Day #19 New Guinea Adventure

Mapia Atoll - Middle of Nowhere

Our first view of the Mapia Atoll, looks to me like it's inhabited!

Map of the region showing our heading - Google map link

Overnight we have travelled almost due north heading toward Mapia Atoll.  Urbanasi, where we snorkelled yesterday sits at 1˚16’S by 134˚40’E and Mapia Atoll is located at 0˚51’N by 134˚18E, only 22 minutes difference heading West. To those of you taking notice, yes Mapia Atoll is north of the Equator, the first time during this voyage that we have crossed the Equator and all that it implies.

So this little atoll, just north of the Equator, is pretty damn remote and as this is billed as a “Voyage of Discovery” this is going to be the first experience of the island for all of us, I’m not sure that Justin, Orion’s Expedition Program Manager, had even been here before.

In our daily briefing guide, delivered to our stateroom each evening, it says, “We will spend the day in clear waters, snorkelling and swimming or simply relaxing. There is a lighthouse on the atoll, which may or may not be manned during our visit….Mapia Atoll will be ours for the day!” and further on it goes on to say, “Today we will be operating in expedition mode. We will send a scout boat ashore to inspect the local conditions.”

Basically they are letting us know they have no idea what to expect! But hey that’s the fun of it.

Anyway, we are up early, around 06:30 because our fun!!! starts at 07:00. All of us who have never had the pleasure of sailing over the Equator and that includes Kelly and myself have been ordered to pay homage to King Neptune.

So we drag our sorry “slimy Pollywog” (that’s what we how have never crossed the Equator are called) butts up to deck 6 at a very early hour. In attendance are a lot of “Shellbacks” those luck buggers who have been through this before.

Fortunately for us there is medicine to ease the pain in the form of Orange juice and Champagne. Especially handy for these two early risers.
Moomoo and Kelly trying to wake up

Before long there’s a bit of a hubbub and who should appear on deck, in fearsome regalia, berating us and letting us all know who’s boss in these regions, none other thank King Neptune.
King Neptune in all his "fearsome" glory

King Neptune (aka Mike) is calling us all to attention and letting us know that we must undergo a ritual to be accepted as a “Shellback”. His assistant places a chair and a large silver jug in front of the Jacuzzi and the first poor unfortunate “Pollywog” is called to sit.

The ritual, it seems, is to be publicly humiliated while having a jug of cold water poured over ones head and then told to go sit in the Jacuzzi.
Yours truly, being transformed by King Neptune from Pollywog to Shellback

Joanne had turned up this morning with some crazy Aussie tribute necklace with a flag, chocolate, apples, pear, Koala Bear and inhaler!! Here she is looking a bit soggy for it all.
Joanne in the tub with all her Aussie charms getting wet

As there were quite a few of us destined for Neptune’s baptism, the crew thought it would be fun to see if they could break the record for the largest number of people in the Jacuzzi at one time. Mick positioned himself on the Zodiac storage deck so he could look down upon the mayhem and count numbers.

Mick looking down on the mayhem

Needless to say we did manage to break the record but for the life of me I can’t remember how many of us there were in there but let me tell you four is just comfortable!

Once Neptune had exhausted his supply of Pollywogs we turned the tables on him and managed to get in a couple of good dousing and lots of laughing. After a quick shower and fresh clothes it was off to breakfast followed by our preparations for arrival at Mapia Atoll.

Around 09:00 we arrived at the Atoll. Once again another beautiful out of the way location. The atoll is surrounded by a reef and the water is a very deep blue, as you move closer to the island the lagoon is clearly visible as a much lighter teal colour. Clearly visible from the boat is a structure and we can see people on the shore, so much for a deserted island. The expedition crew launch the zodiacs and head out to investigate the island and the reef.
Panoramic view of the atoll and reef

After about half an hour we are told that the island is indeed habited and is in fact a military installation. The good news is that we have the go ahead to land on the island and in fact there is a great deal of interest in us from the inhabitants who rarely see strangers let alone a ship of our type.

This morning there are two options available, the first is a landing on the atoll in the morning and a reef snorkel in the afternoon or vice versa. Kelly and I decide to start with a snorkel and finish with the atoll.

While most of the passengers head to the island six of us head out with Mick to the reef. He’s got two zodiacs tethered together and he let’s us know there’s quite a strong current and to be careful not to drift too far.
Approaching the tethered zodiacs at the reef

Without further ado, it’s into the water. Kelly gets her revenge for my close-up snorkel shot by doing the same to me.
Is this a good look?

The current and the shallow depth of water over the reef really pushes you around and there are quite a lot of particles in the water churned up by the waves coming in over the reef. I manage to get a couple of shots of fish that I can’t identify (Mick where are you?)
Reef Fish

After an hour or so we get called back to the zodiacs by Mick, apparently there’s a problem on the atoll and they need all the zodiacs asap. We climb back onboard and head back to the Orion.

Once back on board, the zodiacs head for the atoll and the few of us who were snorkelling gather on the Delphinus deck to see what’s going on. In the distance we can see a long line of passengers, knee deep in the lagoon, stretching from almost the end of the jetty to the deep water where the zodiac are waiting.
Atoll evacuation

As I mentioned earlier, Orion hadn’t visited the atoll before and no one knew that the receding tide would have such an effect on the zodiac’s ability to get in close to the island shore. This meant that as the tide receded the passengers would have to negotiate a trek through the lagoon to the deeper water where the zodiacs could approach. Unfortunately the coral and rocks of the lagoon made it a bit more difficult than it looks and what with carrying camera gear etc it was a bit tricky to negotiate.

Also one of the requirements on Orion is that we wear life vests, now these life vests are self inflating if they come into contact with water.  I hear a couple of those walking out to the zodiacs accidentally slipped into the water and found out the jackets really do work!
Coming back to Orion

Eventually all of the passengers were back onboard safe and sound. The only bad thing about the tide going out was that there wouldn’t be a second trip to the atoll so we had to be content with our reef snorkel.

If you want more information on the atoll visit Justin’s blog on the Mapia Atoll, where he’s got pictures and stories of the visit.

By 14:00 hours we were underway again and sailing for McClure Gulf. It’s a bit of a quiet afternoon but there is a bit of action as the crew undergo a General Emergency Drill and they are running all over the ship.

There’s a great presentation by Mick entitled “What fish is that?” and I wish I’d paid a lot more attention or had the presence of mind to video the damn thing. Maybe then I’d be able to identify these fish pictures.

It’s a beautiful sunset this evening and the waters are very calm. I head up to deck 6 and spend a bit of time shooting the sunset with my fisheye lens.
Sunset from the bow of Orion

Later that evening it’s time for a “South Pacific Island Buffet” on the Delphinus lounge with a fantastic bbq of seafood followed by a bit of wild dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

Arriving back in the stateroom, waiting for us on the bed, are our certificates that prove we are no longer Pollywogs!

Crossing the Line