Cruise into Papua New Guinea paradise
PRISTINE beaches where tropical growth meets white sand and turquoise waters abound with colourful fish in subterranean coral gardens sounds like the dream destination. But such idylls are usually overdeveloped or overrun by tourists.
Not so in Papua New Guinea, where remote islands are untouched by the 21st century.
Now that P&O Cruises has pioneered PNG's local waters we can enter this utopia previously denied to all but valiant adventurers.
We can now get to remote islands in comfort, interact with locals, and for just one day at each stop, experience a glorious glimpse into an ancient culture where age-old traditions are upheld.
P&O's Pacific Eden made her inaugural PNG visit last month from Cairns and will be based in that city until November and then again next year from August through November.
It takes just one day of sailing from Cairns to reach another world where social and cultural structures reveal a timeless existence and where the needs of the people run mostly to ownership of a few pigs and chickens, and where singing is the answer to all ills.
Being there is a simultaneously uplifting and humbling experience.
At our first port, Alotou, the capital of PNG's Milne Bay province, the dancers were there to greet us, their feathered headgear waving to their stomps, their fierce bone-nose adornments at odds with their beetle nut-stained smiles.
Next stop, Kitava, where the locals had come down from the hills and out of surrounding villages to display their hand-crafted products on the white sand. It seemed horribly wrong to pay so little for an exquisitely carved wooden bowl inlaid with shell. It must have taken days, even weeks to craft but the old man selling it asked for just 20 kina (about $12).
The children had obviously been given the day off school for Pacific Eden's arrival and were dressed in grass-mat skirts and skimpy loin cloths and adorned with feathers, beads and bits of nature's bling.
A group of exuberant boys danced, banging bamboo poles to the beat of a drum, their choreography rhythmical, perfect. They giggled and laughed as they danced, making the world seem a more innocent place.
At our next island, Kiriwina - where women enjoy higher status than men and pigs are an indicator of wealth - it was the teenage girls from the nearby school who danced for us, their colourful skirts and feathers swaying with their dainty movements. At all the islands, the snorkelling was some of the best in the world and right off the beach, or further out by canoe where one of dozens of enthusiastic boys offered to paddle us out for a few kina.
After reluctant farewells at each island, it was a joy to return to Pacific Eden where colourful cocktails, grand dinners, live theatre and non-stop entertainment awaited us.
The writer was a guest of P&O Cruises.
Plan your trip aboard Eden
PLAN your day on board Pacific Eden before you venture ashore in PNG.
Start with a fitness class, or join others in the Walk A Mile on the decks. That entitles you to a guilt-free breakfast in The Pantry (eggs benedict, pancakes, bacon?) and gets you fuelled up to enjoy some of the world's best snorkelling on one of PNG's remote islands. The snorkelling there is right off the beach, so flipper up, step in and you're off with the turtles, coral and colourful fish.
After your day on one of the islands there is a great deal waiting back on board Pacific Eden in the late afternoon into early evening and on to the wee morning hours.
Join a salsa dance class, test yourself in a trivia game, indulge yourself in the Elemis spa or attend a ecture or workshop before a cocktail in the Dome bar with its bird's eye ocean views, then a multi-course dinner at Waterfront Restaurant followed by a live show in the theatre and finally some wind-down music in the Blues Bar. Themed party nights on board include the popular White Party (anything white will do) and Gatsby Party.
MORE DETAILS: pocruises.com
Professor gives useful tips
THE guest lecturer on board Pacific Eden for her PNG cruise, Professor Clive Moore, one of the world's most knowledgeable men on the subject, gave insight into the history and culture of New Guinea in a series of lectures on board. Helping passengers understand more about the remote islands Pacific Eden called into gave better understanding at each port and enabled passengers to enjoy the experience all the more.
MORE DETAILS: www.pocruises.com.au