Uncover the hidden gems of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. From the culturally rich arterial of the Sepik River we sail north across the Bismarck Sea to the remote shores of Manus and Mussau Islands. Manus has the lowest density of people in all New Guinea with its people still living a very traditional lifestyle. Next delve into the history, culture and wildlife of New Ireland and New Britain.
We cross the Buka Channel and at Nissan Island can view reminders of the brief but intensive World War II activities during which the islands were recaptured by Kiwi and British forces from the Japanese occupiers. Then enter a long isolated world as we are amongst the first travellers to return to Bougainville in over two decades. Sailing through the turquoise waters of the Solomon Islands, new vistas and unexpected encounters await.
For birders this itinerary offers once in a lifetime species on remote islands where few have been before. The birding potential is exceptional with many highlights including the Manus Friarbird, Mussau Monarch and the Paradise drango. Endemic to the Solomon Islands we will be on the lookout for the Roviana Rail and Solomon Sea Eagle. Allowing birders to maximise the opportunities available to them there will be an optional specialised birding programme with customised excursions.
These waters also offer some of the greatest marine diversity in the world and everybody will have the opportunity to snorkel and appreciate the beauty beneath the waves. Whether you are snorkelling or kayaking this ocean aquarium is waiting to be discovered. Kayaking provides the perfect way to explore the islands of Melanesia, discover the marine life that swims below and meet the locals. The kayaks are a source of endless fascination for the local children who will often come out to join us in their dugout canoes. Travel at your own pace, with plenty of opportunities for landings, village visits and snorkelling, all while accompanied by our experienced kayaking guide.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, one night hotel accommodation in a twin share room (incl. dinner/breakfast), all on board ship accommodation with meals and all shore excursions and activities excluding optional specialised birding and kayaking programmes. Programme of lectures by noted naturalists.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas, extensions and travel insurance.
Birding Supplement: $500pp
Kayaking Supplement: $995pp
(All prices are in USD)
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2013 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Friday 14 October 2016
Madang north east coast Papua New Guinea
We all arrived safety into tropical Madang on the north east cost of Papua New Guinea ready for our Melanesia Discoverer journey with Heritage Expeditions aboard the MV Spirit of Enderby.
Saturday 15 October 2016
Madang south coast, Papua New Guinea
Early morning was the order of the day for the birders, who were heading to the hills with their expedition guide Lisle Gwynn, in search search of their first bounty of lifers. Although Lesser and King Birds of Paradise were only heard and not seen, they did encounter a whole host of great birds including Red-bellied Pitta, Dwarf and Orange-bellied Fruit Doves, Grey-headed Goshawk, New Guinea Friarbird, Black and Olive-backed Sunbirds, Zoe’s and Pinon Imperial Pigeons, Black Butcherbird, Grand Mannakin, Little Shrike-Thrush and some fantastic Forest Kingfishers that were fishing in a pond full of Comb-crested Jacanas. The first Moustached Treeswifts of the voyage were also more than welcome.
The remainder of the group departed Madang Resort at a more leisurely time of 8:30am and drove through town towards the south coast, stopping along the way to visit the small museum. Our expedition guide Suzanne Noakes gave an expert and enthusiastic overview of the regions ancient through to early history - including colonization and World War II along with an interpretation of many natural history pieces including a replica of a trading vessel, ceremonial masks, drums, carvings, and traditional head dresses. We continued on our way, passing roadside markets, the local council, hospital and schools, passing tropical rainforest ending in the delightful coastal village of Bil Bil. Renowned for their beautiful pottery we were treated to a demonstration showcasing their expert skills creating the earthen pots by the use of their proficient hands – no pottery wheels in this village! For the final process these treasures were transported to the open firing pit. The beat of the kundu (hour glassed shaped) drums soon brought us back from our explorations of the shady shoreline to the dance arena to watch the enthusiastic and colourful Sing-sing. Returning to Madang Resort we were then whisked off by our zodiac after a visit to the local market, and transferred to the MV Spirit of Enderby, which was anchored close by in the scenic harbour. We familiarised ourselves to the ship and were soon sitting down to a delicious lunch before joining Captain Igor Kiselev in the bridge to say farewell to Madang. After tour briefing, safety drills and introductions to the expedition staff by our leader Aaron Russ, followed by a delightful welcome dinner, we settled into our cabins ready for our journey into the wild places of Melanesia.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Sunday 16 October 2016
Kopar Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
The cheerful voice of our cruise director, Cath Stone, welcomed us to the start of the day and an early breakfast before departing from the ship. We were soon maneuvering our way into the mouth of the mighty Sepik River to enjoy a zodiac cruise along the river at first light. The meandering Sepik, over 700 miles (1,200km), is the longest river in Papua New Guinea. Starting at the West Papuan border, the Sepik twists its way towards the Bismarck Sea, where the river mouth is more than a mile wide.
Cruising the Sepik (See-pik), we pass numerous rafts of floating debris, logs, water hyacine and salvinia. Small tributaries feeding the Lower Sepik were lined with dense wetland jungle dominated by sago palms, with occasional mangroves and emergent rainforest trees. Sago, the staple diet of the Sepik people, is cultivated on a regular basis to obtain flour that is used to make pancakes and a pudding with steamed fish and greens. The fibre of the truck is ponded, washed with the starch being gathered once it settles in the bottom of a collection canoe.
Soon we are following our fearless leader who disappeared into a watery passageway lined with nipa and sago palms. We enter into the realm of the ‘crocodile people’ as we weaving our way through this pass, careful not to puncture the skin of both our body and zodiac.
The birders’ exploration of the river proved very successful indeed. Blyth’s Hornbill gave great fly-over views, as did Collared Pigeon, Eclectus, Red-cheeked and Song Parrots, whilst Nankeen Night-Heron and Great-billed Heron gave uncharacteristically good looks. A host of parrots and pigeons were seen flying across the river whilst dozens of Whiskered Terns hawked for insects and Pacific Reef Herons strutted the banks. A huge flock of Wandering Whistling Ducks was a highlight, as were both Dwarf and Orange-fronted Fruit Doves. Once offshore of Sepik and headed towards Manus we found good numbers of seabirds including our first Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, six hulking Tahiti Petrels and, the stand-out highlights of the day (and perhaps even trip for some), a single Beck’s Petrel and two Heinroth’s Shearwaters.
Returning to the MV Spirit of Enderby we enjoyed morning tea and were soon eagerly heading back to Kopar, a village of stilt houses built on a thin clearing of muddy soil stretching along the entry into the Sepik River. We entered the village in the form of a congo line, to rhythmic tribal sounds played by our welcoming party on kundu (hour-glassed) drums. Our welcome into the village was by elected ward councilor Kelly. Official proceedings started with the national anthem, following by welcome speeches and gift giving. The arena opened up to a number of dance groups culminating with a spectacular tumbuna (time before white man) sing sing complete with a masala spirit mask that resembled the head of a dragon and the long body of a crocodile, held high by local men. A short pantomime followed, depicting women gardening, a kidnapping and being reunited with family. We were all a little unclear of the final message of the theatre, but nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed the performance, as did all of the locals in attendance. In fact, the interpreter’s frequent use of ‘eyes on’ became the expeditions catch phrase. Oral history plays an important role in Melanesia as it delivers ancestor stories, myths, legends and folklore.
We were soon let loose to explore the village, for some energetic artefact buying and connect with the local villages to learn more about their life in this remote area before returning to the ship, treasures in hand. After our inaugural presentation ‘Rites of Passage – initiation ceremonies’ by our cultural guide Suzanne Noakes we joined our marine biologist Courtney Rayes and Aaron for a snorkel briefing.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Monday 17 October 2016
Manus Island, Bipi Island, Papua New Guinea
Even before we arrived on the island we were certain that our time on Bipi would be special given the number of canoes that greeted us. Children of all ages circled the Spirit of Enderby in dugout canoes equipped with kayak paddles - quite unique to this region. We learnt later that the new-style paddles were influenced by the World Kayaking Championships, which had been held at Bipi not so long ago. An enthusiastic welcoming committee greeted us on the beach that was lined with traditionally clad youths and village elders who welcomed us as we stepped ashore. We were official greeted with each of our faces being washed with especially collected fern to clean away the evil spirits we may carry onto the island. We could only surmise we had a considerable amount of evil, given the length of time our faces were cleaned. Soon we were seated in the shade of a beach almond tree in front of the Catholic church and primary school, given a refreshing coconut and welcomed to the community by Vincent Caman – newly appointed president Bipi Island Tourist Committee. Given this was Spirit of Enderby’s fourth visit, the elders of the village had been proactive and formed a committee with the sole purpose of promoting tourism visits to the remote island. Although when pressed Vincent advised we were the only ship to visit them each year, and they hoped we could return on a more often basis. Surrounded by more than seventeen atolls and islands, belonging to the Bipi Island Resource owners, this truly is the epitome of an island escape. Given the staple diet is sago and fish which they trade commercially for money to spend on fuel, schooling and medical supplies for the village we could understand their new-found desire to welcome tourists to their doorstep. After our obligatory cultural dance, we were off to wander the frangipani-lined boulevard on the Cross Island Road, adopting a number of locals along the way. The birders’ exploration of Bipi provided a nice selection of ‘general’ island birds including Island Monarch, Island and Pacific Imperial Pigeons, Bismarck Black Myzomela, Coconut Lorikeets and the highlight of the day, a communal nesting area for Melanesian Megapode in the outskirts of the village. Several Beach Kingfishers kept watch over the zodiacs all day long.
The farewells from the beach echoed “have a top day and enjoy yourselves”…
On return to the Spirit of Enderby the dugout canoe flotilla had amassed to what felt like hundreds, each jostling for space to exhibit their agile marine skills. Some even believed they had returned with freshly made canoes, as a number of them spent more time bailing than paddling. The choices for the afternoon included an introductory snorkel or return to the village for further exploration.
What an amazing island for our first snorkel experience! The fringing reef was host to a huge variety of fish and invertebrate species beneath the delightfully warm and clear blue water. Notably present were a variety of hard corals, butterflyfish, numerous colour variations of feather stars and christmas tree worms, territorial damsel and anemone fish, and the list goes on. Into the blue schooling chubs, baitfish, squid and a lone barracuda were seen keeping their distance. It was a great opportunity for everyone to get used to their gear and experience a great example of the marine hotspot that is Papua New Guinea.
After dinner we joined Suzanne in the Lecture Room for the first of a series of documentary movies that will be featured over the remainder of the voyage.
Tuesday 18 October 2016
Manus & Hawei Island, Papua New Guinea
The birding day on Manus was one of mixed fortune. Almost immediately after arrival the group was pounded by intense, relentless and frankly obscene rainfall, making birding extremely difficult and at times impossible. Despite this they pushed on and found a good selection of birds including Moustached Treeswift, Eclectus Parrot, Meek’s Pygmy Parrot, Nicobar Pigeon, Common Cicadabird and the Manus endemics Manus Cuckooshrike and Manus Friarbird. The main target here though was the Manus-endemic and outrageously-sexy Superb Pitta, however despite their best efforts and hardest try the bird simply wouldn’t emerge fully out of the rain-belted forest and only one person managed a good look at the bird as it called from high in the forest. At our afternoon snorkel site we were lucky enough to find plentiful Island Monarchs, a super-obliging Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, and a brief Manus Fantail.
The remainder of the group entered into the port capital of Manus Island, Lorengau under the shadow of cloudy skies and light rain. Local documentary maker (CS1) – interviewed a number of us as we stepped ashore and was quite surprised to learn that two amongst us had previously lived in Lorengau in the early 1960’s to assist with the transition to independence in 1975. With the ‘scoop’ news item captured we bundled into the ‘best available’ local bus and headed along the coast, stopping at a lookout point, connecting bridge at Los Negros island and the local airstrip. Manus played a pivotal role in World War II – the Japanese used it as a major supply base; when captured by the allied forces, lead by General McCarthur, he amassed his troops here prior to continuing on to recapture the Philippines; after WWII was used as the war crime tribunal centre and according to our local guide, Manus airport was also where one of the atomic bombs was sent to Hiroshima, Japan, departed from. He noted archeological digs were still locating where McCarthur had buried his vehicle and supplies before departing.
After passing the village of Chicago, a name influenced by the 1,000’s of American soldiers who were based on the island during war time, we arrived at the scenic village of Lonui, where a warm welcome was delivered by Dr Lawes, our master of ceremonies who advised us to take time to ‘’smell the air”. To the delight of the group a table overflowing with traditional food awaited us. Presented in magnificent traditional bowls full to the brim with local specialties of taro, pumpkin, sago and pandanus pudding, steamed greens, delicate steamed fish and a surprise dish of boiled cuscus (possum). After a small welcome dance by the local school students, a wander through the village to marvel at the stilted toilets precariously perched over the surrounding low coral reef we returned to the bus and had time to explore the tidy downtown local market, prior to our departure. A number of new infrastructure, roads and facilities have been recently completed which form part of the AusAid package for a refugee centre located on the island, which forms part of the Australian Pacific solution to clear illegal asylum seekers. However a recent Papua New Guinea court appeal advised that the refugee centre was illegal and did not comply with the country’s constitution and will be closed noting asylum seekers would need to be moved on or returned to their homeland.
Friendly locals greeted us on arrival to picturesque Hawei Island. Snorkeling was a breeze entering off a white sand beach and cruising over seagrass beds to reach the coral reef. It was clear the reef had battled a storm, but impressive spreads of hard corals littered the reef. Meanwhile a large sea snake lingered among the coral heads capturing the attention of all those close by. A lone seahorse was also observed wrapped around a coral structure, and numerous pipefish moved gracefully through the reef. The vibrant, pulsating clouds of fish really brought the reef to life and made for a really enjoyable snorkeling experience.
After dinner we joined Courtenay in the lecture room for a presentation on ‘Tropical Fish Identification’.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Wednesday 19 October 2016
Mussau & Little Mussau Island, Papua New Guinea
Mussau harbor was a hive of activity on our arrival early morning, as the monthly supply ship had beaten us onto the newly constructed concert jetty. With the exuberant feel of Christmas and gift giving a buzz was certainly in the air. Barrels of fuel were expertly offloaded onto small banana shaped motor boats, with others unwrapping pellets of stores inclusive of generators, iron sheeting, food and general supplies. Passing the school and boarding rooms, where some of the group enjoyed some quite time in the cool of the assembly hall, we continued our climb up the rainforest track hill through market gardens and regenerated forest to the cool relief of a small waterfall and swimming hole. The adventurous amongst us returned via a moderate track that weaved through a sago swamp with the remainder retracing their steps down to school and waiting zodiacs.
The birders battled the heat today as sweltering temperatures arrived almost simultaneously with sunrise. In an effort to get to some of the better forest on the island Lisle led a birding march into the forested hillsides that reaped rewards in the form of dozens of Mussau Monarchs, tantalising Mussau Triller, Collared Kingfisher, Stephan’s Emerald Dove, Bronze Ground Dove and a refreshing dip in the waterfall pool.
Then we were back to the ship, feeling thankful for the opportunity to explore this forested island which seems to be immune from the increasing logging threat that has taken hold of some of these pacific islands. In the afternoon idyllic Little Mussau was peacefully waiting our arrival for our afternoon swim and snorkel. The landowner, Margaret along with her family, welcomed us to enjoy this slice of paradise.
Little Mussau - a tiny island with a whole lot to offer. The vibrant blue waters were incredibly inviting as we landed on the beach and dived into the afternoons snorkeling. The site had great variation ranging from shallow reef to a deep drop-off zone thirty meters out from the shore. By far the most talked about marine life were the giant clams scattered all across the reef, some of incredibly large sizes and a vast range of colours. Along the drop-off several of us were fortunate to watch a green sea turtle, eagle ray, and tuna cruising by in the blue, while others floated across the reef shallows where vibrant corals and fish provided great entertainment.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Thursday 20 October 2016
Kavieng, New Ireland
New Ireland is one of the jewels in the crown of Melanesian birding and it was with palpable excitement that the birders departed the Spirit of Enderby at 03:20am this morning to take the lengthy drive to prime habitat further down the coast. Immediately upon arrival the good birding began with a forest clearing brimming with activity. First up were Red-chinned and Red-flanked Parakeets, followed by a stonking Red-knobbed Imperial Pigeon posing in the soft rising light. Soon after our main target appeared – a pair of phenomenal Paradise Drongo, which were quickly followed by a pair of equally outrageous Knob-billed Fruit Dove. Our walk and drive up into the hills was punctuated with many stops for good birds including Red Myzomela, White-necked Coucal, Golden Monarch, Velvet Flycatcher, Bismarck Whistler and a whole host of swiftlets, as well as superb looks at Blyth’s Hornbill and the beautifully-voiced Long-tailed Myna.
The remainder of us had a leisurely start with a refreshing morning of snorkeling exploring Nusaum Island. Yet another magnificent island surrounded by idyllic blue water, with a fringing reef leading to a deep blue drop-off. On one side, diverse hard corals and an abundance of fish surrounded us as we floated over the reef, and on the other side expansive soft corals enveloped the wall. Highlights included lionfish, a blue-spotted ribbontail ray, schooling squid, reef sharks, and the great diversity of species. To top it all off dolphins were observed just off the island by those relaxing on the beach.
After lunch onboard we were shuttled a shore to join ‘best available’ bus for an orientation visit of Kavieng. First stop was the local markets with walking paths lined with kau kau (sweet potato), course cut tobacco, buai (bettle nut) and assortment of t-shirts, and local foods. At Bagail Cemetary we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the local women who had spent hours weaving traditional pandanus hats for each and everyone of us. Here we learnt about the early German colonial history and stories of Bolumirski, the administrator of the time who was responsible for many of the key infrastructure still in pay today including the road that circles the island. As always there was time to shop, this time round delicate shell money (Miss & Kapkap), necklaces and earrings were on display. After refreshments of fruit and freshly picked coconuts, and an energetic dance display we said our farewells and continued onto Maiom Village. Being patrilineal we were greeted by one of the female land owners, Mrs Ling Ainui, who promptly took charge and introduced us her to the ‘mai mai’ Kunap Rambalis, both her father and leader of the Tigak tribe we were visiting. She showcased their prized treasure, a large crystal cave – the source of their fresh water and creation stories. Traditional taboos’ are strictly adhered to when visiting this site, even to this day no one is allowed to swim in the cool water at the base of the caves or vandalize any part of the interior. During WWII the Japanese Admiral Tamura used the cave as his sanctuary – chronicled in war crimes journals he was responsible for executing 23 Europeans at the Kavieng Wharf massacre, prior to the end of the war. Back onboard we join Suzanne in the Lecture Room for a presentation on Mortuary Rituals in Melanesia - from the bizarre to current ceremonies, including the New Ireland Malagan ceremony.
Friday 21 October 2016
Kokopo/Rabaul, New Britain, Papua New Guinea
Situated precariously surrounded by six beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes Rabaul is perched on the edge of a dramatic flooded-caldera harbour. In 1994 this was the site of an enormous volcanic eruption that leveled most of the former capital of New Britain, Rabaul Township, leaving in its wake tons of volcanic ash, which to this day is still being excavated. Although the thriving new settlement of Kokopo is supposed to replace Rabaul and provide a much safer locale for development on the Gazelle Peninsula, the pull of the old harbour remains strong, and rebuilding is sneaking back into the ruined town, once the jewel of the southwestern Pacific. Situated on New Britain Island, Rabaul was a thriving capital of German New Guinea in the late 1800s, then later placed under Australian control by a League of Nations mandate following WWI, then after the Japanese invasion in WWII, became an important and impregnable base, laced with over 500kms of tunnels into the hills—a honeycomb of interconnecting passages and bunkers, with over 97,000 Japanese troops and thousands of POWs. Allied bombing raids were incessant towards the end of the war, and the town was flattened, with over 40 ships sunk in the harbour.
After a substantial breakfast we headed ashore to a beach close to Kokopo and bundled into our vans starting first at the Kokopo Museum. The grounds surrounding the museum are littered with World War II relics including jeeps, both allied and Japanese planes along with numerous shells, guns and memorabilia with the showrooms providing an insight to the early European history of the Germans, Queen Emma and journals from WWII veterans. At the Observatory we had the chance to take in the full impact of the caldera along with the volanco of Tavurvur. Some say that the locals treat Tavurvur ‘like a member of the family, talking quietly to it, shouting at it, encouraging it to go to sleep’, it’s mood assessed each day. Today we were lucky, it was surprisingly dormant, normally it would be angrily active spurting globs of ash into the sky above Rabaul and filling our mouths and eyes with volcanic grit. Unfortunately, due to earthquakes earlier in the year the road to our usual birding site for today was unpassable and so the birders settled in to join the rest of the passengers on a cultural tour of the coast. Despite this, we still managed to find New Britain Friarbird, an island endemic. Stopping at Yamamoto’s bunker and then onto view the Japanese bardge tunnels, we finished the tour with some frantic souvenir shopping at the Kokopo markets.
The perception of the reef east of Rabaul providing a relaxing expedition afternoon in the lee of the southeast breezes with a stopover at Pigeon Island, turned into an energetic snorkel as we tried to escape the sea lice from attaching themselves for a free ride through the waterways. Those who ventured out to the coral drop-off enjoyed a drift snorkel proved a completely different experience to previous days, with an exciting change in pace. Once past the shallow reef flat which graduated from seagrass to mounds of stony and soft corals, we entered the current moving along the drop-off and drifted along to a zodiac waiting at the other end. Amongst the coral were an abundance of echinoderms and a range of smaller fish species, black-tailed dascyllus being the most common. Numerous cleaner wrasse stations were also present, full of larger fish species undergoing their cleansing rituals. The current made snorkeling a breeze, allowing us all to relax and observe as we were carried across the wall. A pod of spinner dolphins were out again today and even decided to chaperone a zodiac back to the ship, which made for an incredible up-close encounter for those onboard.
The welcome tones from our hotel manager, Cath, greeting us on our return with ‘Good evening, welcome thank you for coming’ soon had us scrambling to the Globe Bar for recap and yet another scrumptious dinner from the kitchen duo Linzy and Ed. We joined Lisle in the lecture room for ‘An Introduction to the Bird Families of Melanesia’
Saturday 22 October 2016
Nissan Island, Papua New Guinea
A tropical atoll lifting out of the azure waters of Buka Channel, Nissan Island is bathed in rich tropical currents that abound in marine life. Seldom have outsiders had the opportunity to discover this island and as we enter into the turquoise lagoon, festive garlands strung across the two green islands beg the question if this was for our benefit. Later it was revealed it was for the benefit of the religious celebration of ‘Fatima’ - celebrating. Soon we were lined up on the beach to be cleansed before stepping across a ceremonial banana leaf into the village beyond. On entry the traditional chiefs and leaders of the villages welcomed us one by one in ‘Balil I’. As honoured guests we were lead in a procession through the 100’s of villages to seats that awaited us in ‘Balil II’. After a welcome from the elected administrator Silvia, we were soon entertained by probably the best sing sing group we had experienced so far. Combining myth and legend through the introductory snake dance followed by the graceful eagle dance, electric mask dance ending with the traditional Nissan dance performed by the paramount chief of the village. After we enjoyed freshly picked coconuts we were adopted by villages and invited into their homes and gardens, some finding the oldest man in the village, Joseph who expanded on his experience as a young boy during WWII. He told us that the island had been a base for American and New Zealand soldiers and that he had met Lt Richard Nixon (later on became President), which he was very proud of. A number of the villages we spoke to were concerned about climate change, and we soon learned that an NGO (Non Government Organisation), CARE International has been working extensively with the island community to develop alternative food sources along with sustainable fishing and population levels.
Being a small atoll in a large ocean, Nissan is home to a limited diversity of bird life, however there were still two new birds for the birders today – the curious and good-looking Louisiade White-Eye and Atoll Starling, as well as a number of more familiar and widespread birds. A highlight was a visit to a Glossy Swiftlet colony which was structured like honeycomb on a cave ceiling. Spinner Dolphins were numerous off the coast of the island.
Making the most of the spectacular islands and great weather we decided to snorkel two sites today. The first, a fringing island reef which extended steadily into deeper water and had an abundance of stony corals - most notably table coral. Five minutes into snorkeling local children appeared in the water next to us and were very excited to be captured on video diving down and striking poses. Having grown up surrounded by stony corals, swimming through the surf break over the shallow reef didn’t seem to faze them. The second site was a magnificent steep drop-off, with the coral reef disappearing straight down a wall and larger pelagic fish drifting past. Down below a whitetip reef shark moved swiftly by and humphead wrasse were observed in the distance. We all thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of snorkeling right on the edge of the coral reef and the deep blue ocean expanse.
Those who returned to the village had the unique opportunity to join Lisa, for a cooking demonstration using sago. Unlike Kopar, in the Sepik, here the sago (sak sak) is mixed with coconut, giving it a rich sweet texture (and taste). ‘Lisa in the seashore kitchen’ put on quite the presentation for us, grating coconut and mixing it with sago flour, combining the two in a pan over a hot fire, before adding coconut cream resulting in a sticky concoction that can be mixed with whatever they have – seafood, vegetables, bananas, and more. Quite bland, with just a hint of sweetness from the coconut, it kind of resembled dry gruel. The second recipe got Suzanne’s taste buds revving from the start… Sago flour with the milk of fresh coconut is mixed together to make a dough ball. This is shaped into small “pancakes” that are then carefully wrapped in green leaves. The small flat green bundles are cooked over coals on a grate, being turned often. The result is a lightly browned pastry-like treat, embossed with the patterns of the leaf, and yummy! It’s a bit sticky, seems almost cheesy, and resembles undercooked bread. We all took turns tearing little nibbles off the too-hot-to-handle results! Not only a wife and good cook, Lisa is also a midwife, herbalist, masseuse, and magistrate. As with any small community, most people take on multiple tasks to maintain order.
Our movie this evening is Mr Pip. Bouganville, where we visit tomorrow, was the backdrop for the recently released movie. Mr Watts the last Englishman remaining on the small island of Bougainville during the violent civil war took up the duties of teaching children influencing them by reading stories from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Sunday 23 October 2016
Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea
We are amongst the very few who have explored the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which up until the late 1990’s was closed to visitation due to internal conflict raging over 10 years (1984-1994). The conflict was brought on by tensions of self-determination, disputes over indigenous control of land and inequality of profit distribution from the copper mine established on Bougainville in 1963. Early this morning we rejoice in the chance to explore the immense biodiversity of the island. Climbing up into the forested mountains reaching an elevation of 950 metres, which afforded us a spectacular view of a distant active volcano projecting flumes of smoke into the atmosphere. The birders depart us midway for a very pleasant stroll down the road.
Whilst the rest of the group reached beyond the mountain pass, the birders hopped out at the top and took a slow walk back down the road in search of some of Bougainville’s main target birds. With wonderfully cool temperatures and light cloud cover they spent a lengthy morning enjoying good bird activity. Almost immediately they found their first new species in the form of the diminutive Midget Flowerpecker and the abundant Yellow-throated White-Eye. A small gully gave rise to rapturous bird sound, amongst which they managed to find Solomons Cuckooshrike, Solomons Monarch and a surprise Variable Dwarf Kingfisher, whilst Bougainville Bush-Warblers sang from either side but eluded their sight today. Further down the road they found the much-trickier Grey-throated White-Eye, several North Melanesian Cuckooshrikes, Common Cicadabird, a handful of Red-capped Myzomela, several Oriole Whistler and a stunning Bougainville Hooded Whistler. Highlight, and mystery, of the day though has to go to a set of ‘unidentified’ swiftlets that appeared to be Mayr’s Swiftlet, which were also recorded here in 2015. These large-headed, very ‘swift-like’ swiftlets were seen in good numbers along the road to the pass and even from the ship at anchor in the bay. Also of interest today were two Yellowish Imperial Pigeons, a bird that is not supposed to occur on Bougainville.
The rest of us continued towards the Bougainville Copper mine site, now lying derelict deep in the mountains, a visible scar on the landscape and within the hearts of the local guides and landowners we meet along the way, all tell their tales of trouble times in paradise and the loss of land and fortune. A landowner and advocate for her people, the forthright Maggie wanted to know when the ‘big bloody hole’ was going to be filled in so that she could grow her crops for her burgeoning family. We enjoyed an excellent study tour of the mine site visiting the main pit, standing atop the massive tailings canal and deserted workers apartments, now shells that house local villages whose homes were destroyed in the conflict. In its day the mine was the largest open cut copper mine in the world. Now a major scrap site companies and countries alike bid for annual contracts to remove large amounts of metal contributing to the cash crop of the island. Bougainville people associate more with Solomon Islands people than Papua New Guinea giving rise to a referendum due to be held in the next coming years on whether to secede from Papua New Guinea or stay as an Autonomous Region. Back on board we joined Suzanne for a showing of the ‘King of Bouganville’ an Australian The drivers of some of the buses advised that they had been previous followers of King Pei II, whom had unofficially taken on the role of king of Bouganville, printing his own money, wearing a gold crown and residing in the ‘no go’ zone.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Monday 24 October 2016
Supizae Village & Taro Town, Solomon Islands
Once customs officers completed our clearance into the Solomon Islands we started our planned program for the day. We were in for a special treat this morning as we joined our expedition team on a zodiac journey into the mangrove canals of Choiseul Island along the Sui River. At each turn the undergrowth evolved - first we learned about the complexities of the mangroves, and then experienced the dense rainforest as it spilled out over the low coral shoreline.
The birders day at Choiseul was thoroughly enjoyable and somewhat relaxed, featuring two zodiac cruises up the Sui River. The morning cruise produced excellent Collared and Beach Kingfishers, Eclectus Parrots, dozens of Cardinal Lory, bountiful Solomons Cockatoo, several Brown-winged Starlings, omnipresent Willie Wagtails, White-bellied and Solomons Cuckooshrikes, Red-knobbed and Pacific Imperial Pigeons and excellent Nankeen Night-Heron and Striated Heron. The afternoon cruise added several super views of Blyth’s Hornbill to the mix and also a brief fly-by by an extremely curious pigeon which remained unidentified and tantalising, appearing like a large, ruddy Nicobar Pigeon.
Ending with a short, slippery waterfall walk we continued our voyage to Supizae Village and the shade of a seashore tree. Comfortably seated under shade tents, supping on coconut and viewing traditional ‘kesa’ shell money we were soon welcomed by village dancers and master of ceremonies Thomas and Mary, representatives from the local Solomon’s Islands Tourism Authority. Before departing back to the Spirit of Enderby we visited the provincial capital of Taro – just a short zodiac transfer across the way. After stopping at the women’s cultural centre to stock up on woven baskets and laplap (sarong), visiting the local administration office and biodiversity study project, we returned to the ship to the welcome cool of the air-conditioning.
Our snorkel site was situated on a reef area extending out from the mangrove forest edge and sloping gently into the main channel. Unfortunately crown of thorn starfish were abundant on the reef, however, the majority were situated on the reef flat and the sloping wall still appeared in great condition. The reef was host to several astonishingly large pineapple sea cucumbers and a diverse range of anemones and fish. Also of interest were the white thread cuvierian tubes used as defense mechanisms by sea cucumbers, which were spread across the reef. Overall the site provided for some very calm and relaxing snorkeling.
As we set sail for Kolombangara we join Suzanne in the Lecture Room for ‘Cargo & Kastom’ – a review of ‘cargo cult’ in Melanesia.
Tuesday 25 October 2016
Kolombangara, Solomon Islands
The sight of one of the highest points in the Solomon Islands archipelago greeted as we stepped out on the deck this morning to view the extinct volcano of Kolombonagara. We had been invited by KIBCA (Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association), to visit the conservation area 400metres above the sustainable forest plantation. Stepping ashore to a light drizzle of rain we took shelter at the nearby art market. Tempted by exquisite contemporary pieces of polished wood from bowls to elaborate masks from Rinaggi Village carvers – some of us placed a few pieces on hold to be bargained for on our return to the landing sight. The ‘best available’ transport today was a ten-ton truck, compete with slabs of wood in the back, for our bumpy ride up the mountainside. The conversation area of Kolombangara, above 400metres, covers an area of over 20,000 hectares (200 sq km), which equates to approximately 28% of the island. It makes it the largest conservation area in the Solomon Islands. On arrival, Mason, our contact on the island advised that negotiations have commenced to declare it a National Park. On the island both locals and the conservation groups maintain wildlife corridors along with marine protection areas. Kolombangara gave the early-departing birders a thorough soaking this morning as they worked the forested slopes under constant rain of varying intensity. Fortunately they managed to find some great rewards for their perseverance with the likes of Meyer’s Goshawk, Solomon’s Sea Eagle, Crimson-rumped Myzomela, several stunning White-capped Monarch, the endemic Kolombangara Monarch, Cockerell’s Fantail, several Solomons White-Eyes and even a probable Kolombangara White-Eye. Finsch’s Pygmy Parrots, Meek’s Lorikeets and Solomons Cockatoos provided ample entertainment on the parrot front, whilst the pigeons and doves were well-represented by Red-knobbed and Pacific Imperial Pigeons and Pale Mountain Pigeon. Claret-breasted Fruit-Dove was a stand out highlight, and Island Thrush intrigued those familiar with European Blackbird.
Returning to the landing site were drenched with a tropical downpour, and hurriedly negotiated our artefacts and were soon back on board. After lunch on returning to the remote island backyard visited for snorkeling last year, it was sad to hear freshwater had decimated the jetty reef where anemones had previously thrived. However not all was lost as the neighbouring reef was flourishing, alive with colours and movement. Among the many species seen were schooling fusiliers, an abundance of staghorn damselfish, a snowflake moray, spiny lobsters, and blacktip reef sharks. Slightly deeper down, larger schooling fish were patrolling the edge of the reef and would simply reform their school around you on approach.
We sailed through where the Japanese would transport cargo ships in WWII during our late in the evening, Suzanne aired the first part of the National Geographic’s search for ‘The lost fleet of Guadacanal’ – an informative whilst solemn introduction to WWII in this area. Part two to shown the next night in readiness for our arrival into Guadacanal.
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Wednesday 26 October 2016
Arnavan Island, Solomon Island
In line with the study content of our voyage this morning we were privileged to visited the Arnavon turtle conservation area. Keeping up with our tradition of visiting areas that seldom see tourists or other cruising vessels we were delighted to have the chance for an informative and interesting tour of the turtle conservation area. Rence Zama, welcomed us and thanked us for visiting – in his own words ‘highlighting the emergence of the importance of key biological sites’. He went onto brief us about the conservation area, what duties the resident ranges perform and the challenges they face based on changing weather systems and human encroachment. The island serves as a primarily hatching island for the hawksbill turtles but also occasionally sees green and leatherback turtles venturing into its waters. We were privileged to witness the release of 178 hatchling hawksbill turtles – how cute! We had the pleasure of witnessing 178 hatchlings make a dash to the water’s edge, past the watchful paparazzi, where they had their ‘first contact’ with surf, and frantically swam into the deep blue to begin their lives. A few too shy to make the plunge hid under rock and crevice, later to be released by the rangers. We wished them good luck, given their slim change of 1-1,000 survival and hopeful to see them back here in 25 years when they return to mate and lay their eggs.
For the birders, atoll birding can be tough, but today brought a few surprises and in particular a good spread of shorebirds to spice up the mix. On the mudflats behind the rangers’ housing there were fantastic views to be had of Grey-tailed and Wandering Tattlers, Grey, Common Ringed and Pacific Golden Plovers, Lesser and Greater Sandplovers, Purple Swamphen (or Pukeko for the New Zealanders), Eastern Great Egret and even a couple of Beach Thick-Knees. Out on the small island around which we snorkelled there were two more Beach Thick-Knees and a plethora of terns which included our first truly-tropical White Terns and plentiful Black-naped Terns. Our transit toward Honiara encountered choppy waters – great for seabirding. Although diversity was fairly low, typical of tropical waters, we did have a constant stream of Brown and Black Noddys, Brown and Red-footed Boobys, a couple of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and the highlight of the afternoon, a single Providence Petrel.
The Arnavon Islands are not only spectacular to visit on land, but host amazing marine life beneath the surface as well. The site of choice today was a bright-white sand oval surrounded by stands of staghorn coral and coral boulders. It was the clearest water of the trip and the calm conditions provided for very relaxing snorkeling. Several blacktip reef sharks were seen darting off into the distance and a particularly impressive school of surgeonfish swarmed between the coral. The sand flats were covered in shrimpgobies - the most abundant being the sand shrimpgoby, with their snapping shrimps busy bulldozing the entrance ways to the extensive tunnels below. Amid the reef, numerous anemones, anemone fish, giant clams, trumpet fish, damsels and breams were present to name a few. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, with the refusal of some to return to the zodiacs really showcasing just how special this site was and what a remarkable way to end the snorkeling!
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Photo credit: Heritage Expeditions
Thursday 27 October 2016
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Early morning we anchored in the harbor off Honiara, on the northern coast of Guadacanal, by the Mataniko River. Honiara was a military base during World War II and is the capital of the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands witnessed major naval battles in this region and some would say was the starting point of turning the tide on the Japanese invasion within the Pacific War. Today we enjoyed the opportunity of touring Honiara, visiting WWII historical sites, and local sights before returning to Henderson Field for our departure.
Photo credit: Heritage Expedition
8 October – 21 October 2014
For a species list for this expedition, please click here.
Day 1 –Wednesday 08 October 2014
Madang - north east coast Papua New Guinea
We arrived into the tropical embrace of Madang, situated on the north coast of Papua New Guinea and were transferred to the Madang Resort for the first night of our ‘Melanesia Discoverer’ expedition. Excitement ran high during the evening as we met our fellow travellers along with the expedition team, lead by Nathan Russ, all eager to uncover the hidden gems of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. During dinner we were treated to a welcome sing sing (traditional dance) along with a chance to view a full eclipse of the moon before heading off for some much needed sleep.
Day 2 –, Thursday 09 October 2014
Madang north east coast Papua New Guinea
5’12 S – 145’48 E
The first day started early for fourteen intrepid birding enthusiasts who departed for the Madang south coast road in the great company of ornithologist Adam Walleyn and naturalist Aaron Russ. Breakfast was served on the road to maximise sleep and take advantage of early birding time. The first stop was Bowrie Village, followed by Alexis Haffen and the Mission Ponds of Madang. Reports back from the group on their return told great tales of sightings which included Grand Mannikins, White-bellied Thicket Fantails, Pacific Baza’s, Red-necked Phalaropes, several fruit dove species and the call of a Wompoo Fruit Dove. The remainder of the group departed Madang Resort at the more leisurely hour of 0800 and headed to the Madang Museum. After the entry key was eventually found, the well-preserved collection was opened for us. Suzanne, the contemporary Anthropologist accompanying our group on the voyage, gave an overview of the regions history from ancient through to early colonization, World War II and an interpretation of many natural history pieces including a replica of the trading vessels, masks, drums, carvings and traditional head dresses. Providing an expert and enthusiastic commentary, she demonstrated how slit drums are used as a specific form of communication. We continued our exploration into the highlands and a visit to the village of Hiya, stopping to learn about the nation’s obsession with chewing Betelnut. Chewing Betelnut or buai as it is called locally, is as common as smoking in any other country, only instead of inhaling, it is chewed. What is left after chewing is spat out, arriving where it lands as a congealed red mass of fibre and fluid. Three items are required to be chewed to create the desired euphoric effect along with the classic red smile all the locals seem to display. You combine the inside seed of the Betelnut, the pepper vine stick (Daka) and lime (not the sort for our gin and tonic but in the form of baked shell) and chew to your hearts content. Surprisingly enough, no takers were found in the group to demonstrate the process. Prof Moshe Agami, the Botanist-Ecologist, took the opportunity during a refreshing rain shower to introduce us to the unique rainforest that surrounded the village. We visited local houses, the school, and enjoyed some tropical fresh fruit. The villagers put on an enthusiastic ‘sing sing’ before we departed in a dance procession to the beat of kundu drums (hour glass shaped drums used for local ‘sing sings’) to our bus and the Madang Resort for an enjoyable barbeque lunch. After some energetic artefact buying, we transferred to the Spirit of Enderby, which was anchored close by in the harbour. On board we familiarised ourselves with the ship and attended the required safety briefings before joining Captain Dimitri on the bridge as we departed the port of Madang. We were farewelled by a White-bellied Sea Eagle, which some said was a good omen for the expedition ahead of us. A few observers also saw Short-finned Pilot whales and Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphins and some distant schools of tuna. Large flocks of Bridled Terns and a few Brown Noddies were also seen between Madang and Kar Kar Island before we headed inside for a drink at the bar before dinner.
Day 3 –Friday 10 October 2014
Kopar Village Sepik River Papua New Guinea,
3’50 S – 144’34 E
We were woken this morning by the dulcet tones of Cruise Director Meghan Kelly, when she interrupted our slumber to rise early and enjoy breakfast before heading out under clear skies on our Zodiac exploration of the mighty Sepik River (See-pik). Mark (Grantham), the leader of a small group on board, would be our gang plank director on each landing, ensuring we had donned our life jackets and turned our tag prior to departing the ship. The meandering Sepik, over 700 miles, is the longest river in Papua New Guinea. Starting at the West Papuan border, the Sepik twists its way towards the Bismarck Sea, where the river mouth is more than a mile wide. As we entered the river some of us spotted several majestic White-bellied Sea Eagles, along with a variety of parrots and pigeons including Pinon Imperial Pigeon, Orange-fronted Fruit Dove and Black-capped Lories. The birding group also noted numerous Pied Herons with a total of 4 Great-billed Herons, all in all a terrific tally for the day. As we cruised up river we passed fishermen that had caught fish including Fork-tailed Catfish and Giant Trevally on their way to the local village of Kopar. Numerous rafts of floating debris, logs, water hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes) and Salvinia made navigation challenging in the main flow of the Sepik. Small tributaries feeding the Lower Sepik were lined with dense wetland jungle dominated by sago, with occasional mangroves (Sonneratia) and emergent rainforest trees. Soon we were navigating a tight channel, a short cut used for local canoe traffic, to duck and weave past sago palms that lined the swampy banks. Here we learnt that three types of sago palms grow in this area, one a thorny trunk (which some of us experienced first hand as we negotiated the tight corners), one smooth and one other that was wild. The one that is thorny is the best for cultivating to obtain the sago flour that is then made into pancakes and a pudding with steamed fish and greens, the staple diet of the Sepik people. The fibre of the trunk is pounded and washed with the starch collected once it settles in the bottom of the collection canoe.
After lunch we returned by Zodiac to the village of Kopar, built in a thin clearing of muddy soil beside the riverbank. Here we were greeted by a group of school children who sang the national anthem followed by a spectacular tumbuna dance (time before white man) complete with a masala spirit mask that resembled the head of a dragon and the long body of a crocodile held high by local men. The overarching theme of the Sepik River is the crocodile through dance, art and initiation ceremonies. After the official speeches and gift giving, we were privileged to see a short pantomime depicting a local legend about the spirit of a man’s deceased wife haunting him from the grave. Oral history plays an important role in Melanesia as it delivers ancestor stories, myths, legends and folklore. We met a crocodile trader and learnt about the biology of these Salty Crocodiles and how they were important as a cash crop to the villages for both skins and small young. With our Sepik artifact treasures in hand we departed late in the afternoon for the Manus province.
Day 4 – Saturday 11 October 2014
Bipi & Pai-i north coast of Papua New Guinea
2’05 S – 146’24 E
This morning we enjoyed the chance to try out our snorkeling skills in the warm waters surrounding Bipi Island near Manus under the guidance of Marine Biologist Conor Jones. We were delighted to find that this area provided spectacular for snorkeling along the south-western edge of the reef, where our visibility was up to 25-30m. The 3-5m depth contour had a dense covering of Porites and soft corals, mostly Sinularia, Sarcophyton and Lobophytum. Bomboras and pieces of reef more exposed to the reef had large numbers of crinoids (featherstars) displaying a variety of colour. Three species of clownfish (Amphiprion) and associated anemones, as well as whip-corals (Juncella) were found directly below the boat. The reef flat had large numbers of blue Linkia starfish and the local children kept us entertained during resting intervals on the surface.
After lunch our inaugural presentation series kicked off with Suzanne introducing us to the lifestyle, culture and traditions of Melanesia. Later our Zodiac flotilla set sail to Pai-i, an exotic small island within the Bipi group. Even before we arrived we were certain that our time here would be special given the number of local villagers lining the shore already dancing and whooping up a storm. After we were officially greeted with each of our faces being washed with special ferns, we moved into the dance arena. Here some of us were startled to find a number of the dances cloaked with large (and small) coral banded snakes, mythical ancestors of the Pai-i villages. In awe of the enthusiastic, energetic and somewhat provocative pelvic thrusting dancers, we smiled from ear to ear; we laughed; we applauded; we cheered in response, yet that didn’t quite feel adequate considering the gift of the incredible performance that they had given us. Then New Zealand chef Lindsey stepped in, surprising everyone with a fierce sounding Maori ‘haka’ that turned the tables and further energized and enthused the islanders. With them advancing on him it was the villagers turn to laugh and be enchanted, with smiles all around! After circumnavigating the island on foot, making new friends and recording a couple of small island specialties including the Bismarck Black Myzomelas, Island Monarchs and Beach Kingfisher, we enjoyed fresh coconut before returning to the Spirit of Enderby, ready to enjoy our evening recap followed by yet another scrumptious dinner.
Day 5 – Sunday 12 October 2014
Lorengau & Hawei Manus Island
2’01 S – 147’16 E
On our way to Manus Island we saw a Dugong, which was quite remarkable given the large population base and associated human impacts. After a well-rehearsed daybreak departure from the Spirit of Enderby, the birders were instantly rewarded after a steep ascent with views of the rare Superb Pitta, a remarkable result so early in the day. Also enjoyed were scope views of Nicobar Pigeon and Pied Cuckoo-Dove along with such island endemics as Manus Friarbird and Manus Cuckooshrike.
The remainder of the group split into two groups and departed later. One group headed for the hinterland rainforest trails of Lorengau, the capital of Manus Island, and the other went off to visit the island refugee detention centre. The naturalist walkers began their exploration at Rosen Village, all be it a slippery one, and soon vanished deep into primary forest alive with many species of epiphyte’s and dioscrea vines. Some elected to remain behind in Rosen village and enjoy the hospitality of the Ilia family and their lau lau berries before returning to the bus. The fearless group, who had set off in good faith to visit the Manus Island Refugee Centre to learn more about the complexities behind the controversial policy ratified by the Australian and Papua New Guinea government to clear illegal refuges arriving by boat into the waters north of Australia, was not to complete their mission. Turned back at the final checkpoint due to the tightening of onsite entry permits they continued their exploration of the island in good humour. Serendipity played a hand with an impromptu visit to the local Catholic Church allowing them to hear the amazing voices of the congregation as they gave a repeat performance of their Sunday mass hymns, much to the delight of the group.
Late in the afternoon we took the opportunity to cool off in the translucent waters of Hawei Island within a secluded lagoon, north of Manus Island. We snorkelled over a large coral outcrop and would occasionally encounter dead areas of coral, presumably the result of thermal bleaching, our first for the trip. Numerous Banded Sea Kraits, Regal Angelfish, Moorish Idols and Pipefish were observed. Along the margins of the outcrop were large stands of Acropora and Echinopora. Our lecture series continued as we were introduced to the Origin and Travels of Tropical Food Plants from Moshe, along with Conor who showed the awesome array of fish and coral in the reefs we would explore over the many days to come.
Day 6 – Monday 13 October, 2014
Mussau Island & Little Mussau
1’32 S – 149’40 E
It’s bloody hot out there! There are certain expectations that come with being on an expedition ship and strangely enough, one of those is that it should be colder outside the ship than inside. We consciously know that will never be the case in Melanesia, but nevertheless can’t help but be surprised each time an external door is opened and we get hit with that blast of hot sticky air! Fortunately that blast is frequently accompanied by a beautiful view of an idyllic island gliding by. Today that island was Mussau. Reaching the shores in the early morning to avoid the midday sun, we commenced our nature walk bound for the hinterland and the secrets held within. At the entry level we wandered through gardens filled to capacity with corn, sweet potato, yam and tapioca to name a few and continued on into the secondary forests. Logged until 17 years ago, this area is now in recovery stage due to logging bans. Thankfully the Rysofoloa Mangrove at the shoreline is regenerating, as the wood is important within the tropics due to it being termite resistant, along with a necessary nursery for both fish and crustaceans. The birders enjoyed a walk through secondary forest and were very pleased to be amongst the first people ever to see the Mussau Monarch. Other sightings over the course of the morning were the stunning Yellow-bibbed Fruit Dove, Blue-faced Parrotfinch, Island Monarch and the shy Russet-tailed Thrush. The hot walk was rewarded by an inviting waterhole, which some made the most of. On the way we saw several species of colourful ground orchids, pandanus, mimosa pudica (sensitive weed), with a big surprise of an abundance of melmia cordia. These ant nests live a symbiotic relationship with the host tree, protecting it from attack.
After lunch Little Massau provided a range of options for all levels of snorkeling ability. Within 20m of the beach there was a beautiful multi-coloured community of staghorn and poritid corals punctuated with small solitary colonies of mushroom coral (Fungia, Herpotolitha, and Heliofungia). Most colonies were displaying good strong colours and the reef edge community had numerous plating acroporids that provided habitat for small coral cods and angelfish. Regal Angelfish were extremely abundant as were Moorish Idols and several species of bannerfish. Parrotfish and Surgeonfish (acanthuridae) moved between the reef edge and flat communities. The deeper bomboras had several sub-adult Green Turtles, White and Black-tipped Sharks and numerous Fairy Basslets below 15m. Mature Giant Clams and Burrowing Clams (Tridacna spp.) were a highlight for many of us, as was the fantastic variety of Christmas Tree Worms found burrowing into the Porites. This idyllic setting was celebrated by sun worshippers and beach fossickers – the only thing missing to complete the picture postcard setting was a tropical sunset cocktail complete with an umbrella. Soon the beach dwellers ventured along the foreshore and discovered a number of canoes waiting for completion, a makeshift church (a relic from a recent conference) and were led by locals into the centre of the island to discover bountiful gardens. After dinner that evening Moshe introduced us to ‘Tropical Rainforest from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea’. Suzanne then expanded on our cultural knowledge by transporting us into the world of the Cargo Cult and the complexities of delivering material goods and the prophets, who to this day still practice this ancient cult.
Day 7 – Tuesday 14 October, 2014
Nusa Island & Kavieng New Ireland
2’35 S – 150’46 E
The intrepid birders flew the coup at the early hour of 0330 to drive two hours from the main town of New Ireland, Kavieng to the Lelet Plateau. They spent a satisfying morning looking for birds the forest and saw the spectacular Paradise Drongo with its long tail streamers. Other excellent sightings included White-backed Woodswallow, Black Imperial Pigeons and Black-tailed Monarch. The remainder of the group enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at 0700 before travelling by Zodiac to Nusa Island Retreat, our rendezvous point for a ‘sing sing’ welcome performed by local school children. Afterwards we enjoyed seeing traditional shell money and carvings for sale under the shade of a large tree behind the retreat. Some took advantage of a short transfer to a nearby island for a walk to a WWII relic positioned on the shoreline while others wandered into town or explored the local food market, which was a-buzz with the arrival of fresh beetle nut. A few of us happened upon a ‘sing sing’ in the centre of town and were soon led away in an official procession. Unbeknown to us until the last minute, this parade was led by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill.
The afternoon snorkeling excursion on the reef south of Kavieng offered up the best fish life yet, showcasing a spectacular steep wall where blue-lined and big-eyed Trevally patrolled the deeper waters with many Smooth Flutemouth close inside the reef. The reef edge contained numerous fan corals (Gorgoneacea) along the deeper contours while hundreds of feather-stars in a multitude of colours lined the coral outcroppings. Seven species of anemone fish were observed, often with multiple species occupying the same anemone. Planktivores including damselfish, caesionids, fairy basslets, fusiliers and sprat were numerous and filled the mid and upper reaches of the water column with colour. We also sighted several Crown of Thorns starfish, reef octopus in caves and large sea cucumbers along the reef flat, which became more extensive down-current from the main wall. Some of us also saw spawning Sea Cucumbers. Rabbitfish, Surgeonfish and Parrotfish grazed the reef flat which ran from the reef edge to the overhanging coastal hibiscus on the shore. Among the terrestrial vegetation were teraponids, reef gar, and sergeant majors. After dinner guest lecturer Peter informed us about the extensive ring of fire that surrounds Papua New Guinea and the complexities of volcanoes within this region.
Day 8 – Wednesday 15 October, 2014
Kokopo & Rabaul, New Britain
4’19 S – 152’18 E
Situated precariously surrounded by six beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes, Rabaul is perched on the edge of a dramatic flooded-caldera harbour. In 1994 this was the site of an enormous volcanic eruption which leveled most of the former capital of New Britain, Rabaul Township, leaving in its wake tons of volcanic ash, which to this day is still being excavated. Although the thriving new settlement of Kokopo is supposed to replace Rabaul and provide a much safer locale for development on the Gazelle Peninsula, the pull of the old harbour remains strong, and rebuilding is sneaking back into the ruined town, once the jewel of the southwestern Pacific. Situated on New Britain Island, Rabaul was a thriving capital of German New Guinea in the late 1800s, then later placed under Australian control by a League of Nations mandate following WWI. After the Japanese invasion in WWII, it became an important and impregnable base, laced with over 500kms of tunnels into the hills—a honeycomb of interconnecting passages and bunkers, with over 97,000 Japanese troops and thousands of POWs. Allied bombing raids were incessant towards the end of the war and the town was flattened, with over 40 ships sunk in the harbour.
This morning the birders were able to access some secondary forest along the Wild Dog Mine access road. They spotted an impressive variety of pigeons including Finsch’s and Yellowish Imperial Pigeon and Knob-billed Fruit Dove and also saw Purple-bellied Lory, Blue-eyed Cockatoo and the rare Black Honey Buzzard. The remainder of the group was eager to explore this historical town and investigate relics from the Japanese occupation which inlcuded the barge tunnel and the underground bunker that was the hiding place of one of the Pearl Harbour commanders, Yamamoto. At the Observatory we had the chance to take in the full impact of the caldera along with the volanco of Tavurvur. Some say that the locals treat Tavurvur ‘like a member of the family, talking quietly to it, shouting at it and encouraging it to go to sleep’. Its mood assessed each day. Today we were lucky, it was surprisingly dormant. It is usually angrily active, spurting globs of ash into the sky above Rabaul and filling mouths and eyes with volanic grit. We finished the tour with a visit to the Kopopo War Relic Museum and some frantic souvenir shopping at the Kokopo markets. The reef east of Rabaul provided a relaxing afternoon in the lee of the southeast breezes. Cruise Director Meghan Kelly set up a bar on the beach so we could sip drinks after swimming. Sea urchins were plentiful with at least 4 species observed, and hundreds of smaller urchis had tunneled into the reef flat by building their own ‘bunkers’.
Day 9 –16 October 2014
Nissan Island, Papua New Guinea
4’26 S – 154’10 E
A tropical atoll adrift in the azure waters of the Buka Channel, Nissan Island is bathed in rich tropical currents that abound in marine life. Seldom have outsiders had the opportunity to discover this world. The four chiefs of the village greeted us on foreshore and as is the custom, bathed our heads and shoulders and crowned us with traditional herbal necklaces before we entered Balil #1 Village. Surrounded by the village people we felt like honoured guests as we walked in procession to the dance arena to a fanfare of conch shells. Seated under the shade of enormous beach almond trees, wave after wave of dancers appeared before us, each telling a different story translated by our Master of Ceremonies Luis. From butterfly to eagle, each interpretive dance brought gales of laughter from locals more than the visitors. Some mothers had travelled a fair distance to give their children the opportunity to view the ‘white visitors’, a rarity in this isolated part of Papua New Guinea. After we enjoyed freshly picked coconuts we were adopted by various villagers and invited into their homes and gardens. Some of our group met the oldest man in the village, Joseph, who expanded on his experience as a young boy during WWII. He told us that the island had been a base for American and Allied soldiers and he was very proud to have met President Nixon. A number of the villagers we spoke to were concerned about climate change and we soon learned that an NGO (Non Government Organisation), ‘CARE International’ has been working extensively with the island community to develop alternative food sources along with sustainable fishing and population levels. The birders went for a short walk outside the village and while bird diversity is quite low on this island they did record the two main specialties – Atoll Starling and Louisiades White-eye - two small island specialists that are rarely seen by birders.
After lunch we had the chance to explore the surrounding reef or return to the village. Nissan Island was the first reef of the trip where we saw a reef that had exposure to longer-period wave energy. The reef edge came up from 2,000m to 30m within the space of tens of metres, making a dramatic depth change. From the 5m depth contour upwards, there was extensive ‘spur and groove’ formation. Plating and small digitate Acropora were the dominant coral types, which was moderately abundant at the 6-10m depth contour. We did a drift snorkel with the current and were greeted once again by about 20 local kids who jumped on board with Adam to keep him company while we snorkelled. Occasionally the reef front included small depressions which housed different corals, such as large poritids and gorgonians. Small White-tipped Sharks were observed on the reef front in 30-40m of water, but large fish were scarce. Those who returned to the village had the unique opportunity to join Lisa (Luis’s wife), who gave a cooking demonstration using Sago. Unlike Kopar in the Sepik, here the Sago (‘Sac Sac’) is mixed with coconut, giving it a rich sweet texture and taste. Lisa put on a great presentation for us, grating coconut and mixing it with sago flour, combining the two in a wok over a hot fire. (The fire was burning in the top of a 55 gallon drum in the “kitchen attachment” to their home.) She then added coconut cream and the resulting sticky concoction can then be mixed with whatever they have – seafood, vegetables, bananas, and more. Quite bland, with just a hint of sweetness from the coconut, it resembled a sort of dry gruel. The second recipe got Suzanne’s taste buds revving from the start… Sago flour with the milk of fresh coconut is mixed together to make a dough ball. This is then shaped into small ‘pancakes’ that are carefully wrapped in green leaves. The small flat green bundles are cooked over coals on a grate, being turned often. The result is a lightly browned pastry-like treat, embossed with the patterns of the leaf, and very yummy! It is a bit sticky, seems almost cheesy and resembles undercooked bread. We all took turns tearing little nibbles off the too-hot-to-handle results! Not only a wife and good cook, Lisa is also a midwife, herbalist, masseuse and magistrate. As with any small community, most people take on multiple tasks to maintain order.
Day 10 – 17 October 2014
Arawa, Autonomous Region of Bougainville,
6’11 S – 155’32 E
We are amongst the very few who have explored the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which up until the late 1990’s was closed to visitation due to internal conflict which raged over 10 years (from 1984-1994). The conflict was brought on by tensions of self-determination, disputes over indigenous control of land and inequality of profit distribution from the copper mine established on Bougainville in 1963. Early this morning we rejoiced in the chance to explore the immense biodiversity of the island. Climbing up into the forested mountains which reach an elevation of 950m, the birders left us midway for a very pleasant stroll down the road. They encountered some interesting mixed species flocks and recorded the endemic Bougainville Monarch, plus Solomon’s Monarch, Oriole Whistler and Red-capped Myzomela. They also saw Bougainville Crow and heard the recently described Bougainville Bush Warbler just before a majestic Solomon’s Sea Eagle flew overhead. The rest of us continued on towards the Bougainville Copper mine site, now lying derelict deep in the mountains. It is a visible scar on the landscape and within the hearts of the local guides and landowners we meet along the way. They all have tales to tell of the troubled times in paradise and the loss of land and fortune. The forthright Maggie wanted to know when the ‘big bloody hole’ was going to be filled in so that she could grow crops for her burgeoning family. This backdrop was the setting for the recently released movie ‘Mr Pip’. This tells the story of Mr Watts, the last Englishman remaining on the small island of Bougainville during the violent civil war, who took up the duties of teaching children influencing them by reading stories such as ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens. We enjoyed an excellent study tour of the mine site visiting the main pit, helping locals pan for gold, standing atop the massive tailings canal and the crusher plants. In its day the mine was the largest open cut copper mine in the world. Now it is a major scrap site where companies and countries bid for annual contracts to remove large amounts of metal which at least makes a contribution to the cash resources of the island. Bougainville people associate more with Solomon Islands people than Papua New Guinea, giving rise to a referendum being held in the next two years on whether to secede from Papua New Guinea or stay as an Autonomous Region. Watch this space for further developments on this.
Before returning to the ship we could not let the chance to visit a local food market go by. Abuzz with the frenzy of Friday shopping, we wandered the crammed stalls and walkways, filled to the brim with many items including course cut tobacco, dried fish and root vegetables. The top shelf was overflowing with tapioca, donuts and cream buns. We were lucky to find and be able to buy some of the famous ‘buka’ baskets and bags. These baskets with intricately woven two tone grass sheaths originated here in Bougainville, but due to the expansive employment tentacles created by the mine site in its early days of operation, this style of weaving can now be found duplicated throughout most of Melanesia. We have noticed that each landing brings with it a surprise of some sort and this was no exception. Later in the afternoon we returned to the landing site to discover three dance groups performing each to their own rhythm, melding rock’n’roll, country blues and roots with a dash of reggae. Each group was accompanied by its own musicians playing an assortment of instruments from bamboo flutes to large wooden trombones made from cylinders of wood topped with coconut sheets. Once the official dance procession finished the real dancing commenced with the locals enjoying every minute as if we were invisible. It was a truly amazing moment in time with the local dancers enjoying the activity more than visitors.
Day 11 –18 October 2014
Choiseul Island, Solomon Islands
6’42 S – 156’24 E
We were in for a special treat this morning as we joined our expedition team on a Zodiac journey into the mangrove canals of Choiseul Island along the Sui River. At each turn the undergrowth evolved - first we learned about the complexities of the mangroves and then experienced the dense rainforest as it spilled out over the low coral shoreline. After a short, slippery waterfall walk we continued our voyage and visited Poro Poro village. On entry some feared for their lives as young men dressed in warrior attire leapt from the undergrowth – flashes of cannibalism stories ran through our minds. Thankfully we did not need to worry as the fearsome yelling soon subsided into laughter at their antics – we were safe! Fresh banana, nali nut, pomelo and fresh coconut awaited our arrival. Once the official welcome was completed we were introduced to a Polynesian style welcome, treated to demonstrations of weaving and lapita style of non-kiln pottery firing. The human settlement of the Pacific in general, and the origin of the Polynesians in particular, have been topics of debate for over two centuries. Polynesian origins are most immediately traced to people who arrived in the Fiji, Tonga and Samoa region 3,000BP (before present) and are clearly associated with the Lapita Cultural Complex. Whilst it is believed that the Solomon Islands were inhabited approximately 29,000BP, the dispersal of Lapita pottery and other artifacts appear from the Reef/Santa Cruz group east of the Solomon chain.
The birders undertook morning and afternoon Zodiac cruises along the Sui River and recorded a number of interesting species. Cardinal Lories were wonderfully common and Eclectus Parrots were watched entering their nest holes. Several species of kingfisher were observed including the stunning Beach Kingfisher and the group enjoyed an excellent encounter with a displaying pair of Ultramarine Kingfishers. Afternoon snorkeling on the reef in front of Poro was slightly more turbid than what we had become accustomed to, and although the reef had less than perfect visibility, it certainly compensated for this by providing fantastic coral and fish life. Beautiful flowing stands of Nepthya soft corals, branching Porites, Pachyseris, and Goniopora made nice habitat for stunning Masked and Bicolour Angelfish. Our evening was filled with drinks in the Globe Bar followed by recap and dinner.
Day 12 - Solomon Islands 19 October 2014
Kolombangarra Island (Rinaggi Village),
8’07 S – 151’06 E
When telling friends of our intended expedition the reply would often be “why” and “where”? Well this morning we could say WOW! As we stepped onto the deck of the Spirit of Enderby, we were greeted by the highest point in the Solomon Islands chain, the extinct volcano of Kolombonagara. Mill pond waterways reflected this magnificent peak as we made our way to the landing spot. Once ashore we were welcomed by an impressive array of PVC assisted bamboo bands and even a full orchestra. Each was vying for our attention as they created magic by energetically hitting the top of the pipes with flip flops. Feet tapping and bodies wiggling, we bopped to the incredible sound created by this big band and accompanying choral singers. We left the musicians of Rinaggi Village behind and piled onto open air and canopy trucks. Perched on small wooden seats, we were transported through a sustainable commercial timber plantation to the top of the mountain. The conversation area of Kolombangara above 400m covers an area of over 20,000 hectares (200 sq km), which equates to approximately 28% of the island, making it the largest conservation area in the Solomon Islands. Both locals and the conservation group maintain wildlife corridors along with marine protection areas.
The birders spent the morning in the spectacular and well protected hill forests around Imburano Lodge. It was one of the best birding outings on the expedition and it seemed as if every tree was full of brilliant Cardinal Lories. Mixed species flocks had White-capped Monarchs, Crimson-rumped Myzomelas and Solomons White-eyes. From the lodge balcony we had the chance to observe Pale Mountain Pigeon, Solomons Cockatoos, Pied Goshawk and Song Parrot. Some of our group enjoyed the solitude of rainforest walks while others chose the more energetic option with Moshe and Conor as they slid, slipped and splashed down the path to the rapids below. Most returned refreshed, if a little flushed from the experience.
Snorkeling over a coral conservation area we later discovered clams, clown fish and beche de mer. The locals were doing some reef remediation by transplanting coral nubbins onto wire racks and they also did some fish feeding off the jetty which brought in parrotfish, sergeant majors and several snapper. The reef flat had many curious and bold pairs of pipefish, which were feeding over the Porites corals with their comical looking eyes, while sailor’s eyeball algae (Valonia) appeared to look back at us. The deeper areas of the reef looked as though they had been previously dynamite fished and the locals spoke of a tsunami that had also damaged the reef.
Late in the afternoon we went out in the Zodiacs to traverse the same area that the Japanese had retreated to after their defeat in Guadalcanal (in mid 1942). “Only 5 minutes around the corner” we were told by the locals. So some 25 minutes later we finally ventured ashore. Following in the footstep of the Japanese infantry we trudged the muddy trails through dense forest finally arriving at what was once a Japanese infantry hospital buried deep within the pumice stone. Those eager to see inside ventured through the ankle deep mud into the darkness. Quite the experience and one I am sure some will gloat about on their return. Close to this area on 2 August 1943, future US President JF Kennedy, then aged 26, and his 12 man crew were out in the Blackett Strait, east of Ghizo when a Japanese destroyer that was part of the so-called Tokyo Express rammed their boat. Many days passed as the surviving crew went undetected, presumed dead. They survived on each other’s determination and courage until coast watchers located them. Kennedy had carved an SOS on a coconut which locals delivered asking for a rescue boat.
Day 13 – 20 October 2014
Arnavon, Santa Isabel Island - Solomon Islands
7’27 S – 158’03 E
This morning we were privileged to visit the Arnavon Turtle Conservation Area on Santa Isabel Island. Keeping up with our tradition of visiting areas seldom seen by tourists or other cruising vessels, we were delighted to have the chance for an informative and interesting tour of the turtle conservation area. The island serves as a rookery, primarily for Hawksbill Turtles, but sometimes Green and Leatherback Turtles also venture into its waters. We were lucky to witness an adult female Green Turtle being tagged. The staff then released a nest of hatchling Hawksbill Turtles and we had the pleasure of watching the 107 hatchlings make their dash to the waters edge. Few before them would have experienced such a large group of fascinated paparazzi while they had their first contact with surf and frantically swam into the deep blue to begin their lives. We wished them good luck and hoped they would return here in 25 years. The birders spent some time checking out a flock of migrant waders that included about 8 species – most of which are not on the official island list. They included Beach Stone Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Terek Sandpipers. An Osprey was also seen carrying a fish to its huge stick nest. Rough seas put paid to our last snorkel stop so we settled in to watch a documentary depicting the first European contact in the 1930’s within the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Next it was time to finalise our onboard accounts and hear our final presentation entitled ‘Turning the Tide in the Pacific War’ before Adam encouraged us to come on deck to witness what he described as the largest flock of pelagic birds he had ever seen. Just off the port side of the Spirit of Enderby hundreds of Frigate Birds were circling the sky in regimental formation.
During the evening we gathered for our final recap and a briefing about the final day of our extraordinary expedition. As we watched the incredible presentation of over 200 photos depicting the essence of our time in Melanesia compiled by Aaron and the expedition team, we were left with a sense of awe of all we had accomplished travelling over 1,500 nautical miles and completing over 26 movements during our 14 days together. We toasted the expedition team and our fellow travellers with whom we would share a life-long bond. In the famous words of the American Anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” What we will take away from the amazing people we have met in Melanesia is the importance of a community taking the initiative to work together toward common goals.
Day 14 – 21 October 2014
Honiara, Solomon Islands
We anchored in the harbour off Honiara on the northern coast of Guadalcanal in the early morning. Honiara was a military base during World War II and is the capital of the Solomon Islands. The birders had an early start and headed to the rain-forested slopes of Mount Austen in search of some of the Solomon Islands’ most spectacular birds, including the Solomon Sea Eagle. The area around Honiara witnessed many major naval battles which some would say was the starting point of turning the tide on the Japanese invasion within the Pacific War. Today some of our group enjoyed the opportunity to tour Honiara, visiting WWII historical sites including Henderson Airfield, war memorials and the open-air war museum. Others transferred to the local hotel to begin their homeward journey while some returned to the ship to continue on the ‘Secrets of Melanesia’ journey through the Solomon Islands to Vanuatu.
Voyage Log compiled by: Suzanne Noakes with assistance from Adam Walleyn & Conor Jones
The expedition team and passengers for the Spirit of Enderby arrived in Madang via Port Moresby over two days and met to share their experiences of reaching this remote part of the world over dinner at the Madang Resort. Early on 12 October our adventure began in earnest. The bird watchers left the resort at 5am in search of PNG’s iconic Birds of Paradise. Their expedition included walking across the slippery forest floor in the dark, after waking the villagers who were to guide them. Their excursion took in a demonstration from the villagers on the correct way to chew betel nuts for the best effect.
The rest of the group opted for a tour around Madang that included a cultural performance at Hobe village. The elders spoke of their traditions and the villagers performed a dance wearing crimson and gold clothing dyed using ancient techniques, and head-dresses adorned with feathers from Birds of Paradise. The dancers were accompanied by drummers as young as four who had already mastered the many complex and compelling rhythms. The butterflies, orchids and birdlife added to the vibrancy and grace of the dancers. The group also visited a lighthouse that had been erected in commemoration of the PNG Coast Watch whose efforts assisted the allies during WW2. Later the group visited the Madang Museum which houses a collection of artefacts and local crafts. What struck many of us on this first day was the beauty and friendliness of the children in particular.
Being a Saturday, the Madang market was very busy with many shoppers and traders, many of whom had travelled long distances to be there, even from other islands. The market sells a huge variety of fruits and vegetables as well as brightly coloured clothing, woven baskets and shopping bags cleverly designed from recycled packaging. It’s a good place to pick up locally made souvenirs.
Everyone gathered on the Spirit of Enderby at 3pm when the expedition team introduced themselves and it became clear that we are in safe and expert hands. The team is truly talented and skilled and it will be a pleasure to spend the next two weeks with them. We set sail just after 4pm and after the pilot departed we had lifeboat drill. This was a first for many of us and we were amazed and amused by the sardine-like conditions in the lifeboats. There was no choice but to cosy up close to our fellow travelers, so it was a good icebreaker. Our expedition leader, Aaron Russ, also provided advice and instructions on the best way to get in and out of a Zodiac.
Later we all met in the bar/library for pre-dinner drinks and nibbles, another good opportunity to talk to staff and fellow travellers. The ship’s dining room was transformed for the evening meal and we were treated to a delicious three-course meal served to us by our charming Russian waitresses. It’s an early start tomorrow as we begin our exploration of the Sepik River.
The second day of the expedition was devoted to exploring the Sepik River, the largest in PNG. It was our first Zodiac outing on Heritage Expedition’s inaugural Melanesia Discoverer. A large sand bar at the river mouth made us decide to enter the system through a tributary river where we visited the settlement of Watam. Alex, our Cultural Adviser and Expedition Leader, Aaron had visited the village elders earlier in the morning to ensure our visit could go ahead. Nothing could have prepared us for the wonderful welcome we received. As we approached the village, children ran and waved to us from the shore. A boat full of dancers, drummers and singers – all in ceremonial dress – made its way towards our fleet of Zodiacs and led us towards the village. One of the villagers named Donnie, whose English was perfect, explained that we were to wait on the shore until the performers led us to a surprise. This turned out to be the most magnificent undulating dragon inhabited by several male dancers and led by a group of village elders. We followed the dragon into the village and continued to watch the spectacle especially performed for us. As it was a Sunday, the villagers would normally be attending church, but church today had been postponed in honour of our visit.
Aaron explained later that the dragon is an unusual symbol in PNG culture. In Watam mythology the dragon is the off-spring of a dolphin and a snake, symbolising the peoples' unique place between the forest, river and sea. Our welcome was very warm and moving, and some of us were even adopted by groups of beautiful, beguiling children who took our hands and looked after us. There was an opportunity to buy artefacts from the village craftspeople. Although the people live a traditional life it was good to be able support them in this way so they can buy essentials such as fuel for the boats they use to go to and from market. A number of us joined Heritage’s bird expert, Adam Walleyn, on a walk around the shore where we were accompanied by an ever-increasing group of Watam’s solicitous children.
The return to our mother ship for lunch was unexpectedly challenging due a change in the sea conditions which made the going fairly choppy. It felt rather like being on the back of a very old truck moving along a deeply rutted road – exhilarating and a lot of fun – but our bottoms may never recover. After lunch many of us enjoyed a siesta in preparation for our next foray into the Sepik to look for wildlife. Among the birds we spotted were a Hornbill, the magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle and a Brahminy Kite. We were also invited to see some small crocodiles which had been captured by a local who had them in a pen to be fattened for sale. We continued up the river by Zodiac making regular diversions into small pockets of mangroves surrounded by forest.
We returned to the ship as the sun was setting. A large volcano on the horizon was sending out a long plume of smoke across a mauve sky. It was a truly sublime sight and the perfect end to a wonderful day as we enjoyed the increasingly warm atmosphere generated as people get to know each other.
The morning was spent exploring the Sepik River proper after the ship was able to lay anchor near the river mouth. The bird watchers set off before dawn and the Zodiacs departed at 6.30am with the promise of a second breakfast on our return. The highlights for the bird watchers were a wide variety of pigeons and parrots, including the Fig Parrot. Other species spotted included the Dwarf Fruit Dove, the Rufus-bellied Kookaburra, the Whiskered Tern and the White-bellied Sea Eagle.
The main group of Zodiacs entered a narrow channel near Kopar Village where we stopped to collect our river guides. After our tour it was great to see the villagers go about their normal day to day tasks and make the most of another opportunity to purchase some beautifully carved artefacts. One of the villagers proudly showed off his tamed sea eagle, a magnificent bird whose wing span can reach up to two metres.
The ship departed around 10.30am for Manus Island. During this voyage there was time to rest and research in the ship’s well-stocked library. Some of the passengers on deck spotted flying fish. Adam Walleyn delivered a fascinating lecture on the Cetaceans (dolphins and whales) of Melanesia during which the difference between whales and dolphins was revealed. Adam told us that one of the best spots to see these marine mammals is the Bougainville Trench, which drops to a staggering 8,000m. Like much of the wildlife here, the best time for spotting is at the beginning and end of the day. Adam’s lecture provided definitions and images of the cetaceans we are most likely to see during the voyage.
Later in the day Aaron gave a snorkelling briefing in preparation for tomorrow where we expect to be able to snorkel around Bipi Island near Manus. To our knowledge, the Spirit of Enderby will be the first expedition vessel to visit Bipi, where the islanders will welcome us with a ‘sing-sing’.
All the snorkelling equipment is available on the ship including flotation devices for the novices. It will be a relaxed experience and we expect to spend at least an hour enjoying water temperatures of 28 degrees. As these are largely uncharted waters, the Captain has chosen to approach Bipi in the daylight. Aaron said that as no guide books have been written on snorkelling in this part of the world, this really is wilderness snorkelling and he will be setting out very early tomorrow to identify a good spot for us. Day Three ended with another delicious meal conjured up by Bruce and the galley staff, starting with fresh crab bisque.
In the early morning the Spirit of Enderby laid anchor just off Bipi Island where we were greeted by a flotilla of small decorated dug-outs and banana boats carrying dancers and drummers. Bipi, just off Manus Island and is seldom visited by outsiders. In fact ours was the first tourist ship ever to have visited. We boarded the Zodiacs and made our way towards the island where we were treated to a wonderful welcome. The people were incredibly warm and friendly and gave us a spectacular dancing and singing performance. The island's councillor provided us with a background to his people’s culture and explained the challenges of being so isolated. After the welcoming ceremony we wandered through the village and had plenty of time to talk to the locals who generously shared their knowledge and experience of life on Bipi. We were also able to visit the school and Church. This was a truly authentic cultural experience with the people living in the northern-most tip of Papua New Guinea.
The kayaks had their first outing today and were a source of great amusement to the children on Bipi who were fascinated by these strange fluoro dug-outs. It took some coaxing to get them out of the kayaks when it was time to leave.
Kayaking Guide Judd Hill reports: “Morning at Bipi Island. No wind and sunny. Some large swell on the northern end of the reef. We circumnavigated Bipi Island clockwise both inside and outside reef. The water was very clear and some nice coral. Many kids climbed on the kayaks hitching a ride. Had a stop at the start to see sing-sing and a stop at the end for a snorkel. 5 kayakers, 10.6km”
After returning to the ship we prepared to snorkel from a site Aaron had identified earlier in the morning. After an hour exploring the coral reef in the bath warm waters we returned to the ship for lunch. Later in the afternoon Mark Ziembicki, a conservation biologist with Heritage Expeditions, gave us an introduction to the natural and cultural history of Melanesia. Mark reminded us that the region we are exploring is an exciting place for biologists to explore. His talk focused on the extraordinary diversity in the region and we are looking forward to his next lecture on conservation ecology in Papua New Guinea. After our Bipi experience we set sail for Mussau Island far to the north of New Ireland and just 90 miles south of the equator. As there are no soundings in the area around Mussau, the Captain will approach cautiously and take care to find a suitable place to anchor.
We awoke in unchartered waters off the Bismarck Archipelago where soundings have not previously been taken. For this reason the Captain decided that with a depth of 300m the ship would not lay anchor so we drifted throughout the day. This was to be the furthest point north we would sail during the expedition.
Our first excursion of the day was by Zodiac to a tiny island just off Mussau. Mussau is a matrilineal society and we were graciously invited onto the beach by the island’s ‘mother’, Margaret. We were the first tourists to visit this particular island and were presented with leis upon arrival. A small choir (accompanied by an electric organ and bass guitarist!) sang songs in English about the island’s beauty. One of the local men explained how Mussau culture has been transformed by Seventh Day Adventism and few of the island’s pre-Christian beliefs remain. He did however show us one of the stones that had been revered in the past as a sacred talisman. The welcome to Mussau had none of the exuberance of our experience at Bipi yesterday, but it was gentle and charming in its own way.
Our Mussau stop was another opportunity for kayaking in perfect conditions. The usual guidebook clichés of clear sparkling turquoise waters cannot do justice to the colours of the sea in this region. It was only a short hop in the Zodiacs for the rest of us to land on the main Mussau Island where we set out on a well marked track to see the rainforest from higher up. In terms of temperature, if you imagine a furnace in a greenhouse and then add a few degrees you will have a good appreciation of the conditions – we were very close to the equator after all! Relief from the heat came in the form of a swimming hole below a waterfall in which we all cooled off. There were no crocodiles but there were some rather large eels. One of the local kids who had tagged along with us demonstrated how to chase them away by slapping the water.
Kayaking Guide report: “Morning at Mussau Island south coast. Flat calm and sunny conditions. We paddled from ship to a small island for a welcome, then headed NW to a larger island and paddled up its west coast. Some beautiful islets off the northern end and an awesome lagoon on the western side. We had a brief stop on another small island. Had an interesting local (drunk) guy following in a canoe. Eight turtles seen in the water. Great paddle. 5 kayakers, 13.6km. Afternoon at Mussau Island (same anchorage). Conditions still calm but overcast sky with some squalls coming through. We paddled to a small island for a snorkel then across to Eloaua Island to have a look at the village there. Very nice village and people. 4 Kayakers, 10.2km”
We were lucky to have as a fellow passenger Moshe Agami who is a botanist and expert on tropical flora. Moshe, a former Director of the Tel Aviv Botanical Gardens, identified many of the unique plants we encountered on our walk. After lunch there was time for some more snorkelling when we saw some giant clams (measuring around 60cm in diameter), large numbers of fish, spectacularly shaped corals and a type of reef shark called a Tasselled Wobbegong. The kayakers meanwhile had circumnavigated the smaller island accompanied by a group of locals in dugouts. They had visited a beautiful crescent-shaped bay full of fish where they also saw turtles and then visited a pretty village with houses built on stilts above the water. Meanwhile those less inclined to water sports enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on a pristine white-sand beach.
Bird watchers who were marking off their Heritage Expeditions species lists were today able to tick off the Blue-faced Parrotfinch, the endemic Mussau Monarch (a “lifer” for Heritage’s bird expert, Adam), the large white Collard Kingfisher and the heavily hunted and elusive Yellow-Bibbed Fruit Dove. The birders also saw the large butterflies known as Bird-winged Swallow Tails. We departed in the late afternoon for Kavieng, the capital New Ireland.
We anchored in Kavieng Harbour around 7am and after breakfast and delayed customs clearance we travelled by Zodiac and kayak to the Nusa Island Retreat, a resort on the tiny island of Nusa. In the shade of the retreat’s courtyard we were treated to a sing-sing, beginning with a flotilla of singers, followed by several performing groups including five dancers in grotesque masks. (We were later to learn more about the meaning of the masks and the animal-like movements of the dancers.) The locals seemed to enjoy the performance as much as we did and a big crowd turned out. The costumes for each performance grew ever more spectacular and in the last one the dancers wore springy headdresses that on closer inspection were topped with a model of an outrigger. There was some interesting local art on sale at the retreat, including pretty jewellery, masks and other items intricately carved from wood.
From Nusa we had a few options on how to spend the rest of the morning. There was a walk to a memorial to the local people who lost their lives in WW2 on the neighbouring island of Nusalomon or free time to explore Kavieng. While it lacks the charm of the outlying islands, Kavieng is a useful place to change money and send postcards. As it has an airport, the town is an important centre in this remote part of Papua New Guinea.
In the afternoon, the snorkelers snorkelled and the swimmers swam in clear warm water from a tiny uninhabited island close to the ship. One of the group ventured into the island's vegetation and got a photo of a large bright yellow spider (yet to be formally identified!).
Many reported that the snorkelling here is the best they have experienced with great visibility and benign currents. Among the myriad of fish they saw in the reefs were several big fat Groper, Puffer Fish, Blue Starfish and Butterfly Cod or Lionfish. They commented that the conditions are getting even better as the trip progresses. Bird watchers in the meantime, who had had a very early start at 3.15am in the midst of a lightning storm, reported a very successful day. Their day’s highlights included the Paradise Drongo; the White-backed Woodswallow; Forbes’s and Huntstein’s Mannikins; the Bismarck White-eye; and the undescribed Bismarck Flyrobin. After dinner we listened to a lecture from botanist, Moshe Agami, on why the plant-life in the tropics is so unique.
Kayaking Guide Report: “Morning at Kavieng. Conditions were sunny with 1.5m swell and 5 knots of wind. We paddled to Nusa Resort for a sing sing then through the channel between Nusa and Nusalik Islands, over the reef and around the west and north sides of Nusa Island. Returned to ship via town side of harbour. Nice blowhole on NW side of Nusa Island. 5 kayakers, 9.8km”
Our itinerary took us today to Rabaul in New Britain. We landed by Zodiac at Kokopo, the new capital after the town of Rabaul was virtually destroyed after Tavurur erupted in 1994. We were collected by two vans, which took us for a closer look at the volcanoes and to visit relics of the Japanese occupation of that part of the Pacific. We prepared for a hot drive when our guide Robert warned us the air-conditioning was “em buggid up” – pidgin for faulty.
This was the most developed of the places we had visited. The roads were on the whole good, as was much of the housing. We passed the first hospital and high schools we have seen since setting off. On the way to the former Japanese base we saw several tunnels and other infrastructure that the Japanese built using the local people as forced labour. Here we met a local landowner, an elderly gentleman called George Tamon. He showed us that his toe had been shot off by a Japanese soldier during the occupation. He would only have been about 10 at the time.
From there we drove to the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory for a perfect view of the caldera and surrounding volcanoes, one of which was smoking. The harbour was the scene of an air and sea battle between Japanese and Australian forces in which the Japanese were defeated. From there we visited the bunker where Yamamoto, the commander behind the bombing of Pearl Harbour, hid after this defeat. His plane was later shot down in Honiara as he was trying to escape. The bunker and a museum next door are in the part of old Rabaul destroyed by the eruption and a lot of effort has gone into restoring the site. On the way back we visited an enormous tunnel where the Japanese hid five large barges which are there to this day. In an ironic twist, the tunnels are now occupied by thousands of swifts who use them as nesting sites.
Along with other interesting vegetation, botanist Moshe pointed out a type of tropical mimosa (known to Australians as ‘sensitive weed’) that has the extraordinary ability to turn its leaves into a stalk when brushed against to deter hungry herbivores.
After lunch (yes this all happened before lunch!), the ship sailed a short distance towards Duke of York Island. The kayakers circumnavigated the island while two groups of snorkelers explored the reefs. Conditions were beautiful and the snorkelers reported seeing the Crown of Thorns starfish and Spider Crayfish as well as a myriad of stunning tropical fish. The highlight for bird watchers today was seeing the Beach Stone Curlew. At the end of the day, we watched the sun set behind the three main volcanoes of Rabaul. The bright orange sky filtered through grey plumes of smoke was an irresistible photo opportunity. Later in the evening Adam delivered a lecture on how to identify fish of the coral reef.
Kayaking Guide Report: “Afternoon at Duke of York Islands. 10 knots of wind with overcast and sunny skies. Some wind chop. We paddled to the northern shore of Ulu Island and followed the coastline east as far as Ruruan Island (which we circumnavigated) and then returned to shore the same route. Very nice coastline and beaches. One stop for a snorkel on the north coast of Ulu Island. Returned to ship in the dark. 4 kayakers, 10.1km”
Today we visited the island of Nissan, part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville with a population of 7,000. We were met on the beach by elders who sprinkled us with water in a ceremony similar to that at Bipi. The sprinkling of water is a custom that symbolises removing the sea sprits from a person before coming onto the land. We were then presented with a pendant of fragrant herbs and leaves before setting off on a walk. Nissan is the first true atoll we have visited on the expedition and has an unusually deep 60m lagoon. Our guides, George and Henry, were mines of information and very patiently and graciously answered our many questions about life on Nissan, as well as its history and traditions. We walked through the school grounds and on to the medical centre, passing the longest airstrip in the Southern Hemisphere (3000m) constructed by Kiwis in WW2 for the US air force, although it is no longer in use. Nissan was bombed during the war and there are still several unexploded bombs on the island which cannot be defused because their mechanisms have rusted away. We were told that the local children collect bullets to use as sinkers when they go fishing!
One of the Australian passengers, John Rennie, had an unexpected reunion with several old colleagues from their days working together in the Panguna Copper Mine in Arawa. Although the island has a clinic we were told that a doctor visits only quarterly and while there are some community health workers, there are no formally trained nurses. In a medical emergency patients are taken to Buka, which is seven hours away by boat. The islanders hope that there will be a flying doctor or helicopter service one day. They have already successfully lobbied central government for free education and boarding facilities for children attending Nissan’s junior high school.
The kayakers paddled over 30km today along the lagoon’s beautiful coastline with hanging coral cliffs and trees providing shade and shelter. They ventured into an estuary at one point, but as it looked suspiciously like crocodile territory, they decided to reverse. They found a particularly lovely beach for lunch where they were joined by a family who live on the beach.
Kayaking Guide Report: “Nissan Island. Sunny skies and a light breeze greeted us in the morning and stayed that way all day. We paddled from the ship adrift through the middle channel into the lagoon of the atoll. Had a stop at the high school on the eastern side then followed the inner coastline to the south. Had a beautiful lunch with some locals and paddled back outside the atoll through South Channel and had a snorkel stop. Awesome paddle and day on the water. 4 kayakers, 30.2km”
The bird watchers had another successful day, reporting that their walk through a beautiful high canopied forest was the best of the trip so far. The bird list included: the Melanesian Megapode; the seldom seen Atoll Starling; the Louisade White-eye; the Island Monarch; and lots of Island Imperial Pigeons. They also saw one Nicoban Pigeon fly by and hoped to see more, but as they are a food source for the islanders they are difficult to find. Other species seen today were the Metallic Starling, the Wedge-tailed Shearwater and the Red-footed Booby.
In the afternoon, those not birding or kayaking had the option of snorkelling or spending time on the beach. The swimmers were joined by a large group of children who were as interested in us as we were of them. Snorkelers reported that while it was a challenging site it was well worth the effort. They were able to see into the lagoon’s deep ravines and encountered several types of coral they had not seen before. During the evening Sue gave a talk about travelling through Melanesia on her yacht.
We had an early wakeup call on this our last morning in Papua New Guinea to prepare for landing at Arawa, situated about two thirds down the east coast of Bougainville. The morning could hardly have been more beautiful as we sailed towards Arawa at day break. The full moon was still shining on the ocean and the colour of the sky was an almost indescribable pink/mauve blending into duck-egg blue. The terrain in this area is mountainous and covered in lush tropical forest. Bagani, Bougainville’s active volcano, was clearly visible and emitting clouds of steam, smoke and ash. We were accompanied by two pods of dolphins as we approached.
After landing we met with our drivers and guides and began the steep windy climb to the abandoned Panguna mine, which was the world’s largest copper mine until it was abandoned in 1991. The mine was opened by Rio Tinto trading as Bougainville Copper Limited in 1972. It closed in 1989 due to a conflict that escalated into a bitter civil war that was to last 10 years and cost the lives of thousands of people. During this time the PNG government blockaded Bougainville and the people there did not have contact with the outside world until 1994. Those events have been fictionalised in Mr Pip, a novel by Lloyd Jones, and a film adaptation was released recently. The people still living near the mine make a small living panning for gold to buy staples since the mining operation contaminated their traditional food sources. Many of us felt privileged to be allowed to visit the site and to hear first hand from our drivers and guides the devastating effect of the mine and ensuing war. On our way back we stopped for a short walk into the forest where we marvelled at the plant life and enormous butterflies. We collected the bird watchers whose highlights today included: the Imperial Pigeon; a family of Damsel-flies; the Meyers Gosshawk; the White-winged Fantail; the Yellow-throated White-eye; the Red-capped Myzomela; the Island and Solomons Monarchs; and “bird of the day”, the Bougainville Monarch.
When we returned to Arawa, a group of singers, dancers and musicians led us towards the newly opened Mr Pip Library and performed for us there. Again, this was a great honour, especially as we are the first tourists to be welcomed for many years. The music was quite unlike any other we have heard so far. The men played huge pan flutes and percussion instruments also made of bamboo, while the women wore beautiful garlands. The performance was followed by speeches and we were then able to buy local handicrafts including intricately patterned basket ware. We returned to the ship and after a late lunch could either go kayaking, snorkelling or swimming. After circumnavigating the small nearby island of Takanupei, the kayakers joined the snorkelers who reported seeing many fish at the reef drop-off.
The day ended with another stunning meal from our very own Master Chef, Bruce. We also celebrated the 19th birthday of Sous Chef, Paul Richter. Happy birthday Paul!
Kayaking Guide Report: “Afternoon at Arawa, Bougainville Island. Short paddle due to time issues. Overcast with a light breeze and ground swell. We circumnavigated a small island to the north of Arawa clockwise and crossed the outer reef. Had one stop for a snorkel. Nice but short. 5 kayakers, 4.9km.”
Our first stop in the Solomon Islands was near the northern tip of the island of Choiseul just 65 miles from Arawa. We began our day with a Zodiac trip up an estuarine channel through a dense forest of towering mangroves to visit a local conservation initiative. The vegetation changed the further we travelled and the bird life along the channel was prolific. The conservation area was created with help from the US-based NGO Nature Conservancy, which funds a Choiseul conservationist, Jimmy, to work with local volunteers to protect their forest and waterways. We felt privileged to be the first outsiders to walk the track they had cut leading to a waterfall that supplies the village of Poroporo with safe drinking water.
We left a party of bird watchers and nature lovers in the forest and took the Zodiacs to the village where we were met at the jetty by a group of ferocious-looking warriors. Once we disembarked they led us to a communal hall where we were formally welcomed by Chief Ezra Poqetauga. After exchanging gifts the village women treated us to a sing-sing, including a custom dance that depicts turtle hunting. Their graceful movements and beautiful harmonies could not have been in stronger contrast to the young warriors we met earlier! The village women also showed us their weaving technique, an ingenious mix of crochet, French knitting and lace making, using fibre made from tree bark. They also showed us their unusual method for making and firing cooking pots. We were told that Choiseul is one of the few places in Melanesia where this tradition has survived.
The kayakers who had reached the village first had been met with an even fiercer greeting, much to the amusement of the kids. They were also shown how to light a fire from sticks and scamper up a palm to gather coconuts. Their new-found knowledge remains theoretical however as practical application was unsuccessful.
Kayaking Guide Report: “Morning at Choisul Bay, Solomon Islands. Flat calm, hot and sunny. We paddled from the ship to Sipozae Island then crossed to Parama Island, then to the east side of Kondakanimboko Island and up a small channel to the village of Poroporo. We had a lovely stop there then returned to the ship via a channel in the outer reef and the west side of Sipozae Island. 5 kayakers, 14.6km.”
Chief Ezra gave us all freedom to explore the village. We were shown around by happy children who had the day off school in honour of our visit. While most of us were being given a tour of the village, some of the men braved the heat and took on the locals in a game of football. Our visit to Poroporo was an interesting and heart-warming experience which came to an end when we were waved off by a large group of beautiful children.
In the afternoon the snorkelers experienced excellent conditions in a reef protected by the Poroporo conservation initiative. The bird watchers also reported a successful day spotting, amongst other species, the Ducorp’s Cockatoo, the Cardinal Lorikeet, the Ultramarine Kingfisher, the White-billed Crow, the Little Kingfisher and the White-eyed Starling. The kayakers took the opportunity to travel up the channel by Zodiac later in the day and really enjoyed the magical light of the afternoon when the bird life was particularly vocal.
The birders were up early to get into the hills of the Imbu Rano Conservation Area in Kolombangara (near New Georgia) to make the most of their morning. The beautiful forest has huge trees and many interesting ferns and palms on its steep slopes. Underfoot the trail was spongy with a deep build up of leaf litter. Highlights today included: 200 Cardinal Lorikeets as well as brief views of the Duchess and Meek’s Lorikeets; the Kolombangara and White-capped Monarchs; and the Crimson-rumped Myzomela, all of which are endemic to the Solomon Islands. Other endemic species spotted included the Solomon’s Cockatoo, the magnificent Solomon’s Sea Eagle. The call of the Buff-headed Coucal was heard although the bird remained hidden from view. Non-endemic species included Finsch’s Pygmy Parrot, the Pale Mountain Pigeon and the Moustached Treeswift.
After landing by Zodiac in the village of Ringgi, the rest of us journeyed to the Imbu Rano Conservation Area on the back of 3-tonne trucks. We learnt that Kolombangara’s elders decided there would be no further logging from the indigenous forests from 400m above sea level, including both common and custom land. Below 400m a sustainable forestry industry of exotic timbers has been established growing mainly teak and eucalyptus.
The gateway to the reserve was set up by the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association (KIBCA for short). From the deck of the lodge we had an uninterrupted view of the enormous forested crater of Kolombangara (an extinct volcano after which the island is named). From there we were taken by guides on walks through the dense forest; one was a very steep descent to a stream and waterfall and the other was along a ridge to a moss-lined grotto.
In the meantime the kayakers set out on a quest to locate a Japanese fighter plane shot down in WW2. They didn’t find it but had a great time trying along with their leader, Kayakmeister Judd Hill. Later a group of snorkelers visited a reef that is being restored by a local man after a tsunami hit the island in 2007. While the reef still showed signs of damage they saw a wide variety of fish there including the bizarre Trumpet fish, a Puffer fish with (courageous) cleaner wrasse attached to it, the Nudibracht, and a Pipefish laden with eggs which are incubated by the male fish.
In the afternoon, a group set out on trucks (the preferred form of transport on Kolombangara) to the airstrip and on the way back joined in a celebration for Women’s Day. They encountered a percussion band with instruments made from drainpipes and beaten with a jandal-shaped instrument. Some of our more talented dancers joined in the fun, including the ship’s doctor, Konrad Richter, who performed a very entertaining version of the Chicken Dance. The ship anchored off Kolombangara for the night before setting off for the uninhabited island of Kerehikapa in the Arnavon Island (Santa Isabel Province).
Kayaking Guide Report: “Morning at Arnavon Islands. Conditions flat calm, sunny and hot. We paddled from the ship to Kerehikapa Island to see Hawksbill turtle station. Stopped to see the turtles hatching. Then we paddled anti-clockwise around Kerehikapa Island and stopped on a small island of the southern coast for a snorkel. 4 kayakers, 14.8km. Voyage total of 11 paddles for 145.3km.”
We spent the morning of our second to last day on the expedition at the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area Project on Kerehikapa. The project was set up in 1995 to protect the endangered Hawksbill Turtle. This is true community-based conservation shared amongst the people of the Arnavon Islands, which comprise Katupika, Wagina and Kia, and funded by the provincial governments and Nature Conservancy. Kerehikapa is uninhabited apart from the three conservation officers who oversee the project and a handful of volunteers.
On arrival the officers gave us a rundown of their work. We were then led to nesting sites and witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime experience when Moses (midwife to the Hawksbill) burrowed into two of the nesting sites bringing dozens of tiny Hawksbills to the surface. We were very fortunate to arrive on a day when the eggs had hatched and we aided the hatchlings on their first journey by making a shallow channel to the sea. They must now be the most photographed babies in Melanesia!
While there we met Ken Lewis, a New Zealander working for VSA and Nature Conservancy. As part of his role in communications he took several photos of the event, so if you visit the Nature Conservancy website you may see a photo of some of our group. You can help with the project by donating through the website.
The birdwatchers also had an interesting time at Kerehikapa finding a Megapode nest under a large rotting tree trunk. They also heard them, and spotted an adult flying and a young Megapode perched in a tree. Other highlights included sighting the Eastern Osprey and the Pacific Reef Heron.
We returned to the ship to collect snorkelling equipment and bathing suits and went to a tiny island with a white sand beach. The snorkelers reported seeing several species of fish and coral, the rare Yellow Trumpet fish, giant clams and a black tip reef shark. Earlier the kayakers had seen two adult Hawksbills, half a dozen reef sharks and the nest of a Solomon’s Eagle with a chick.
The afternoon was spent on the ship where Mark delivered a lecture on community-based conservation in Melanesia. Later Aaron gathered us together in the lecture room where we watched a great slide show of photos taken by the expedition staff and edited by Meghan. We finished the evening with a superb buffet dinner. As Aaron said in his farewell speech, the trip showed what an incredibly diverse place Melanesia is. No two islands, villages, cultures and peoples are the same – let alone the flora and fauna – and we have all come away with a greater understanding of this amazing part of the world.
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" The Melanesia voyage this year was a delight. Much better, and I don't mean that in a bad way at all, than I expected. I'd been on a couple of the sister ships and couldn't picture them in the tropics, but the SOE did great. The truly expert expedition team made a huge difference to the voyage; Suzanne, Adam, Conor, Nathan, and Aaron, plus Megan. The itinerary was well crafted and time maximized. The food was excellent...... "
" Thank you so much! This trip opened up a different world for me. I was so impressed with your staff and your entire organization. I am recommending your tours to all my friends. My friend has been in touch with you regarding the Jewel of the Russian Far East trip. Love the unique and off the beaten path. "
" What a fantastic trip! Not only did we get to five islands way off the beaten track, never before visited by a commercial expedition boat, but the friendliness and welcome, culture, activities, birds and freedom to roam made every stop unforgettable. And the hospitality on board was superb, meeting new friends - even getting to suggest special dishes. Looking forward to travelling with you again. "
" "I found the whole experience most exhilarating. I learnt a lot - met very interesting people - had great food and was well taken care of by everyone. Thank you ever so much". "