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
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
It was alive with lights, Christmas decorations and a 2 metre tall Santa. With a trusty snowman at his side.
As if that wasn’t Christmasy enough, there were speakers throughout the park playing Christmas songs really loudly.
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.
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.
The sheer amount of decorations in this park didn’t really hit me until I had a chance to see it during the day.
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.
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.
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.
It was a little bit surprising to find a couple of other pieces of art around town. Like this.
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.
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.
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?
That was followed by a refreshing no waste desert, in the best flavour of all!
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Where’s the WiFi?
Upon landing in Honiara, I had hoped that I could find some Wifi at the airport to book some accommodation. The lack of internet access in PNG had made it impossible to do so there. Unfortunately, there was no WiFi to be found in this tiny airport, so I figured I’d have to try my luck in town.
I asked a nice lady working at a small cafe how to get into town and she indicated that I could catch a ‘bus’ from the road outside the airport. Okay, that seems easy enough. 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 on my side of the road, standing around like they were waiting for something.
That seemed promising, so I approached and asked someone in the crowd if they were waiting for a bus. After checking where I needed to go, they confirmed that I was in the right place and chatted with me while we waited. A minivan pulled up a short while later and my new friend indicated that I should hop on board.
There was a young boy onboard 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 had suggested that I could get WiFi at the Tourist Centre in town, so that’s where I got dropped off.
Upon entering, I was greeted by a lovely gentleman named Nelson. I explained my PNG phone saga to him and therefore my need for internet to reinitialise my phone. He said I could stay and use the WiFi until the centre closed. How wonderful!
As the internet on the Solomon Islands is a bit slow, it was about 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. Luckily I had almost everything I needed for the phone to function reinstalled by the time he was done. Being the awesome person that he is, 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, to make sure I got settled in okay. Not only are the Solomon Islands lusciously green, but the people are pretty awesome too!
Walking Around Town
I realised after checking into my room that I hadn’t eaten for a long time, 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, who worked at the port, started talking to me and 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 enquired about my plans in Honiara, so of course, I told him that I wanted to go to the Tenaru Falls! I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do that yet, but that was a tomorrow problem. 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. Honiara had certainly welcomed me the right way.
Adventures Beyond Honiara
Just as he said they would, Manu and his friends arrived to pick me up at around 8:30am. We then headed for the Tenaru Falls, which it turns out were a very long drive from Honiara. Mainly because the road is terrible. It’s still passable without a 4WD though. It seems Manu’s friend, Joei, was a taxi driver who I later found out had taken the day off work to use his taxi to drive me around. Wow.
There was another person in the car named Joylee, who I’d presumed was Manu’s friend. I found out after talking to Joylee for a while 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.
Manu and Joylee were using the long ride to drink and chain smoke. That ride got fairly uncomfortable for me rather quickly. Luckily, them seeing me use my inhaler slowed the smoking down a bit.
After we passed a gate that a local came out and opened for us, an old man approached us from the side of the road 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, they 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.
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.
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.
I followed Freida down a trail which started off nicely enough, but then became exponentially more difficult. This was partly because it got fairly 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. It did not feel good and caused me to limp all the way back to the lodge.
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 an almost comatose state. This meant that it was a mission to get them to the car, but we were finally loaded and ready to go about 30 minutes later.
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.
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, but he was very insistent that I take it. After we got food, he came into the room and said he had been waiting his whole life to meet someone like me. He also professed his love for me, but how can you love someone you’ve only known for one day? It may have been the alcohol he’d imbibed talking, but it was getting a little too awkward for me.
I went to the hotel’s reception to see if I could change to another room. As that was getting organised, Manu came out to apologise and beg me to reconsider, but hotel security were a bit worried and approached him to tell him to move away from me. As he walked back to his room, I decided it might be better to leave the hotel for a while and sort the room out later, so I left my things at reception and made my escape.
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. If I forget the craziness at the hotel, it was a pretty awesome day, all up!
The next day had a bit of a weird start when I tried to pay for my hotel room, but no one knew how to use the credit card machine. About 2 hours later, we’d figured there was either a bank problem or a machine problem, so the staff just gave up and said I didn’t have to pay. Well, that’s nice.
After all these adventures, 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.
The place is kept in perfect condition by the caretaker, who invited me into his little booth when I got stuck in the very open memorial area as a huge storm came in. He told me that the storm would take a while to pass. He was right, I think it was over an hour, but it seemed like only 10 minutes because of the great company.
He told me that he has been the caretaker there for over 20 years. He tends to the gardens to keep them looking beautiful and fresh. He makes sure that the grounds are always clean. He clearly does a good job, because the place was immaculate. He does it 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, with the only access point being 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 Tenaru River I’d seen a few days before was much nicer.
Time For a SolBrew?
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. I couldn’t find any of crew when I first walked in, but 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 Solomons.
🇸🇧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 – 👍👍👍👍👍
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
🇵🇬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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