A Travellerspoint blog

Brisbane to Papua New Guinea

3rd Feb

This morning we had a wander around Brisbane before heading to the cruise ship terminal. We walked over to Southbank.

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We even found one of the big things on our list. A cicada.

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There is a lot of art around the city.

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We boarded our home for the next 11 days. This time we are on the Sea Princess.

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We went outside for the sail away. We had a couple of tugs to help us.

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We even had a bridge to go under.

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4th and 5th Feb

We had 2 days cruising across the Coral Sea. We had lots of activities to do. We went and saw the vegetable carving.

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We also went to a talk about PNG so we could learn more about our ports of call.

This evening was our first formal night. We attended the traditional champagne waterfall.

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The atrium in the evening.

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Us all dressed up.

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Our second day at sea was pretty calm.

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There were lots of birds following the ship.

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6th Feb

Today we arrived in Papua New Guinea. Officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, it is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its south-eastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.
At the national level, after being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975. This followed nearly 60 years of Australian administration, which started during World War I. It became an independent Commonwealth realm in 1975 with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in its own right.
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18 per cent of its people live in urban centres. There are 852 known languages in the country, of which 12 now have no known living speakers. Most of the population of more than 8 million people lives in customary communities, which are as diverse as the languages. The country is one of the world's least explored, culturally and geographically. It is known to have numerous groups of uncontacted peoples, and researchers believe there are many undiscovered species of plants and animals in the interior.
As we are visiting PNG by cruise ship, we will just be visiting remote areas where the ship can dock.
Our first port was Alotau. Alotau is the capital of the Milne Bay Province, in the south-east of Papua New Guinea. It is located on the northern shore of Milne Bay. Alotau is also where the annual forum for Australian and Papua New Guinean ministers is held. Our first views from the ship.

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Shane at the port.

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There were some of the locals there to greet us.

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This morning we headed to the Alotau Festival. This colourful and entertaining cultural extravaganza showcased the skills and talents of the various cultures of the Milne Bay Province. We arrived at the lively festival grounds for Wanigili, which means "a gathering of people. As we approached, the sounds of the hourglass-shaped kundu drums and vibrant chanting filled the air and we were warmly welcomed into the festival.

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We listened to the choir.

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There was a wide range of activities including the excitement of the elaborately decorated Lopo war canoes, bearing up to 25 warriors traditionally dressed and displaying their paddling prowess and the skills involved in manoeuvring a canoe and we learned the various rituals involved. For centuries, kundu drums and canoes have played an important role in local ceremonies and rituals and were meticulously crafted from special woods under strict customs to achieve the best results and to appease the gods.

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As we took a stroll around the festival, we enjoyed the explosion of colour.

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Traditional dancing groups come from far and wide (including parts of the Papuan Region) to perform and demonstrations and rituals common to the Melanesian way of life were on full display throughout the grounds.

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After a lovely morning we headed back to the ship. Upon our return to the ship we had a quick lunch as in the afternoon we had plans to take a tour to learn about the history of the Battle of Milne Bay. The Battle of Milne Bay (25 August – 7 September 1942), also known as Operation RE or the Battle of Rabi by the Japanese, was a battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II. Elite Japanese naval troops, known as Kaigun Tokubetsu Rikusentai (Special Naval Landing Forces), with two small tanks attacked the Allied airfields at Milne Bay that had been established on the eastern tip of New Guinea. Due to poor intelligence work, the Japanese miscalculated the size of the predominantly Australian garrison and, believing that the airfields were only defended by two or three companies, initially landed a force roughly equivalent in size to one battalion on 25 August 1942. The Allies forewarned by intelligence, had heavily reinforced the garrison.
Despite suffering a significant setback at the outset, when part of their small invasion force had its landing craft destroyed by Allied aircraft as they attempted to land on the coast behind the Australian defenders, the Japanese quickly pushed inland and began their advance towards the airfields. Heavy fighting followed as they encountered the Australian Militia troops that formed the first line of defence. These troops were steadily pushed back, but the Australians brought forward veteran Second Australian Imperial Force units that the Japanese had not expected. Allied air superiority helped tip the balance, providing close support to troops in combat and targeting Japanese logistics. Finding themselves heavily outnumbered, lacking supplies and suffering heavy casualties, the Japanese withdrew their forces, with fighting coming to an end on 7 September 1942.
The battle is often described as the first major battle of the war in the Pacific in which Allied troops decisively defeated Japanese land forces. Although Japanese land forces had experienced local setbacks elsewhere in the Pacific earlier in the war, unlike at Milne Bay, these earlier actions had not forced them to withdraw completely and abandon their strategic objective. Nor did they have such a profound impact upon the thoughts and perceptions of the Allies towards the Japanese, and their prospects for victory. Milne Bay showed the limits of Japanese capability to expand using relatively small forces in the face of increasingly larger Allied troop concentrations and command of the air. As a result of the battle, Allied morale was boosted, and Milne Bay was developed into a major Allied base, which was used to mount subsequent operations in the region.
By the time we left the ship it was pouring with rain. We weren’t going to let that stop us visit such significant sites. It was hard to imagine that this peaceful paradise was once the scene of war. We explored the history of the Battle of Milne Bay as we drove east of Alotau to the Cpl John French Memorial Site. Cpl John French was awarded the Victoria Cross Medal for his heroic efforts during the mop up exercise after the Japanese defeat. This was the site of the last head-on military engagement between the Allies Forces and the Japanese Imperial army as they were retreating.

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We then drove west along the main highway into Alotau, past the actual site of the first formal AIF military engagement in the Battle, Robinson's Ambush at Cameron Springs, before heading up the hill to Hiwehiwe Lookout to get a bird's eye view of the Battle route and listen to the fascinating commentary and general over view of the Battle. Luckily it had stopped raining. The view was magnificent, and you could see how Milne Bay really was.

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Then of course there were the green hills behind us.

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While at the lookout we met some more of the lovely locals.

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We later saw the KB Mission, which was the site of some of the war's most fierce fighting. It was here on September 4 that Allied troops fought back against the Japanese and handed them their first defeat on land. The Battle of Milne Bay lasted just two weeks but if the Japanese had won, they would have seized control of the airfields and established a foothold on the island's south-eastern shore.
From KB Mission we went to the Turnbull War Memorial site at Kainko, the original No.3 airstrip during WWII and its memorial to Australia's Squadron Leader, Peter St George Turnbull, who was killed during the Battle of Milne Bay.

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We then returned to town and visited the shore-side World War II monument that symbolizes the bravery of those who gave their lives during the battle of Milne Bay.

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After a jam-packed day, we headed back to the ship.

7th Feb

This morning we arrived in Kitava, which is one of the four major islands in the Trobriand Islands archipelago group of the Solomon Sea, located in Milne Bay Province in the south-eastern Papua New Guinea. It has a population of around 3,000. Here life remains as it was thousands of years ago with very little external influence. But our time here was not to be. Due to strong winds and a big swell we could not tender to the island. So, we could only circumnavigate it and remain at sea for the day.

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The landing site was surrounded by stunning white sand beaches lined with natural shade-trees.

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Just offshore was the picture-perfect sand atoll Nuratu Island. It looked like a slice of heaven.

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It was hard to see how there could be a population of 3,000 but from far off shore you could just see some of their homes.

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We had a relaxing day at sea and watched some movies we hadn’t seen.

8th Feb

Today we spent the day in Rabaul. We got up early as we had heard how spectacular it was sailing into Simpson Harbour. Around 1400 years ago there was a cataclysmic explosion which formed a huge caldera into which the Pacific poured forming Simpson Harbour. It was raining but we still got to experience the sail in. The volcano was even steaming away for us.

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The pilot arrived to help us navigate the harbour.

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We sailed past the beehive which is the hardened lava core of an eroded volcano.

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We passed lots of other ships in the harbour.

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The Rabaul area was originally a German possession. However, in September 1914, a small Australian force defeated the Germans near Kokopo ending their control. In 1921, the League of Nations granted Australia a mandate to administer New Guinea as a trust territory and Rabaul became the capital.
The former capital of New Britain has a history of destruction and resurrection - the city was rebuilt after a massive 1937 volcanic eruption only to be destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II. In 1994, the eruption of Mt. Tavurvur dropped hot ash and rock on Rabaul, leading to its partial abandonment. Since that cataclysm, the city has slowly returned to life - hotels have resumed operating, the market continues to trade, and the harbour remains one of the most impressive in the entire Pacific basin. During World War II, Rabaul served as a forward operating base for the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. Allied bombing forced the Japanese defenders underground, into a complex system of bunkers and tunnels on the Gazelle Peninsula. This is Rabaul as we sailed closer.

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Rabaul from the ship once docked.

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After disembarking we headed for the Paivu Tours banner. We had arranged a full day of sightseeing with them. Our first stop was the Japanese Barge Tunnels. Japanese forces overtook the town of Rabaul in 1942 as WWII was in its final years, and quickly established a massive military complex serving their navy, air force, and, infantry. At its height, the Rabaul base and its surrounding encampment served over 97,000 soldiers, and thousands more accompanying personnel. Due to the island’s remote location, the main threat to the base was bombardment from the air, which was frequent and often devastating. To counteract this, hundreds of miles of tunnels were built beneath the town where a number of fully functioning facilities were installed. Hospital, barracks, storehouses, and command centres were moved into the underground labyrinth with some of the chambers built as large as four stories tall. Some of the tunnels were hewn right from the existing rock, and some were crude structures supported by palm beams, while others still were fully built out concrete bunkers. All in all, the system became one of the longest and most impressive in the world.

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We then travelled to Kokopo. The road was pretty rough. They had had a lot of rain the night before. There were cars going everywhere.

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We passed the old floating crane which has been left to perish.

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There were more tunnels along the road.

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You could see how deep the ash was even after all this time.

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The people were really friendly, and the kids all waved at us.

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We then went to the Kokopo War Relics Museum.

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This museum featured weapons and equipment left behind at the end of the war, and it was displayed in the same state as they were found, rather than being conserved and rebuilt like you would find in a 'western' museum. Saying that, it in no way detracts from the exhibition, and in some ways, it enhanced the experience.

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We visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery.

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The Bitapaka War Cemetery was established in 1945 and is located near the site of the former Bitapaka wireless station south of the city of Rabaul. The cemetery is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery contains the Australian and Commonwealth graves of those killed during operations in New Britain and New Ireland during World War II, or who died while prisoners of war.

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This part of the cemetery is for the Indians who fought here.

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The cemetery also contains World War I Australian and German graves of those killed during operations in the Occupation of German New Guinea, which were relocated to the cemetery.

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After lunch we went to the Rabaul Caldera area. The outer flanks of the highest peak are 688-metre-high. As mentioned earlier due to the previous eruptions this was a must-see area. In 1937, Vulcan and Tavurvur erupted simultaneously, killing 507 people. This event led to the founding of the Rabaul Volcano Observatory. Three times in 100 years the volcanoes have erupted. Tavurvur, one of the five volcanoes continues to huff and puff, so the regions seismic activity is measured even more conscientiously than ever. We made a visit there.

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The screens monitoring the volcanoes.

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Equipment used to conduct monitoring.

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What a view we had from the observatory.

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There were more tunnels cut into the stone hills.

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Our next stop was the Rabaul Old Airport Runway. The airfield was constructed by the Royal Australian Air Force as an emergency landing strip for Vunakanau Airfield and consisted of an unpaved 4,700 foot single runway during World War II. The airfield was captured during the battle of Rabaul in 1942 by the Imperial Japanese and was extensively modified and expanded. Lakunai was later neutralized by Allied air bombing in 1944. The airport was destroyed by the 1994 eruption that destroyed the town of Rabaul and subsequently the new airport was built and opened at Tokua, on the opposite side of the Rabaul caldera. You would never have known that an airport had been here.

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Remaining buildings were metres under ash.

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We stopped to see the Mt. Tavurvur Active Volcano and the Hot Springs. By the time we arrived there was no where near as much action as what we had seen this morning.

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The colours in the hot springs were beautiful. The water is 70 degrees Celsius.

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The volcanic rock was everywhere.

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Then on to Admiral Yamamoto’s Bunker. Isoroku Yamamoto was a Japanese Marshal Admiral of the Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II until his death. This was the control bunker for all Rabaul town's Anti-Aircraft defences and searchlights. It is an impressive concrete structure that has sustained punishment from aerial attacks, and in 1994 was covered in volcanic ash. It is rumoured the Admiral Yamamoto spent his last night in Rabaul at this bunker, before he was shot down over Bougainville. The bunker originally had four separate entrances, but now only one is open, the others are filled in or collapsed.

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The entrance has the Imperial Japanese Naval anchor above the doorway.

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Once down the stairs there were several rooms.

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To the right, is one of the concrete slabs that is broken off from a direct hit by a bomb.

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There was also a museum there.

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Our final stop was the Montevideo Maru Memorial. The 7,266-ton, twin-screw diesel motor vessel, the MV Montevideo Maru, was a Japanese passenger vessel constructed in Nagasaki in 1926. It was operated until the outbreak of the Second World War by the Osaka Shosen Kaisha Shipping Line for its service between Japan and South America. During the Second World War the Montevideo Maru was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy as an auxiliary vessel transporting troops and provisions throughout South East Asia. Early in the morning of 22 June 1942, members of the Australian 2/22nd Battalion, No.1 Independent Company, and civilian prisoners captured in New Britain were ordered to board the vessel. For the march to the waterfront, Japanese guards divided the prisoners into groups of approximately fifty men. Only the officers and a small number of civilians were left in the Malaguna Road camp. The Montevideo Maru sailed unescorted for Hainan Island, keeping to the east of the Philippines in an effort to avoid Allied submarines. Eight days into the voyage, the Montevideo Maru was spotted by the American submarine USS Sturgeon. For approximately four hours the Sturgeon manoeuvred into a position to fire its four stern torpedoes. The USS Sturgeon’s log records an impact at 2.29 am, approximately 30 metres aft of the funnel. Survivors from the Montevideo Maru’s Japanese crew reported two torpedoes striking the vessel followed by an explosion in the oil tank in the aft hold. According to both the Sturgeon’s log and the Japanese survivors, the Montevideo Maru sank by the stern in as little as eleven minutes from the torpedo impact. Although the Japanese crew were ordered to abandon ship, it does not appear they made any attempt to assist the prisoners to do likewise. The ship’s lifeboats were launched but all capsized and one suffered severe damage. Of the 88 Japanese guards and crew, only 17 survived the sinking and subsequent march through the Philippine jungle. While the exact number and identity of the more than 1,000 men aboard the Montevideo Maru has never been confirmed, Japanese and Australian sources suggest an estimated 845 military personnel and up to 208 civilians lost their lives in the tragedy. Considerable efforts were made by both the International Red Cross and the Australian government to seek details of the Montevideo Maru’s passengers from the Japanese authorities. Despite evidence that the Japanese navy forwarded information about the loss of the vessel to Japan’s Prisoner of War Information Bureau as early as January 1943, Australian authorities were not provided with a list of casualties until October 1945, when Major H.S. Williams of the Recovered Personnel Division in Tokyo began investigations into the loss of the Montevideo Maru.

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On the way back to the ship we passed the local market.

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Once everyone was back on board we headed back out of the harbour. We said goodbye to the volcano which was not puffing much at all.

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Even some of the locals came out and waved us goodbye.

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9th Feb

Today we were due to spend a day on Kiriwina Island. Kiriwina is the largest of the Trobriand Islands, with an area of 290.5 km². It is part of the Milne Bay Province. Most of the 12,000 people who live in the Trobriands live on Kiriwina. The Kilivila language, also known as Kiriwina, is spoken on the island. The main town is Losuia. But once again we were due to tender to port and due to the strong winds could not do this. So, we spent another relaxing day on the ship.

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10th Feb

Our last stop in PNG was at Conflict Island which is an atoll. The Conflict group was sighted in 1879 by HMS Cormorant, by moonlight; it was named in 1880 by Bower, captain of HMS Conflict. The owner of these islands has been on our cruise and gave us a talk about how he had the opportunity to purchase the islands.
We arrived early so we went out on deck to take a look at the island. This is where we would finally spend a day at the beach.

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To get to the island we had to use a tender.

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In the morning we took a scenic cruise around the Conflict Island atoll, made up of 21 pristine tropical islands which are mostly uninhabited and surrounded by a spectacular lagoon. It is one of the most remote locations in the Coral Sea.

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We then returned to the island.

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Once back at the island we took a walk around.

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Here is the airstrip and arrival and departure hut.

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They also have a turtle hatchery there. This is where they bury the eggs and wait for them to hatch.

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We then decided to go snorkelling as the reef system here is the most biodiverse in the world.

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As soon as we jumped in, we saw about 30 squid just hanging around near us.

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The coral was amazing.

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The wind came up and it got really rough, so we had to head back to the island. Upon our return we found out that due to the high winds the tenders had been suspended. Here are the tenders waiting at the jetty.

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So, we relaxed on the beach and had another swim.

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During another walk we found all these hermit crabs in various shells.

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This is some of the accommodation on the island.

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We had to wait some time for the tenders to begin again. It was still really windy and the waters were pretty rough but we made it back to the ship.

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11th Feb

Because we had missed out on other tender ports the captain decided that we would have another day on Conflict Island. We were due to start heading back to Brisbane through the Kawanasausau Strait which is a group of small islands and islets which are uninhabited and consist of sand in the ocean but instead of just cruising through the strait another day on Conflict Island was just what a lot of people wanted. We decided not to head back to the island today. We had a relaxing day on the ship and took advantage of the cheap cocktail of the day.

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We will now spend 2 days cruising back to Brisbane so we will end our blog here.

Posted by shaneandnicola 16:29 Archived in Papua New Guinea Comments (0)

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