Day #4 New Guinea Adventure

Alotau, Papua New Guinea

Whoo hoo, we are out of the Coral Sea, it’s much calmer, the sun is shining and Kelly is feeling much better.

This morning we are heading for the town of Alotau. It’s the capital of Milne Bay Province, and is nestled on the edge of the bay named by Captain Moresby in 1873 after Lord Milne of the British Navy. Alotau means “Bay of Views” in Suau language.

Approaching Alotau

Our ETA to Alotau is 13:00 hours so there is time for a bit of brekkie and a couple of lectures before we arrive.

Map of the Region showing our heading - Google map link
It’s great to see Kelly up and about again and we both head off to breakfast looking forward to a great day. By the time we get to breakfast the tables are filling up quickly and we see our first glimpse of Papua New Guinea.

We have sailed from the Coral Sea to the Solomon Sea and are passing Sideia Island in the Louisiade Archipelago. The weather has cleared completely and the clouds just tower over the shoreline.
Dramatic Clouds in Milne Bay

Peter Eastway’s first presentation started at 09:30 hours and he gave an amazing overview of his work and presented a slideshow that gave us an insight into how he creates his vision of what he saw, when taking the photograph, using Adobe Photoshop. It was very inspiring and I can’t wait to apply similar techniques to my photography.

Not long after Peter had finished Mark gave a presentation on the Battle of Milne Bay. This whole area is of significance to Australia as there were a number of battles fought and legends created in this region, none more known than the story of Kokoda. At Milne Bay, Japanese marines attacked the Australian base on 25 August 1942, and fighting continued until the Japanese retreated on 5 September 1942. The battle was significant as it was the first in the Pacific campaign in which Allied troops decisively defeated Japanese land forces, forcing them to withdraw and completely abandon their strategic objective.

Around lunchtime we sighted Alouta and at approximately 13:00 hours we berthed at the dock in Alotua. There was a lot of interest in our arrival from the dock as well as from local kids paddling out and circling the ship in their outrigger canoes. There were however a couple of guys who didn’t really seem all that interested in our arrival. The dock itself seems to be mainly used for the loading of Copra as we could see inside the dock buildings large stacks of bags containing Copra as well as smell the distinctive coconut aroma in the air. Copra is the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. Coconut oil extracted from it has made copra an important agricultural commodity for many coconut producing countries.

Kids in outrigger canoes

Couple of guys not too interested!
Coprah Warehouse

During an Orion cruise you can usually select from a number of Shoreside expeditions. Kelly and I had decided that we wanted to do the Bat Cave Adventure. Hell as a Sydneysider we have an affinity for the little guys and any description where it says you are going to get dirty and down in bat guano has to be fun.

Our tour was due to start about half an hour after we had docked and after a couple of shabby looking 4 wheel drives had arrived on the dock we disembarked.

Every night before arriving in a new destination there is a briefing by the Expedition team. When they got to the subject of the Bat Cave they showed a picture of a large furry spider and said they they were present in the cave. I think half a dozen people changed their mind after that and signed on for the History Tour instead. Me I had a vision of something out of Raiders of the Lost Arc where the guy’s back is covered in hairy Tarantulas.

Well I’m sure we’d survive so Kelly and I piled into one of the vehicles and Mark, an expedition member, and a few others got into the other one and off we went. Of course as soon as we are off the ship it starts to rain again, but this we discover is pretty standard for this part of the world, sunshine in the morning, rain in the afternoon.

We head out of town, in our convoy, with our vehicle in the lead. On the way out we pass the market and the local fishing boats. The ride out of town is pretty good, it’s a bitumised road with a few potholes that we have to navigate around and lots of friendly locals waving to us as we pass. Every so often there are these little roadside huts, a bit like the Papua New Guinea versions of 7 Eleven’s. I like the Pidgin “Winim LCD TV” on the Maggi posters.
Fishing Boats
Roadside Stall

As we head further out of town we start passing through a huge Palm Oil plantation. According to our driver this use to be a Coconut plantation but was cleared for Palm Oil as the return is much better. As you drive through there are large piles of the seeds waiting to be collected.
Palm Oil Plantation
Palm Oil Seeds

After about 20 minutes our driver pulls over, turns around and starts to head back to town. He tells us that the other vehicle has broken down and he needs to go back and see if they are okay. After about 10 minutes we are almost halfway back and there has been no sign of them, suddenly he pulls over and turns around again. Apparently they were only about a minute behind us when they broke down and our guy just drove straight by them. So we got to see the Palm Oil plantation all over again.

After meeting up with the other vehicle, which now seems okay, we kept going and after another 10 minutes we turned off the main road onto a jungle track.

Jungle road to the Bat Cave

It seemed like we traveled along this track up and down hills for another 10 minutes until we pulled into a small clearing to be met by our guide, who we found out is named Roger.
Roger our Guide

Roger was very happy to see us, and with a couple of other local guys we headed off into the bush to the Bat Cave. For some reason I thought we would be climbing up but instead we went down into a valley. By this time the rain had eased off but it was damn humid and every thing was slippery so by the time we made it to the mouth of the cave we were hot and exhausted.

Scramble in the Jungle

Getting into the cave was another experience, basically it was a matter of sliding down on your butt, watching out you didn’t smack your head on the overhanging rock. All the time we were looking out for these large furry spiders we’d been told about.

By the time we had all made it into the first part of the cave we were all sporting examples of bat guano on parts of our bodies, mainly our butts! The guides provided us with as many flashlights as they had, I missed out but at least Kelly had one and we headed into the cave.

Now I thought the cave would be cool and a bit refreshing after the humidity outside but no it was just as humid if not more inside. The floor of the caves was sort of squishy and consisted of compacted bat guano deposited over the years. I have to say the Adventure side was a bit of a let down, don’t get me wrong it was fun to do, but the large furry spiders, well we never saw a one. We did see a lot of cockroaches, a couple of frogs, a spindly spider and some very very elusive bats.

A Frog and a skinny spider

After about an hour in the cave we climbed back out. Coming back out was bit easier than going in and by the time we had all made it back up to the top of the hill where the vehicles waited for us we were pretty beat and a sorry looking lot, except for Roger he looked pretty dry, clean, calm and collected.
Tony & Roger
Jerry the other guide

We thanked Roger and the other guys, got back in the vehicles and headed back to Orion looking forward to a shower and getting out of our bat quano splattered clothes and boots.

Just clean again and Captain Frank comes over the ships public address system to let us know a team of Papuan New Guinea cultural dancers will be performing for us on deck 6 at 17:00 hours.

We grab our cameras and head up to get a look at what will be the first of many cultural presentations on the trip. The dancers and singers were fantastic, the costumes amazing and it was a welcome to Papua New Guinea we would never forget.

Leader of the Group
Male Dancer
Female Dancer

After the welcome we thanked them all personally and as they left the ship Captain Frank prepared to undock the Orion and it wasn’t long before we were sailing out of Aloutau as the sun set, off to our next destination, Samarai and Kwato Islands.
Sunset over Milne Bay

We finished the night with a Seafood Extravaganza out on deck in the Delphinus Lounge tired but elated with our first day in Papua New Guinea.