Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
On arrival in Papua New Guinea’s sprawling capital Port Moresby, transfer to your hotel where your 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 your 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 tour that includes a visit to the Coastwatchers’ Memorial Light at Kalibobo, Madang museum and Bilbil Village before returning to Madang to explore the markets.
Board the vessel in the afternoon. You will have time to settle into your cabin and familiarise yourself with the ship. You will be invited to join the expedition team in the Observation Lounge and up on the Observation Deck as the vessel sets sail for the Sepik River.
Today is sure to be one of the highlights of your expedition, and there is plenty of time to fully appreciate this remarkable river, its birds, animals and the people that call it home. The Sepik River is the longest in Papua New Guinea, and flows from the highlands to the Bismarck Sea.
The plan is to explore the river by Zodiac, following tributaries and channels in search of local wildlife. Enjoy a warm welcome at Kopar Village where you 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.
Seldom visited and little known, Manus Island is considered a jewel in the crown of Papua New Guinea. Biologically isolated the Manus Province supports a high proportion of endemic species and your visit 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, the visit to Derimbat Village includes taking part in an elaborate welcoming ceremony before exploring the village and unique way of life with a local guide.
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.
Sparsely populated, the villages here enjoy a subsistent, 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.
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 you explore the island, see fascinating reminders of the Japanese occupation. Your tour takes 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.
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 your time ashore 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 those keen on snorkelling will find plenty to discover in the coral reefs that surround Nissan.
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. The plan is 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.
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 the plan is to visit the Imbu Rano Lodge and Conservation Area. The area protects the islands central peak and here you will search for the rare Roviana Rail along with other endemic bird species.
Later, snorkel the wreck of a US NAVY F4F Grumman Wildcat (carrier version), a 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.
Uninhabited for 150 years, rugged Tetepare Island is cloaked in rainforest and fringed with coral reefs. It 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 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 be among the first to visit a remote and hard to reach village where you 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 you learn about their conservation efforts.
Makira Island is the most easterly of the main islands in the Solomon’s archipelago. This morning the Captain anchors 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. Spend time with the locals, who share with you their traditional song and dance. If you are lucky, the local boys might be surfing on their hand-carved palm wood boards.
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, 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 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. There is also a good chance to see the recently re-discovered Vanikoro Flying Fox, considered extinct until very recently.
Explore Vanuatu’s largest Island today, 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. In the afternoon, 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.
Visit Ambrym, renowned as the island of volcanoes and magic throughout Vanuatu. 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 you 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 your naturalist guides. This afternoon enjoy a final snorkel excursion.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Arrive into Port Vila early this morning and disembark. Upon disembarking transfer to your central city hotel or the airport. Tour ends.
Please note: To allow time for disembarkation procedures it is not recommended to book flights from Port Vila before midday.
Please note: During your 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. Some activities and excursions will run at similar times and it will not be possible to participate in both.