Vacations & Travel - - Tried & Tested - By Car­o­line David­son

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.

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