Our path through Papua New Guinea so far has been nothing like we expected, and that's just fine. Yet another lesson that cruising "plans" are made to be changed, and that weather always wins!
Our route through the western end of the Louisiades happened spontaneously. I was disappointed not to start at the eastern end of the islands, but it's easy to shrug off and move on- it isn't worth fighting weather. Bramble Haven was simply the closest protected landfall to our course. Panasia was just a short day sail away, and reputed to be stunning- that was an easy next step. From there we couldn't miss going nearby Brooker Island, to accept the invitation of a feast from the fishermen who had been our PNG welcoming committee back in Bramble Haven. Niall was eager to snorkel over a WWII plane wreck at Panapompom, part of an island group just above Brooker, so that became the next obvious move. It's a comfortable rhythm for Totem: nothing planned too far ahead, one step leading into the next, following the weather.
We left the Louisiades from Panapompom, an overnight sail taking us up to Budi Budi atoll- the northeastern most islands of Milne Bay Province. A trough sitting above us may keep us here for a while, and that's just fine. It feels like we've met most of the residents here in a couple of days, and they have been unfailingly warm and friendly. The motus offer some beautiful snorkeling. The children are thrilled to have compadres- with SIX (!) other cruising kids between Sea Glass and Nalukai, who share the anchorage here. The church ladies are giving me a lesson in pandanus mat weaving tomorrow. Jamie and Jeremy are hatching fishing plans. It will be easy to linger!
At the same time, we now need to do more serious route planning. December seems far away, but we have the exciting prospect of meeting up with a good friend at Indonesia's diving mecca of Raja Ampat. It's at the NW end of Irian Jaya: to make it there before Christmas, we need to start making (and following) concerted plans.
We originally expected to go from Milne Bay up to Buka, then across the top of New Ireland, and from there through the Hermits and Ninigo (with some stops below Manus) en route to Indonesia. Our friends from Endless Summer, Steve & Manjula, shared such great knowledge and experiences from their trip along this stretch last year- we were eager to see these places they raved about. There are no cruising guides for this area, so their first hand knowledge of the bays and waypoints for anchorages is invaluable.
We're now less sure we have time to follow the stepping stones across the top of New Ireland, and will shorcut to Kavieng through Kokopo instead. Our information on Kokopo is a little thin, but once again, my notes from skyping with Endless Summer will help guide our path from Kavieng west, below Manus and to the Hermits.
One stop we are absolutely sure to make is the Ninigo islands. While researching this leg of our journey, I stumbled on the blog of Anui- an Australian family who spent a year and a half cruising from Oz out to Thailand and back via PNG. Sarah wrote vividly about their travels, so I got in touch to learn more from their experiences. The Anui crew made close friends in Ninigo, and we feel so lucky to help them keep and strengthen the bond by delivering gifts from them. Tucked under Nialls bunk are many packages, parceled out with letters and photographs for their adopted PNG families in these islands. In a place without mail service or modern connectivity, it is truly precious cargo and we feel privileged to carry it for them.
Sometime in the next week, we expect to be on our way to Kokopo from Budi Budi. I'm looking forward having to our first internet access in about a month. There are pictures to upload, emails to send, comments to reply to, life to catch up on… and routing plans to research!
Any PNG cruising veterans reading this? We'd love any input, via direct email or comments below.