Friday, May 07, 2010

Islands of fun in Papua New Guinea's paradise lost

By Ilya Gridneff, AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

MILNE BAY, PNG, AAP - Papua New Guinea's Culture and Tourism Minister laughs at my inquiry then politely tells me to "keep dreaming".
It was a simple question inspired by my island-hopping adventure in his home province of Milne Bay. "Who do I speak to about buying one of Milne Bay's 2000 islands?" I ask in between slurps from a fresh coconut.
Charles Abel, the member for Milne Bay's centre of Alotau, has more than a 100-year family history in this southeastern tip of PNG.
He ruefully retorts he doesn't want to see the region's standards plummet with me as a new constituent.
"Speak to the landowners, it's not a simple purchase, I am not sure you can simply buy an island," he says.
"But if you want to build a resort on one, well, it's a long process we can talk about.
"We have big plans to turn this region into a tourist hub," he says pointing out to the surrounding crystal blue sea.
Milne Bay is already a destination for cruise ships that sail around the islands stretching hundreds of kilometres north and east.
Most of the island groups' names come from an armada of early explorers from as far back as 1660 who set sail through this intricate tapestry now known as the Trobriands, Woodlark, Laughlan, Louisiade Archipelago and the D'Entrecasteau islands.
In a cluster of islands just outside Milne Bay's `China Straits,' is Kwato, about three kilometres east of what was the region's provincial centre, Samarai, first established in 1888.
 Kwato is where the tourism minister's great grandfather Charles Abel settled as one of the first white men in the province circa 1891.
Charles Abel (senior) helped build a church that proudly sits on top of the Kwato's hill and provides spectacular panoramic views of what typifies the `Pacific experience'.
Abel is famed for breaking from his London Missionary Society and championing the local people by teaching practical skills. Ever since those tumultuous early days the Abel family has been an institution throughout Milne Bay and the rest of PNG.
Nowadays when navigating on our small dingy there is an impression of lost time, of a place where not much has changed since the volcanoes left a landscape that looks like a sprinkling of the earth's last crumbs.
Turquoise sea and white sandy beaches with the occasional local paddling a traditional canoe takes up much of the vista as we dart along the water island hopping.
On Samarai the old Colonial memory of the administration lingers in buildings and decaying houses now occupied by locals and their algorithm of family networks cohabiting what was once a hive of activity.Both Kwato and Samarai are incredible spots as living histories, remnants of a past era long gone but not too far away.
All this is a simple excursion depending on how much fuel you've got or how much time you can afford to find paradise lost.
 Driftwood Resort, more an oasis than resort, is a handful of boutique bungalows sitting on Milne Bay's shore and is the perfect place to relax or use as a hub for island activities.
Serenity is at Driftwood's core and it is ideal for those who may want to rekindle something special or mend the body, mind and soul.
Friendly hotel staff organise island adventures or can arrange, for the history buffs, tours of Milne Bay's World War II legacy and the battle sites that saw Japan's first land defeat.
Their fishing tours and excursions to surrounding villages are also well worth the effort.
Driftwood's scenic jetty and quality restaurant is the place to unwind and do nothing. Just watch it all go by. Sunsets or sunrises.
And after these tough days it is recommended to visit the bar for an array of colourful cocktails.
Then there is Tawali dive resort, about an hour's drive east from Alotau, where scuba divers from around the world flock to what is considered some of the globe's most abundant and versatile coral reefs.
Milne Bay is safe, simple and well catered for those in search of a pacific paradise that has not been trampled by tourists or tour operators.
Regular flights from PNG's capital Port Moresby to Alotau mean you can bounce from one of the world's most unliveable cities straight to what is considered PNG's most peaceful province.
As another sun sets on Milne Bay the drinks have shifted from coconuts to the famous South Pacific lager, the popular brew simply known as `SP'.
I badger the tourism minister for a discount if I commit to setting up several `offices' in Milne Bay.
"Keep dreaming," Abel repeats with a chuckle.
"I am," I say.
And it is, Milne Bay is a dream.
IF YOU GO:
There are regular flights to Papua New Guinea from Australia by Air Niugini or Virgin Pacific Blue
From Port Moresby to Alotau regular flights by Air Niugini or Airlines PNG operate
Visit: www.airniugini.com.pg; www.airlinespng.com.pg.
Travel Services: Call: 675-320-2468 or email: admin@travelservices.com.pg.
Driftwood Resort, Alotau. Visit: www.driftwoodpng.com; call: 675-641-0098; 675-323-1920.
Cost: Per night: garden bungalow $A260, waterfront bungalow $A320.


No comments:

Post a Comment