. Readers of Cruise Passenger magazine will be familiar with the beautiful expedition yacht, MV Orion, winner of numerous Readers’ Choice awards. This
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Dei Dei hot springs
Watem men’s sacred dragon dance
cruise attracted just over 80 passengers (capacity 106) so we enjoyed an almost one-to-one crew ratio. Orion Expedition Cruises burst onto the local scene some four years ago – about the same time as rival operators. Orion was able to nudge ahead by virtue of her superior appointments and unchallenged oceangoing ability. She offers guests a level of luxury and onboard facilities in line with superior cruise ships, while still maintaining an expedition persona. A gym, salon, sauna and fine dining restaurant lift her above her smaller competitors. Having said that, her size (100 metres) and tonnage (4,000 GRT) hinders her slightly and she is unable to navigate the river systems the smaller vessels can. Despite the arguments for and against, MV Orion is the only such vessel to use the rigid inflatable Zodiac Mk5 tenders in our waters. While certainly robust and versatile, they are marginally less comfortable and much slower than the V-hull centre-console aluminium runabouts preferred by other operators and their low freeboard means you have to be prepared for some spray, so keep cameras stowed while in transit. If you are planning a voyage to PNG, and I hope you are, MV Orion certainly offers the most comfortable and luxurious shipboard experience available and her itineraries are at least on par with all current offerings. n
Highs: Excellent onboard facilities
and suites; attentive service; superb menu and wine list; expert expedition staff; sensitive shore excursions; enriching cultural content – and the wonderful, warm and genuine people of PNG.
FACT FILE: Vessel: MV Orion Star Rating: HHHH Tonnage: 4,000 GRT Staterooms and Suites: 53 Max. Passenger Capacity: 125 Total Crew: 75 Entered Service: 2004 Passenger Decks: 5 Facilities: boutique, elevator,
gymnasium, hair and beauty,
salon, hospital, internet, Jacuzzi, lecture, theatre, Leda Lounge and cocktail bar, library, marina platforms, mud room, observation lounge, outdoor, café, outdoor bar, reception, restaurant, sun deck, Vega Health Spa Cost examples: house wine $7/glass; Rabaul volcano tour
$75pp; Highland charter flight including lunch $1,300pp; 90-min beauty/spa treatment $145; internet $30/hour.
Lows: Some Zodiac transfers are a
bit ponderous; optional excursions can add significant cost to your final bill; some bar items expensive; some included excursions cursory compared to optional offerings.
T H E M O S T FA M O U S O CE A N L I N E R S I N T H E W O R L D™ See your travel agent, call 13 24 41 or visit www.cunardline.com.au.
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