Cruising the Coral Sea

Seeking sun and relaxation, pampering, a perfect getaway or the history of Australia’s connection to this exotic place? PNG is AOK!

Papua New Guinea is not often top of the holiday list but with the advent of cruising out of Australia to this exotic destination that’s pretty much undiscovered is a boon to people who like exploration without the hassle and with a dash of luxury.

Since P&O Cruises introduced its inaugural Papua New Guinea itinerary four years ago, departures for this special cruise now leave from Brisbane, Sydney and Cairns.

 

Leaving from Cairns was smooth sailing with a big wave to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range behind the sun-drenched city. We were headed into the Coral Sea.

Time before dinner to explore the Pacific Eden, with many of the public areas recently refurbished, the ship has a buzzy, modern ambience. It was towards the end of the season in November and the ship was full of excited cruisers, some new to the game and others – seasoned and ship-shape.

Our first stop was Alotau, capital of the Milne Bay Province where echoes of WWII can be heard. The Battle of Milne Bay took place here in 1942 and is one of the nostalgic stops along the way on war history tours.

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Over breakfast we marvel at the beauty of the sheer-walled cliffs that are close to the ship. The bay is so deep we can anchor a stone’s throw (almost) to the shore. We went ashore to be taken to an open field on the bay and were greeted by a sing sing and some traditional dancing. Excursions aren’t organised from the ship, they are just sincere welcomes by the locals.

After a couple of (hot) hours here it was back to the ship to cool off. (Take a wide-brimmed hat and water with you on any land excursion.)

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In the evening there’s a choice of two specialty restaurants that are free, Dragon Lady for fine Pan-Asian food and Angelo’s for frisky Italian fare (book early as they fill up fast). I went for Dragon Lady and it was full of tasty, spicy surprises.

Next stop as we sail through silky smooth waters is Kitava, a wee island off the side of the larger Trobriand Island of Kiriwana.

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We are greeted by shy, smiling islanders and we were directed to the village where there were mats laid out selling local basket ware and trinkets, Interesting, it was the men doing the selling. The school put on a dance and the fierce steps by eight-year olds was amusing as the kids liked the attention and lost the choreography plot several times.

There was a woman cooking outside in a makeshift kitchen and boiling up fat, succulent crabs – the queue was long!

While some of us gorged on crab others enjoyed a wild ride on a bamboo raft to a tiny island just offshore. The ride cost $AU2.50 and the participants said it was worth every Kina (5 kina).

Next stop was in the Conflict Islands. We paid for a walking tour of the island to see the dense and lush gardens. But after landing, and being crushed by the heat we spied brilliant white sand and crystal clear water in the distance so we skedaddled through the gardens to the beach on the north side of the island – and everyone else had discovered this exquisite place too.

There was a little bar set up for cold drinks and hot snacks. Cold beer, hot, salty chips and a gently breeze coming off the sea – not too shabby at all!

People wax lyrical about ‘paradise’ and ‘perfect island beaches’ and I now understand – this place is heaven to visit and having the luxury to stay here in this unspoilt treasure for most of the day was like winning the lottery. And it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t come here on a cruise ship.

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As we reluctantly walked along the pier to pick up a tender, children were paddling little, very simple bamboo canoes in the cove and singing as we departed.

Such a simple and unaffected farewell but warm and sincere.

Back on board for our last dinner and concert in the bar we met with fellow passengers and related our day’s enjoyment, and they did the same.

Papua New Guinea is a special destination and offers wonderful opportunities to meet with and understand our neighbours.

Travel Tips

  • Take extra Kina (local currency) with you. Visitors pay for goods in Aussie dollars and give $$ to the kids but it’s hard for the locals to exchange the money and they often get ripped off. So, if someone sidles up to you and whispers ‘you have Kina’ – it’s OK to swap money.
  • Take some pens and notebooks with you for the kids, the schools are poor. And everyone has T-shirts at home they don’t wear – take kids sizes and men’s – as I have said, the villages are not flush!

Contact your travel agent for sailing dates and times for cruising to Papua New Guinea.

Bev Malzard was a guest of P&O cruises. Visit: www.pocruises.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard had visited PNG before and experienced the lock-in at her hotel in Port Moresby of a night due to the streets not being safe after dark. Visiting remote areas by ship was safe, sound and damn good fun. She thoroughly recommends a swim in the Coral Sea.

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Images by Bev Malzard and Fran O’Keefe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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