The treasures of Papua New Guinea are largely untouched, and unmatched, writes Tiana Templeman.
Cruising in Papua New Guinea offers an amazing cultural journey and a window into tribal and village life that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. If you crave something more meaningful than palm trees and colourful cocktails when you cruise the Pacific, this fascinating destination could be just what you're looking for.
With new ports and improved infrastructure being added all the time, cruising around Papua New Guinea keeps getting better. However, it is a little different to what you may be used to. For a start, there are no formal cruise ship shore excursions available at many ports. This is, however, a delight rather than a disappointment.
Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province in southeastern Papua New Guinea, is the exception when it comes to organised tours, with numerous excursions on offer. This area played a pivotal role in the 1942 Battle of Milne Bay and war history tours are popular. It is not unusual for cruisers to have family connections with those who served here and many passengers share fascinating stories during these tours, adding another layer to the experience.
At the tiny island of Kitava, just off the larger Trobriand Island of Kiriwina, it is a different story. There is little infrastructure except for a small jetty. Bare-chested men and women greet passengers with flower leis and shy smiles, and rows of bamboo rafts line the shore, ready to take snorkellers across a channel to a picture-postcard sandy atoll. Passengers spend the day snorkelling and admiring the untouched beauty of their surroundings, interrupted only by a ride back to the ship for lunch as there is little available to eat onshore.
Rabaul offers just two excursions, the most popular involving a climb up a volcano to Tovanumbatir, one of eight active vents in the Rabaul caldera (fortunately this is easier than it sounds). Here a volcanological observatory monitors 14 active and 23 dormant volcanoes.
Kiriwina Island, the largest island in the Trobriands, is home to more than 10,000 islanders yet remains largely undeveloped. When passengers awake to find the ship anchored close to shore, in a deep natural harbour created by rock walls plunging into the sea, the rugged shoreline, coral reef, beaches and secluded coves seem close to enough to touch.
It's mainly a case of make your own fun at Kiriwina, with help from the locals who play a wacky version of island cricket with passengers. Children get the day off school and perform traditional dances, wearing hand-woven lap-laps and beaming smiles. Older children cruise alongside swimmers in dugout canoes, handling their craft with the skill of seasoned sailors as they offer rides to the fringing reef.
Back on shore, woven mats form a marketplace selling exquisite wood carvings inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Kiriwina is famous for its carving and many passengers return to the ship with beautiful souvenirs which have little in common with the "Made in China" trinkets commonly found elsewhere in the Pacific. However, the memory of this unique journey is probably what you'll treasure most when you get home.