I’d wanted to do the PNG cruise, so when the bargain balconies became available on the Coral late last year, I signed up. The cruise left from Brisbane where I have family to drop me off at the port.
It was just so organised after the debacle I had had to endure at Station Pier last Nov. I was dropped off at 11am. My boarding time was noon. There were attendants directing people who were Plat/Elite in Groups A or B to line up to board. People were told to have their app visible and that 900 passengers fell into the priority boarding category. This message was repeated. It took about 15 mins to get to the short, roped off section just outside the terminal. There was an attendant checking and another one checking in the doorway to the terminal. I loved it as people were asked to step aside and show their app when they found it or told to sit elsewhere if they were not eligible for priority boarding. No sneaking/pushing in. No excuse for not knowing.
I loved my cabin. Balconies are so cosy for 1 person. I hadn't been at the front of the ship before but I'm not prone to sea sickness and you could hardly feel the ship move anyway. With the drop and go prices I would have volunteered for the figurehead! Steward excellent.
I took the ship's Milne Bay Village Life excursion.
We travelled in non- airconditioned mini buses. Just as well it was Sunday or the locals would have been robbed of some of their transport. We travelled to Bibiko village, set in a lush garden setting flanked by hills. Here we saw dancing by a group from teenagers up. They were good. Most of them came down from the hills for the day to perform. We also saw skills like fire starting using sticks and sampled local foods.
Stops were also made at the town lookout, a palm oil plantation and the War Memorial Park. There seemed to be about 6 or 7 mini-buses in the convoy.
We spent 2 days in Rabaul.
At the port we were greeted by locals singing.
On the first day I did the ship's Volcanic Tour. We left in a long line of mini-buses through the town to the old town and airport which is covered by ash. Nothing much to see except the occasional small remnant and lots of dirt and scrub. The roads are really tracks and at various points there were locals with shovels filling in the worst of the potholes. The guide was good explaining everything as we went. Our first stop was the hot springs, again small and our view of Mt Tavurvur which erupted back in 1994. Although you must not put your hand into the hot springs, you can in the sea and its very warm. There were rows of locals selling handicrafts and souvenirs.
It was then on Matupit Village were the local children sang some songs for us including 'she'll be coming round the mountain' which was amusing. We learnt about the village from one of the elders, took a look at a plane wreck, paid K5 to walk through part of a WW2 tunnel. These parts of the tour were in wide open spaces.
The last stop was at the Vulcanological Observatory. It has great views over Simpson Harbour but is very light on for parking. The mini-buses were all backed up against each other. Other private vehicles tried to make their way in. We got out somehow but I wondered how they managed when RCL or a bigger ship visited! If you wait in a long line a small group can go in and see the monitoring equipment. I've seen that sort of thing before and it was too crowded for me to be bothered.
In the afternoon, I walked into town about 10 mins away past handicraft sellers lining the way and took some time to wander the fruit and veg market and observe the transactions. I also went into a couple of Chinese run supermarkets. Watch those big trucks, they just drive up onto the footpath and right buy you with inches too spare. They do it slowly but....different world.
On the second day I went to the Mask Festival put on at short notice. Seating was undercover on plastic chairs but you could wander round while they were performing and watch local crafts like canoe making, weaving, cooking etc. Water and local fruits were served. The elder from the Matupit Village was back talking again. The event was in the same general area as yesterday. Even though to me, the beating of the drums and 'singing' was a bit repetitive, the masks were great. I loved the ghost ones and the way they painted their fingers...spooky. There was a chance to take photos at the end but everyone wanted to be in a photo so it took forever. Of course, there were handicraft sellers as well. As we all drove off, the locals appeared along the road waving. An enjoyable excursion.
Our final stop was the Conflict Islands.
I went on the Conflict Island Cruise. It was relaxing just cruising around the lagoon. We learnt about the history and got up closer to some of the other islands but couldn't get off the boat. Those who had booked the $300+ private picnic were taken to one of these islands for the day. Our guide for the day was the same person who spoke at the Milne Bay Festival in Alotau. They all seem to know each other.
It was a bit of an effort to do the cruise. First you had to tender then get into a small boat, say 8 seater, on the pontoon then up into the main boat. Thanks to those strong men who grab you or you would fall in. This is not mentioned in the summary for the tour, although you have to sign a waiver before you can do an excursion.
After my cruise I walked around most of the island. I went over to the ocean beach taking care not to trip on the tree roots along the way, down to the sand bar and airstrip. A little store did sell drinks and snacks and there was a stall with some souvenirs. I think if I went there again I'd just go to the beach as it looked very inviting. The island is set out like a tropical paradise.