10 Bougainville ex­pe­ri­ences

Raw and un­ex­plored by tourists, Bougainville has ev­ery­thing from smoul­der­ing vol­ca­noes to beau­ti­ful blue wa­ter for snorkelling.

Paradise - - Contents - Adam Con­stanza re­ports.

The mo­ment you touch down and ad­just your watch to Bougainville time (one hour ahead of main­land Pa­pua New Guinea time), an ad­ven­ture be­gins. There are vol­ca­noes, wa­ter­falls, caves and World War 2 relics to see, as well as is­land hop­ping and snorkelling.

The re­gion is raw and un­ex­plored by tourists, but who­ever ven­tures there will be warmly wel­comed by Bougainvil­leans.

Here’s our list of 10 of the best ex­pe­ri­ences. Blue won­der ... a lo­cal takes the plunge in Bougainville.

1 Stay on Pokpok Is­land There’s some­thing mag­i­cal about Pokpok (aka Crocodile) Is­land, with chil­dren splash­ing and gig­gling in the shal­lows, chick­ens roam­ing the beach, and horn­bills and white cock­a­toos flap­ping over­head. And don’t worry, the is­land gets its name for be­ing the shape of a crocodile, not be­cause it’s a haven for them.

2 Trek overnight in the moun­tains of Ro­tokas

To delve into the for­est-cov­ered moun­tains of Bougainville you’ll need a cou­ple of days, a pas­sion for ad­ven­ture, and an ex­pe­ri­enced guide, such as one pro­vided by Ro­tokas Eco­tourism.

Hike up to the vil­lage of Si­sivi and en­joy a lo­cal wel­come as you stay overnight

Uruna Bay Re­treat, the only tourist ac­com­mo­da­tion on the is­land, pro­vides a place to kick back and re­lax. Or, with the reef right off the beach, you can snorkel over gi­ant clams, shoals of in­quis­i­tive fish and reef sharks. Then head off kayak­ing in the shel­tered bay, ex­plore nearby un­in­hab­ited is­lands, or hop in a ba­nana boat with your host and catch your din­ner by hand-line fish­ing.

in a tra­di­tional-style house, then trek on­wards for a full-on day of wa­ter­falls and caves deep within Bougainville’s lush for­est canopy. Get set to wade through rivers, tread up cas­cades on grippy, por­ous vol­canic rock, and maybe even climb the vines at the en­trance of the Ukoto caves.

Or per­haps scal­ing a vol­cano is more your style? Ro­tokas Eco­tourism or­gan­ises

Ac­com­mo­da­tion is a three-bed­room beach­side house with kitchen and bath­room, or two smaller wooden bun­ga­lows, both with rus­tic en­suite bath­rooms, and all just 30 sec­onds from the wa­ter’s edge. See urun­abayre­treat@gmail.com. treks to smoul­der­ing Mount Ba­gana, to the south, and Bougainville’s high­est peak, Mount Balbi, to the north; you can pitch a tent in the jun­gle on a two or three-day camp­ing ad­ven­ture. See ro­tokasec­o­tourism.com.

3 Go is­land hop­ping Bougainville has many is­lands to ex­plore – the big­gest chal­lenge is get­ting to them, which adds to the ad­ven­ture. In Buka, ask around the boat stop to find some­one to take you to White Is­land, Christ­mas

4 Visit a vil­lage

Chil­dren play­ing, cock­erels crow­ing and smoke bil­low­ing from the haus kuk – with the ma­jor­ity of Bougainvil­leans still liv­ing in vil­lages, you might say a visit to one is the best way to see Bougainville.

There are sev­eral vil­lage stays of­fer­ing overnight tourist ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing Pidia Vil­lage Mini Guest Haus out­side Arawa.

Here, you can pad­dle an out­rig­ger ca­noe, take a walk at low tide around the stun­ning penin­sula, or get a hands-on les­son in mak­ing the lo­cal del­i­cacy of tama tama, (a sweet treat of cooked taro, cas­savas and ba­nanas, of­ten re­served for spe­cial oc­ca­sions and vis­i­tors). Oth­er­wise, just chill out and en­joy taking turns with the lo­cal pikinini at splash­ing off the rope swing into the sea.

If you want to go on a day trip to vil­lages near the towns of Buka, Arawa or Buin, ask your guest house op­er­a­tor. A visit will need to be or­gan­ised ahead of time by some­one who has a close con­nec­tion to the com­mu­nity, so it’s best to dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­i­ties with the guest­house in ad­vance of your trip. To book at Pidia Vil­lage Mini Guest Haus, visit them on Face­book. Is­land or Sun Is­land. If you’d rather not ven­ture quite as far, So­hano Is­land is about five min­utes away and can be cir­cum­nav­i­gated on foot in about an hour.

In Arawa, ask at your guest­house for sug­ges­tions of is­lands to ex­plore and how best to ar­range a boat. For some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, Me­tora Is­land, 30 min­utes from Arawa, is a tiny, ever-shift­ing sand is­land, where birds take a well-earned rest among thou­sands of her­mit crabs.

5 Wan­der the mar­kets and small stores of Buka, Arawa and Buin

The mar­ket­place is the hub of town, an ex­plo­sion of chit-chat, colour and neatly or­gan­ised pro­duce in small heaps – from spikyred rambu­tan, to the al­ways present ba­nana, taro and kaukau – as well as treats like fried fish for lunch and buai (a be­tel nut that’s chewed with crushed lime and mus­tard as a stim­u­lant).

The main mar­ket in Buka op­er­ates ev­ery day ex­cept Sun­day; Arawa opens Mon­day, Tues­day, Thurs­day and Fri­day; and Buin mar­ket is open on Thurs­day and Satur­day morn­ings. Smaller mar­kets are avail­able seven days a week all across Bougainville.

Spend a cou­ple of hours wan­der­ing around the many small stores. It’s a great way to min­gle and get to know the peo­ple. Plus, the stores are a trea­sure-trove of un­known quan­ti­ties, from sec­ond-hand cloth­ing, to ice­cream cones, to pack­ets of Em Nau crack­ers for a snack on the go.

6 Snorkel off the beach, off a boat or off the is­lands

PNG has in­cred­i­ble snorkelling (see our PNG snorkelling hit list on page 46), and Bougainville is no ex­cep­tion. There are many top snorkelling des­ti­na­tions, and you can have most of them to your­self.

Gaze upon grace­ful an­gelfish, anemone­fish pro­tect­ing their patch, and shoals of shim­mer­ing neon blue, yel­low and sil­ver dam­selfish.

The is­lands off Arawa, in­clud­ing Pokpok Is­land as well as the outer reef, of­fer par­tic­u­larly good snorkelling spots. Your boat skip­per will be able to ad­vise on the best spots in the area.

In Buka, or­gan­ise a trip out to White Is­land, Christ­mas Is­land or Sun Is­land.

7 Watch a sing-sing or bam­boo band per­for­mance

Peo­ple travel from all over the world to ex­pe­ri­ence a colour­ful sing-sing or the hyp­notic beats of bam­boo bands at big fes­ti­vals in PNG. In Bougainville you might get the chance to watch a per­for­mance in a smaller, more in­ti­mate set­ting, which is some­thing to be trea­sured.

Look out for pub­lic hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions and other ad­ver­tised gen­eral pub­lic events in Buka and Arawa, where a sing-sing or bam­boo band is of­ten in­cluded.

Per­for­mance-fo­cused events in­clude the Reeds Fes­ti­val (bi-an­nual) and Cool Cul­ture Com­pe­ti­tion (an­nual), held in Arawa around mid-year.

8 Catch a lift in a pub­lic mo­tor ve­hi­cle (PMV)

Trav­el­ling in Bougainville’s PMV fleet of open-back trucks and 10-seater Land­cruis­ers is the most com­mon method of trans­port through­out the is­land. The main and largely un­paved road snakes its way along the east coast, sand­wiched between the Crown Prince Ranges and the Pa­cific Ocean. It’s un­de­ni­ably bumpy, but a great ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s never a dull mo­ment on a PMV trip – stop­ping off at mar­ket stalls for a bunch of peanuts, re­plac­ing a flat tyre, and re­spond­ing to the many waves from peo­ple you pass by. Plus, with Bougainvil­leans be­ing su­per wel­com­ing, you and your trav­el­ling com­pan­ions will all have shared a few sto­ries by the time you say good­bye.

PMVs from Arawa go­ing north to Buka de­part around 5am or 6am, Mon­day to Fri­day, and ar­rive at Buka about 10am. The stan­dard cost is PGK60 a per­son. They can be booked in ad­vance and pick-up is at your guest­house.

PMVs from Buka go­ing south to Arawa de­part around mid­day, de­pend­ing on how long they take to fill up with pas­sen­gers, ar­riv­ing in Arawa around 5pm. Book­ings are not nec­es­sary; in­stead sim­ply take a two-minute ba­nana boat ride across Buka Pas­sage to Kokopau, and then select your PMV.

9 Ex­plore World War 2 relics

Bougainville of­fers vis­i­tors the chance to view rarely seen World War 2 relics in the bush, in­clud­ing Ja­panese ad­mi­ral Isoroku Ya­mamoto’s Mit­subishi G4M ‘Betty’ plane in the Buin Dis­trict.

An in­sight­ful lo­cal guided trip to Rigu La­goon, 20 min­utes from Arawa, pro­vides a look at Ja­panese trenches, ma­chin­ery and other arte­facts, as well as a chance to hear fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries about the la­goon.

From Buka Is­land a five-minute boat ride takes you to So­hana Is­land, a World War 2 Ja­panese sea­plane base, which can be cir­cum­nav­i­gated by foot in less than an hour, with no guide re­quired. To ar­range a tour of Rigu, con­tact DJ Gar­den Lodge in Arawa, face­book.com/ dj­gar­den­lodge. To dis­cuss other tour op­tions, con­tact Bougainville Ex­pe­ri­ence Tours, boug­tours.com.

10 CON­SIDER A LONGER STAY AS A VOL­UN­TEER

There’s no bet­ter way to ex­pe­ri­ence a des­ti­na­tion like Bougainville than stay­ing for an ex­tended pe­riod. It en­ables you to get in­volved with com­mu­nity ini­tia­tives, make friends and get a feel for day-to-day life.

Vol­un­teer­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions in Bougainville in­clude Vol­un­teer Ser­vice Abroad, in New Zealand, Aus­tralian Vol­un­teers In­ter­na­tional, and Hor­i­zont 3000 from Aus­tria.

Is­land hop­ping ... go fish­ing, snorkelling or ex­plor­ing among the is­lands of Bougainville; or trek into the in­te­rior (be­low) and visit a vil­lage.

Pure de­light ... snorkellers and swim­mers are re­warded with pris­tine jun­gle-fringed wa­ter (this page); fried fish for lunch (op­po­site page).

Tra­di­tion ... a Bougainvil­lean sing-sing group (this page); catch­ing a ride in a PMV (op­po­site page).

War bird ... there are World War 2 relics to be seen through­out Bougainville (right); a golden sunrise on the is­land (be­low).

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