Morning comes quickly in PNG. Like a wave retreating down a beach to reveal glistening shells and tumbled rocks, the darkness lifted over jungle green mountains and mirror calm waters. Another day in paradise had dawned. An earlier than usual breakfast caught some of us off guard, but we wanted to spend as much time ashore as possible. These options of a hike through the jungle, rising 300 metres, for the fit (or the foolish!!), or a relaxing stroll through the charming village of Kamiali beckoned. We loaded into Zodiacs for a short ride to the beach. As we had become accustomed, it seemed the whole village was on hand to welcome us. The children jostled for the chance to say “hello’ or “morning”, their laughter and huge smiles greeted us everywhere.
Those who chose the jungle trek set off down the beach with some trepidation after hearing of the crocodile-inhabited creek to be crossed. As always, though, our trusty crew was on hand with Zodiacs to ferry us across. Some of the local children joined in the fun and paddled us across on outrigger canoes. With all the best of intentions we headed for the summit through thick tropical rainforest. The heat and humidity resulted in a fairly high rate of attrition, but all enjoyed the experience, no matter how far they climbed. Coming down the hill, quietly at first and then in a loud welcoming echo, the drums from the village called us toward them.
Arriving back, we found ourselves guests at a most spectacular impromptu ‘sing sing’. The headman of the village led a group of dancers whose enthusiasm and energy was unmatched. Two different groups displaying different styles of dance soon joined them. The villagers were helpful in explaining the dance and fresh fruit was passed around to refresh us. In the shade of the trees fringing the beach, groups were sitting demonstrating the traditional skills of village life. Women cooked a dish of pumpkin, sago and coconut milk that was then passed around for us to sample. Other groups were working on an outrigger canoe, sail making, bilum bags and grass skirts.
Sadly it was time to head back to the ship, though happily we were accompanied by some of the locals involved in wildlife management and conservation. We were told of their hopes and plans for the area. Afternoon tea on the sundeck reminded us of this very special Anzac day. There are those on board who last cruised these waters aboard a warship. After the last few days, it is hard to imagine this happy and idyllic place as a theatre of war. And yet it was, and we are all grateful and respectful of the sacrifices made by those that served. Lest we forget.