Simply The Best


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Oceania » Papua New Guinea » New Ireland
October 6th 2014
Published: October 7th 2014
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Once upon a time, as all the best fairy-tales begin, all I wanted out of life was a Ferrari.

They were Simply The Best.

Frankly, even at the time, this was a bloody silly idea...

For a start, at the age of eight, it would have been something of a stretch to even come close to reaching the pedals.

What’s more, my favourite model, the gloriously seductive 512 Berlinetta Boxer, was strictly a two-seater, so there’d have been no room for the rest of the family.

So even if I’d somehow managed to stretch my pocket-money that far, it would just have been me stuck in the passenger seat alongside my Dad, who had precisely zero interest in such things. As something of a stickler for the road rules, he would have resolutely refused to go above thirty in any case, which would never have seen the Boxer out of first gear.

Back in my own little dream-world, though, I could foresee a rapid elevation in my social status as I casually stepped out at the school gates and waved my Pa goodbye, nonchalantly ordering him to pick me up around three.

Again, I’ve since learnt this was a sad delusion.

A Ferrari is likely to make you about as popular as a drunken frat-boy at a feminists’ tea party, a one step guarantee for invoking the hatred of strangers at fifty paces, while attracting a legion of friends more interested in cultivating the contents of your wallet than your soul.

By the time I’d grown up, got a decent job and earned enough to afford even the feeblest of third-hand Porsches, I’d long ago realised the futility of the whole exercise, and sadly accepted that this was one fairy-tale that was never likely to come true. The fact is, if you still find yourself hankering after a Ferrari once you’ve hit thirty, it’s probably a good sign you haven’t really grown up at all.

The best things in life, so they say, are free...

Not many of them will do 188mph either.

Trouble is, it’s not that often that you actually stumble upon one. But stumble upon one, we just had.

Readers may remember our last trip was a dive holiday to Papua New Guinea. On my return I entered a few shots into a local photo contest and, as luck would have it, won first prize, which happily turned out, would you believe, to be a dive holiday to Papua New Guinea!

And so it was that just eight months after our first trip we found ourselves back at the airport ready to do it all again. This time our flight was headed to Rabaul in New Britain, from where we’d transit on to Kavieng in New Ireland, the home of Lissenung Island Resort, who’d so generously funded our tour.

Second time around the weird excesses of PNG seemed much more familiar.

On landing in Rabaul there was a sign at customs reading ‘Have You Declared Infants?’, as if smuggling your children into the country might somehow be a profitable exercise. Fortunately I had declared all the infants I knew about, namely none, which hopefully will turn out to be the same number as those I don’t know about. Still, since I happen to be writing this on Father’s Day maybe I should buy myself a sneaky beer just in case. Cheaper than a Ferrari at the end of the day, or an infant you do know about, for that matter.

Next to this was a second notice on a door reading in bold red letters ‘Noken Go Insait’. The fact that the familiar red ‘No Entry’ symbol lay directly beneath made the translation simple, and led me to believe this whole Pidgin deal might not be as hard to pick up as, say, Slovak or Cantonese. It seems the ideal language for the terminally lazy; just as in Franglais or Spanglish, you get the gist of what you want to say and just make the rest up. Still maybe the speakers were merely ahead of their time, inventing an original spoken text-speak, all without the need for staring for hours at a tiny screen or getting repetitive strain injury. I suspect the reason you ‘Noken Go Insait’ was that the room was already choc-full of unsuspecting tearful fathers being reunited with their forgotten offspring.

Having cleared customs and after only a modest hour’s delay, we were taking off again for Kavieng. This did mean we arrived after dark, though, and with little idea where we were headed we were doubly relieved to be picked up as promised. Our contact was the owner of the resort himself, Dietmar, and he promptly whisked us off to a modest little skiff to zoom out across the waters of the bay.

The noise of the outboard kept conversation to a minimum, so chief entertainment was trying to guess to which of the little islands which loomed out of the gloom we might be headed. After zigzagging by three or four likely candidates things started to get properly pitch black, and, with no lights aboard, I had to wonder how on earth our pilot knew where he was headed. Still, The Force seemed strong in this one, judging from his steely gaze. Peering out to the horizon I could only guess our resort must lay straight ahead, its lights hidden for now by that little clump of trees on a tiny speck of sand before us. As we roared ever closer I briefly wondered if our driver had even seen it, but a quick glance back received a reassuring nod and all was well. He’d just swerve around at the last minute.

Funnily enough, though, he didn’t, instead simply throttling back and allowing the bow to gently nudge up onto the beach.

‘And here we are!’ announced Dietmar.

‘Welcome to Lissenung
Another Crab, Another Prize!Another Crab, Another Prize!Another Crab, Another Prize!

Not first prize this time, so just a local dive trip, but hey, who's complaining?
Island Resort!’

I couldn’t help noting the ‘Where the hell has he brought me this time?’ look on Debbie’s face as Dietmar grabbed our bags and trudged up what appeared to be a very empty beach. We reluctantly followed, our spirits lifted when five yards further on the tell-tale sparkle of electric lights shimmered through the tree-line. Hey, maybe there is something hidden in there after all?

The best things come in small packages, so they say, and Lissenung turned out to be one of these. There’s not an inch of paving on the whole island, just pathways of sand outlined by arched foliage corridors, and there are precious few of even these, radiating to just seven huts from the central straw-thatched dining hall, which itself has a floor of sand. A walk round the whole island takes no more than five minutes. From the restaurant to our room was all of 30 seconds, though this could be stretched to around 3 minutes should you choose to take the scenic route by skirting around the private little beaches in front of every hut. I could see instantly that the daily commute was going to be something of a bitch.

The delights of the island, though, weren’t why we’d come. As per our last PNG visit, the real attraction lay beneath the waves, where curvaceous finned models awaited the photographer’s lens.

Early next morning we were up and out and scooting across the waters once more, this time on the comfortable little dive boat, which will take up to fourteen but today happily held only six. Now bathed in sunlight we could actually see our surrounds, which were surprisingly unlike our last trip to Tawali. Still a stunning tropical location, for sure, but where Tawali is a Hawaiian-like vista of soaring forested mountains and plunging oceans, Lissenung had a much more South Pacific vibe, low sandy coconut-palmed cays and pale light-blue lagoons, from whose depths flying fish now leapt forth, startled by our pounding bow wave.

And it has to be said, I have something of a love-hate relationship with flying fish.

The creatures themselves I’ve no problem with.

Like fire-flies, they’re one of my very favourite little critters, an otherwise bog-standard little fish but with a startling trick up its sleeve. Once they’ve caught your eye it’s hard not to marvel at the
Crab No3.Crab No3.Crab No3.

No prize this time... You can't win 'em all!!!
sight of them flitting their way here and there.

No, what irks me is the name we’ve given them.

Eagles can fly.

Humming-birds can fly.

Hoverflies, now they can super-fly.

But these guys, really they’re just better-than-average jumpers.

Leaping Fish I could cope with. Glide Fish would be even better, but that one’s already taken.

But Flying Fish??? I’m sorry, but that’s just plain false advertising.

As a skill, it’s like the kind of thing you stick at the bottom of your resume to make yourself seem more interesting, like speaking German or playing the guitar.

Sure, you might even have tried it out once or twice at High School, but you never expect to be actually called up on it now, do you?

“So, Peter, I see here it says you can fly?”

“Me? Oh yeah, Big Time. I try to get out most weekends, you know, weather dependent obviously.”

“Well, that’s something I’d really like to see!”

“Sure! Give us a bell sometime and I’ll show you how it's done...”

“Well, how about now?”

“What, as in right this moment?”

Peter is starting to squirm a little in his chair.

‘Unless there’s a problem...”

“No, no. Now’s good. I’d just step back a little if I were you. I might need a bit of room to get up to 88...”

So off Peter goes, trying to make as elegant an exit from the interview as possible without becoming a total laughing stock.

And what he finds is, once he breaks the surface, well would you believe it, he actually can fly a bit. He only gets an altitude of about 3 inches, admittedly, with the odd thrash of the tail helping to maintain forward thrust. A quick tip of the fin and he can even change direction a tad. Happily this allows him to land just far enough away that, for those underwater, he appears to have left the planet. All he has to do now is hide out behind a rock for fifteen minutes and then ‘fly’ back in for a splash-landing, bitching about the turbulence at 30000ft.

Big Pete, as he’s now affectionately known, instantly lands a new job with great perks and a swanky uniform which involves nothing more than skulking out in hideaways all day while everyone else is in the office, before flying back in on the red-eye. You can almost see the guilty little glint in his eye as he skittishly sweeps his way by.

Fortunately the rest of the underwater world proved much more trustworthy, and was gorgeous as promised, the following seven days being spent contentedly blowing bubbles round my mask.

Of an evening we’d eat at the long tables of the dining room and get to know our new buddies, who proved to be a pleasant and entertaining bunch. There was a certain irony that many of the sites we were diving were Second World War wrecks, where our random little bunch of Australians, Germans and Japanese might not have gelled so well way back when, so I suppose we’ve come a long way. We’d all still have been mates with the Swiss, though, who’d smartly declared themselves neutral. Which makes me kind of wonder, why didn’t everyone?

After dinner you could chill in the lounge, or peruse the little library for details of PNG culture. Many of these books also featured WWII, which while obviously coming as a bit of a shock to everyone, was felt even more so here than elsewhere. The sleepy little backwaters of the islands of the Pacific were transformed into the centre of a titanic East-West struggle, the locals given a literal crash-course in twentieth-century technology, which must have seemed like some alien-invasion.

Sadly this seems to have turned the heads of more than one or two, and led in the post-war years to the rise of the Cargo Cult. Cults, on the whole, tend not to be bastions of level-headed thinking, but Cargo cults stretch credulity more than most. To even begin to attempt to understand them, you have to try to put yourself in the minds of the locals.

The months and years after Pearl Harbour saw gargantuan battleships and magical flying machines spring forth, attacking and killing both each other and anyone else unlucky enough to get caught in the crossfire. As well as this new brand of ultra-violence, they brought an abundance of material goods so numerous, it seemed, they were frequently just dumped and left behind.

Many of these goods were themselves delivered by the giant roaring birds from the sky. Pale-faced strangers would randomly rock-up, cut down a huge strip of trees and sit waiting, glancing skywards. Within a day or two the birds would come, and everyone would have goods aplenty.

It didn’t take the long for the locals to figure maybe they should just stop farming and give this a go themselves. Entire communities abandoned tilling and sewing and reaping and instead just cut down a huge swathe of trees and sat down to wait. The birds would come soon, they said, and bring with them their riches.

It’s one of the best examples I can ever recall of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

Crazy though it may seem, its widespread uptake can possibly be explained by the fact that just occasionally, by some miracle, it worked. Airstrips were pretty thin on the ground in those days, and a damaged plane or one lost or low on fuel would likely land at any cleared ground it could find. The occupants would simply step out and head straight off to the coast for a boat pick-up, leaving behind any cargo the plane might have held within. If you were really lucky and your strip happened to be in a good strategic location more giant birds may then arrive containing more spirit people, handing out gifts willy-nilly to placate the locals.

The affect was akin to winning Gold Lotto, and typically your affected tribe would be about as wise and judicious with their newfound wealth as your average instant millionaire, quitting the day-job, blowing the lot and finding themselves in just a few short years worse off than ever before. Imagine what your hometown would look like twelve months after you’d all, on the same day, won the lottery. Not too many dustmen left to collect the rubbish anymore. Not too many care-workers to look after the elderly. Why, life would be just wonderful!

You’d have to move down the road to the next town and sit there with everyone else, staring at the sky waiting for the next plane to come.

It may sound bizarre, but when you think about it, it’s a religion with much more basis in fact than most of those the rest of us seem happy to follow. Each to his own, I suppose. Unfortunately the end result was the widespread abandonment of centuries old traditional ways of life and, in common with most religions, a good deal of misery and warring.

Luckily misery and warring were two things in distinctly short supply at Lissenung, having been replaced by the cults of scuba and chilling. For the committed sub-aqua junkie the dive-sites were a good mix of reef, rock and wreck, but one of my favourites was quite literally rubbish. Down at 'The Bottle Shop' some of the best little critters crept around just ten yards off shore from downtown Kavieng, hanging out by the pier amongst the trash spilling into the sea. In amongst the rusty cans, ropes and ageing bottles you’ll stumble on a shy sleeping sea-horse, a marauding mantis shrimp or mating mandarin fish, strangely just as at home in a scruffy underwater dumpsite as at the stunning natural reef just a few yards away.

Fortunately ‘rubbish’ is not a term often used to describe the rest of Lissenung Island Resort. You don’t win Dive Log Australasia Magazine’s ‘Best Overseas Resort’ 2 years running by being rubbish. Sure the stunning location and great diving don’t hurt, but it’s the tiny scale of the place that really makes the difference. This isn’t some anonymous corporate hotel chain. The staff don’t just serve you dinner, they sit down and eat it with you, and it’s very difficult after a few days not to start feeling like one of the family. This makes it doubly hard, at trip’s end, to persuade yourself it’s a good idea to leave, even more so when everyone else is staying behind, and I realised I’d come full-circle: nowadays I didn’t want a Ferrari. All I wanted to do was stay here, one of the most spectacularly useless places in the entire world in which to own one.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and our week in paradise was all too rapidly done.

We were at least treated to our fairytale ending, the evening’s storm-clouds suddenly clearing on our return journey on the little skiff, revealing one of the most intensely starry nights we’ll ever see.

Massive thanks once again to Dietmar and the team for being such heavenly hosts.By the end you’d ceased to be managers or waiters or dive-crew and instead felt like genuine friends.

And that, more than anything, is what makes Lissenung Simply The Best.

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7th October 2014
The Shot that Won Me The Trip.

Winners are grinners
And this guy is the Ace of Spades. Congratulations you met this guy...congratulations he so rewarded you for doing so!
7th October 2014

Stunning photos
I can see why you won!
22nd October 2014
The Shot that Won Me The Trip.

I think all your pictures are winners! Thanks to your blog, now PNG has been added to my bucketlist. Sigh. The list is getting very long! #notreallyaproblem
22nd May 2016

PNG
We've wanted to go for years. This blog is excellent and the photos leave us breathless! Wow.

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