By NATHAN LATI
BOUGAINVILLE has risen from the crisis and embraced tourism development everywhere in the region.
There are locally designed and built resorts, lodges and guesthouses that can cater for any tourist types. These facilities can also cater to the meetings, incentive, conference and events (Mice) segment of the tourism market.
There are a handful of family homes that are providing homestays after renovations and installation of extra rooms and amenities for the comfort and convenience of tourists that the families will be hosting. One such home is that of notable Buka Islander, Garth Harepa who runs the Hanis Inn located near the Buka Passage close to the main wharf.
She does not want to advertise her accommodation facility because she has a limited number of rooms with an already existing client base. She recalls sleeping outside with other friends one time when her house was fully occupied sometimes in 2012 by repeat visitors. She had no choice but to give her room to the visitors and find herself a place outside of her home.
Opened to business in 1998, the Hanis Inn now has 12 serviced rooms that includes six standard rooms and six deluxe rooms with en-suites.
The kitchen has been renovated and a new lounge set installed with dining tables. The inn now carters for breakfast, lunch and dinner only for in-house guests. There is a plan for a mini in-house bar within the area but all will be monitored so there is limited impact to her usual family atmosphere.
Additionally, Buka township has some accommodation facilities that are beyond anyone’s expectation with the extra amenities provided in the rooms and within the premises. The centre of attraction not to be missed are the Kuri and Reasons Resorts which are located next to each other with restaurants and bar views of the famous Buka Passage.
Dine out or have a few chilled stubbies over the decks in the afternoons and you will get the chance to see the wonder of the currents of Buka Passage in the afternoon when the setting sun casts rays over it. The Buka Passage’s water taxis are frequent sights no one will ever miss on the passage, ferrying passengers between Kokopau and Buka town or to and from Sohano Island.
There is more to do and see on Buka Island despite its landmass and small township. Towards the north there are bird watching sites, WWII relics and limestone caves like Tiama which is located only 10km from the town. The naturally hallowed limestone cave is one of the beautiful wonders on the island. The cave extends further into the jungles with fresh water flowing out from the limestone crest into the sea near a beautiful beachfront of Tiama Village. Researches have confirmed that humans had lived inside Tiama cave about 300,000 years ago.
On the southern side of the township is Sohano Island which has an interesting history connecting the island to the Bougainville cultural heritage and WWII. Further out of Sohano and off into the lagoon are famous WWII relics, and the best diving, snorkelling and picnic spots on the island.
There are a number of beautiful coral islands with white sandy beaches that are inhabited and one of the most visited is Pidgin Island. People go there for picnics or swimming. The unspoiled corals and undersea biodiversity is a diver’s paradise offering breathtaking exploration even for the snorkelling enthusiast.
Meanwhile, along the Buka Ring Road are few tourist sites and facilities that have been initiated and developed by the locals for bird watching, homestays, camping, picnics and day outs. One of the notable sites currently frequented by residents of Buka and other visitors on the island is Francisca Semoso’s place at Malasang village. The place is situated on a cliff edge with stunning views over the Solomon Sea and is ideal for meetings in a village style setting or for corporate and business functions. The place supports local horticulture for local women groups and promotes arts and crafts.
Bougainville is affectionately known to many as the island of San Kamap (Island of the rising sun) where PNG Time hastens one hour ahead.
Arawa town has been a centre of attraction in the 1980s and one of the best mining townships in PNG ever developed by Bougainville Copper Limited (BCL). The memorable Ako Beach, Happy Valley Beach of Kieta, Arovo Island Beach Resort and now shinning Pokpok Island are making some fall in love with Arawa despite the scars of the crisis.
To relive those good old memories, the Speaker of Bougainville House of Assembly, Simon Pentanu has converted his home on the island into a bedsitter to accommodate visitors and built two extra self-contained bungalows near his house on the island. He has plans to build a jetty and add other amenities for visitor comfort on the island.
The Awara township has some lodges with facilities and amenities that are making a name for themselves. These include Butterfly Inn, Gold Dust Inn, Arawai Guesthouse, Rising Sun Lodge, DJ Garden Lodge, Arawa Travellers Inn, Arawa Women’s Centre and a few others.
Currently, the tourist market in Buka is driven by visiting friends and relatives. And with the interest to provide orderly visitor services, Zhon Bosco, a former Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) fighter and a self-taught musician has started the Bougainville Experience Tours and its going from success to success every year receiving visitors who have connections to Bougainville or those expatriates who have worked and lived in Awara before and visiting Awara to relive old memories.
The company also provides logistics support for special interest groups as well as shore excursion logistics for cruise ships that call into Arawa and Buka.
It is always remarkable for some Bougainvilleans who had fled to Australia and other countries to go back to visit their home province and connect with their families.
Other visitors are former employees of BCL and their families visiting the island to reconnect with memories of the past.
Bosco’s company has a special package and market for Bougainvilleans who live overseas and want to visit the island and meet with their families.
The company provides logistics support services to visitors of all types as well as providing special tours to the Panguna Mine site and Pokpok Island. They also organise home stays and tous to WW2 sites and cultural events.
Arawa has a range of accommodation for adventure and budget travellers or groups which include homestay, bed and breakfast and lodges that have standard hotel facilities and amenities.
Accessibility into Bougainville (Buka and Arawa) is one of the main issues that are likely to cause a setback for tourism business in the region.
There have been several issues with air travel and most times flights to Buka have been cancelled by the airlines whilst Aropa airport in Arawa has been closed for some time due to varying reasons and technical issues.
It is not about building another world class airport for the people of Bougainville to travel direct from AROB overseas but making interconnecting flights between the New Guinea Islands cheaper with regular or competitive scheduled fights out of Lae and Port Moresby. This will ensure the expected success in tourism.
Alternatively, there is a need for convenient and regular passenger ferry services from Lae to Buka with technical stopovers and transits at New Guinea Island ports.
The ferry and flight routes between Solomon Islands and Bougainville needs to be opened for tourism purposes and also to link with the nearby Micronesian Islands.
There is the undiscovered Siwai area that needs to be showcased for tourism too. The only avenue for them now seems to be the Reed Festival which is staged annually in Arawa town but Siwai culture has more to offer for tourism.
Buin is near to the Solomon Islands and there are traditional trade links and intermarriages that date back centuries.
Accessibility is one of the main issues the area has to deal with despite the interest to develop tourism which seems to be the most viable supplement to the island’s cocoa and copra industries.
The island is littered with WWII relics. On the road to Siwai from Buin, for instance, there are machines, guns and tanks which appear to be still intact and in good state.
The famous Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plane crash site is also located near Buin together with Little Tokyo which used to be an underground military base for Japanese forces during WWII. The area is now covered with thick jungle.
Bougainvilleans are showing PNG that tourism is a way to improve living standards. With the looming referendum for Autonomous Region, there are anxieties and fear of what will happen but out of what has already happened on the island, Bougainvillean has developed a resilience which will not end with a referendum.
The foundation to rebound into greater heights and prosperity awaits Bougainvilleans who are into tourism.
• Nathan Lati is a PNGTPA product development officer.