Duke of York Islands

It doesn’t get much better than this: turquoise water, good holding in sand, hardly any canoes bothering us, no crocs, lots of dugongs and turtles, … The Duke of York Islands are a little oasis not far from the bustling town of Kokopo. A great place to rest up, swim, do school and get on with a few boat-jobs.

Now that the dry season has begun we have fewer rain-showers. Seathan bought parts in Kokopo and upgraded our water collection system; the tanks fill up much faster now. Of course we still use our water maker too, but it’s always a bonus to fill up ‘for free’.

We’ve been feasting on all that delicious fruit and veg we bought in Kokopo. Who would have thought that potatoes, lettuce and carrots could be such a treat? We all craved them after not having seen any for many months.

We had also craved some turquoise water. There are no crocs here, so we can swim as much as we want. And there is much to see in the water: cute clownfish, turtles, corals, and … dugongs! Every morning and afternoon they swim around the boat, feeding on sea-grass in the shallow water. They come up to take a breath every so often and graciously slide through the water. There’s one mum and baby pair we’ve seen often. One afternoon, we jumped in to film them but they are rather shy creatures. Still, it’s a privilege to see them.

We’re reluctant to move from here but there are other places to see, things to do…

sunset over Duke of York Islands


Rehua in the sunset


mum and baby dugong

dugong seen from the surface 


rain is coming


cutest clownfish family


sparkling fishes 

evening fishing 


Aeneas fishing 


science project: how does a volcano work?


Kokopo chillies


drying chillies to make hot sauce


local cuties

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Kokopo

We moved from Rabaul to Kokopo, just 10 NM on the other side of the bay, much closer to the shops and easier to finalise our provisioning. We anchored in front of a fancy beach resort with friendly staff who were happy to look after our dinghy which we left on the beach while we hit the town. Kokopo has been a pleasant surprise with friendly people, great shops and a relaxed atmosphere. Once fully provisioned, a trip to the local museum was on the agenda to learn more about the colonial history (German, British and then Australian until 1975) as well as the WW2 impact on this area (major Japanese base bombed by the Allied forces). And finally, to recover from he heat and humidity, a quick dip in the pool at the resort. Not a bad first few days in PNG.

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Rehua anchored in Kokopo

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beach bungalows resort in Kokopo

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the market in Kokopo

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the fruit stalls

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friendly locals

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one of the best markets we’ve seen in the South Pacific

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trip to the museum in Kokopo

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lots of Japanese WW2 tanks and guns

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colonial history, the Germans set up Rabaul and Kokopo, this was a judge’s chair

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lots of interesting history

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the museum also kept two crocs in a cage

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quick dip in the pool to cool off

 

Islands of the Frizzy Haired

Those are not my words but of a sixteenth century Portuguese explorer when he first sighted these islands. Ilhas dos Papuas means ‘islands of the frizzy haired’. A Spanish explorer later added the New Guinea part because he found the people resembling those of Guinea in Africa. In any case, we are in Papua New Guinea. After six months we’re finally in a new country and so far so good.

We sailed for two days and two nights and arrived in New Ireland, PNG, where we spent a day anchored in Irish Cove. A beautiful spot, perfect to take a rest and get ready for the final overnight sail to Rabaul in New Britain. Rabaul used to be the capital of New Britain but was evacuated when the surrounding volcanoes (there are not 1, not 2, but 6 of them!) started heating up. The eruption of 1994 covered the town in a heavy layer of ash and everyone relocated to nearby Kokopo, on the other side of the bay. Today there is still the harbour, yacht club, some shops and a market in Rabaul, but most businesses and people stayed in Kokopo.

A new country also usually means a few days of paperwork to sort out. We had already arranged a visa in advance through the PNG consulate in Honiara and that made things much easier. All we had to do was go to Customs to clear in and they stamped our passports and then the Quarantine and Health officials met us at the yacht club to complete the remaining paperwork. Easy peasy and much cheaper than the Solomons.

Next on the program was topping up our provisions and wow do they have some good shops here. Definitely a step up from the Solomons. One of the supermarkets in Kokopo even had an escalator, something we hadn’t seen in a long time!

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a visitor during our two day sail from the Solomons to PNG


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sunset at sea


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land ho!


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approaching New Ireland, PNG


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Irish Cove


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great spot for a rest before the final overnight sail to Rabaul


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leaving Irish Cove


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approaching Rabaul, surrounded by volcanoes


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volcano crater


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sunrise over Rabaul


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another active volcano


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view from the cockpit in Rabaul


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one of the many fishing boats in Rabaul


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plenty of green beans at the market


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Rabaul market


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one of the supermarkets in Kokopo


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Rehua anchored in front of the yacht club in Rabaul


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Rabaul yacht club , volcanic ash everywhere


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shopping delivery to the yacht club, great service!


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Kokopo anchorage on the other side of the bay


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sunset over the volcanoes

The Treasury Islands

Our last stop in the Solomons: probably one of the most stunning islands in this island nation. The biggest island in the group is called Mono and that’s where the main (and only) village is situated, home to approximately 500 people.

We had already checked out of the Solomon Islands in Noro, near Munda, but we knew from other cruisers that the local police in the Treasury Islands doesn’t mind yachts stopping here for a few days when en route to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In fact, they are keen for yachts to stop here because they would like to become an official point of entry and exit for the Solomon Islands.

We approached the Treasury Islands early Friday morning and dropped anchor in front of the village on Mono Island. One by one the villagers came out to the beach and the jetty to see the yachts that arrived. We had sailed across from Liapari with our friends from Rampetamper, a trimaran with a Dutch/New Zealand couple onboard. It was a calm overnight passage and even though there was not much wind it was from the right direction and we managed to sail all night without having to turn the engines on.

As we approached the beach by dinghy, we heard tens of children screaming and playing in the background and we later found out they were having a sports’ day. A guy in a fluorescent yellow vest was waiting on the beach and introduced himself as Roy Junior and told us he would show us around. First stop was the police station where the one policewoman in charge (the other two police officers had gone away to the nearby Shortland Islands for the day) wrote down our details in the visitors’ book. Next stop we went for a walk to the other side of the village to see the chief and ask his permission to stay. Beautifully kept gardens and well maintained huts made for a tidy and pretty village. Chief Benjamin welcomed us inside his hut and asked us to sign his visitors’ book too. He assured us we were free to explore the area and anchor inside the lagoon. He promised there would be no trouble and said there were only good people in this village.

After lunch Roy came with us in our dinghy across to nearby Stirling Island where we trampled through the dense tropical rainforest to see some of the WW2 planes that crashed here, anti-aircraft guns, and lots of rusty old metal. These islands were the stage of a major battle from 27 October until 12 November 1943. Operation ‘Goodtime’ was the codename for the invasion by New Zealand and American troops of the Treasury Islands, to retake it from the Japanese occupiers. New Zealand provided the fighting men and America the air, naval and logistical support. The allies succeeded with relatively few casualties and captured this strategically important area close to Bougainville and PNG. A radar station was installed and the success of the operation helped to improve the planning of subsequent landings in the Pacific. We saw the massive airfield, 2.2 kilometers long, big enough to land a jumbo-jet and still used today.

It was a lot to take in in one day, so much WW2 history and so many things left behind, still intact 75 years later. Amazing. It must have been tough for the soldiers to not only deal with the combat situation but also the heat, the humidity, mosquitoes, malaria and other tropical diseases.

In the afternoon we weighed anchor and navigated our way into the lagoon of Stirling Island, just a couple of miles away from the village. The well-protected bay, dotted with many tiny islets, had the most stunning crystal clear water. Probably the clearest water we’ve seen since the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. And this is why: The Treasury Islands are one of the few islands in the Solomons that have resisted the temptation to sell up logging rights to one of the big Chinese logging companies. This area is logging-free and therefore the water is still crystal clear, the dense tropical rainforest is intact and there is no pollution or damage to the environment. And the islanders intend to keep it that way.

I was surprised. It’s the first time I met a community of Solomon Islanders who actually think about future generations and care about the environment. The villagers are self-sufficient for the most part. There is plenty of fish in the strong currents around the village and the tropical climate makes it easy to grow fruit and vegetables in the gardens just outside the village. The community gets some income from copra trading and in return they buy essentials like rice, flour and sugar from a supply ship that comes by every three months.

The attitude to religion seems different than most other villages we’ve visited too. Even though there are only 500 people, there are 5 different denominations represented, each with their own church. But the underlying feeling is one of tolerance. Not everyone belongs to a church. It’s ok to be an atheist too. I like it here already. It’s so different from any other villages we’ve seen; the people friendlier than anywhere else we’ve been.

After a good night’s sleep we woke up to the stunning lagoon of Stirling Island. The water was flat calm and we heard many different birds, frogs and other animal noises: the sound of paradise. We decided not to swim inside the lagoon. The locals said it was ok during the daytime but they also tend to worship crocodiles and we prefer not to risk it so we took the dinghy out to the pass to go snorkelling. There’s no need to scuba dive here as the visibility is amazing. Perhaps 40 or 50 metres! The corals are stunning, there are plenty of fish and the whole area is pristine and untouched.

Roy lent us a book about the history of the Treasury Island and Operation ‘Goodtime’ in particular. It was a fascinating read and from this gesture alone I could tell he is very proud of his island and its history. I really hope they can preserve it and keep it as it is: stunning and untouched.

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sunset at sea; we had a very calm overnight passage but still managed to sail all the way

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anchored in front of the main and only village in the Treasury Islands

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the police station registered our details even though we had already cleared out of the Solomons

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the village children had a sports’ day

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walking across the village to see the chief

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chief Benjamin and his visitors’ book

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a short dinghy ride to Stirling Island to see WW2 plane wrecks

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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anti aircraft gun

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“lightning” twin hull WW2 fighter plane

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the airfield today

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the airfield back in WW2

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photos from Roy’s book about operation “Goodtime”

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operation “Goodtime”

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the village was completely destroyed

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navigating inside the lagoon of Stirling Island

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crystal clear water

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s/v Rampetamper

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Rehua anchored inside the lagoon of Stirling Island

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many islets inside the lagoon

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the water is the clearest we’ve seen since the Tuamotus in French Polynesia

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ready to go snorkelling

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sunrise over Stirling Island

Solomon Time

We’re still in Munda, taking things slow: Solomon time. Last week, several boats turned up coming from Papua New Guinea (PNG) including two kid boats. And we’ve had a blast together. Every morning all the kids and mums would gather ashore to do school. The resort was happy for us to use their waterfront terrace, which had a lovely breeze and was in the shade. In the afternoon we went for walks or the kids just hung out together. There were movie nights and play-overs and some happy hour beers for the parents. We also got lots of tips and waypoints for PNG and Indonesia from these cruisers and we’re exited about heading north and west. Unfortunately, they are all heading the other way, back home to Australia and New Zealand. Yet again, we had to say goodbye to new friends but such is life for round-the-world sailors…

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it’s more fun to do school together

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classroom with a view

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classroom in action

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the kids hanging out by the waterfront

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it’s busy in the anchorage at Munda

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walk along the waterfront to see some WW2 relics

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Munda palmtrees

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pit-stop for some water and a rest

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WW2 relics everywhere

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a small museum in someone’s backyard

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WW2 dog-tags; so many lives lost here

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a box full of treasures

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more WW2 relics

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lots of guns and ammunition

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we saw this live croc along our walk, it was kept in a cage in someone’s garden…