Walindi Plantation provided the dive boats, dive tanks, and the most experienced (and personable) dive masters. We were never pandered to or patronized, and the dive masters always consulted us on our likes/dislikes - so as to get a good feel for where we'd like to spend our time diving.
We all had dive computers but the dive masters still accompanied us on our dives - we were basically let "loose" to do our own thing out on the reefs and walls...if that is how we wanted it.
This was the best dive experience ever - and I've been scuba diving in a lot of places!
The Kokoda Trail is a 96 kilometre hike through the Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea. It stands as a legacy to the Australian diggers who surpassed the Japanese forces here during World War II and prevented an invasion into Australia.
In 2005 i was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hike the kokoda trail in papa new guinea...and it was one of the most profoundly challenging yet rewarding experiences in my so far short life. The hike is approximately 96 kilometers (thats 59.65 miles) through some of the most brutal, isolated terrain youll come across. Mountains so high they reach deep into the clouds and mud so thick youll loose your shoes...yet there is something so seemly rewarding about walking in the footsteps of such heros.
The 12day hike usually starts in kokoda, ending in Owers Corner, however the track can be walked from either direction. Weather usually consists of extreamly hot days, cold nights and the occasional downpoor of rain. April to September is considered the 'dry' season, therefore it is best to travel between this period to avoid excess unessesary pain :)
If you take the trail late August you might be lucky enought to witness the Kokoda Challenge Race...an endurance running race that requires individuals to run the entire 96km trail. The current record is held by Brendan Buka with a time of 16hrs 34mins and 5secs.
I travelled with the Adventure Kokoda team and found them to be extreamly professional and reliable. They have porters who carry food and tents, whereas you are only required to carry your own belonging...clothes, sleeping bag, cutlery ect.. (my pac still weighted 17kg mind you). The porters are extreamly fun and happy people who provide an excellent insight into the PNG culture.
I always enjoyed flying into Rabaul on New Britain Island. Its harbour is in a volcano that has partially collapsed into the sea, with multiple cones visible around its edges. In Sept. 1994, another eruption partially buried the town such that its businesses and residents had to be relocated about 20 km distant to Kokopo. Eruptions are still occurring on and off even today. Photo of two of the volcano peaks surrounding the town, as seen on one of my trips to their local diesel station. Interestingly, even back then, when more electric power was required for the area, a new diesel station was built many kms distant in preparation for the fact that some day the volcano was going to blow again!
I was amazed to still see relics of World War II in close proximity to the town. In the palm trees close to the airport were crashed Japanese bombers with the Rising Sun still visible on their wings. Also, around the harbour were caves with rail tracks leading into them so the Japanese ships could be hauled into cover from bombing raids. Some caves still contained the rusting relics (see my World War 2 Travelogue for more details).
Another area that I really enjoyed was heading up into the Highlands from Lae, on the other side of the mountains from Moresby. As one heads up the Markham River valley, the hillsides seem to be covered in a soft green velvet. The Highlands Highway was a quite good paved road that wound its way up into the centre of the country, even beyond Mt. Hagen. Not too far out of Lae, it branched off to the right for a poorer quality road to the resort town of Madang - this part requiring several river fords that required 4WD transportation. In my young and foolish days, I had to include in this photo the 66,000 volt transmission line that supplied the city of Lae from the hydro generation complex further inland and in the mountains, near Kainantu.
You can take half a day and explore the island by either renting a car, or hiring a guide (which is what we did). This was great for us because he not only offered us a native's point of view together with some real history of the island, but he knew some great places for photo opportunities and he also led us to some interesting spots along the shore where the Japanese hid artillery during WWII.
As you can see, the hideout caves are quite small.
I recommend hiring someone for a half day ride around the island - it's worth it!
If you visit Rabaul, do NOT miss the chance to stroll along the famous open-air market where you'll find all kinds of lovely tropical fruits and vegetables, and an equally vibrant kaleidescope of native tropical attire worn by the locals.
It is a real treat to see, smell and ultimately TASTE, while in Rabaul!
Well, I don't have any photos of us diving the wrecks here, but we did a shore dive and explored a Mitsubishi bi-plane (some military expert will know what that means, to me it was just a sunken war plane!) which was at a depth of about 80 feet....
The journey out there was half the fun as I recall.....bright BLUE starfish all over the ocean floor, with the water gradually getting deeper until we were finally able to submerge ourselves completely.....underneath the sea, life was teeming in and around the plane wreck. Clownfish were there to welcome us (well, more like defend their territory - if you know clownfish behavior) and it was really a pleasant dive...most memorable being those unbearably blue starfish...big and fat and all over the place!
Another day had us diving in the harbor, deep down (a decompression dive to about 175 feet) to explore the bowels of a Japanese warship. We all brought along our underwater flashlights and were treated to a few unusual sights:
1. Sake bottles that were waist-high
2. A human mandible (lower jawbone)
3. Some strange looking fish that resembled barracuda but I can't recall what they were....keeping us company as we hung out on the decompression bars before making our way back to the surface
Yes, Rabaul has some TERRIFIC dives and these two are among my most memorable ones.
Don't miss the chance to dive here, if you're certified.
With so many great activities to choose from, it's easy to lose sight of why we go on vacation in the first place....to RELAX and ENJOY!
On that note, I have to point out that you can't help but appreciate the beautiful sunsets provided courtesy of Walindi Plantation in Kimbe Bay.....
Sometimes we'd be really tired from the day's dives....but we'd rouse ourselves around sunset time so that we could sit and enjoy the evening breeze while watching the sun set on this mysterious part of the world -it really made the stay here special!
Don't forget to look for the sunsets, wherever you are...
One of the greatest things I love about traveling to far away places is that I always meet interesting - and fun - people.
This was definitely the case with our stay at Walindi Plantation in Kimbe Bay.
Even if we didn't see some of the other guests during the day, we'd all usually convene at night in the "social hall" or next to it at the pool. After a few Special Export lagers (award winning PNG beer) or a couple of glasses of wine, everyone was usually ready to play "group games".
Some were especially memorable...but I won't go into the sordid details.
This photo is a small glimpse into some of the fun we had during these evenings together.....
On our excursion into town (in Kimbe), we passed by this young woman who was obviously pregnant, balancing both a child AND a heavy bucket of bottles on top of her head - and doing it all with an easy smile.
We just had to pull over and ask her for a photo...she graciously obliged.
We then went one step further and asked her to set the bucket down so that my friend and I could try placing it on our heads.
I couldn't get the bucket off the ground.
Since the island of New Britain was the reluctant host to Japanese military fleets during WWII, you can expect to run across the errant war plane wreckage - always an incongruous sight amidst the lush, tropical vegetation and warm sunshine.
We chose to spend most of our time here UNDER water, but we did hitch a ride with one of the staff members who was driving into Hoskins (nearby town) for supplies. We pulled over to snap some photos of a few such plane wreckages although I can't seem to find the evidence now; instead, I'm enclosing a photo of the kind of view we were treated to as we sat in the back of the flatbed truck (by choice)...feeling the wind rush against our faces and smelling the briney sea air....it was maybe even more relaxing than the dives themselves!
For this reason, I would recommend taking a "Bush Walk" and exploring some of the sights above sea level. You'll be sure to bump into colorful locals and see some interesting things along the way.....
I found this by far to be the most fascinating aspect of our trip down the Sepik River: entering the forbidden Spirit House or "Haus Tambaran" as the villagers call it.
Each village has one, and basically it is the focal point of the male tribesmen...it is where they gather every day and where many of them sleep.
It involves an important right of passage for the young male who, when he is ready to enter adulthood, enters the Haus Tambaran and doesn't come out until he's become "a man".
This is the time when the boys' backs and arms are cut up and dirt packed into the skin to raise it during the healing process so that it scars...the marks are carefully carved (by an elder) to resemble the crocodile's leathery back. It is a tradition that celebrates the boy becoming a man.
To symbolize this rebirth process, the boy climbs a staircase leading to an upper level within the Spirit House. At the top looms a huge wooden carving of a woman with her legs spread - so that as the boy reaches the top floor, he passes through the spread legs and thus is "reborn" a man.
Women are not permitted to enter this sacred Spirit House - but they allowed us to take a peek inside and it was completely fascinating.
The crocodile is an omnipresent and fiercely symbolic force in the life of a Sepik villager.
I didn't really hear any stories of crocodile aggression, so I'm not surprised if the humans and the animals here struck a kind of detente between themselves.
In any event, I recall one evening's activity just after the sun set and it became dark out - we boarded the river trucks and sliced our way down one of the Sepik tributaries, searching for crocodiles.
Our guide pointed them out by noting how they rest just below the surface of the water so that when you shine a light across, all you see are pairs of red eyes glowing above the surface....really spooky.
~ shiver ~
The primary activity aboard the Sepik Spirit was to visit the villages in this region.
Similar to the Arambak/Karawari excursions, we boarded "River Trucks" (flatbed boats with outboard motor) to get around the river.
The villagers were friendly and most of them went about their daily activities, nonplussed by our visit and not at all embarassed or affected by our presence.
Some were curious and took the lead to show us their crafts or to attempt to engage us in a dialogue - but for the most part, comunication was limited, especially if our guide was busy translating for someone else.
The visits offered a rare glimpse into a rich culture...one that is seldom visited and all the more fascinating because of this.
It's been fifteen years since I held this baby, but I can still recall her name....it was Gwendolyn.
Once in a while I have thought about her, wondering what she looks like now and what her life is like. I hope she's still alive. She'd be around 14 years old...maybe even married.
I don't know what it was about her, but I asked her mother if I could pick her up. She was one of the cutest babies I'd ever seen. I was curious to know her name, and even more surprised when her mother told me "Gwendolyn". Obviously the missionaries had been in these parts....
As we were getting ready to leave this Lower Sepik Karawari village, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Gwendolyn's mother, giving me a necklace made of seed pods. It was really an honor that she wanted me to have this gift, and I still have it today. She let me pose with Gwendolyn (I'm wearing the necklace) for this photo.
In my mind, that one special encounter was really the highlight of our Karawari River explorations.