Papua New Guinea, Yap & Palau
Published on Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Thursday, April 18, 2013 - Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea: In the warmth of a tropical evening we arrived in Port Moresby. We enjoyed drinks at the Airways Hotel poolside bar as our Expedition Leader Mike Moore introduced us to the rest of the team while we soaked up the warm ambience of Papua New Guinea. After dinner we welcomed a good night’s sleep, ensuring we would be fresh and ready for our coming adventure.
Friday, April 19 - Port Moresby / Embark Clipper Odyssey: The morning was beautiful and the air soft, if not a little damp for those of us not used to the tropics! Undaunted by the hour or the heat, the birders were off early to Variata National Park where there were spectacular views of Papua New Guinea’s national bird, the raggiana bird of paradise. There was also a fine selection of kingfishers, including blue-wing kookaburras and the dazzling brown-headed paradise-kingfisher.
Those on the main tour enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, contemplating whether to visit the PNG Arts and Crafts market or to stay and relax in our hotel. The American Ambassador to Papua New Guinea came to discuss the work that the Embassy was engaged in and how it represented American interests in this region, followed by a cup of tea and a chance to speak personally with the Ambassador and his staff.
After an early lunch, we departed for an afternoon excursion to the Museum of Papua New Guinea, opened in 1977. There was an excellent display of the diverse cultures of the country, particularly featuring a Kula canoe from Kitava Island where we would find ourselves in two day’s time. Nearby was Parliament House, built with a façade resembling the men’s meeting houses of the Sepik region, the Haus Tamboran. We visited the Ecological Park and saw a range of animals commonly found in Papua New Guinea, such as hornbills, cassowaries, wallabies, and tree kangaroos.
We all met up again at the Clipper Odyssey where we were shown to our cabins before becoming familiar with the ship and enjoying a welcome dinner with our traveling companions.
Saturday, April 20 - Bonarua Island: This morning we woke to the gentle rocking of the ship as we sailed east along the southern coast of Papua New Guinea, the Owen Stanley Range clearly visible off the port side. Following breakfast, we received a Zodiac and snorkel briefing and collected any gear we needed. Kevin Clement gave the first inspirational presentation of the trip, The Kokoda Track: Trail of Ghosts.
After lunch we arrived off Bonarua Island, quickly finding our way to the Zodiac deck where we went off for our first snorkel and dive in the same general location. The water was warm and welcoming and we saw lots of damselfish, anemonefish, fire dartfish, and regal angelfish together with beautiful little anthias swimming among the colorful corals. We were entranced by a banded sea snake and its amazing agility as it glided effortlessly through the water. The topography under the water was particularly interesting with its canyons running perpendicular to the shore.
Later in the afternoon we went ashore where the small population had prepared a wonderful display of some of their traditions through dance, cooking demonstrations, basket, skirt, and mat making, and cultural artifacts such as adzes and shell necklaces. The people are matrilineal, tracing their descent through the female line. They once had an interesting tradition of burying their dead in an upright position with their heads above ground and covered by a basket.
A hardy group of trekkers climbed up to the hill behind the village, some taking it more slowly to observe the bird life, while others steamed a little faster to capture the vistas from the ridge. Good views of the surrounding islands and the mainland could be seen and the endemic louisiade white-eyes delighted the birders as they flitted through the trees.
In the evening, Captain Luksa Plecas graciously hosted our welcome dinner, before it was off to bed to rest before another big day.
Sunday, April 21 - Kitava and Narutu Islands, Trobriand Islands: Looking outside our window we could see the islands of Kiriwina to our portside and Kitava to our starboard side; we had arrived in the Trobriand Islands. In the 19th century, these islands became known as the ‘Islands of Love,’ and whalers looked forward to visiting to refresh their stores and to spend time with the ladies. Bronislaw Malinowski initiated the modern method of conducting anthropological fieldwork by remaining in northern Kiriwina for more than two years while the world was at war in the early part of the 20th century. In this little tropical paradise he immersed himself in the language and culture of the people. Many other anthropologists have followed in his footsteps, including our onboard anthropologist, Shirley Campbell!
We landed on a lovely beach where we were greeted by welcoming smiles. Young and old were dressed in traditional pandanus leaf coverings for the men and colorful banana leaf skirts for the women. All were elaborately decorated in freshly applied coconut oil sprinkled with yellow pollen highlighting glistening skin. Herbs were tucked into armbands and faces elegantly painted in the characteristic style of these islands. Children and adults performed numerous dances for us, ending in a tug-of-war with our brave ladies who put up a sterling effort against the strength of the Kitavan ladies. Dances over, we explored the market’s outstanding array of carvings and shell ornaments before walking up the hill to Kumwagea, the largest village on the island.
While we were enjoying our interactions with people on the island, the expedition team put out snorkel platforms and we spent the afternoon swimming in beautifully clear waters. Some of the highlights were an array of fusiliers, whip corals, and a wide variety of reef-building and soft corals. The divers enjoyed two dives, one on the south side of Nuratu, where we drifted in a gentle current along a steep wall, and the second over a spectacular coral garden in the channel separating Kitava from Nuratu Island.
Monday, April 22 - Iwa Island, Marshall Bennett Islands: Further to the east, we found ourselves anchored off the raised coral island of Iwa, part of the Marshall Bennett Islands in the northern part of the Milne Bay Province. These islands are major links in the Kula Ring, moving elaborately decorated armshells in a counter-clockwise direction and spondylus shell necklaces in the opposite direction. The island has been thrust up out of the sea so that there is a rather steep climb to reach the villages. However, this morning the villagers were waiting anxiously for our arrival on the beach. The last ship to visit the island in 2008 was our very own Clipper Odyssey!
We were greeted by two lovely girls, both placing garlands of scented flowers on our heads. Everyone performed a range of traditional dances for us, and there was a wonderful array of authentic items to purchase. Particularly interesting were the many canoe shelters lining the beach, storing the huge Kula outrigger canoes. Protected from the sun and rain, the care with which they were housed is testament to their significance to the people of Iwa who travel to Woodlark, Vakuta, and Kitava Islands.
Many of us undertook the climb up the limestone cliff to the villages above and were rewarded with the sight of very traditional housing, gardens, and yam houses. People were so welcoming, taking us into their hearts and them into ours.
Others snorkeled and spent the latter part of the morning enjoying the planktonic organisms floating on the surface. Among the flotsam we found sargassum file fish and juvenile flying fish; our naturalists beside themselves with enthusiasm at these sightings! Our divers experienced their deepest dive so far, descending to 80 feet. Drifting along the cliff face at the shoreline of Iwa Island, we saw schools of yellow-tail fusiliers, Clark’s anemonefish, and clownfish.
Back on the ship for lunch, the afternoon was spent sailing north towards New Britain. Shirley C. gave her presentation, The Art of Kula, followed by Scott Edwards’ discussion, New Guinea as a Biodiversity Engine for the South Pacific.
Tuesday, April 23 - Rabaul, East New Britain Island: After a leisurely breakfast, we were treated to Jonathon Rossouw’s presentation, Cuscus to Cassowary: The Wildlife of New Guinea. Brad Climpson followed with Reefs and Relationships—Interactions in a Complex Ecosystem. Once alongside in Rabaul, the birders were away for the day, taking with them their dinner packs. Their explorations took them into the forested hinterland, providing excellent sightings of the birds of East New Britain. Highlights included the endemic white-mantled kingfisher, white-necked coucals, and white-backed woodswallows.
The alternative tour stayed close to shore, visiting the Cultural & Historical Museum with displays featuring the Japanese occupation during World War II. From here we rode off to a safe vantage point to view the still active Tavurvur Volcano, which erupted in 1937 and again in 1994 resulting in the rebuilding of Rabaul further away at Kokopo. Today, Tavurvur was merely smoking as we watched from a distance. Activity is still a concern as the volcano was being monitored at the Rabaul Vulcanology Observatory.
Another highlight of the tour was a visit to the market where stalls were selling betel-nut, mustard, and lime, all the ingredients necessary to betel chewing. We also visited a tunnel dug by enslaved locals and Chinese during the Japanese occupation. Miles of tunnels were dug and used to hide equipment from the Allies during World War II; we visited one such tunnel safeguarding barges.
An early dinner gave us time to drive into the mountains to observe the Baining tribe perform their fire dance. Originally a ritual reserved for the occasions of birth, death, and to celebrate the harvest, the fire dance has become a spectacular attraction for visitors. Men wear elaborate headdresses, paint their bodies black with an over-painting of white pigment on their legs for added protection, and attach green leaves around their bodies. To the melodious chanting of the musicians, the dancers ran through the fire, kicking up embers in all directions—the experience was exhilarating! Returning to the ship we were treated to beers and chili while we shared our impressions of the incomparable Baining fire dance.
Wednesday, April 24 - Tingwon Islands: We awoke to cool skies and enjoyed a relaxing morning at sea with some great lectures to feed our curiosity. Jack Grove began our education with his presentation, An Introduction to the Fishes of Micronesia, and Scott followed with Alfred Russel Wallace and Wallace’s Line.
We arrived at Tingwon Island just as we started our lunch. Our expedition team set out to search for great underwater experiences and we were not disappointed. Snorkeling offered a great diversity of healthy corals and a huge variety of fish.
Once on shore the people of the island greeted us with an entertaining welcome dance in which we were threatened with spears and playful ‘warriors,’ all with smiles on their faces! The church choir performed a beautiful hymn in perfect harmony, and women sang and played bamboo percussion instruments while others performed a dance reminiscent of children pretending to sail their little toy boats on land. We had demonstrations of canoe building, roof thatching with sago palms, weaving, and sago production.
Birders went in search of bird life, surprisingly abundant on this inhabited island, and saw beach kingfishers and Melanesian megapodes, a chicken-like bird whose claim to fame is their amazing mound-building habits. Once the females have laid their eggs, the males tend the mound regularly, checking with their beaks that it remains at the correct temperature for the incubating eggs and adjusting the soil and leaf matter accordingly.
Thursday, April 25 - Tsoi Islands: We awoke in the still waters off the small islands of Tsoi Lik and Tsoi Boto, just to the east of New Hanover Island in the Bismark Archipelago. There was an early morning excursion to Tsoi Lik to see more Melanesian megapodes; the small village of about 30 people protects the area and encourages the birds. We saw a variety of tree orchids that delighted the botanists among us.
Later in the morning we transferred to the more populous island, Tsoi Boto, where approximately 500 people live. We were treated to a melodious welcome song followed by a Methodist hymn, before we wandered around the village or swam in the narrow passage between the two islands. In the water we saw many chocolate-chip seastars and five species of anemonefish, including false and Clark’s.
Back on board, we settled into our afternoon at sea with lunch and a short nap before our first presentation of the day by Kevin, It’s Not Easy Being Beautiful: Tropical Plants of Melanesia. Later in the afternoon Jonathan shared his bucket list in his presentation, Biodiversity and the Bucket List.
Friday - Sunday, April 26 - 28 - At Sea: Our time at sea gave us all a chance to relax, although that didn’t mean we had a lot of time to laze around! We joined Jack for his presentation, Fishes of Micronesia—Part 2, then Jonathan continued with his lecture, Sexy Tails and Swollen Pouches: The Lives of Tropical Seabirds. After lunch we were called to attention with an announcement from Neptune reminding us that crossing the Equator required paying homage to his domain. The Polliwogs among us, those who had never crossed the Equator by sea, were identified and made to bow before Neptune and a random array of pirates and mermaids. They then came face-to-face with a fish, which had to be kissed before a hearty draft of whisky was downed to celebrate their new status as Shellbacks. However, the celebrations were not over and all new Shellbacks were thrown into the water! Neptune now satisfied, we continued our education with Shirley C.’s presentation, Wayfinding: The Ancient Art of Navigation.
Our evening briefing brought the news that one of our travel companions had been injured and we would now head straight for Yap Island for proper medical care.
The next day began with Kevin’s Strange Tales of Island Life: Biology in Isolation. Jack followed with, Marine Biodiversity and Why It Matters. After lunch the afternoon was full of diverse activities. Mike Murphy showed a wonderful video clip of diving in the cold seas of the Antarctic, we brought our artifact treasures down for Shirley C. to identify, and Scott finished the day with The Evolution of Birds: From Archaeopteryx to Albatross.
Another relaxing day began with Shirley C. lecturing on Micronesia: A Known Seascape. Shirley Metz followed with her intriguing presentation, Journey to the South Pole. The chefs put on a spectacular barbeque lunch, complete with suckling pig, hamburgers, fried chicken wings, and a terrific array of salads. After lunch we enjoyed the film Castaway with popcorn, while others toured the ship’s galley.
Later in the afternoon we learned more about our Expedition Staff than we thought possible! Each had provided a sentence about something that had happened to them and we had to guess which of our staff it was. No one was able to get more than four right! Before dinner the crew put on a spectacular talent show.
Monday, April 29 - Yap Island, Federated States of Micronesia: This morning dawned beautifully for our extensive visit to Yap, first inhabited by an Austronesian-speaking population 3,300 years ago from the Philippines. Today, Yap is famed for the stone money, rai, that continues to be a significant part of Yapese commerce; essential during marriages, transfers of land title, or as compensation for damages suffered by an aggrieved party.
Birders departed early and saw such highlights as Yap monarchs, cicada birds, white-throated ground doves, and rufus fantails. Divers and snorkelers boarded both Zodiacs and local boats and headed to the northwest side of the islands, towards the Philippines Sea. The snorkelers enjoyed a beautiful swim over a reef featuring moray eels, pipefish, crocodile fish, and lots of parrotfish. We relocated to another reef renowned as a manta ray cleaning station, and were not disappointed! We had stunning views of the gigantic creatures.
After lunch we had the option for more snorkeling, kayaking, or a cultural tour of the island. The latter headed by bus and visited a men’s house, faluw, at Wuluu Village where they had their first glimpse of the famous stone money. The next stop was Kaday Village where they visited a Meeting House, which women are allowed to enter, and a Men’s House, which women are not allowed to enter. Again, stone money lined the avenue between the village and the Meeting House. Their final stop was a lookout where they could see both the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Sea. Snorkelers saw giant mantis shrimp, reef flatheads, and pineapple sea cucumbers. Those who preferred to stay dry kayaked through the narrow channels of the mangrove habitat, exploring at low tide the maze of prop roots and tiny creatures feeding in the mud around them, such as mud crabs and lots of fiddler crabs.
Tuesday, April 30 - Ngulu Atoll: We anchored in the lagoon of Ngulu Atoll very early this morning; as we made our way onto the outer decks we could see the low surrounding reefs and a few exposed sand bars. The island we visited was one of two that had, over a long time, become vegetated. There was a family of five on the island, the father of which hadn’t been off the island for 33 years!
After breakfast we went to our anchored Zodiacs for a lovely snorkel in the warm clear waters just outside the atoll. We saw lots of fish, notably coral trout and large steep-headed parrotfish. The island is a breeding ground for turtles, and those of us going ashore could see many depressions in the soft sand indicating turtle nests. As we walked through the island we saw many birds including nesting brown and black noddies, brown boobies, white-tailed tropicbirds, fairy terns, and even a barn swallow on its migration north.
Divers found themselves dropping down along a wall with 200-foot-plus visibility; they saw dog-tooth tuna, fusiliers, a lone moray eel, and a small aggregation of bump-head parrotfish. The second dive featured healthy corals, lots of Christmas tree worms, and a good diversity of fish, though the highlights were definitely a leopard shark and several large red snappers.
After lunch we had another opportunity to get wet, this time within the lagoon where there were fabulous corals. Those on the glass-bottom boat also saw a lemon shark, before we pulled anchor and were on our way to Palau.
Wednesday, May 1 - Koror Island, Republic of Palau / Disembark: We arrived early in Koror and awoke to a beautiful, if steamy, morning. While the customs officials cleared us into Palau we enjoyed our last breakfast on board the Clipper Odyssey. Those on the post-extension disembarked first, commencing their next adventure. The rest of us boarded local boats and sped through spectacular island scenery, the images familiar from a multitude of promotional material praising Palau’s beauty. From what we could see, these images were true to the reality—Palauan skies, waters, and islets shimmering like an opal’s colors in the sunshine. We finally reached the famed Jellyfish Lake and climbed up the outer ridge before steeply descending into the calm green lake to discover these jellyfish had evolved reduced stinging power. The swim out to the sunny part of the lake gradually revealed more and more of these magnificent creatures until we were swimming in a ‘soup’ of jellies!
We rode back through limestone islets for one last lunch on board, before our afternoon activities. Some were able do some last-minute packing, while others explored Koror’s Etpison Museum, Aquarium, and downtown shopping area.
Dinner was served on board, enabling us to make our final preparations for ongoing travel and to say our goodbyes to the crew, staff, and our fellow travelers. Later in the evening we disembarked the Clipper Odyssey for our return journeys home. A few spent the night on the ship before their own onward journeys, our memorable expedition from Papua New Guinea to Palau now over.