Discover the Secrets of Melanesia: Exploring Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
1: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Arrive in Papua New Guinea’s sprawling capital Port Moresby and transfer to your hotel where our group will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening meet with your fellow travellers and the expedition team over dinner at the resort.
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before our flight to Madang, the picturesque peninsula surrounded by islands and waterways. It is a thriving community renowned for its traditional artists, and the richness of its surrounding forests. Enjoy a Madang and Environs tour upon arrival which includes a visit to the Coastwatchers’ Memorial Light at Kalibobo, Madang museum and Bilbil Village before returning to Madang to explore the markets. Boarding your ship you will have time to settle into your cabin and familiarise yourself with the ship; we will also take the opportunity to introduce you to your expedition team and our voyage plans. You are invited to join the expedition team in the Observation Lounge and up on the Observation Deck as we set sail for the Sepik River.
3: Sepik River
Sure to be one of the highlights of our expedition, we have allowed plenty of time to fully appreciate this remarkable river, its birds, animals and the people that call it home. The Sepik River, the longest in Papua New Guinea, flows from the highlands to the Bismarck Sea. It is a rich arterial river that has fostered great traditional artists. We plan to explore the river by Zodiac, following tributaries and channels in search of local wildlife. Enjoy a warm welcome at Kopar Village where we will experience village life and a traditional Dragon Dance unique to this region. Bring along plenty of the local currency (kina) to purchase unique carvings directly from the artists.
4: Manus Island
Seldom visited and little known, Manus Island is considered a jewel in the crown of Papua New Guinea. Biologically isolated the Manus Province is home to a high proportion of endemic species and our stop here is likely to be a birding highlight. Once the location of a detention centre, part of Australia’s ‘Pacific Solution’, life on Manus Island continues according to traditional customs. Comprised of 10 villages and a population of less than 1,000, our visit to Derimbat Village includes taking part in an elaborate welcoming ceremony before exploring their village and unique way of life with a local guide.
5: New Hanover Island
Traditionally known as Lavongai Island, volcanic New Hanover is a wild, rugged and untouched paradise complete with a dense rainforest, waterfalls and exceptional beaches fringed by reefs and smaller satellite islands. Sparsley populated, the villages here enjoy a subsistant, traditional lifestyle. Exceptional snorkelling is a given here with much to experience below the surface, while Three Island Harbour, on the north-west tip of the island, features four Japanese WWII wrecks which were sunk by Allied bombers in 1944.
6: Rabaul and Kokopo, New Britain
Six beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes ring Rabaul’s dramatic, flooded-caldera harbour. Visit the bubbling hot springs and take in the magnificent views of the harbour and volcanoes from Observatory Ridge. As we explore the island, we will see fascinating reminders of the Japanese occupation, our tour taking in the site of the enormous volcanic eruption that all but destroyed Rabaul town, the underground bunker that was the hiding place of Pearl Harbour commander, Yamamoto, and joining the locals shopping at the bustling Kokopo markets.
7: Nissan Island
A tropical atoll adrift in the azure waters of the Buka Channel, Nissan Island is bathed in rich tropical currents that abound in marine life. Seldom have outsiders had the opportunity to discover this world promising abundant pelagic fish-life and pristine coral reefs. Ashore there are still reminders of the brief, but intensive, World War II activities during which the islands were recaptured by Kiwi, Australian and British forces from the Japanese occupiers. During our time ashore we will meet with the friendly locals from all three of the island’s Balil Villages and search the dense woods for some of the elusive birds that occur here. Later the snorkellers will find plenty to discover in the coral reefs that surround Nissan.
8: Bougainville Island
We plan to be among the first expeditioners to re-discover the treasures of Bougainville, long isolated and in a strange way protected due to the conflict which swirled around its shores. Today it is emerging once again as a newly vibrant and remarkably pristine island paradise, it is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the region both above and below the water. We plan to explore the area around Arawa, including the Panguna Copper & Gold Mine site – the setting for the movie Mr Pip – with great opportunities to access the island’s interior and its reefs. Spend your last Kina under the thatched roof of the Arawa Markets amongst the hum and chatter of hundreds of locals.
9: New Georgia Islands
The volcanic New Georgia Islands are found in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and are characterised by extensive reefs and lagoons, rugged terrain and an abundance of rivers. Nature enthusiasts will relish landing on Kolombangara Island, where we plan to visit the Imbu Rano Lodge and Conservation Area which protects the islands central peak and search for the rare Roviana Rail along with other endemic bird species. Snorkel the wreck of a US NAVY FAF Grumman Wildcat (carrier version) WWII plane off a tiny island where the surrounding reefs are home to some of the highest fish counts in the world. Stock up on the local currency to purchase the wood or stone carvings that the people of the Western Province are so famous for.
10: Tetepare Island
Uninhabited for 150 years, this rugged island cloaked in rainforest and fringed with coral reefs is home to one of the Solomon Islands’ leading community driven conservation projects Tetepare Descendants’ Association. Receiving international recognition for its conservation and archaeological significance. Three species of turtle, including the endangered leatherback, nest on its beaches while other species inhabiting the island and surrounding waters include dugong, the world’s largest skink, endemic Tetepare White-eye and many more.
Mountainous Malaita is home to one-third of the Solomon’s total population and features pristine rivers and unexploited tropical forests to explore. This morning we plan to visit the beautiful uninhabited Leli Island, an ideal snorkel site with its calm clear waters and abundant array of fish and corals. In the afternoon we plan to be among the first to visit a remote and hard to reach village where we will experience a rapturous warrior welcome from the Kwaio mountain people. One of the most traditional communities in the Solomon Islands, enjoy an authentic slice of village life as we learn about their conservation efforts.
Makira is the most easterly of the main islands in the Solomon’s archipelago. This morning we anchor in the calm waters of Star Harbour. Join the naturalists for a Zodiac exploration of the abundant mangrove forests that line the shores, and take a short walk to Makira’s south coast where the villagers live much as they have for millennia. We spend time with the locals, who share with us their traditional song and dance. If we are lucky, the local boys might be surfing on their hand-carved palm wood boards.
13: Nendö, Temotu Province
Nendö is the largest of the Santa Cruz Islands, which lie to the south-east of the Solomon Islands. The Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira unsuccessfully attempted to establish a colony in 1595. Biologically these islands share more in common with Vanuatu. It is also the home of red feather money, sourced from the Scarlet Honeyeater. Watch the manufacture of red feather money, and join the locals in dances which reverberate through the ages.
Today we explore the archipelago of Vanikoro, with its five islands encapsulated by a dramatic barrier reef which offers superb snorkelling. French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse famously disappeared here after both his vessels, La Boussole and Astrolabe, struck the reef in 1788. On the shore we visit a monument to Le Pérouse, erected by fellow explorer Dumont Durville in 1827. Join the naturalists on a forest walk in search of the endemic Vanikoro White-eye and Monarch, or marvel at the delicate Vanikoro Orchid. We also have a good chance to see the recently rediscovered Vanikoro Flying Fox, considered extinct until a recent visit by Heritage Expeditions.
15: Espiritu Santo
Today we explore Vanuatu’s largest Island, Santo; location of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. Indulge in a swim in the crystalline waters of Champagne Beach with its famed powdery white sand. This afternoon we will enjoy Zodiac cruises to the iconic blue holes of Santo. For those with an interest in the history of the island, there is a visit to Lugainville and Million Dollar Point.
Today we will visit Ambrym, renowned as the island of volcanoes and magic throughout Vanuatu. We plan to head ashore at Ranon on the northern coast where the traditional Rom dance is still practised and custom carving is alive and well. A walk through the forest brings us to the ‘arena’ where masked dancers emerge from the forest. The forests of Ambrym offer some excellent walks to go in search of the local birds and plants, accompanied by our naturalists. This afternoon enjoy a final snorkel excursion.
17: Port Vila, Vanuatu
Arrive into Port Vila early morning and disembark. Upon disembarking a transfer to your central city hotel or the airport will conclude your voyage. To allow time for disembarkation procedures we do not recommend booking flights from Port Vila before midday. Note: During our voyage, circumstances may make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the proposed itinerary. This can include poor weather and opportunities for making unplanned excursions. Your Expedition Leader will keep you fully informed. This tour offers a variety of activities and excursions. Your personal interests will determine which of these you wish to join. Please note that some activities and excursions will run at similar times and it will not be possible to participate in both. Accordingly, refunds for excursions and missed landings are not available.