Kimbe: 11-19 Feb '14
Tue 11 Feb 14 - Wed 19 Feb 14 33 °C
Luckily we never planned to stay long in Kuta - just a couple of days before Elin and I went our separate ways - her to the Philippines, and me to Papua New Guinea...
As you begin to descend into Hoskins, you see the volcanoes pushing through the clouds towards you, and as the little propeller plane descends further, the green trees slope down to the coastline spreading beneath you, and as you circle, tiny islands, little more than sandbanks, loom out as a shade of yellow and turquoise in the murkier deep blue depths of the ocean, as you seemingly almost skim the waves and then the treetops as you arrive at the tiny airport, set in such a majestic landscape. This is West New Britain province, the left half of the large island to the east of "mainland" Papua New Guinea, itself the east half of an enormous island. West New Britain is home to twenty-one volcanoes, five still active, massive palm oil plantations, WWII relics, and spectacular marine life. I was heading to Kimbe Bay (just past the provincial capital of Kimbe), where there are reputedly "more than 350 types of hard coral and 860 types of fish" - as Lonely Planet puts it, "you might see anything from a tiny glass prawn to a pod of killer whales". And that's just under the sea.
My real reason for heading here was my friend Eve, researching for her PhD in Anthropology, currently staying at Mahonia Na Dari, a conservation and marine research centre. Quite a few of the bungalows are rented out to Westerners based in the area. The (almost) waterfront bungalow I joined Eve in was the home of Asinate, a Fijian-New Zealander Seventh-Day Adventist working at Mahonia as part of a volunteer project - and her newly acquired puppy to be her guard dog - Gabriel, or Gaby for short. So I settled down to a quiet week, punctuated by the puppy's mad adventures and a flavour of what West New Britain had to offer. Kayaking and snorkelling were tried once, but a little unsuccessfully as I had a cold (which makes snorkelling surprisingly difficult, despite you not breathing through your nose) and the current was really strong that day - we ended up a good few hundred metres up the coast from where we started.
Most evenings were quiet affairs, although a few were spent at the neighbouring dive resort (i.e. nearest bar), Walindi, and on one evening we were invited to a dinner party at some local expats house. This was an intriguing affair - Anne and Ifor, a Welsh couple running the school in Kimbe, were lovely and Anne a brilliant cook (the walnut cake was wow) - the other guests were all of a similar age (45-65?) and although very nice, very much living an expats lifestyle - driving around in their big 4WD cars, living in aircon houses with servants (a house-murray I believe), and not really interacting with locals much at all. They were pretty shocked at Eve being in PNG alone, even more so at her imminent move to Bialla (a small local village, where she would be even more isolated and with no Westerners), at my travelling there and onwards alone, and most definitely at our using the PMV (essentially like a bus, but just a minivan run by anyone who fancies it). Now I know the PMV has a bad rep - attacks and rapes etc. - but when you have no transport and live 20 mins drive from town, it makes sense as long as you keep your wits about you - you wait for a PMV full of women and children, not one with just 2 guys. Besides, we kind of got the impression that any problem at all in PNG gets magnified out of all proportion.
Our trips on the PMV were to Kimbe town, the provincial capital of West New Britain. It is tiny. It's probably smaller than Sawston, the town I went to secondary school in. It has a few shops, and some of them are wicked. The local clothes shops are excellent - they get clothes from Australia and New Zealand - some new, some second hand - and it looks like TK Maxx - essentially you trawl through racks and racks of stuff, but you get some great clothes - new Billabong for a quarter of the price in Aus, or a second-hand vintage style dress for under 20p. Sorted. Everyone in the streets is so friendly - they're interested to see you wandering around, and everyone says hello. I liked Kimbe.
At the weekend we joined some new friends for a trip to the hot river at Garu - this is basically a river that has been heated by the many volcanoes nearby - and its pretty cool. You basically climb up a river/mini waterfall in the middle of the jungle, and its like having a hot bath. It had been raining that week so it was significantly cooler than the time my friend had been before, but it was still pretty hot! And there is blue mud on the bottom which is apparently good for the skin. So while everyone else went in for the beauty aspects, Eve and I of course we ended up with angry eyebrows and dodgy moustaches. Good fun.
Basically the area is pretty damn beautiful, everyone is friendly, I got to properly catch up on my sleep, and it was wicked to see miss Eve the amazing Houghton again! Kimbe rocked.