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.
Not for long.
Today we arrived at Panasesa Island in the Conflict Island Group.
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.
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.
The package is $35,000 and all facilities, equipment, dive boats, food, except alcohol is included in the package.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.