An October 2005 trip
to Australia by rodeime
Quote: Cairns-based Coral Princess Cruises has been a benchmark expedition cruise operator for nearly 30years, beginning with overnight Great Barrier Reef cruises and expanding into more elaborate operations in Cape York, the Top End, and Kimberley, where their product is a runaway success.
We heard the pounding of the drums over the buzz of the outboard motor as the tiny zodiac came to deposit us on the beach at Kiriwina Island. Clearly, something was afoot.
We knew from our lecture onboard the Oceanic Princess that the Trobriand Islands possessed the fabled reputation as the "Islands of Love," but what was taking place on the pearl-white sands as we approached struck us as something much more forthright!
Two lines of lean, well-oiled men, obviously chosen for their physical prowess, greeted us with the most overt gyrations. Even some of well-travelled and worldly ladies were clearly blushing at this unmistakably masculine display. The drumbeats became even more excited and were now interspersed with a shrill umpire’s whistle. Frenzied motions of the men’s hips were leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. And then… stop.
A man in a comically chosen shirt-and-tie combo approached clutching a bull-horn and quickly shook the hand of Jamie, our gobsmacked expedition leader, and welcomed us heartily into his community.
On cue, a small corridor appeared in the crowd, and from it emerged half a dozen golden-skinned, nubile young maidens clutching vivid and intricate flower constructions which were delicately placed over, or onto, our wide-brimmed hats. As in ancient Trobriand tradition, we were being welcomed by the most attractive, eligible members of this little community.
"The Trobrianders have made seduction an art form," Nancy, our resident anthropologist, reminds us, "it’s all a part of the matrilineal (female-based) society of this region."
"This gorgeous shell jewellery," announces Nancy whilst selecting a girl who is probably the equivalent of a princess, "is a very clear sign of her status in the community."
"This piece of kula is probably over one hundred years old and is full of legend and magic," Nancy announces, her eyes widening behind dark glasses as we peer in wonder at the polished baubles.
For my part, I am completely entranced at the intricate decorations applied to our hostess. Her flawless skin is dusted with stigma from lurid yellow flowers, while around her neck are garlands of tiny, painstakingly woven flowers. Dark armbands with shell adornments match the cluster of hand-fashioned red shells cascading from her petite earlobes, while a similar strand encircles her subtly painted forehead, which in turn is topped with a tiara of bird feathers. Each girl is similarly bedecked, but infinitesimal differences declare her family’s ultimate status with in the community.
The dainty troupe turn to escort us up the short hill to a parade ground where hundreds more spectators await, their coquettish banana-fibre miniskirts waving seductively in unison. The sun and spectacle were stating to make my head spin!
From slow, sensual, Polynesian-style hula dancing to the legendary and hilariously ritualised Trobriand cricket, the vibrant and unashamedly sensual culture of the Trobriand Islands were there on show.
It started as a low
rumble, a distant reverberation that could have been a thunderstorm somewhere
over the horizon. But it rises as an increasingly ominous crescendo to
the point where I am looking up through the palm trees frantically searching
the skies for the 747s I am sure are about to pass overhead at about 100
Rabaul is intermittently
the jewel of the New England and New Ireland district: perfect Simpson
Harbour and glorious Blanche Bay framed by a magnificent but volatile
mountainscape are but a scant indicator to its tumultuous past.
Just the day before,
with a technicolour dawn breaking behind us, Captain Scotty guided Oceanic
Princess to our anchorage in the port of Rabaul. As we cruised serenely
up the bay, pastel hued clouds sat delicately atop the high, distant ridgelines
beyond Mount Tuvurvur that loomed on our starboard bow.
we stared, trancelike, across the mirror still waters, our gaze was quickly
diverted to an enormous, dense grey plume of smoke and ash that rose quickly
into the sky, staining and smearing our previously perfect watercolour
the thunderclap came several seconds after the appearance of the cloud
and quickly brought the rest of the breakfasting passengers out on deck
amid gasps and swoons.
explains Dr Nancy Sullivan our accompanying cultural interpreter, "has
been acting up like that for the last twelve years – ever since
the big one in ’94."
The "big one"
to which Nancy refers was the catastrophic eruption that again laid waste
to the town of Rabaul. Again? Yes, Rabaul has been comprehensively flattened
by a series of natural and manmade events in the last sixty-something
years and, although some semblance of life has returned to the remaining
streets, no large scale rebuilding is likely to take place again.
But today I’m
disembarking Oceanic Princess after ten days amongst the romantic and
superbly isolated islands within and around PNG’s Solomon Sea. It’s
been a breathtaking, almost intoxicating exploration of remote tropical
atolls and secluded islets, inspirational encounters with reclusive villagers
and wonderful exposure to secret rites and rituals. I’ll always
remember our celebrated landing on the island of Kiriwina amongst the
Trobriands, where we weren’t sure for a moment whether we were being
feted or prepared for a feast.
This is the new adventure,
the 21st Century holiday, where travellers transcend the stereotypical,
brochure-inspired, lazy week beside a pool and move into a whole other
world. A place where experience rises above star-ratings and inspiration
The unexpected bird-catchers
of Egum Atoll, the mesmerising Yam Harvest dancers of Kiriwina and the
mysterious spirit geyser of Seuseulina on Fergusson Island blur into head-spinning
medley when I try to recount them all at once. But these high points are
just a few of the richly rewarding events that occurred en-route from
Alotau to Rabaul.
Most of the passengers
have elected to stay on for the second leg of Coral Princess Cruises’
"The Place Time Forgot" expedition voyage and I’m honestly
disappointed to be missing the legendary Sepik River, the tropical fjords
of Tufi and the old colonial glamour of Medang that they are clearly looking
forward to over the next ten nights.
Often the subject
of unflattering publicity with disproportionate attention paid to the
unease in Port Moresby, the rest of PNG, particularly the outlying islands
are a bewildering patchwork of languages, customs and diverse ethnic groups.
My own brief, but thoroughly enriching experience was one of genuine wonder.
Even when I pondered the glossy brochure, tracing the route of voyage,
I was in no way prepared for the deluge of experiences in store. When
I remarked to Coral Princess Cruises’ Managing Director, Tony Briggs,
that the prospectus completely undersold the product, he replied candidly,
"I know, I know!"
The array of so-called
expedition products currently on offer to South Pacific and Australasian
destinations like the Kimberley, Vanuatu, the Solomons, New Zealand and
New Caledonia create a perplexing mix that makes choosing nigh impossible.
Yet the innate mystery and tantalizingly unexpected nature of these voyages
adds great attraction to each itinerary. Expedition Cruising, in its truest
form, offers only an outline of the intended trip. The reality is a titillating
anticipation that approximates the sensations once only experienced by
the pioneering seafarers who trail-blazed through these unknown lands
many hundreds of years ago.
As Mount Tuvurvur’s
latest little eruption subsides and another downpour of fine, gritty ash
ensues, I load my bags into the van for the one-way trip to the airport
and vow to return and complete my odyssey in the land I’ll never
Line: Coral Princess Cruises
Rating: not rated
Passenger Capacity: 76
range from 10 to 13 nights and are priced from A$6950 twin-share.
by NQEA in Cairns, Oceanic Princess is equipped with zodiacs,
a glass-bottomed boat and a specially designed, high-powered aluminium
excursion vessel with awning and toilet.