541. Tuesday 21st February 2017. We find ourselves at Panasesa Island in the Conflict Island Group…

Tuesday 21st February

As usual I was awake early. Early enough to watch the sun creep over the horizon, look around and decide to make a run for it and begin to rise. It was some time before its slow light rolled across a sleeping ocean, herding the night ahead of it while nocturnal shadows still ruled.

210217 morning
Getting closer to our destination. The thick cloud cover and threatening rain bothered us it seemed our day would be spent in the rain. A brief shower buzzed us when we arrived on the island. From that moment on it was brilliant sunshine all day.

Not for long.

Today we arrived at Panasesa Island in the Conflict Island Group.

210217 waiting
Here we are sitting at the front of the ship, in The Dome watching activity on the island while we wait for our number to be called to join the tender to go ashore.

This island has been turned into an exclusive island resort. The remaining islands are part of a tropical playground of isolated uninhabited islands for viewing sea and land creatures not normally seen elsewhere. The man who built the resort also owns the remaining 21 islands in the group.

210217 map
This is a map of the Conflict Islands. The only habited island is Panasesa, second from the left.

This island does not have any local indigenous population. It is the cleanest island we have seen and does not have the smell we have encountered at the mainland ports. The beach and surrounding pathways and jungle were entirely clear of rubbish. None whatsoever. There are a few 6 wheeled vehicles on the island used by the staff to clean and maintain the facilities. The exclusive resort has 6 visitor cabins designed for 12 visitors in a package.

210217 jetty
The jetty and one of the six “burres” (or bungalows) Other than a small crew the island probably has no more than two dozen people at any one time. Unless of course P&O drops off 1,200 people for a day.

The package is $35,000 and all facilities, equipment, dive boats, food, except alcohol is included in the package.

210217 equipment
This is a central activities building. This is where island guests go to arrange dive tours, fish tours, paddle boards, kite surfing etc etc etc. All these activities and meals are included in the package price. $36,000 for 12 people for a week. Includes a 70 Klm boat trip from Alatou on the PNG mainland.

To get there involves a flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby then another flight to Raboul and the island boat brings you to the island.

210217 airstrip
The island has its own airstrip for both winged and helicopter flights.
210217 activity
Aleady people are paddling ski’s, being driven around in glass bottom boats and helicopter flights.

If ever you are looking for an island paradise, this is it. It is surrounded by clean white coral sand with fringing coral reef. Coconut palms abound and a fresh vegetable garden supplies the kitchen with fresh fruit and vegetables.

210217 sail
All aboard for the sailing adventure around the coral atolls surrounding 21 islands.

We had pre-booked a snorkelling adventure. From the island activities area we were whisked away in one of the PNG Banana Boats to the next small island in the chain, Gabugabtau where the island dive boat, Undersea Explorer is moored. Once aboard we were given the obligatory safety and responsibility talk, kitted up and slipped into the water off the stern dive platform.

210217 shade
Donnis and Graham waiting for our number to be called for our snorkelling adventure.
210217 Gabugabtau
Undersea Explorer a dive boat which today was used as a snorkel platform for a dozen people. It is also home to the dive crew.
210217 eqipment1
These banana boats ferried a dozen snorkellers out to the Undersea Explorer dive boat for our snorkel adventure.

The reef here is pretty good with clear water but in reality nowhere in the same league as we have experienced on the Great Barrier Reef. Yes there was plenty of coral and not so giant clams. Yes there was a myriad of small fish. There may have been larger fish and turtles in the drop off between the two islands but the current there was very strong and defined as a no go area for snorkelers. A pity really as we had been told to expect lots of spectacular snorkelling. Our reality was somewhat in contradiction of the official comments below.

The island of Panasesa has two faces. The burres, equipment house and staff quarters face roughly south east.

210217 jetty2
The jetty built in conjunction with P&O. This is located on the Eastern main side of the island where all the accomodation and most facilities are located.
210217 jetty1
ARIA and its tenders seen from the jetty. The tenders carry no more than 90 passengers. It takes quite some time to ferry 1,200 people ashore plus all the extra items such as cold water and cold face clothes and security and crew members. If ships crew has a day off they are also entitled to go ashore which boosts the numbers being ferried to and from the island.
210217 east1
Looking north on the Eastern side of the island.
210217 east
Looking south on the Eastern side of the island.
210217 burre
Burre and the Eastern side of the Island.
210217 activity1
Lots of paddle boards waiting for energetic tourists.

When the wind blows in your face from that direction a short walk across the island brings you to another beach which roughly faces west and has a sandspit lagoon for safe swimming & snorkelling. Staff will transport the sporting equipment across the island for you to enjoy.

210217 path
Notice the white coral sand pathways which wind throughout the island. Within metres of the pathways it is almost impenetrable jungle.
210217 path1
This Pandanus grew up and bent over in the thick jungle.
210217 west1
This is the west side of the ocean beach view looking north.
210217 west
West side of the island looking across the safe white coral sand lagoon and beach. A fringing coral reef is well worth an explore with a deep drop off offering even more exploring…except for the fast currents.
210217 drinking
A popular shady spot on the Western side of the island.
210217 bar
The popular bar is only opened when a P&O Cruise Ship arrives.

Regular visitors such as passengers onboard P & O’s Pacific Aria get to enjoy this paradise for a day. No other cruise ships call in here.

210217 aria
ARIA waiting patiently, held in place by strategic use of bow and stern thrusters.

The Conflict Islands are privately owned by British-based Australian, Ian Gowrie-Smith and his family. They are part of an elaborate plan to create a legacy of protected wilderness’ around the world.

This is what the owners say about the islands.

With a third of the world’s species of marine fish, the Conflict Islands are home to everything from the tiny ghost pipe fish to the huge manta rays and killer whales. The 21 uninhabited tropical islands surround a spectacular lagoon and are currently under consideration for a World Heritage Marine Site. Among the group of islands, Irai island has been found to have the second best coral in the world with the most number of species noted in a single dive – a divers absolute dream!

The main islands, Panasesa is open to travellers for private hire and features a resort Club House, six beachfront bungalows and runway capable of landing short-haul flights. Activities on offer include sport fishing, diving, kayaking, sailing, boating and nature encounters. 80 miles due East of Papua New Guinea, the Conflict Islands are as little as four hours from Sydney and accessible by private charter from Port Moresby or boat transfers from the Milne Bay capital, Alotau.

 

210217 swim
Donnis and Graham.
210217 donnis
Donnis doing what she enjoys most. Swimming.

After spending most of the day with energy sapping activities such as walking in the sun, swimming in the sun, snorkelling in the sun and just generally being in the sun we were close to that time when anywhere without sharp corners or spikes looks inviting enough for a snooze. ARIA looked particularly inviting.

Getting back aboard was much quicker than coming ashore. After a quick shower Donnis and I headed for The Pantry for a bowl of soup and a sandwich.

Graham and Wencke had succumbed to the snooze option.

After eating we found places on the deck in the shade which appeared inviting but the heat and humidity drove us into the cool indoors where snooze finally found us.

At dinner in the Waterfront Restaurant the dining meal theme was Australian. The themed menu can be used as a selection in its own right or mix and matched with other meal options. There are always five options for each course. The Australian themed menu was…

 

 

CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP – with damper

BEEF, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE – in onion gravy, with buttered peas and sour cream mash

SEMI–SOFT MIXED BERRY PAVLOVA – with Chantilly crème

Australian themed it might have been. Instead I opted for…

MUSTARD AND SESAME SEARED AHI TUNA =with pickled radish salad for the entree

THREE CHEESE RAVIOLI – with sage and hazelnut butter for mains followed by

MANGO AND COCONUT PARFAIT – with chocolate sauce

As we have come to expect no meals looked like the description we conjured in our minds but still tasted fabulous. Remember all meal courses are deliberately small so we were able to have a three course meal, plus wine and a breadroll and still not feel bloated.

After dinner was a stage show, coffee and cheese platters on the after deck before retiring to our cabins and falling asleep while watching a movie on the TV.

Shortly after ARIA left Panasesa and the ring of coral atolls and islands we headed south for a leisurely cruise over the next three days to Brisbane.

 

 

 

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