After the Sepik and the Highlands, I went to Lae and stayed there for a bit. Lae is PNG’s biggest port, second biggest city and from here I wanted to make it to the big islands to the east of the mainland. Since a bad ferry accident some years ago, ships are hardly used to transport passengers. I was asked 300 kina (less if you are student) for a four-day ferry ride to Rabaul that is once a week. Instead, for a bit more money I decided to fly to Kavieng, which is the main town on New Ireland and from there make it overland/water to Rabaul instead.
This is a GPX file for exploring in Google Earth.
In Kavieng I was going to couchsurf with Helen, but instead stayed with her friend Brendan. They both work for Air Niugini and thought I had committed an unforgivable sin by arriving on the competition’s aircraft but soon forgave me. Both took great care of me. Kavieng is a nice and friendly town. There are more Chinese-run supermarkets per capita than anywhere else in the world, I guess. The market is quite nice but generally Kavieng does not have too many sights. I spent my time meeting Brendan’s friends and trying to find a bicycle that would take me down to the other end of New Ireland.
Finding a bike was not easy. Some places listed in the Lonely Planet either didn’t have bikes or wanted too much money. Finally I found a guesthouse owned by a guy named John Knox, who was renting bikes to 60 kina a day. He was not very helpful and a bit indifferent. Maybe he’s OK but I’ve just been spoilt by the rest of my experiences in PNG where most people will go out of their way to help the foreign traveler. I guess that being involved in tourism (he has a guesthouse and provides transport services), John might have witnessed enough white man disgrace to leave him without a soft spot for the odd innocent Bulgarian traveler. Or, he had learnt too well from white men to be a businessman.
On day one I started late because John had not really prepared my bike properly and some time was spent trying to fix it. He finally just gave me a “new one out the box”. It did come out of a box but it was certainly not brand new. It was a good bike anyway with a rack for my backpack.
The day ended at Cathy’s place in Laraibina where people come to see the huge eels that live in the stream next to her house. Cathy is a veteran flight attendant with Air Niugini. She flew “back in the old days when flying was an interesting experience”. She’s quite an interesting character. Most societies on New Ireland are apparently matriarchal (daughters inherit the property and their husbands move in with them, women decide on important matters and usually run any business) and Cathy is certainly a good example. She can accommodate people for the night, but ask the price first!
I passed through a village called Libba, which is famous for the carving and mask-making tradition of the Malagan people. The local church had really nicely carved pillars.
That night I ended up staying at a Seventh Day Adventist guesthouse in Dalom that was a very nice place with a turqoise stream flowing into the sea and some nice hills behind. The place was well run and apparently there is good snorkelling and hiking. It was only 80 kina a night and I got to pitch my tent in the dining room for half price.
Some more views of and from the road:
The third day I started early because I wanted to make sure I’d make it on time to Namatanai even if there would be rain. And then I knew that there would be about 50 km of unsealed road that day. That part is in fact compressed crushed white coral and actually quite comfortable to ride unless there were many potholes. It was bad in some places but not too bad. And a good section of it was being prepared for sealing so it was actually quite comfortable.
From Namatanai there is a well organized truck+banana boat option to Kokopo/Rabaul. The better company, Solwara Meri (means mermaid in Tok Pisin – solwara “saltwater” + meri “lady”) is probably the only business in PNG that runs on time. They left exactly at 6 am and made it to Kokopo by 10 am as promised. They also have a guesthouse for “only” 150 or 250 kina a night but I stayed in a room with the other passengers waiting for the morning passage that was free.
I will leave Kokopo and Rabaul for another post. I have a feeling that I am making these posts too long and nobody reads them…:/
At the moment there seem to be three main commercial airlines in PNG. Air Nuigini has the best service and safety record but can be very expensive. Airlines PNG has had some incidents in the past but people say it’s getting better and I found them to be the cheapest. Travel air is a newcomer (who knows how long they are going to last), use old planes but are worth checking out. The problem is you can’t buy your ticket online, only in their offices. You can view prices online but it turns out they are not the correct ones. They have phone numbers.
In Namatanai there are apparently a couple of places with cheap accommodation. Check out Wikitravel.