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Did you know that six of the seven species of sea turtles are found off the waters of Papua New Guinea? To get up close to the rare green and hawksbill turtles, you can sign up for a shore tour of the Turtle Nursery on Panasesa Island, an eco-haven that’s part of the Conflict Islands. It’s operated by the Conflict Island Conservation Initiative (CICI), and is one of the best things to do in Papua New Guinea.
On the tour, you’ll have a chance to interact with the baby turtle hatchlings and hand-feed them a special formula while chatting to the marine biologist. You can even adopt and name your own turtle! You might even be there when the hatchlings are ready to be set free into the ocean. It’s a wonderful thing to witness. All funds from the nursery go towards CICI projects, so this activity has an extra feel-good factor.
Papua New Guinea is famous for its singsings, or tribal festivals. With a mix of music, song and dance, they’re an explosion of colour and culture – and an absolute must-see for visitors. In Alotau, the locals put on a singsing especially for P&O cruise guests. People from remote tribes from across the region dress up in traditional tribal costumes and adorn their faces in clay, shells and piercings for the Alotau Cultural Festival. In true ceremonial fashion, they then perform to the beat of kundu drums and race wooden canoes across the water. It’s mesmerising. If you look closely, you’ll see the drums and canoes are intricately decorated. Both objects hold a special significance in the Milne Bay province – where Alotau is located – and are designed to appease the gods. Papua New Guinea even holds a National Canoe and Kundu Festival once a year, which attracts 3,000 performers.
The spectacle doesn’t stop there. After the performance, you can stroll through the stalls to shop for handmade trinkets, gifts, souvenirs and artworks. Before making your way back to the ship, melt into a massage in a beachside hut while listening to the waves lapping the shore, or get your hair braided.
With white-sand beaches and turquoise waters, the Conflict Islands are breathtakingly beautiful. They’re also an adventurer’s playground, and home to some of the most diverse marine life in the world. When we anchor and tender on to Panasesa Island, you can see the reef’s riches for yourself via snorkelling or scuba diving. As you swim through the electric-blue waters, you’ll see hundreds of coral and thousands of tropical fish species – some of which aren’t found anywhere else. You may even spot turtles. Papua New Guinea is a world-class diving destination, and with one dip you’ll understand why. If you have an underwater camera, this is the time to break it out!
If you don’t want to dive below the surface, you can hop on a paddleboard or kayak or on a glass bottom boat tour and admire your surroundings that way. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the beachfront restaurants and open-air bars to soak up the sun and warm hospitality.
When you step off the ship in Alotau, it’s hard to believe that this pristine place was the site of the Battle of Milne Bay in World War II. It was the first battle of the Pacific in 1942, and Australian army troops defeated the invading Japanese forces.
With remnants of planes, ships and trucks scattered throughout the area, Alotau still hints at its turbulent history. To learn more about the battle that changed the course of the war, take the Battle of Milne Bay Cruise shore tour. Led by a local historian, the two-hour tour takes place on the Underwater Explorer, and is truly fascinating. A must for history buffs, you’ll find out about the events in the lead-up to the battle, as well as the effect of the fighting on local villagers who were not accustomed to modern warfare. You’ll also learn about the Aussie digger who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage and bravery, and pass key sites such as the KB Mission, Alotau War Memorial and Turnbull War Memorial.
Across Papua New Guinea, local markets are at the heart of village life. They’re bustling with people and lined with stalls selling everything from colourful produce to clothes and crafts. The trinkets on offer vary between towns, so be sure to pop into the markets at every port. At Kiriwina Island, pick up intricate wooden carvings and coconuts. The markets in Alotau are best known for beautiful woven bags and baskets, while you can shop for hand-carved wooden bowls and tribal artefacts in the Conflict Islands.
If you want to taste the local cuisine, the markets are the most authentic place to do that. Depending on the market, you might be able to enjoy yam- and rice-based dishes, and finish with fresh tropical fruit for dessert. Wash your meal down with kulau (young coconut milk).
You’ll need cash for the markets, so exchange some money into kina (the Papua New Guinean currency) at the port beforehand. Haggling is acceptable here. As for how to transfer Papua New Guinea currency to AUD, you can do that at the port.
Try your hand at a bat-and-ball Trobriand cricket played by the islanders on Kiriwina Island. The unconventional rules include an unlimited number of players, dancing and whistle-blowing, the ball is a guava root and instead of the conventional white uniforms, players wear their traditional costumes.
This sport is special to the island and only played when the ship is in port. It’s a non-traditional take on the old game and takes place just a short walk from the spot where the tender docks.