Day #5 New Guinea Adventure

Samarai Island, Papua New Guinea

This morning we have an early 5am wakeup call for a dawn photography session, organised by Nick and Peter, on the island of Samarai  It’s a bit like being back in Africa and getting up for the 5am Safari. We head for deck 6 to grab our cameras. [The reason the cameras are on deck 6 is that the ship is air-conditioned and outside it’s very humid. If you keep your camera and lens in your cabin it’s going to take about 30 – 45 minutes for the camera and lens to acclimatise, in the mean time you cant see anything because your camera is all fogged up.]

Once we have all our gear it’s down to the swim deck, jump into the zodiacs and head for the island, just visible in the early morning light, not too far away.
Pre Dawn Orion viewed from the Zodiac
Approaching Samarai Island

During the night we’ve been backtracking a bit and come back south into the China Strait Islands.
Map of the region showing our heading - Google map link

Nick and Peter, in their presentations, have been discussing the best time to shoot and dawn is a favourite time of theirs and they are keen to get set up before the sun is too high in the sky.

We arrive at a small wharf at the island but there seems to be a bit of confusion amongst the zodiac drivers and there is a bit of radio chatter going on. We don’t disembark but head off in another direction, seems as though some of the expedition team are on another island. Oh oh, we’ve turned back again and are heading back to the first island we went to, unfortunately by this time the sun is getting higher and higher in the sky and I think Nick’s upset that we’ve missed getting to the island in time for the sunrise.

The zodiacs pull up next to a small landing on the wharf and we all hop out and head up the steps to the main landing.  There are a few people on the wharf, some loading gear and boarding a small boat, the others watching what we are up to.



Young Kids

Local boat

In the early 1900’s Samarai island was the thriving colonial capital of the territory of Papua and the town’s street-scape carries reminders of it’s past glory. It use to be described as one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific. By the 1920’s the town had declined in importance and after the outbreak of World War II the Australian Government ordered the evacuation of the island in 1942 and destroyed the wharves and buildings being used by the advancing Japanese.

Samarai was reestablished after the war but never returned to it’s former glory and has assumed an atmosphere of slow decay. Which means for those of us visiting the island a wonderful photographic opportunity with all those textures of rust and faded paint. One of the most striking, and the oldest surviving, building is St. Paul’s Anglican Parish church. It’s just a short walk from the pier and by the time I’ve finished up at the wharf everyone else who was on the zodiacs have already moved through this section of the town, so I’m all alone so I in the quiet early morning standing in front of this wonderful old church.
St. Pauls Parish Church

The next thing I notice is this old man, with a big white beard, dressed only in board shorts walk up to a large gas cylinder suspended above the ground. He bends down and picks up a rock and begins to bang the cylinder that rings like a bell. Instantly dogs all around town start barking madly as he’s banging away.
Old bell ringer

When he finishes I ask him what he’s doing and he tells me that he looks after the church and at 6am, 12 noon and 6pm he rings the bell. I’m not quite sure if he’s actually calling the faithful to church or it’s just the village wakeup call. I wish him well and head off toward the wharves.

On the way to the wharves there is an intersection and a path heading off toward the hills. At another crossroad, further up the path, I could see a memorial that I found out later is dedicated to  Christopher Robinson, the one-time administrator of the island who committed suicide here in 1904. The inscription noted he was ‘as well meaning as he was unfortunate and as kindly as he was courageous’ and that ‘his aim was to make New Guinea a good place for white men.’
Robinson Memorial

I found the wharves and as I mentioned before the old wharves were destroyed in the war. Some of them have been partially rebuilt and there are still some local boats that use them.
The old wharves

Time was flying and by now it's about 07:00 and time to head back to Orion for some breakfast. I met up with the other early bird passengers and we made our way back to the wharf and the zodiacs for the trip back. On the way back to the wharf Kelly spotted the bell-ringer watching us from his home next to the church.

Old bell ringer

We hopped in a zodiac with Nick and Peter and headed back to the Orion.
Nick and Peter (checking out the 8mm fisheye)

After breakfast it was time for another trip to Samarai Island. This time it was a general disembarkation and most of the passengers would be heading ashore. This time it would be a wet landing. [A wet landing is one where you don’t have a wharf to tie up to and basically hop over the side of the zodiac into shallow water and walk onshore.] The zodiacs pulled up to a small beach alongside the wharf we'd arrived at earlier this morning.
Looking back at Orion from the wharf

I’d taken a quick look in the church this morning  and it was amazing, the building was in a pretty bad state of repair and looked as if it could fall down at any minute. I really wanted to capture the look of it so I made sure I brought my 360 Panorama gear with me. So once we’d landed I headed back to the church. This time I was met by a different man who was apparently also connected with the church, I asked him if I could photograph inside it. He was quite happy for me to do so so I headed on in to set up my gear.
Church custodian

Shooting a 360 Panorama requires a little bit of preparation as I need a tripod, a rotator [a device that I attach the camera to and that turns in a set number of stops], a camera and a wide angle lens. In this instance I’m using a Canon 5D MkII and a Canon 15mm lens. I take 6 images around and one up. Once I’m done I stitch the images together to make what’s called an Equirectangular image that becomes the source that is wrapped around a cube which allows a viewer to look in any direction in a complete 360 orientation.
Interior of Church (Equirectangular)

Once I’ve finished in the church I head off with some of other passengers to have a look around and work our way up the hill to the old Hospital. I can't believe how much the town is full of wonderful bits and pieces that provide great photo opportunities.
Old Ticket Window?

There is the skeleton of the old Burns, Philp & Company warehouse. At the entrance to the warehouse you can still see the old company logo created in the concrete. The splatters aren’t blood but the red juice spit out by the Papuans chewing Bettlenut. At one time Burns, Philp & Company were one of the major traders in the South Pacific arena and in fact were the first company to offer tourism to New Guinea, in 1984, advertising the ‘New Guinea Excursion Trip’.
Burns Philip Warehouse
Company Logo
Wall with Graffiti

Just down from the warehouse is an old Shell depot, all locked up, overgrown with weeds and seemingly deserted.
Shell Depot

We continued on our walk and turned a corner into a small side street, off the main path, that had an amazing display of native flowers with the most brilliant colours.
Brilliant Flowers
Hibiscus Flower
Hibiscus Flower

Our trip to Samarai finished up with a hike up the hill to see the old abandoned hospital, which was pretty much a ruin by this time with only one building still standing.
Hike up hill to Hospital
Hospital ruins

I finished up on Samarai wishing I could have spent another couple of hours walking around, meeting and talking with the residents, but ships timetables wait for no man.

After lunch, at 13:30, there was a quick trip to the island of Kwato scheduled. Just 3km west of Samarai the island is apparently very peaceful with the remnants of boat-building equipment evident among the trees. We hopped into the zodiacs and headed to Kwato for a wet landing.

Approaching Kwato

By the time we got there it was bucketing down with rain, trust us not to be carrying any wet weather gear :-( Kelly was lucky and managed to score a plastic poncho while I kept ducking under trees and at one stage even sheltered with a family on their verandah to avoid the rain. One of the villagers saw we were getting soaked and offered us shelter in old wood mill.
Wood Mill

Finally the rain eased and we followed the old tree-lined road up the hill until it cleared the forest. In the clearing we came to a stonewalled church that was built in 1937 from materials brought from Scotland. Unfortunately The Kwato Church suffered a decline in the 1970s and it stands today as a testimony to the missionary of a bygone era.

Interior of the Church
View from the clearing

It’s been a pretty hectic and long day already but we have one more excursion before we are done. We head back to the Orion and once we are all onboard Captain Frank repositions her close to a small island called Deka Deka. Here we will do another wet landing and then spend the afternoon swimming and snorkelling. It’s still a bit overcast but hot so it’s a great way to spend the afternoon.
Di (the massage therapist) showing what she will do to me next time we have a session!
Fish we saw while snorkelling (I need Mick Fogg to identify the fish!)

So after a really long, hectic but fantastic day Kelly and I are lounging back in our suite. Tonight we’ve ordered room service so we don’t have to get all dressed up and we can just sit back in bed watching one of our favourite video series, Breaking Bad, that we’ve brought along with us.

We can hear the ship weigh anchor and feel it get underway as we head for Kitava.

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia