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Milne Bay Province What to see in Alotau and surrounding areas in Milne Bay Province

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Old 11-07-2005, 02:34 PM
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My island hopping adventure in Milne Bay Province

By Esther Haro

Easter Monday may seem a long time ago but the memories of that day and the following days began for me at 5:30 am as a 23-foot banana boat, powered by a 40- horse power Mariner engine charged boldly out of Sanderson Bay in Alotau, Milne Bay province.

While the peaceful Alotau town lay in deep slumber awaiting the first rays of sunlight, my three colleagues and I from the Ombudsman Commission were all ready and set for an adventurous island-hopping trip.

The members of the team comprised of the Deputy Director Leadership and team leader, Moguguia Mubwabwai, Acting Team leader-Complaints, Timothy Wrumongo, and Assistant Investigator Complaints, Anita Awan, and me as the Media officer.

Apart from Mr Mubwabwai, the rest of us knew the names of the islands of this maritime province from reading and seeing the places on the map of Papua New Guinea.

We were all eager to tackle the seas of Milne Bay Province to carry out the Commission’s awareness program known as the External Relations Program.

The aim of our visit was to meet with as many people as we could on the main islands and talk to them about the Commission’s roles and functions and also to collect their complaints. These awareness visits to provinces is conducted annually. Officers from the Commission travel in teams of four or five and meet with school children, villagers, Local-Level Government Presidents and Ward Councillors and the general public.

As we continued towards East Cape, the moon became a faint orb giving way to the sun. To carry out this awareness visit, the team used a 23 foot-banana boat to take us to Bolubolu on Good Enough Island, to Salamo on Fergusson Island, to Esa'ala District and finally to Losuia.

Our boat operator was Lance and we pinned our trust in him and in God to get us safely to our destinations. At about 7: 15 am, we arrived at East Cape, also known as the Eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. Here we stretched our legs, relieved ourselves and had a cup of hot coffee or two with home baked scones that were being sold to raise funds for the local

At 8 am we left East Cape for our first port of call, Bolubolu. It was a perfect day for travelling. The sky was clear blue and in the distance swarms of seagulls were swooping over the sea and plucking out fish. To our right lay Normanby Island, Dobu Island and Fergusson Island. Of these Fergusson is the largest and we had to go pass its entire length before travelling across to Good Enough Island.

We knew these islands by name but as they took shape, the closer we got, the experience for me was like characters of a fiction novel coming to life. I felt privilege to put names at last to the places.

On our way to Good Enough, we stopped at Mapoiwa Station, Fergusson Island to stretch our limbs. Then we were off again. At Bolubolu, the acting area Manager Mr Morris let us rest at his home while we made arrangements to stay the night at the Bolubolu Womens Guesthouse. The guesthouse was fully booked with visitors who had arrived earlier. The Bolubolu Catholic Mission took us under their care and gave us one of their houses to stay the night. Godfrey Binoka, a former officer with the Ombudsman Commission and his wife Cecilia who runs the Guesthouse brought us food to sustain us. The next day we set off early for the small market. I was surprised to see women balancing a basketful of vegetables on their head while carrying a child on their hips or holding onto another bag.

Everything was priced 20 toea and the four of us went mad trying to buy fruits and smoked fish and other garden produce. This was to become burdensome for me later on in our trip. We then met with the people of Bolubolu and talked to them on the roles and functions of the Commission. With no access to newspapers, television, and not enough radios, the people knew little or nothing at all about the Commission. Our visit there made them aware of the organization and how it could assist them with their complaints regarding the Government sector.

We left Bolubolu feeling pleased with our first meeting and savoured the experience as not bad nor good but just good enough. Salamo on East Fergusson Island was our second destination. On our way there we were met by strong wings that whipped the sea into frenzy. I clutched my life jacket, shut my eyes and prayed that the operator would get us through safely. After one to two hours of bum bruising ride we glided into calm waters heading towards Gomwa point for Salamo.

At Salamo, the fruits I bought at Bolubolu became a burden for me. After a 20 minutes walk in which my legs almost gave way, we arrived at the Women’s Fellowship Care Centre and Guesthouse. I found out the next day that Salamo is a United Church stronghold. In fact it is the Papuan Regional United Church centre, having being founded by the Missionary Dr Bromillow in the 1800’s.

We spoke to the students and staff of Wesley High School and the interested public. After the meeting, we were back on the banana boat heading for Esa’ala District. The half-hour ride to Esa’ala was smooth and easy unlike the six-hour trip we took to Bolubolu and from there to Salamo. We had lunch with the District Administrator, Wilson Lote and his officers before meeting with the people of the Esa’ala district.

That afternoon we departed for Gumawana Island which belongs to the Amphlets group of Islands. Willie joined us at Esa’ala as an additional guide and operator. He bought an extra canvas, a bush knife, a paddle and a pole which proved useful to us later on in our trip. On our way to Gumawana Island, the clouds turned to a murky grey, the wind began to blow and stir up the waves. We called into Yaya village to stay out of the oncoming storm. Yaya village consisted of two bush material huts on the coast and a larger house with iron roofing further inland.

We grabbed our bags and made for the trees. The family at Yaya village let us shelter in their house. When the rain stopped, the family took us to another house further in from the sea. It was larger and had iron roofing and we had not noticed it from the sea. Here we felt humbled at the simple hospitality and generosity from one stranger to another. They gave us their rooms for the night and shared their dinner with us.

I had not slept that long when Mr Mubwabwai woke us up with his boisterous voice to leave. After saying our thanks to this wonderful family we set off on our last stop, Losuia. At 4:30 am we left Yaya village.

We were told that as the rest of the islands disappeared behind us we would not see land except for small atolls until we reached Losuia. At 7 am we stopped at an atoll to stretch our legs and collected shells and other souvenirs then we were off again. About an hour later we ran into huge black clouds which sponged out all the water they could onto us. Except for the two boat operators, we all huddled under the canvas.

Once we were out of the rain clouds, it was clear sailing all the way to Losuia in Kirriwina. We arrived there at 9:30 am. The Kirriwina Islands is also known as the Trobriand Islands and having read about this Isle of Love, Anita and I were nervous in our new environment. Mr Mubwabwai however, comforted us saying that this was not the Tapioka or Yam festival season so we would be okay. Kenneth Kalubaku and his staff of Butia lodge made our three-day stay there comfortable. The quiet surroundings, the food and their smiling face and hospitality was a welcome respite from our long journey by sea.

Our last meeting was held on Friday 1 April 2005 .We held a joint meeting with the public servants, LLG Presidents and Ward Councillors as well as the general public. Our final talk was with the students of Kirriwina High School. The remaining two days Saturday/Sunday was spent sight seeing and learning about the Milne Bay culture. We were stopped every five metres by a local selling his lime pot gourd, carving or bagi shell necklaces.

The food, especially the crabs were delicious. On Sunday we said our goodbyes to our new friends, hopped into a Dash 8 PNG Airlines airplane and with our crabs, lime gourds, yams and memories of our trip, bade farewell to Milne Bay province. Those fond memories are mostly those of a province who has friendly and hospitable people because no matter were we stayed, whether in a lodge, a guesthouse or a village, we were given the best treatment everywhere.

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