We made a spur of the moment decision to book a 7 night cruise on the P&O Pacific Eden. The cruise ship was not one of the massive ones, but could still fit 1500 people. We were a little dubious about cruises because of the idea of being stuck somewhere and not being able to just get up and go like we are used to, but it turned out to be awesome! On the ship was a main pool and hot tub area, an adults only pool area, a casino, loads of different bars and restaurants, a few shops, basketball and tennis courts, spa, gym and auditorium. There was a New York guitarist, a jazz band, a cover band, and a piano man that all got the crowd involved. There were black jack/poker tournaments, history and science talks, trivia, a naughty magic show, a musical, a dance, stand up comedian and the themed party nights including a Gatsby party and white party. There was plenty to do and never a dull moment.
On the Saturday we left it was cloudy and rainy in Cairns but that was the only bad weather we had all trip. We spent that first afternoon and night drinking cocktails and exploring the ship. For food the main area was called ‘The Pantry’ which was set up in country/cuisine stations so you could go and be served Indian, Mexican, Roast meat, Fish and chips, Asian, Salad, Dessert etc. Included in the fare was the Waterfront restaurant which you had to line up for and the Dragon Lady and Angelo’s which you had to book ahead for. There was also the Captain’s table and Salt grill by Luke Mangan which were an extra charge. The next day was a full day of sailing.
Monday morning we arrived at Alotau, on the south-east side of PNG in the Milne Bay, and the ship was able to dock so we could walk straight off onto the land. From the port you walk around a bay to the Alotau ‘town’. It is a bit dusty and dirty, but the people are super nice and friendly. They had a market area selling shells and carvings to tourists, there were also local markets of food and betel nut, their local port transporting food and some livestock, a supermarket, a few hotels and a memorial park for the Pacific War in 1942. We stopped in a one hotel for a beer by the ocean. I was surprised that they were not more geared towards tourism yet. If people were at the port offering to be guides and tours I think they would do really well. After a few hours walking around we went back to the ship.
Tuesday morning we woke up in a totally different world of stunning crystal clear water, coral reefs and swaying palm trees of the Trobriand Islands, virtually untouched by Western civilisation. There is no power, no taps, no shops. The people eat what they can grow or catch or trade for. On the largest island, Kiriwina, they had a medical centre, which was a grass thatched hut and they also had a well.
By 8am the lifeboats were ready to take us over to Kitava Island. On the way over we saw a huge pod of dolphins playing between us and the island! We were greeted by happy smiling faces and a long line of people sitting behind their market stalls. Some people had lots of things, like bags, jewellery, shells and wood carvings, some people would sit there the whole day with just 2 small items carefully displayed on a sarong hoping that their item, even though they were selling the same things as everyone else, would be snapped up by a tourist. There are so many little children running around and playing on the beach, you can really see that the population is booming. There were also several groups of little school children in sectioned off areas that were singing and dancing to raise money for their school.
We walked to the end of the beach and to one of the skull caves (10kina entry). The entrance to the cave is quite beautiful, with tree roots holding open the earth like a net surrounded by luscious rainforest plants. Inside, along the base of the cave walls, were human skulls and other bones. We were told that in this cave were the remains of the warriors who came from Kiriwina Island to fight the people on Kitava Island but lost. There are several other skull caves but one was enough for me. We walked up a fairly steep hill to King Cameron’s grave (also a 10kina entry) which rewarded us with an amazing view from the lookout. Cyril Cameron was born in Tasmania and started a plantation on Kitava in1912. The island is also filled with orchid gardens and up around King Cameron’s grave there were newly tied orchids and wild flowers.
Across from Kitava Island is a perfect sand atoll called Nuratu Island. All the fit looking men are out on boats ferrying people between Kitava and Nuratu Islands on either dugout canoes that they paddle, or boats with sails made from tarps. We went snorkelling on both islands found the atoll was the better side. You can see the reef clear as day. The water is so clear it’s like it’s not even there. There are loads of coral and schools of different fish. The water is warm and the currents were not too strong. The reef starts right from the beach and you can swim out to the dropoff where the fish sit and calmly swim around like you, like you are one of them.
Wednesday morning we were are Kiriwina Island which was a huge island compared to Kitava. 12,000 people who live in the Trobriands live on Kiriwina and I think they all come down when the cruise ships come in. It was packed! The market stalls when for miles, all selling the same things. In the cricket grounds there was a group of men performing traditional dances and then later playing their special type of cricket. As you walk around you will find all of a sudden that someone is walking with you and has assigned themselves to be a guide for you. Our guide was Mary. She took us up to her village where we met her family and baby and saw their homes, storage huts, crops, animals and well. It was quite humid, so we spend the day snorkelling, playing with the little kids and eating fresh coconuts.
Thursday we sailed up to the Conflict Islands and after a bit of waiting for the weather to clear went ashore to Panasesa Island which is privately owned by an Australian who works in England. The sand is the whitest you’ll ever see and the water so blue and clear, it will leave you speechless. You can walk through the trees in the middle of the island by following the white sand paths. Any built structures are made from timber. They was a beach bar where the stools were tree trunks and if you ordered a sausage sizzle, it was served on a piece of banana leaf. There is a sand spit that goes out and the ocean sweeps across from both sides. The snorkelling here was the best in the trip. Over the drop-off saw a huge sting ray and a shark, we are used to seeing reef sharks which we love, but this shark was different so quickly we made our way back to shore!