The Cairns region is internationally recognised for worldclass attractions, superb natural features and friendly north Queensland hospitality. It is the focal point for the magnificent World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and is surrounded by tropical rainforests. Visitors enjoy browsing at indigeneous art galleries, shopping at the night markets and dining out on multicultural cuisine in the many restaurants along the esplanade.
Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, is located at the eastern tip of mainland Papua New Guinea. The rugged Owen Stanley Ranges to the west have isolated Alotau and there is no road access to the rest of the country.
Many of the population of around 10,000 rely on the sea for their livelihood and as a result the busy harbour is the focal point of the town. Cargo movements drive harbour activity, and there is an array of colourful vessels to be seen, ranging from tiny canoes to well-equipped charter boats.
Australian military history is closely linked to this area. The recently completed Battle of Milne Bay War Memorial is close to the foreshore and has a detailed description of the battle. In August 1942, the battle over Gurney Airstrip saw the Australians win the first significant land-based victory over Japanese forces in the Pacific. Remnants of the battle are still being discovered, with aircraft, vehicles and tanks to be found on land and on the seabed.
Included excursions today include Alotau Highlights Tour, Alotau Bat Cave Adventure, & Alotau WWII History Tour.
In the early 1900s Samarai Island was the thriving colonial capital of the territory of Papua and the town’s streetscape carries reminders of those bygone, halcyon days. Back then it was described as one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific.
Despite its faded-glory atmosphere, commerce is still the lifeblood of this tiny island, just 24ha in area, with inter-island trading ships frequenting the harbour. A pleasant stroll through the town can be taken past the wharf and the Trading Company opposite to the sports ground, which is still the scene of fiercely contested cricket matches. From here a relatively easy climb up the small hill near the old hospital is rewarded with wonderful views of the harbour and the China Strait.
The China Strait islands surrounding Samarai have a history of witchcraft that persists, despite the best efforts of missionaries to debunk stories of ghost ships and mysterious lights.
Just three kilometres west of Samarai is Kwato Island, where European traders broke their journey en route to the South Pacific in search of gold and to trade in mother of pearl, sandalwood and sea cucumbers (beche de mer).
In 1891 the Reverend Charles Abel and his wife, Beatrice, founded a church and mission, and established a series of self-sufficient coconut plantations to finance their religious work. Boat building also begun and the mission's boats were used to transport and supply Australian Coastwatchers during WWII. The Reverend Abel is best remembered for his theory that the game of cricket would have a civilising influence over the tribes and a local variation of the game is still strong in Papua New Guinea today.
The island is peaceful, with the remnants of boat-building equipment evident amongst the trees. A shady road leads to a hilltop clearing in the centre of the island and the impressive old stone church dating from 1937. Both the church and the sweeping views of the surrounding seas are worth the climb. During WWII this spot was used as a strategic gun position
Also in the group is the uninhabited island of Deka Deka which we will use today as a base for swimming and snorkeling.
Orion guests will be transferred ashore by Zodiacs to Samarai where the Expedition Team will guide you in your exploration of the historical areas. There will also be the opportunity to walk to the church on Kwato Island. Orion will reposition ion the afternoon closer to Deka Deka for in water activities.
In 1793 the French vessel Esperance marked the first European visit to the Trobriand Islands, which were named after the first lieutenant on board - Denis de Trobriand. The area soon became a hub for trading ships from Europe, American whalers and German ships seeking supplies of yams.
The islands are famed for its beautiful beaches and today you’ll have the chance to visit a village and see examples of the distinctive yam houses. The people rely on subsistence farming and fishing, and the yam plays a very important role in their diet. More than just the staple diet, yams are revered by all, being proudly displayed after harvesting and then kept in elaborate storehouses. The unique Trobriand culture was studied by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the early 1900’s and resulted in the islands being dubbed (perhaps erroneously) “The Island of Love”.
Orion guests will be able to admire and purchase carvings which are renowned throughout Papua New Guinea for their high quality and workmanship – look for walking sticks, small stools and bowls of various shapes and sizes.
Our visit today will be to Kitava Island and the lagoon formed by the tiny coral cay of Nuratu Island just off the main beach of Kitava. Here locals will perform some of the Trobriands famous dances including the Tapioca Dance. There will be opportunities to walk up to a nearby village during the day and see the famous Trobriand Yam houses. Swimming, snorkelling and sea kayaking will be available in the lagoon all day as well.
The magnificent coast around the north of the mainland is a well-kept secret. Over 30 fjords are carved into the shoreline, one of which is Orion's anchorage point today. You'll be surrounded by dense rainforest above sheer basalt walls and sandy white beaches. Cruise along the coast and climb aboard an outrigger dugout canoe which will glide along a river and through mangrove forests for a village visit. Local guides lead you on a botanists walk to the spectacularly scenic Suicide Point and along the way is a chance to see the huge Blyth's hornbill and the world's largest butterfly - the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing with a wingspan of up to 30cm.
Included Expeditions: Orion will cruise amidst the spectacular fjords to her anchorage location. There is access to a white sandy beach via our Zodiacs for swimming, snorkeling and sea kayaking today. Numerous optional shore excursions are available this day, contact us for more information.
The beautiful Tami Islands are a quiet, simple, island idyll. Tami Islands comprises four atolls, including one that's barely more than a white sandy beach. There are two main villages on the two large islands that face each other across the cove which is filled with reef and deepens to a volcanic pit at its center. Drumming and dancing herald a day ashore where you may explore the village for intricate carvings and souvenirs or walk with Orion's botanist to inspect native produce gardens. You won't want to leave after swimming and snorkeling above the myriad corals that form the extensive reef.
Included Expeditions: Your visit to Tami Islands includes access to the island for swimming, snorkelling and sea kayaking.
A guided walk through the food gardens will be offered for Orion guests today and you will also have a beach BBQ.
It's well worth getting up early this morning for Orion's approach to Madang through the spectacular Dallman Passage. Madang itself is a lovely town set on a peninsula characterised by lush gardens and magnificent vistas of tropical seascapes, islands and inlets. The market has masses of colorful produce, shell jewelery, woven bags (bilums) from the highlands, carvings and bilbil clay pots which are a local specialty. Weathered headstones in the cemetery are reminders of colonial times and you have the chance to visit nearby villages and attend a "sing sing". Scuba divers enjoy easy access to dive sites just off-shore which encompass wartime wrecks, pelagic marine life, reef-filled shallow lagoons and drift-diving off deep drops.
Included Expeditions: Orion guests will be free to explore Madang and the markets today by complimentary shuttle bus. Numerous optional shore excursions are available this day, contact us for more information.
The meandering Sepik River is the longest river in PNG and for years has been a major trading artery linking the coast and the interior. Orion takes position today at the mile-wide river mouth nearby the small village of Watam. The dense vegetation and swampland to be seen along the river's edge is home to many species of birds. Your visit to the village will give you an insight into a way of life that very few outsiders have witnessed. With no roads, phones, electricity or luxuries to be had, the open and happy outlook of the villagers will touch you. A "dragon" dance welcomes us ashore, punctuated by singing and lots of laughter, as you are all marked with a red ceremonial mark on our cheek.
Included Expeditions: Orion guests will be able to explore the river mouth of the mighty Sepik near the village of Kopar. Your exclusive access to Watam village will give all of us an insight into life in a remote Sepik village that very few outsiders have witnessed, even today. There are no roads, no phones, there is no electricity and there are not too many other luxuries to be found.
The villagers will welcome you with a special “dragon” dance and continue with a performance of the dances of their ancestors. You will be shown how to make Sago, the staple food of the Sepik coastline, and the local teacher will open the school to us. Unique carvings and woven baskets will be available to buy.
Set at the eastern end of the island of New Britain, the tropical port town of Rabaul has always been famous for its spectacular setting.
As we arrive, Orion will cruise right past the active volcano, Mt Tavurvur. Nestled beside Simpson Harbour, the township is surrounded by six volcanoes, one of which, Mt Tavurvur, is still active today. During more than 100 years of settlement, Rabaul has been rocked by massive volcanic eruptions and war, a testament to the resilience of the townsfolk who have rebuilt after each event.
The most recent major volcanic eruption was in September 1994 when Tavurvur and Vulcan covered much of Rabaul and surrounding villages with volcanic ash. This eruption saw the growth of the nearby coastal town of Kokopo which has now become the administrative and tourism centre for East New Britain, replacing Rabaul in that role.
The area played a significant role in WWII and the Japanese occupation in 1942 saw the building of hundreds of kilometres of tunnels underneath the town and the Gazelle Peninsula as protection against constant Allied bombing raids. It is almost hard to miss the rusting relics left over by the retreating forces. In one tunnel are five huge barges that were pulled along rails to the shore and back by prisoners of war. Dozens of sunken aircraft and ships dot the harbour and to the north are sea caves used as a drop-off point by Japanese submarines.
Two included tours for the day are either Rabaul History & Highlights Tour, or Rabaul Volcano Adventure.