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Papua New Guinea, part two

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Sorrel Wilby's cruise around Papua New Guinea aboard Marina Svetaeva, a small, sturdy ship, built in 1989 in Poland, continues. Originally an ice-strengthened passenger vessel, it spent many years plying through the frozen waters of the Arctic.

Refurbished four years ago, the Marina Svetaeva provides comfortable accommodation for 100 passengers. A heli-deck was added for two helicopters to assist the ship in remote corners. Inflatable zodiacs with outboard motors are also on board for shore excursions.

The ship doesn't sell itself as a five-star vessel but food, service and comfort are all more than acceptable. Most long-distance travelling is done overnight, so every morning you wake to a brand-new adventure.

The adventure ramped up a couple of notches and Sorrel witnessed one of the most spectacular things imaginable: an active volcano erupting at dusk.

The next morning the ship headed up the Sepik River to the village of Watam. The river's edge has thick vegetation and swampland and many bird species live there. At the village you will see a way of life not seen by many people. There are no roads, telephones, electricity and certainly no luxuries.

Visitors are welcomed with songs, the national anthem and a dragon dance by villagers and you will leave with a red ceremonial mark on your face.

The Sepik is a truly great river, snaking 1126km from the mountains to the sea. It's the closest thing PNG has to a superhighway and it is very busy in places, particularly on market day.

Watam's closest neighbour is more than 300km away and every day of Aurora's cruise takes you to more remote parts.

The next leg leaves the mainland and heads to the Admiralty Islands. Part of the excitement of these cruises is that there is not a clear destination. Conditions rule and they always find a village with the help of binoculars. On the journey Sorrel was on, they visited a village even the guides had not been to before.

The Admiralty Islands is a group of 18 islands in the Bismarck Archipelago. They are sometimes called the Manus Islands after the largest island which is covered in rugged jungle.

Sawa is a tiny island, and passengers aboard Marina Svetaeva were delighted to be met by a man, Robert, and his family in a canoe. Chrissy Uechtritz, the anthropologist on board, was able to speak with Robert in pidgin.

There are just three houses in his village accommodating extended family. Everyone welcomed them to the tiny hamlet built on the most beautiful spot. It was peaceful, beautiful and lush. It was a big surprise to learn that they were just the second ship to ever visit.

The "manhouse" is where men have meetings, talk about fishing and hunting and Robert bent the rules and invited Sorrel to join them. It was a high honour, indeed.

She wanted to know about "bride price", the local custom where a man must pay the family when they want to marry one of their members. The going price on Sawa seems to be one pig and one turtle, or even three pigs, a turtle and 12,000 kina. That's a lot of money! Sea cucumber from the reef brings good money. They fetch 200 kina a kilogram — that's around $90. Sorrel was invited to fish with the men of the village in search of the valuable slugs.

She was amazed at the colours in the ocean life — and while she's the first to admit she's not often lost for words, her Aurora experience in Papua New Guinea left Sorrel overwhelmed.

Location

A cruise around Papua New Guinea.

Cost

Aurora Expeditions has 13-day cruises from Cairns and Rabaul. All meals, shore excursions and port taxes and charges are included. They cost $8650 per person twin share and will leave Cairns on November 3, 2010, and Rabaul on November 15, 2010.

Pacific Blue, international airline of Virgin Blue, has fares to Port Moresby.

Fares from:

  • Canberra and Sydney $319
  • Brisbane $239
  • Melbourne $399
  • Adelaide $609
  • Perth $639

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are subject to change.

Prices correct at September 17, 2009.

For further information

Virgin Blue
Ph: 136 789
www.virginblue.com.au

Aurora Expeditions
Ph: 1800 637 688
www.auroraexpeditions.com.au

Visas: Sixty-day tourist visas are applied for on arrival. Passports must be valid for at least six months after entry.

Electricity: 240V at 50Hz using flat pronged plugs in inverted V shape.

Time zone: GMT +10.

Currency: Kina.

Telephone: +675.

It is recommended travellers to Papua New Guinea see their doctor at least six weeks before departure, as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au or www.smartraveller.gov.au.

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