The independent state of Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous offshore islands. Port Moresby, its capital, is one of the country's few major cities.
PNG is one of the earth's most diverse countries with somewhere in the vicinity of 850 indigenous languages and the same number of traditional societies, shared by a population of just five million. It is also one of the most rural places on earth, with only 18 percent of its people living in urban centres. Possibly the least-explored country on the planet, both culturally and geographically, it is thought there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals existing there.
The Australian-owned expedition ship Orion has voyages which encourage guests to become a part of the region they are discovering. Their expeditions run year-round with destinations varying with the seasons.
Orion is a purpose-built five-star craft giving access to the inaccessible. From its ice-strengthened hull, to the latest in marine and environmental technology, it offers cruising at its finest. Orion carries ten zodiacs which take passengers ashore, on to beaches, up rivers very easily, so exploring is a breeze.
All staterooms feature ocean views, twin or queen beds, sitting area and marble bathroom. There is also a spa with gymnasium, sauna, sun deck, jacuzzi and a stern marina platform.
From May to September they head to The Kimberley, the Top End, East Timor, Arnhem Land and Komodo. In December, January and February they head to cooler parts of the Tasman Sea, Tasmania and Antarctica. In October and November and, again in March and April, they go to remote and unspoilt parts of the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait Islands and Papua New Guinea.
The Getaway crew joined Orion's first PNG cruise in Rabaul, on the extreme north of New Britain. It is a major town and port of the Bismarck Archipelago, on a sheltered inlet of Blanche Bay, and is very fertile, thanks to the active volcanoes in the area.
Prior to WWII, Rabaul was the largest European town in the region because of its many plantations. It was once the capital of the then Australian-administered mandate of New Guinea. In 1941, that honour shifted to Lae on the mainland because of the threat of volcanic destruction. Rabaul was almost destroyed by the eruption of Matupi and Vulcan in 1937.
After attacking Pearl Harbour, the Japanese army immediately occupied Rabaul and used it as a major naval and air base. The allies landed elsewhere and constantly bombarded Rabaul, to no avail. Barge tunnels, war cemeteries, gun emplacements and bunkers remain there.
Rabaul was known as the Pearl of the Pacific until it was half-buried by the major eruption of Mt Tavurvur in 1994. The eastern part of it remains covered in metres of volcanic ash and resembles a moonscape. As the volcano remains active, it seems pointless to clear it. The western side is very pretty, its harbour stunningly beautiful and there is much old Pacific charm to enjoy.
Next port of call was Kavieng, the capital and one of just two towns of the northern province of New Ireland. Kavieng is a sleepy little town, and is quite flat, so cycling is very popular there. It is surrounded on three sides by the sea, so is cooled by welcome breezes. The people are Melanesian and speak 19 local languages. There is a small market to explore and it's a good place pick up some souvenirs.
Across the water is Nusa Lik Island, and as your ship repositions, you can stay on board or pay that island a visit. Its people are skilled canoeists and carvers and traditional ceremonies are very important to them.