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 - this ocean aquarium is waiting to be discovered.
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 programme. 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 $500 pp
(All prices are per person 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 recently updated combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room (March 2018). 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.
Classification: Russian register KM ice class
Year built: 1984
Accommodation: 50 berths expedition
Main engines: power 2x1560 bhp (2x 1147 Kw)
Maximum speed: 12 knots (2 engines),
Cruising speed: 10 knots(one engine)
Bunker capacity: 320 tons
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
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" What an amazing trip! We visited remote communities that had rarely and in some cases never had visitors before. The welcomes were amazing and it was real privilege being able to be part of such an experience. This was our 2nd trip with Heritage and it exceeded expectations. They are a true expedition company with great leaders and guides - we have no hesitation in recommending them. "
" 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...... "