Friday 17th February 2017
We cruised all night.
In the morning the ocean was so calm it looked like a huge bowl of oil. Wind was only 3 knots so barely enough to ruffle the surface.
Onboard we filled our day by participating in organised activities. Graham and I wore each other out playing table tennis – twice.
By 4pm we were approaching the small chain of islands called the Vitu Group. The chain comprises 96 square klms. The main island, Garove is an extinct volcano where in ancient times one side collapsed allowing seawater to fill the crater.
Although extinct the volcanic island still has fumarole fields and thermal areas. The Vitu Islands /ˈviːtuː/ are a volcanic group with an area of 37 sq mi (96 km²) located in the Bismarck Sea off New Britain, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. They are not technically part of the Bismarck Archipelago. Administratively they are part of Papua New Guinea. Formerly called the French Islands, the group is sometimes known as the Witu Islands.
The group was the chief copra centre of Papua New Guinea, although cocoa is now the main crop harvested due to the depressed prices available for copra.
Today it is home to a small group of umm err Vituvians. The only outsiders to arrive here is the Pacific Aria 4 times a year and very keen divers who pay big money for exclusive dive trips to what is known as the best dive sites in the world. Several nearby reefs with waves breaking, seemingly in the middle of nowhere offer great diving as well.
Our ship cruised through the 1 Km wide entrance with a depth of 120m below the keel. During WWI this island was part of the German Empire and a warship was located inside the harbour. Lookouts watched for approaching ships which were picked off by the Germans. During WWI this island was the redoubt of the notorious militant German Archbishop Wolffe, and was to the left of the passage outside the entrance to which the Australian Navy laid blockade to the German raider of the same name – Wolf – which lay behind the entrance island to the caldera with her masts dropped to not be in visibility, all guns laid. in hope of luring the Australians in.
A large Roman Catholic church commands a magnificent view across the bay which is about 5 klms from mouth to the far crater wall.
(In 1952 a Catholic mission was established on Witu inside the big caldera that forms Johanne Albrecht Harbour. )The ship was spun in a 180 degree turn so all on board were able to view the entire crater and the harbour. Several locals in dugout outrigger canoes (lakatoys) paddled out to have a look at a rare visiting ship.
We felt kind of special as only a small number of people could visit such a remote location.