Papua New Guinea was not a destination on my bucket list. And I’d never heard of the Conflict Islands, located in Milne Bay Province and hailed as one of the world’s most complex and bio-diverse reef systems. But here I am on a seven-night P&O cruise on Pacific Eden and my mind is officially blown. Ian Gowrie-Smith bought the atoll comprising the 21 islands of the Conflict group from an elderly Hawaiian couple 15 years ago and when he first visited, thought he’d made a massive mistake. Until he saw the turquoise blue waters, white sand beaches and the coral reefs.
Fast forward to now, and Pacific Eden’s tenders ferried a record 900 of 1500 passengers, of which I am one, the short distance to the new landing jetty on Panasesa, the only inhabited island of the group, in picture-perfect weather and light, warm tradewinds.
We snorkel among coral and ridiculously coloured fish of all sizes, enjoy frozen pina coladas and/or mojitos at one of two thatched rustic beach bars, hop on an authentic outrigger canoe with a local crew happy to give us the history and insights into local life, and, best of all, we visit the turtle hatcher, handfeed tiny hatchlings and even get to release a turtle into the ocean.
The islands are currently exclusively accessible for tourists via P&O Cruises. The seven-night Conflict Islands cruise departs from Cairns and visits Alotau, Kitava and Kiriwina Islands, before spending the day at Panasesa in the Conflict Islands.