Karen Bass recently embarked on a voyage with us to Papua New Guinea. Learn more about her encounters with some of the most extraordinary cultures and villages on these remote and isolated islands of the South Pacific. Pictures taken by Neil Nightingale.
We all dream of visiting magical locations. Few are as special as Warakalap, a remote beach in Jacquinot Bay, on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. After a lively landing through the waves in our zodiac boats, we found ourselves on a pristine shore. The brilliant white of a coral beach separated the bright blue of the sea from a riot of tangled green jungle inland, from where a waterfall plunged into a clear, swift flowing stream.
In this beautiful location we were treated to a dramatic sing sing by the local Pomio people. The performers were covered fully from head to foot in costumes of thick vegetation, topped with colourful woven caps, representing magical creatures called Tumbuan, who traditionally emerge from the forest only on special occasions. Spinning round and round for minutes on end, their long greenery flung out in flowing patterns, the costumes took on a life of their own, with barely a hint of any human inside. Indeed, apart from the singers and drummer that accompanied the dancers, and a handful of outrigger canoes pulled up on the beach, there was no sign of human influence as far as we could see along the coast.
We were on a voyage with Heritage Expeditions, aboard the Spirit of Enderby, to some of the most remote islands and coastal locations of Papua New Guinea, on the edge of the South Pacific. In a world where so many places are becoming increasingly crowded with tourists, these must be some of the least visited locations on earth. At some landing sites we were only the second expedition to ever visit and one village had never seen foreign tourists at all. Nearly everywhere we went, most of the population would turn out to greet us with great enthusiasm, because we were as novel to them as they and their fascinating cultures were to us.
On every island we landed, the villagers put on spectacular traditional performances, sometimes several, and each one different from those we’d seen before. We were experiencing in a very personal way the fact that New Guinea has a greater diversity of human cultures than almost anywhere else in the world. Yet despite their exotic traditions and extreme isolation, many islanders spoke some English, a legacy of the region’s colonial history and some dedicated teachers in their schools. So, we were able to chat and learn in more detail about their lives, so very different from our own.
The mixture of such friendly people with their colourful local cultures and performances; living in traditional villages, amidst lush green jungles inhabited by birds of paradise; with colourful coral reefs just offshore; all set amongst dramatically rugged scenery, often with volcanoes rising directly out of the sea, made this expedition cruise as exotic, adventurous and emotionally rewarding as they come. There are so few places on earth that remain quite so isolated from outsiders, not many of us will have the pleasure and reward of such an exploratory voyage. Expedition cruising with Heritage must be one of the only ways to experience a unique odyssey like this, to such remote and remarkable locations.
© Neil Nightingale