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Adventures and Misadventures

Louisiades, Locals and Laughs

PAPUA NEW GUINEA | Monday, 10 September 2007 | Views [4240] | Comments [1]

We finally arrived at the entrance to the Louisiade Archipelago nine days after we had left New Caledonia. The Louisiades are a group of tropical islands surrounded by a barrier reef which forms a protective lagoon. They are situated approximately 600km from the coast of mainland Papua New Guinea and are only reached by sailing boat. I was lucky enough to visit this island group on a cruising trip with my parents in 1995 when I was only 11 years old. I was eager to see if much had changed. The number of boats visiting in a cruising season had risen from 10 boats in 1995 to around 70 in recent years, the majority of whom are Australians.

We anchored off a small islet in the Ducheateau group just inside the entrance of the outer reef. Heaven awaited us with crystal clear water – we could see the coral on the bottom in a depth of 18m. The sun was out and the water was a balmy temperature of 25 degrees. We spent three nights there snorkelling straight off the beach in turquoise water and collecting shells thrown up on the white sand.

In the Ducheateau islands I was assigned another job on board the boat. Chief Coral Watcher! As we head into/or out of any anchorage or lagoon I stand on the front bow seat which puts my eye level about 4m above sea level and direct Alfred where to steer to avoid the coral and anchor in sandy patches. Later on in our trip as we headed into Panasia lagoon I was gripping onto the furler with white fingers and trying to balance binoculars with the other hand as we rolled around in the swell outside the entrance.

After relaxing in such an idyllic place it was time to up anchor and head to the inner islands of the Archipelago for some island life. On the recommendation of several yachts we headed to Pana Numara Island. The anchorage is deep but off a curved sand beach with fringing palm trees and much to my relief there were two Australian boats already anchored here. Finally an Aussie accent again!! Upon arrival we went straight ashore for a swim and within minutes we were surrounded by a bunch of local kids. They loved the balloons we brought in for them and joined us for a swimming race in the water with Kilian and Bella. After our swim we met Anna, the pastor’s wife, and Sister Jane who invited us to the church in the village the next day. A most enjoyable afternoon was wrapped up with drinks on board ‘Gone Surfing’ with Todd and Tracy from Freemantle.    

The next morning we headed to church in the village and were greeted on the beach by kids and villagers alike. The church was a relatively new building and we sat up the back on a woven mat they provided for us. The service began with praise and worship which involved beautiful singing. The pastor and another young man played guitar up the front of the church as Anna and Jane led the singing. At one point they asked us all to rise and encouraged us to move around and greet everybody as the hymn ‘We love you with the love of our Lord’ was sung. Everyone was so eager to touch our hands and greet us and we were really made to feel at home. After this song the dancing began – honestly if church was as enthusiastic and fun as this at home a lot more people would attend!

That afternoon we began trading with the locals for bananas, pawpaws, bagi (shell necklaces which are also used as money), lobster and woven mats. Most of the villagers need clothes and basic household items like soap and sewing kits but we were surprised by the number of kids and adults alike which requested exercise books and pens. We had some of the children on board to colour in with Bella and Kilian and they loved the cookies (naturally) and coloured pencils. Every canoe that came with kids we gave balloons – something so small to us which really brings a smile to their face. That night Todd and Tracy came over for sundowners and we reflected on how nice and genuine the people really are here.

On Monday we visited the elementary school which is new this year and is held in the community hall. Approximately 150 people live in the village and about 25 kids were in the class. The teacher Inosi is very educated (to high school) and is originally from the village. Once the kids have done three years of elementary school, where they mostly learn about their culture and traditions, they can go to primary school which involves boarding with another family on one of the bigger islands. It is in primary school that they begin to learn english which explains the ability of most of the villagers to speak a little english which is essential for them to trade with the yachties during the winter season. The yachties are their only link with the outside world and for most the only opportunity to obtain new clothes and household items like batteries for their walkmans or kerosene for their lamps. There is a small town on another island called Misima which a sailing canoe from the island visits once a week where they can purchase cooking oil, salt and flour etc but most of the villagers are subsistence farmers and have no real need for kina (money).

On our way back to the dinghy from the school we passed by Anna’s house and she invited us to relax on her porch for a bit. Anna speaks very good english and we whiled away an hour or so watching village life go by and chatting. Kilian decided he wanted to pat one of the many pigs which wander at will through the village and everyone was in fits of laughter as he chased one around the porch and under the house. We donated some items to both the school and sunday school and after our chat Anna asked us if we would like to come for lunch the next day as they would like to honour our donation by killing a chicken for us. We readily accepted and then headed back to the boat for the afternoon. That night Chris, an Aussie from the boat ‘Lady Bubbly’, celebrated his birthday by inviting locals, us and Todd and Tracy to a beach bbq onshore. It was great and we spent a lot of time chatting after dinner with Inosi and his gorgeous wife and baby daughter Yvonne.

Lunch in a traditional village house – what an honour and experience! We spent the morning making chocolate brownies to take for dessert. When we arrived Anna had prepared chicken kebabs, chicken stew and yams and taros. Only five plates were set out for us and we really had to encourage Anna and her husband Mark, Sister Jane and the two children to eat with us. We couldn’t believe they were just going to sit there and watch us but it turns out that they are not used to having a meal in the middle of the day as they usually work in the gardens and so had saved a little chicken for their meal that night instead. The kids liked the brownies for dessert but they were a little sweet for the adults who are not used to eating sugar or cooking with spices or other flavours. We reciprocated the invitation to lunch with an invitation to the family for spaghetti on the boat on Thursday night.

On the Thursday afternoon we picked the family up from the beach in the dinghy and brought them on the boat. We had prepared a big bowl of Penne and Bolognaise sauce in the middle of the table along with a green pawpaw salad and a bowl of corn chips – just in case the pasta didn’t go down very well. Everybody enjoyed themselves as we squeezed 10 people around the table in the saloon and Anna told us that they had only ever had pasta once before so it was a nice experience for them. After dinner we suggested the kids watch ‘Finding Nemo’ on dvd only to have the parents eagerly accept. So we put it on the big screen and they all absolutely loved it! Sister Jane kept saying ‘Dear Me’ and ‘Oh Dear’ in a mournful voice every time little Marlin got threatened by Bruce the shark! Eventually we bid our farewells and took them ashore where they made a beautiful picture walking back to their village using flaming coconut palm branches as lights.

Overall our experience with the locals of the Louisiade Archipelago has been absolutely fabulous. They relish the cruising season and really seem to enjoy practicing their basic English and trading with the yachties. In their local language we are referred to as ‘dim dims’ and it is funny to hear them talk about the ‘dim dims’ that have sailed through in the last few years. Some of the elders of the villages have a guest book which they give to ‘dim dims’ with whom they have a lot of contact with and it is fascinating to look back through and see the other boats who have visited over the past few years. As Alfred likes to say ‘as long as they only call us dim dims and not dim sims then we don’t have a problem!’

So after one last session of sundowners on Friday night with Gone Surfing we departed Pana Numara Island headed for Panasia lagoon on the western side of the archipelago. As we got closer and closer to the lagoon the weather became more overcast and what was supposed to be an ‘easy’ entrance looked a little bit like a nightmare. We had a big swell and breaking waves sretched across the horizon where the entrance was supposed to be. Eventually we decided it wasn’t worth risking the boat considering another boat called Meridien had spent three days sitting on the reef at the entrance only a few weeks ago after misjudging the coral. Just as we turned back we heard a voice over the radio ‘Verena Verena this is Lady Bubbly. Good to see you again – we are inside the lagoon do you need some assistance out there.’ Our saviours arrived in the dinghy to lead us in through the entrance and then presented us with a beautiful feed of Mackerel as an anchorage welcoming present! It was great to see Chris and his crew again and we enjoyed a night of sundowners in this spectacular anchorage.

Panasia lagoon looks like it belongs in Jurassic Park. Steep cliffs rise straight up from the turquoise waters of the protected lagoon and seem to circle around the boats at anchor. There is a small white beach just next to the anchorage which is easy to access but only about 50 metres long but the water is so beautiful that it was divine just to jump off the boat. We swam two to three times every day - sometimes before breakfast and amused ourselves reading and relaxing. On the second night we tried out our new smoker on the beach and we all (Lady Bubbly, Verena and Dreamtime III)  gathered around on shore drinking beer and attempting to substitute our non-existent knowledge for the non-existent instruction manual. Our mackerel was cooked not smoked (minor problem with the fuel source – Methylated Spirits – creating a fire) but it still tasted great and we gorged ourselves on the finished product before retiring to our respective boats after dark.

On the Monday we had visitors from the natives who garden on this island but have a village quite a long way away and we traded for bananas, pumpkin, yams, coconuts and pawpaws ready for our trip back to Port Moresby. That night we had Dreamtime and Lady Bubbly over to Verena for sundowners which turned into a rum tasting session which lasted until half past twelve that night. It was a fantastic giggle night with lots of jokes going around – the subjects of which become more politically and sexually incorrect as the night went on! Thankfully I stuck to the wine and believe I was the only person, apart from the kids, who woke up without a headache the next morning. A quiet day followed as we waved goodbye to Lady Bubbly and joined Dreamtime for a quiet lemonade at sunset. We packed the boat ready for sailing as we intended to leave for Port Moresby the next day with an ETA of early Saturday morning and a passage of three nights.   

Tags: Beaches & sunshine



Oh Anna, sounds amazing!! It's a different world, I really hope I can do something like that at some stage

Keep well xx

  John Sep 12, 2007 12:38 PM

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