Written by Travel Beyond consultant Sue Rovegno about her trip to Papua New Guinea
For those of you who have been to the Galapagos on an expedition cruise, you know that throughout the course of your cruise you are witnessing amazing animal, bird and plant life, all of whom have adapted to their special environments within the Galapagos Islands. I recently took an expedition cruise with Orion Expeditions and discovered the “Path Less Travelled” in the islands of Papua New Guinea. To describe what I saw has been really difficult to put into words and calling the experience a “Cultural Galapagos” is really the only way that I can begin to describe it.
My dad turned 70 in January, and I wanted to do something special with him. Orion Expeditions came into our office and presented their product (which I have been interested in for several years!). I left the meeting with the feeling that I had to go to Papua New Guinea! I approached my dad who accepted immediately, not even knowing what he was getting himself into!
The M/V Orion is a beautiful, small, expedition ship, accommodating a maximum of 106 guests with 75 crew members. The ship itself is gorgeous, immaculate, comfortable, and luxuriously appointed. The crew members knew our names and preferences immediately. The ship had a small gymnasium, spa, gift shop, library and several public areas as well as a hot tub (filled with cool water for this cruise!) The service was amazing and the food and wine were delicious.
The expedition staff is top notch. Our expedition leader was Mick Fogg, an Australian with multiple degrees in Marine Biology. Mick has a passion for all things both above and below sea level. He had several naturalists joining him, all of whom were accomplished, friendly and passionate. Probably the most unforgettable member of the staff was Justin Friend. Justin is an Australian native who married a Papua New Guinean gal and lived the village life for several years. His story is incredible, he’s even an honorary chief at Watam Village! Orion is incredibly lucky to have Justin in their family.
The entire crew was superb, always making sure that we were having fun and had everything that we needed! The Orion offered nightly entertainment after the evening lecture and dinner and a daily trivia contest (my team won, thank you!). There was always something to do if you wanted to or time to relax if you didn’t.
Our 11 night journey, as I learned once we were into it, was a witness of the Austronesian Migration Theory (retracing Polynesian ancestors from China-Easter Island). Little did we know when we signed up for the tour we were witnessing this migration and the most interesting thing is that the people that we visited are still as they were thousands of years ago! We started at Watam Village which was the most remote and primitive and worked our way to Alotau which has significant WW2 history and is a busy little port town today. The people’s music, dancing, costumes, homes all became more complex as we went along on our journey.
Papua New Guinea is a natural paradise! Its reefs are untouched and provided us with several wonderful snorkeling opportunities. The islands are beautiful, whether you are on an outrigger canoe floating through a mangrove, in the tropical rainforest or on a deserted snow white beach with crystal clear water.
The people of Papua New Guinea are what really struck me the most and it’s the most difficult part my trip to explain. They appear to have true happiness, true friendship and the the true meaning of life. That is something that never leaves you. From having a villager grab your hand on arrival (and not let go!), introducing you to all of their clan members (including their pigs and dogs!) to watching the little kids climb up trees and jump into the Sepik River next to your boat, it’s all amazing. To visit a village in Papua New Guinea is to really witness the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. Every child is loved and taken care of by the entire community.
On our last day in Papua New Guinea, my dad and I were walking from the hotel in Alotau back to the ship. It was probably a walk of a mile or so. We walked through markets full of people and everyone stopped and said hello to us! When we landed in LA things weren’t the same but I will always remember Papua New Guinea and the loveliest people in the world.