Leaving on 26 March we boarded the Pacific Aria. Very orderly boarding it was too. :) We found our cabin, settled in and tried lunch at Hooks (the fish and chip offering in The Pantry.)
We cruised for 2 days (the sea was like glass, so smooth!) and arrived at Alotau on the southern section. We chose to do the Milne Bay tour I guess we expected to see something but there's no wrecks or planes and you can't see the landing strip for the forest that's re-established itself but we had a very interesting tour guide who chooffed us around the bay while telling us the history of the zone (and most particularly the WW2 conflict that took place there.)
The next day we went to Kitava - a small poor island partway up the middle (my geographic references are pretty woeful here) and was amazed to learn that children had to pay K15 a year (approx $AUD7.50) to attend school and it is primary only. In order to attend high school the children must leave their island and travel to Port Moresby or Alotau to continue their education. The only income derived by the locals on Kitava is from the cruise ships and tourism opportunities. There are no doctors or nurses on the island, only Midwives who are "locally trained" which I found particularly scary.
Rabual was next. We chose to do a tour of the Rabaul area, starting with the Coconut Processing Plant and learned the locals are paid 25 cents a nut and it takes 15 to make a litre of coconut oil. We were given samples to bring home. Then we went to the volcanic observatory. There are over 50 volcanoes in PNG with 16 monitored as active including Mt Tavurvur which erupted in 1994 (over 6 days) wiping out Rabaul as we knew it. There is little left of old Rabaul and we drove over the airport and all you could see hidden under the ash was the roofline of one building. Everything else is gone. We visited locals, saw the location of a WW2 Japanese Bomber crash, visited a church and so on. The thing that stood out for me was when we visited the springs, we parked some distance away and had to walk over and as soon as you climbed from the vehicle the ground was really hot.
Next was Kiriwinna Island and it was pretty, though more commercialised and clearly used to travellers. If the heavens hadn't opened (something we contended with around lunchtime every day) we may have stayed longer... plus I guess I was incubating a nasty flu-thing.
The last port of call was Conflict Islands - privately owned it's very "resort like" and didn't really appeal to me...
Back on the ship we rocked and rolled (high winds sometimes over 40 knots) and big swells saw parts of the ship locked down, including our porthole!
We arrived back in Brisbane and headed for home. 10 days at sea summed up super quickly.