Journey through the islands


LIVING on the coast or on a big island or island province has its advantages – like a great seaside view of the rising and setting sun and the possibility of visiting other smaller islands off the coast.
Visiting Kavieng, the capital of New Ireland which is situated at the northern tip of the mainland, offers visitors the latter possibility because of the many islands peppering the coastline. Just over to the west of the Kavieng market – across a narrow passage of water – are Big and Small Nusa islands.
The isles are separated by another tiny stretch of water, the smaller isle to the south hosts the popular Nusa Island Retreat, which in itself is a destination for tourists who come to enjoy a typical Papua New Guinean tropical island atmosphere.
Actually, one can see the traditionally styled bungalows from the beachfront of the mainland.
Guests there can make use of diving and snorkeling opportunities and explore the wonders of the marine life in the waters nearby.
Surfers also can ride the waves that approach the island as swells from the open seas to the west.
Both Nusa islands can be reached by paying for a K2 ride on a banana boat travelling across the passage. The resort has a schedule for its guests who may want to travel to town to get sundries and anyone heading that way can check their website for more details of the departure times.
Another island close to the shore is Nango, a few hundred metres further south from Small Nusa.
It is home to a mariculture and research facility run by the National Fisheries Authority.
Students from schools on the island, or elsewhere as a few visiting Australian students have been doing over the years, visit there to learn about Papua New Guinea’s marine life.
My first trip to any island in New Ireland was to New Hanover, locally known as Lavongai.
The largest island in the province, it is situated west of Kavieng. The journey, which I made in March, further developed my knowledge of the local people and their abodes in this province, also called bilas peles. The destination was New Hanover’s Konomatalik High School.
I accompanied a group of educators on a two-hour trip to the island, and passing numerous islands that go way past Nango and Nusa islands.
Those many other islands had reef systems which enabled some of the best surfs to be formed there. You could see from a mile out the beautiful sun-bleached beaches and coconut palm trees.
Our trip started at 5.30 on the afternoon of Thursday, March 9, at the beachfront near the Kavieng market. The trip was to begin at 4pm, but the skipper of the banana boat had other things to attend to and all we could do was wait.
While we were at the beach, some locals told us a little about the lives of locals of New Hanover – people who are in the Lavongai local government area, hence people referred to them as the Lavongai people.
There were 10 of us, including the skipper, when we eventually pushed our boat into the sea. All our bags, as well as the items purchased by the host school, were packed in the middle of the boat and wrapped with canvas.
Three people, including the school’s bursar, sat at the back with the skipper while five of us, all males, sat in the front.
As we passed the first few islands, including the two Nusa isles, just off the Kavieng beachfront, we noted that our boat was heading in the direction of the setting sun – to the west.
Actually, our destination was slightly northwest – we would go west and then travel north for about an hour to get to the school.
Two parts of the trip
It seemed that the trip had two parts.
The first hour was getting from Kavieng past the many islands and heading for a gap between two islands to the west – Patio to the south and Tsoinaulung to the north.
After entering the water separating the two islands, we then turned north and ran parallel to the coast of New Hanover and Tsoinaulung until we reached Konomatalik, a small harbour cut into the mangrove swamp.
The afternoon was fine for the trip and for the first hour, as in passing the first few islands near Kavieng, we rode over gentle swells that moved southeast and saw gulls gather in groups over parts of the ocean where fish were playing or fighting as in scrambling for food. However, after passing the gap between the two islands, the sea became very calm.
That’s was because it was sheltered by the main island and Tsoinaulung to the east, a long island about four kilometres off New Hanover.
It was almost as if we were riding through a large, smooth-flowing river or lake. As if to welcome us, a small drizzle started as the boat approached Konomatalik.
Teachers from the school and others had already gathered to meet us on the beach. Gathering our bags, we walked up a gentle ridge for about a kilometre to our accommodation – the school’s guesthouse – a big traditionally built building with small rooms cut into it.
After a refreshing wash at a waterhole on the side of the ridge, we proceeded to the school staffroom where other educators were assembled. It was 8.30pm. By then the drizzle had eased.
At the staffroom, the host teachers and students served coffee and tea, then dinner.
Looking out into the darkness, I noticed that some of the buildings stood out in the night with bright lights. One had double floors and four rooms – two on top and two at the bottom. With the lights on, their interior was bright and the place looked attractive in that cold, dark night.
It was interesting to note the setup of the school with relatively new classrooms and how the teachers were going on – as I deciphered from one teacher asking another on how things were going in his or her school and the challenges in administering it.
After dinner, I sat around for 20 minutes listening to the stories and jokes of teachers and then returned to the guesthouse to retire for the night.

  • Thomas Hukahu is a contributor to the Weekender. Read Part 2 next Friday.

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