Discover the Real Vanuatu

Growing up, I had always heard that Vanuatu was a resort paradise reserved for the ridiculously rich. I was sure that there had to be more to Vanuatu. Since no one I knew had ever been there and I was in the area, it was my duty to pop over and discover the real Vanuatu. I’ve got to say that what I found was pretty amazing.

A 1.5 hour flight on a small plane had taken me from the French territory of New Caledonia to one of the youngest independent nations in Melanesia; Vanuatu. The difference between the two places was immediately visible upon landing in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. The airport in the New Caledonian capital of Noumea was a modern, multi-level building, whereas Port Vila’s was more like a shack.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Shack

That wasn’t particularly a bad thing. There was a very homely feel to it. A short walk on the tarmac brought me to the terminal building. Inside, I was instantly drawn to two signs. One claiming that Vanuatu was ‘the planet’s happiest country’ and one about the country hosting the Pacific Mini Games several weeks beforehand. I was very intrigued by the first sign. My first contact with a Vanuatuan, or ni-Vanuatu in the local pidgin language Bislama, seemed to confirm the first sign’s claim.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Signs

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Smiles at Immigration

At the immigration desk I was greeted by a very friendly officer in traditional clothing giving me a very toothy smile. I couldn’t help but smile back as I handed him my passport. His next words surprised me, “Welcome to Vanuatu, we’re happy to have you here!”. I had to have a quick look around me to check that I was in fact at the immigration desk and hadn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere. Have you ever had such an enthusiastic welcome from immigration before?

The small airport basically just consisted of a strangely named one-stop-shop kind of store.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Strangely Named Airport Store

A police post adorned with a picture promoting the Pacific Mini Games.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Police Post

Then my stop, the tourist information desk. I stopped to find out some bus information. I was confused when the woman said there was no bus and I would have to get a taxi if I hadn’t already booked a transfer. She then tried to convince me that I needed to take a taxi. I let her know that I wanted to take the public bus. She then pointed to the road beyond the car park outside. She indicated that I should wait there for a bus with ‘B’ on it. “Make sure it has a ‘B’ on it!”, she reiterated as I walked away.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Car Park

Smiles on the Side of the Road

A quick walk across the car park brought me to the road but I could see nothing that resembled a bus stop. I did see a helicopter next to what looked like a garden shed, a contradiction that seemed to describe Vanuatu perfectly so far; expensive stuff near sheds. With no indication of where I should be, I just stood on the side of the road. I figured I’d be able to flag down the bus as it drove past.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. View of the Airport from the Bus Stop
View of the airport from the ‘bus stop’

Within Minutes, people had started gathering around me. Of course, they weren’t gathering around me, they were waiting as I was in fact at the bus stop. I checked with one of the locals that was now standing near me and he asked where I was going. When I said I was going to Pango, just south of Port Vila, he advised that the bus could take me close. He then gave me a big smile.

As I waited, he decided to give me a bit of a history lesson about Vanuatu. I was already aware that the country has only been known as Vanuatu since it gained independence in 1980. My new friend Itu wanted to make sure that I knew it. “We used to be French. We used to be British. We called it New Hebrides”. I presumed that he was referring to the 74 years of joint French and British rule. He continued, “Now we are ni-Vanuatu!”.

He went on to explain that the word Vanuatu came from the joining of ‘Vanua’, meaning land and ‘tu’ meaning stand. For the ni-Vanuatu, it is a strong word that indicates they are independent on their land.

Discover the Real Vanuatu – The Bad Side of Tourism

When the bus arrived, Itu spoke to the driver and indicated that I should hop on. I paid the 150VUV/AU$1.90 to the driver and sat down. It wasn’t long before another local, Isa wanted to chat with me. She was relieved when she found out that I wasn’t staying at a resort. Although she admitted that they do bring money into the country, Isa believed that the resorts were taking advantage of the locals. “Nearly everyone I know works in tourism jobs, but the resorts are bad. Their money goes back to their big foreign company, not to our country”, she informed me.

As we got closer to Port Vila, which is only about 6 kilometres from the airport, the roads were falling into disrepair. Almost as if someone was trying to illustrate Isa’s point, we hit a pothole in the road while she was comparing the Port Vila’s pretty resorts to its less than well-maintained roads. “If the resorts are so good, why are our roads breaking? Why we have no power?”. I was not that surprised to learn that so many ni-Vanuatu were living below the poverty line. A lot of families still choose to live off the land, grow their own tropical fruits and catch their own fish. They’ll normally cook their food on hot stones or boil it.

Getting a Feel For Island Life

As you’d expect from a South Pacific Island, there is a lot of greenery and water everywhere. In fact, at one point in our drive, we were 300 metres from both the west and east coasts of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Coast

I walked along a very simple looking side street, barely wide enough for one car. This road was actually a lot better than some in the area. Can you guess why?
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Local Street

I was near the southern tip of the island, so there were quite a few resorts in the area. Like this one.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort

At that point I was hungry and there were no other food options. So I popped in to see what this resort had on offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. I was able to get a full breakfast for around AU$10 and the service was amazing.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort Breakfast

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Unexpected Interactions

As I continued along the road towards the corner where I could catch the bus to the airport, a child walking from the other direction approached me. He tried to talk to me in his language, which could’ve been any one of the hundred spoken in the area. Obviously, I didn’t understand, so the child took the Cricket bat he was holding and raised it above his head with a big smile on his face. Like he was making some kind of offering. I think this was his way of saying, “Let’s play!”

Rare moments like these are what make travelling so worth it! How awesome is it that this child just came up to me, with no concern about who I was. Or no thought of how I was different. He didn’t see a foreigner, just that I was a potential Cricket buddy. If only more adults in the world acted like this. I was so pleasantly surprised by this young boys actions that I just had to play some Cricket with him!

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Local Insights

Not long after that an older man came along and said something to the child. That made the boy grab my hand and take me over to the man. The man introduced himself as Jim. I’m not sure if that was his real name or just a name he thought would be easier for me to say. Jim asked if I had some time. I did, so we chatted for a bit. He was happy that I was interested in finding out about life in Vanuatu. He showed me an interesting article in the local newspaper that he was carrying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Vila Times Article

Jim also expressed some worries that many foreigners, mainly Chinese, are buying Vanuatu citizenship. With an investment of $150,000 they can get a passport. This is actually a major revenue maker for the country. Unlike most of the money from tourism, this money stays in the country. Jim lamented that although he doesn’t like it, it may be a necessary evil. He then changed the tone of the conversation with his rendition of the ni-Vanuatu national anthem, “Yumi Yumi Yumi”.

Final Thoughts

When I first had the thought that I wanted to discover the real Vanuatu, these kinds of random interactions with locals were exactly what I had in mind. In the end, I think I got much more of an insight into local life than I ever thought I would. As for the poster that I saw on the way in claiming that Vanuatu was the planet’s happiest country. I think I would have to agree. Despite all their troubles, ni-Vanuatu are happy with their simple lives always have a smile ready for you.

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New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

After an awesome time on the Cook Islands followed by a short stopover in Auckland, I was on my way to the mysterious land of Noumea in the French territory of New Caledonia – a piece of Europe in the South Pacific

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Aircalin Plane

When I boarded the small Aircalin plane bound for New Caledonia, or Nouvelle-Calédonie, I knew this trip was going to be a little bit different. As Aircalin is the national carrier for New Caledonia, the onboard announcements were in French. I was glad to see that the plane wasn’t very full and I had a whole row to myself. It would’ve been great if the flight was longer than three hours, so I could’ve really enjoyed the extra space.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Empty Row

Once the sparkling waters we’d been flying over gave way to land, I became mesmerised by New Caledonia’s beauty. I was glad to see some hills on our approach to Noumea because that meant there would be opportunities to see some great views!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Approaching Noumea

New Caledonia was unlike any South Pacific island chain I’d seen so far. From the time I landed at the slick, new-looking La Tontouta International Airport, the place felt more like somewhere in Europe than a South Pacific island.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. La Tontouta International Airport

Upon exiting the airport, I found the bus stop where I could catch a bus into the city. Or at least I thought I did. I couldn’t tell because everything was in French!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. La Tontouta International Airport Bus Stop

Getting to Noumea in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

I used the only phrase I know in French, ‘Parlez vous Anglais’, to check if the other lady at the bus stop spoke English. She didn’t. When the bus came, I tried to talk to the driver, but she also didn’t speak English either. Uh oh.

Luckily, another lady was approaching the bus who spoke a little English and was able to indicate to me that I was in fact in the right place and this was the correct bus. Phew! I paid the 400 CFP Franc (US$3.60) fare to the driver and got a small ticket in return. The ride into the city was long as the airport is 50 kilometers out of the city. That gave me some time to sit back an enjoy the view.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. View on the Way to Noumea

The New Caledonian Capital of Noumea

The bus dropped us off at a station that was almost straight across from the waterfront. A military vessel was docked to the righthand side but it was too far away to read the writing on it. Sunset was fully underway by that point, so can you guess what I did? Took pictures for your viewing pleasure ;o)

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Waterfront Sunset New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Sunset at the Waterfront

Looking back towards the town from the waterfront a casino could be seen. It may have been there for the use of the many cruise ship passengers that visit the place. Further on from that there were some decidedly European looking buildings. I was really starting to wonder if I was even in the South Pacific anymore! Aside from the crystal blue waters, there was nothing about this place that felt like a Pacific island.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Waterfront Casino

The level of development on New Caledonia was different to other South Pacific Islands. All of the colourful buildings and the roads looked shiny and new. I even noticed several buildings that were over 10 stories tall! That is a bit of an anomaly in the South Pacific where things tend to be low rise.

The roads were immaculate and set out in an easy to navigate grid system. This meant that I pretty much just needed to walk up one street to get from the waterfront to the top of the hill where my accomodation was.

Noumea At Christmas

When making my way to my accomodation I stumbled upon Noumea’s main park, the very tropically named Coconut Square.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Tree Lights

It was alive with lights, Christmas decorations and a 2 metre tall Santa. With a trusty snowman at his side.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Santa and Snowman

As if that wasn’t Christmasy enough, there were speakers throughout the park playing Christmas songs really loudly.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Light Tunnel

This was the kind of Christmas fanfare I would’ve expected leading up to Christmas, but it was several days after Christmas! So either nobody told Noumea that Christmas was over, or they just didn’t care. Needless to say, the atmosphere was very festive. Even the local Museum was lit up.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Museum at Night

Coconut Square By Day

When I ventured back to the square during the day, I came across a very deflated Santa. As well as a tent claiming to be the North Pole. Which of course seemed very apt for a tropical island where it’s was around 30°C.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Deflated Santa New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. The North Pole Tent

The sheer amount of decorations in this park didn’t really hit me until I had a chance to see it during the day.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Christmas tree and Baubles

I can’t imagine how long it must’ve taken to make and place all these man-sized baubles throughout the park. It seemed like more of an art installation than just festive decorations.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Christmas Baubles and Statue

Street Art of New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

The park wasn’t the only place in Noumea that had a bit of art happening. There was a mural on the wall just before I entered my hostel. I figured it might be a one-off because I was staying in the area where all the cool kids were.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Mural in Noumea

But I did find a few other walls in the area that had been used as canvases. I’m not sure these would qualify as art though.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Graffiti on a Building New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Graffiti Wall

It was a little bit surprising to find a couple of other pieces of art around town. Like this.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Wall Art in Noumea

I even found this skeleton boat down near the port. I actually spent a crazy amount of time near this boat trying not to look dodgy while I searched for a geocache hidden there. At least one of those things was done successfully.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Skeleton Boat Near The Port

Down By The Water in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

Although New Caledonia doesn’t receive a huge amount of tourists, most that do visit get there via cruise ship. Almost everyone I spoke to thought I’d come over on a cruise ship. They all seemed genuinely surprised when I advised them that I’d flown in.

As most people getting off cruise ships tend to hang out near the waterfront, there were a few restaurants near the port area. They were not the cheapest places to eat, but they were nice. And mostly closed. It seems island time had struck again! I walked along for a little while before I managed to find the only restaurant in a row of several that was open. That became my lunch destination.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Restaurant Near The Port

Ordering was interesting due to the language barrier, but we got through it with a lot of hand gestures. I ended up being served some raw meat that I had to put on a hot stone to cook. Is this some kind of Melanesian twist on a sizzling plate?

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Sizzling Stone Near The Port

That was followed by a refreshing no waste desert, in the best flavour of all!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Choc Mint Icecream Near The Port

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Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a small Melanesian state about 3000km northeast of Australia in the Pacific Ocean. The country is probably most famous for its main island’s pivotal role in World War II, as well as shipwreck diving. I wasn’t there for the diving though. I was about to gain some knowledge about surly spirits and storms on the Solomon Islands.

Where’s the WiFi?

Upon landing in the capital Honiara on a flight from Papua New Guinea, I had hoped to find some WiFi to reinitialise my phone after it had been wiped in Port Moresby. Unfortunately, there was no WiFi to be found so I figured I’d have to try my luck in town.

I was informed that I could catch a bus from the road outside the airport. What I realised when I got out to the road, was that there was no bus stop. The opposite side of the road was lined with many small stalls, selling various items. As I was about to cross the road to ask a seller about the bus, I noticed a group of people standing around like they were waiting for something. I joined the crowd and someone started chatting with me. The bus, which was actually a minivan, pulled up a short while later.

A young boy on board who collected fares from everyone. It was only 5 Solomon Island dollars, SB$5, which is roughly AU$0.90. Bargain! As an added bonus, the value of the currency was almost on par with my home currency, so I didn’t have to waste time calculating! Someone on the bus had suggested that I could get WiFi at the Tourist Centre in town, so that’s where I got dropped off.

Tourist Centre

Upon entering, I was greeted by a lovely gentleman named Nelson. I explained my predicament and need for internet to reinitialise my phone. He said I could stay and use the WiFi until the centre closed. How wonderful! Internet on the Solomon Islands is slow. It was 2 hours before I realised that closing time had come and gone. Nelson was working late and had decided to leave me to it for a while.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands
By the time I got outside..

Luckily I had almost everything I needed for the phone to function reinstalled by the time he was done. He then made some calls to find me the cheapest hotel, using his industry discount. His kindness didn’t stop there either. As the hotel wasn’t too far from the centre, he graciously offered to walk me over. Not only are the Solomon Islands lusciously green, but the people are pretty awesome too!

Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands – Walking Around Town

I realised after checking into my room that I hadn’t eaten for a while, so it was time to go hunting! It took me an hour to find food. Not because I got lost, but because almost everyone wanted to chat with me. After dinner, as I was trying to cross the road, a man named Manu started talking to me. He offered to walk me back to my hotel. Seems like that’s a thing in Honiara!

Manu then decided to stay and have a chat in the hotel bar. He inquired about my plans in Honiara, so of course, I told him that I wanted to go to the Tenaru Falls! I realised I was pretty tired by that point and as we parted ways, Manu said that he would get his friend to drive me to the waterfalls the next day. At this point, I was wondering if the whole town had received a memo telling them to look after me.

Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands – Adventures Beyond Honiara

Just as he said they would, Manu and his friends arrived to pick me up at around 8:30am. The drive was long, mainly because the road was terrible. It was still passable without a 4WD though. It seems Manu’s friend, Joei, was a taxi driver. I later found out that he’d had taken the day off work to use his taxi to drive me around. Wow.

I presumed the other person in the car, Joylee, was Joei’s friend. She told me later that she had never met Joei before. It turns out that he had picked her up on the way because he felt bad that I was going to be the only female in the car. Not that it’s something that would worry me, but it’s a nice thought, I guess.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. On the Way to Tenaru Falls
On the Way to Tenaru Falls
Surly Spirits and a Man of Mystery

We passed a gate that a local came out to open for us. Then a mysterious old man approached us and said that he could take us to the falls. As no one else in the car was exactly sure how to get to the falls, we indicated for him to get in the car. He directed us to the start point of the trail, which didn’t really look like much of a trail at all.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. On the way to Tenaru Falls
Tenaru River

We followed this man for about 20 minutes, by which time I’d started to get the feeling that he didn’t really know where he was going. He had us zig-zagging across a small river. It was at this point that he mumbled something about bad spirits and disappeared into the forest. We decided our best course of action was to head back to the car and try to find another way to the falls.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Old Man Guiding Us to Tenaru Falls
Old man guiding us to the Tenaru Falls

We drove to Paringiju Lodge, which is run by Manu’s cousin Freida and her husband. By the time we got there, Joylee was passed out in the back of the car from drinking too much. So we left her there and went into the lodge. Freida gave us some cold water and offered to take me to the falls. She knew a more direct path.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Trail to Tenaru Falls

Tenaru Falls – Take Two

I followed Freida down a trail which started off nicely enough. Until it started getting exponentially more difficult. This was partly because it got steep and partly because it was muddy and slippery. I was struggling with hiking shoes, but Freida, who’d left her flip flops at the beginning of the trail, was just flying along with bare feet. My feet slid out from underneath me on a few occasions, but I managed to grab hold of nearby trees before I ended up on the ground. Unfortunately, there were no trees around on my last slip and I landed flat on my back. I limped back, but I was glad that I’d somehow avoided getting a muddy butt in the process.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. View From The Lodg

To add insult to injury, my camera had decided to be temperamental while on the trail, so I wasn’t even able to take any pictures of the view I’d worked so hard to see. Back at the lodge, everyone except Joei seemed to have drunk themselves into oblivion. This made it a mission to get them to the car. We were finally loaded and ready to go about 30 minutes later.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Back to Honiara
Palm trees rushing past on the way back to Honiara

I was a bit worried that Joei had been drinking while I was hiking, but his car was my only option for getting back to civilisation. He drove a little faster on the way down than he had on the way up, but then he drove like a maniac once we hit the sealed road again. All I could do was hope to get back to town in one piece.

Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands – Back In Honiara

Manu said that he’d organised a hotel room for me for free through his company. I was surprised, as I had not asked for that. I had made it clear that I was capable of getting my own room and I would not be ‘trading’ anything for it. He was still very insistent that I take it. Later, after we’d eaten, he professed his love for me. It may have been the alcohol he’d imbibed talking, but it was getting a little too awkward for me. So I swapped to another room.

Earlier that day, I had arranged to meet Nelson, the man from the Tourist Centre. Being the kind man that he is, he had offered to drive me around to show me some of the town. It really helps to get to know a place when the person driving you around works at the tourist centre! I’m sure I now know more about Honiara than most of the locals do. What a nice way to end a day.

Discovering Honiara’s Past

After all that had happened, I’d decided that I was just going to walk around by myself for a bit. The island of Guadalcanal had played a huge part in World War II, so of course there is a huge memorial in Honiara. It also happens to be on top of a hill and I do love walking up hills.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Peace Park Memorial K in Motion Travel Blog, Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Peace Park Memorial Name Plaque

Passionate Caretaker for the Solomon Islands Peace Park Memorial

The place was kept in perfect condition by the caretaker. He invited me into his little booth when I got stuck in the very open memorial area as a huge storm came in. Once I was inside, he told me that the storm would take a while to pass. I think it was actually over an hour. It seemed like only 10 minutes because of the great company.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Storm Over Honiara
Storm over Honiara

He told me that he has been the caretaker there for over 20 years. In that time, he’d tended to the gardens and kept them looking beautiful and fresh. He’d also made sure that the grounds were always clean. Clearly he’s done a great job, because the place was immaculate. He’s done this for years because he believes that the people that lost their lives in the war deserve it. What a lovely man.

Once the storm finally passed, I headed back out onto the road to continue my walk. I ended up finding the Mataniku River, which essentially separates the city into 2 areas. The only access point between the two was a not-so-stable looking bridge. I can’t say it was the prettiest river I’d ever seen. In fact, there seemed to be a lot of rubbish in an around it. The part of the Tenaru River I’d seen a few days earlier was much nicer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands. Mataniku River
Mataniku River

Time For a SolBrew After Spirits and Storms on the Solomon Islands

After all my adventures, I’d figured a quiet drink or two was in order. My first mistake was thinking that would be possible in Honiara! It seemed that everywhere I went, locals were insistent on buying me drinks. I mean, they would ask if they could buy me a drink, but the drink would be in front of me before I finished answering. The good thing was that the happily tipsy men and women in the pub were happy to tell me their fascinating stories about life on the islands.

I ended up back at the Tourist Centre later, where I met and chatted with Nelson and more of the crew that works there. One of them, I’m ashamed at this point that I can’t remember his name, told me that I must join them at the yacht club later. Who was I to refuse? I made my way there a little after the agreed time, because I was on island time. When I first arrived, I couldn’t find any of crew. A well-known local was worried that I had no one to talk to and insisted that I sit with him and his friends. I must’ve been talking to them for hours before I finally met the people that I’d originally gone there to meet!

We might’ve stayed there until near closing time, although I have no idea when that was. No one was ready to call it a night, so we all sat around chatting at the Tourist Centre. Clearly I got very little sleep, but it was probably the best way to spend my last night in the Solomon islands.

??Solomon Islands Summary??

In a few words – beautiful people
Language – English and Solomon Pijin
Currency – Solomon Island Dollar (SBD)
WiFi availability – ??
Wifi was available at hotels and some cafes, but the cafes had very short opening hours. It wasn’t the fastest, but probably better than some places
Transport – ????
? Buses, or more accurately, minivans run regularly around town and cost SB$3 to go anywhere in town and about SB$8 to and from the airport
? Taxis are available from the airport to the town for around SB$100
Roads – ???
Main roads were mostly smooth and sealed, except for several kilometres where roadworks were taking place. Roads in more remote places weren’t sealed, but still drivable without a 4WD
Scenery – ?⛰?️?️?
The Solomons have a diverse range of scenery, with mountains, waterfalls, rivers, forests and beaches
Prices – ??
As seems to be the case in a few places where tourism isn’t a huge industry, accommodation is quite expensive. Everything else in the Solomons is quite cheap though
Border efficiency – ????
The international airport is tiny, which means entering and exiting can be pretty quick. There’s almost no chance of another plane arriving/departing at the same time as yours!
Overall – ?????

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Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea (Papua Niugini) isn’t a place you see on many people’s travel itineraries. You could say the country has had a troubled history. It was governed by Australia until 1975 and is still trying to find its feet as an independent realm in the Commonwealth of Nations. This makes it a mix of contradictions. I encountered both petty theft and pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. It can be a frustrating place for travellers, but I’d say the helpfulness of people there is enough of a reason to visit.

Upon arrival at the airport, I joined the long line for immigration clearance. That gave me time and to contemplate if my documentation in order. The immigration officer processing my entry was very friendly and wished me well. After that, I had to clear the customs area. I thought that would be a hassle, but the man at the desk just took my filled-in form, without even looking at it, and waved me through. I was finally there!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. Welcome Sign

Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – Welcome to Port Moresby

When exiting the airport, a lovely man named Harold stopped me to ask where I was staying. When told, he said it wasn’t safe and offered to find lodging in a safer area. He drove me around in his company’s vehicle, while I presume he should’ve been working. We found a few prohibitively guesthouses run by Christian missionaries. Even more so when you considered what was on offer; a single room with shared bathroom and no WiFi.

As I’d already booked and paid for my accommodation online, I hadn’t brought enough cash to pay the ridiculous prices they were asking. Harold took me to a few more places until we ended up at the Rehoboth Transit House. The owners of this guesthouse were lovely. After I explained the situation, they asked me how much I could pay. Then agreed that I could just pay that amount. I was glad to have that sorted. Now that Harold knew I would be safe, he headed back to work.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. Guesthouse Cats
Guesthouse Cats

While Harold was driving me around, I had noticed that almost all private properties and some businesses had high perimeter fences topped with barbed wire. The owners of the guesthouse informed me that it wasn’t safe for me to go outside by myself. The explorer in me was devasted. A big part of the way I travel involves wandering around aimlessly until I stumble upon something awesome. The owners did say that either they themselves, or their security guard, were at my disposal whenever I wanted to go out, but still.

Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – The Fun Begins

As I’d realised my options for getting around Port Moresby were limited, I had decided to go rural. My destination was the small town of Sogeri, where the Kokoda Trail begins. The security guard from the guesthouse, Sam, accompanied me. We headed to the bus stop across the road from the guesthouse to wait for the bus to Sogeri. As the bus was pulling up, I noticed a teenage boy running from the opposite side of the road. I figured he was just running for the bus. Nope, he was running towards me. Using the distraction of the bus to steal my phone!

Being the fight back kinda person that I am, I decided to chase this little shit as he ran back across the road with my phone. Sam also joined the chase but told me to wait at the road when the boy entered his community. He continued to chase the boy, while I waited. I hoped that he would come back with my phone, at the same time as thinking there was almost no chance of that happening. An elder from the community approached me from a crowd to tell me that he saw the whole thing. He knew the boy and he would get my phone back. At least that was something.

Pragmatic Police

Sam reappeared from the community a short while later, apologising for losing the offender. Would you believe, at that very moment, a police car was passing! We flagged it down. Sam and I relayed the details to the officers, but they said they couldn’t help. I was surprised, considering we were standing right outside the community. As I was about to begrudgingly give up, the elder from the community came over. He told the police that he wanted to help catch the boy. That completely changed the policemen’s demeanour from stoically unhelpful to mildly pleasant.

We were all loaded into the police car for a drive to the boy’s house in the community. Of course, the boy had not gone back there yet, but his brother was there and seemed really pissed off at his brother. Apparently, the boy has done this kinda stuff before and the family was getting sick of it. They felt bad and also wanted to help me get my property back. They asked if I would give them a day to find the boy and return the phone to me, before making an official report to the police. I agreed.

Continuing onto Sogeri

With that kind of sorted, I decided that I may as well continue with my plans. It’s not like there much else I could do at that point. I went back to the guesthouse to get my back-up camera. Every good traveller has one of those! After confirming a few times that I was indeed good to continue, Sam took me back to the bus stop. We were soon on our way to Sogeri. This whole time, Sam had stayed very close to me. That made it all the more surprising he said I could have a wander around by myself in Sogeri. The country areas of Papua New Guinea are deemed to be a lot safer than the capital.

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Meeting the Locals

The bus had dropped us off near a lodge at the start of the Kokoda Trail, which was still a little bit outside of the town. It was there that we met Ranger Muxsie and his friend Robert. Ranger Muxsie then organised us a lift into town with the owners of the lodge. Once we got into town, there was a big volleyball game going on at a school. This school also doubled as the town’s sports ground. There were many makeshift stalls set up along the road outside, selling all kinds of locals foods and fresh juices. All of the stallholders were very friendly and many offered me free samples of their foods and drinks.

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Hiking With Locals

Across from the school was a memorial and behind that was a trail that we could hike along. Ranger Muxsie said he would like to guide us, but he had to do some work. He said his friend Robert would accompany us instead. To make sure that we didn’t get lost. As we were walking along, Robert commented about how ‘strong’ I was for being able to keep up a decent pace in the Papua New Guinean heat. I guess other visitors don’t handle it so well but I had the advantage of living in a hot place.

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The trail actually ended up being a dirt road for most of the way. It meandered through memorials for people whose names I can’t pronounce, missionaries and local farming villages. We even had to do a small river crossing, over pipes! It looked like some of the people living in the villages survived by preparing materials for recycling.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. Kokoda Inititave Sign .K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea Pipe Crossing

After our little adventure, we returned to the town. Robert left us there and we met back up with Ranger Muxsie. We had to walk a couple of kilometres uphill to get to the pickup point for the bus back to Port Moresby. Muxsie had decided to join us for the walk. While waiting for the bus, we all exchanged contact details. Muxsie said I should call him, so he could take care of me, if I’m ever back in the area.

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Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – Police and Black Market Supply Chains

Back in Port Moresby, the community elder had been unsuccessful in locating the boy or my phone, so we made our way to the police station to file a report. Then we waited. I was not holding out much hope by that point, as it had already been 2 days. That made it all the more surprising when the police contacted us the next day. They asked us to come into the station. Two of the three people involved in the black market supply chain were in custody!

My hosts had hilariously given them all nicknames; The Rasta, The Fatman and The Chinaman. Sounds like some kinda terrible detective show that I’d watch the hell out of! Anyways, The Rasta was still at large, but they believed him to be the one who took the phone from the thief. The Fatman was believed to be the middle man and the ‘Chinaman’, who was actually Filipino, was on the receiving end of the stolen goods.

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Arrests and Returns

The best part of this whole saga was that the police had retrieved my phone and returned it to me! That was way more than I’d ever hoped for. Unfortunately, the phone had been wiped and the memory/SIM cards were gone. This presented a whole other problem. By this point, I’d had no phone or internet to contact the outside world for 4 days. After entering a ‘dangerous’ country. I needed to get online to let people know I was okay. I also needed internet to reinitialise my phone. My host suggested that we could have dinner at a restaurant with WiFi.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. Uninitialised Phone

Luckily I had brought my laptop to the restaurant, so I was able to get online that way. The WiFi there required a web login instead of a direct network login. That meant I couldn’t connect my phone to reinitialise it. I must say that WiFi in Papua New Guinea turned out to be infinitely disappointing. I managed to get a few emails sent off, but would have to wait until the next country to have a working phone. Who needs an alarm to wake up for a flight anyway?

One Last Trip to the Police Station

The police contacted us again asking us to come to the station. When we got there, they informed us that they still hadn’t caught the thief. They wanted us to go to the community with them to talk to the family. The mother of the thief wanted to tell me herself that she was allowing the police to arrest her and keep her in custody to bring her son out of hiding. As she had limited mobility, this was a major thing for her to do. No one could convince her that she shouldn’t do it. The thief surrendered himself to the police shortly after.

Most of my trip was spent dealing with that one issue. Although it’s a crappy thing to have to deal with while travelling, the way that people came together to help a stranger tells me all I need to know about this country. Despite my ordeal, I’d highly recommend going there.

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Can you guess where I headed to next?

??Papua New Guinea Summary??

In a few words – Intense, but friendly
Language – English and Pidjin
Currency – Papua New Guinean Kina (PGK)
WiFi availability – ??
Wifi doesn’t seem to be widely available and even when you can get some, it’s slow and disconnects you all the time
Transport – I’m not sure about transport in PNG as I got driven everywhere
Roads – ????
Most roads look like they’re well maintained
Scenery – ?⛰?⛰?
Green everywhere!
Prices – ???
Accommodation is ridiculously expensive for something very basic. Food is quite cheap, even imported goods seem to be cheaper in PNG than they are in the country of origin
Border efficiency – ????
Both the entry to and exit from the international airport in Port Moresby were quite smooth.
Overall – ????

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