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Many wonders to discover in PNG Veteran cruise writer ROD EIME recalls some of his expedition cruise adventures in Papua New Guinea.
The entire village, it seemed, was lined up along the shore in anticipation of our arrival. Infants clung nervously to their mothers’ knees, while older children milled together pointing and chatting feverishly. The next event caught us all by surprise.
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Bursting forth from the low scrub came perhaps a dozen ‘warriors’ howling with all the fury of the devil. Draped in what appeared to be seaweed, they each brandished a weapon; clubs, bows and arrows and long, sharp spears were precisely targeted at us. One particularly determined chap had his fearsome lance aimed right for my camera. The ceremony was our first introduction to tribal culture on the many islands of Papua New Guinea. We experienced this particular greeting throughout the region and it dates back thousands of years. The intention is, quite obviously, to determine the motive of the arriving party. Sometimes tall grass shoots were actually hurled at us, their dense matted roots thudding into the ground. But it’s all good fun. Papua New Guinea, as an adventure tourism destination, has enjoyed an enormous resurgence in popularity in recent years. Apart from more established mainland attractions like the Kokoda Trail, Sepik River and Highland festivals, the multitude of tiny island groups and atolls have attracted the new wave of
modern adventure and expedition vessels, transporting inquisitive and open-minded passengers in air-conditioned comfort to the most remote and isolated archipelagos. What I remember most vividly is the genuine warmth and hospitality of the islanders. On our shore excursions we were treated to a charming ‘sing-sing’ by school children at almost every village, each portraying the unique local cultures and rites of the respective region. Men and women too would also perform, some only given a few minutes’ notice to prepare their costumes if we made a surprise visit. Locations like Kiriwina in the Trobriands, Madang and Tuam Island have a well-oiled routine with semi-professional performers who know how to turn on a show with elaborate choreography and exotic costumes. But then there are the remote and isolated communities who might only have visitors once or twice a year. Their exuberance and enthusiasm leaves you with a deep respect for their simple way of life and self sufficiency.
THE WILD SEPIK Papua New Guinea’s Sepik River is one of world’s great waterways. Although the straight-line distance from source to mouth is barely 500 kilometres, its wide channel twists and turns in a convoluted course that,
if stretched out, would cover over 1100. The word ‘Sepik’ is synonymous with the distinctive handicrafts and carvings that emanate from the many tribes and clans that dwell along its banks. Intensely symbolic and richly carved, these ornate pieces are highly prized by collectors worldwide and all but dominate the Melanesian art market. Commercial expedition adventures up the Sepik, begun about 30 years ago, were driven mainly by ethnological enthusiasts of primitive art. Not a great deal has changed except that the quality of watercraft now plying the waters meets the expectations of modern travellers.
OTHER WATERY PURSUITS Diving in PNG offers 50 – 150 feet visibility to explore untouched coral reefs and outstanding marine life including reef sharks, pelagic fish, hammerheads, barracuda, manta rays as well as WWII wrecks such as tanks, downed US bombers and Japanese planes - all in 28 degree waters. Diving or snorkelling is a must for anyone visiting PNG. Surfers will love the fact that they are likely to have the waves all to themselves, as a management plan to ensure the sustainable development of surf tourism in PNG allows a maximum of 20 surfers in the water at any one time.
GIVING SOMETHING BACK “Tourism is good for PNG,” says Dr Nancy Sullivan, a Madang-based anthropologist who often accompanies expeditions as guest lecturer. “The ships’ visits are carefully controlled and passengers are briefed on how to interact with the locals. We leave sweets and chocolate on board and instead give gifts of school books and materials. Sometimes visits to developing countries can be a heart-wrenching affair. You feel compelled to help with some token handout, but know that your efforts will quickly dissipate in the enormity of it all. “Here in PNG, small and careful contributions to schools and community projects and fair trade with handicrafts will have a measurable result.” But adventure and discovery aside, expedition cruising is not for everybody. Itineraries will, by nature, almost always
vary. You’ll forgo some big ship luxuries like casinos, ‘Las Vegas’ style shows and swimming pools, and fellow passengers are more likely to enjoy active adventurous activities and cultural, natural and educational experiences rather than uber-luxury. The unexpected bird-catchers of Egum Atoll, the mesmerising Yam Harvest dancers of Kiriwina and the mysterious spirit geyser of Seuseulina on Fergusson Island blur into headspinning medley when I try to recount them all at once. But these high points are just a few of the richly rewarding events that occur on a cruise to the land that time forgot.
V Australia offer flights from Sydney to Port Moresby (connecting via Brisbane) with fares for around $650 return per person during December and January. www.flypacificblue.com Air Niugini has several weekly departures from Sydney and Brisbane with return fares starting from $750 per person during December and January. www.airniugini.com.pg For more information about adventure travel in Papua New Guinea visit www.papuanewguinea.travel/Australia IMAGES: Courtesy Rod Eime; David Kirkland and PNG Tourism.
E V ’ U O Y K N I TH ? L L A T I N E SE Travel destinations don’t come more diverse than this – encompassing bird watching, cruising, surfing, fishing as well as numerous cultural & adventure opportunities.
PNG Tourism Promotion Authority
Orion Expedition Cruises also offers a range of voyages on board Orion and Orion II. The 11-night ‘Papua New Guinea Cultural Highlights’ voyage departs from Cairns and sails to Alotau also visiting the Kitava, Tufi, Madang and Tami islands, ending in Rabaul. Prices start from $8995 per person twin share in an Ocean Suite. Departures are in October and November 2012. www.orionexpeditions.com.au
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Coral Princess Cruises offers a range of expedition-style cruises to Papua New Guinea and Melanesia aboard the 76-passenger Oceanic Discoverer. A 10-night ‘Rabaul to Alotau to Cairns’ itinerary visits the Witu Islands, Sepik River, volcanic Manam Island and historic Madang as well as Tuam, Tami, Tufi and Trobriand islands. An optional two night Alotau to Cairns extension to the cruise is offered. Prices start from $8450 per person twin share in a main deck cabin. Departures available in March and October 2012. www.coralprincess.com.au
Published on Dec 4, 2011