Alotau, Milne Bay: Good times at the National Canoe and Kundu Festival - 1st week in November
Published: 2014-02-10 00:00:00
Countries: Papua New Guinea
By Kate Glover and Rob Cadmus
S/V Toyatte, USA
Good times at the National Canoe and Kundu Festival: Alotau, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.
Milne Bay Province includes the Louisiade Archipelago, D'Entrecasteaux Islands, Woodlark, and many more far flung islands. Every year at the beginning of November, villagers from these remote islands sail their ocean going sailing canoes, loaded down with yams, pigs, and even old ladies and babies, to Alotau for the National Canoe and Kundu Festival. Though a great event for spectators, the festival is a really big deal for the locals and they use it as a modern way of carrying out some of their traditional customs. This is the land where sailing canoes are used in the legendary Kula Ring Trading Circle.
We couldn't find much information on this festival before we attended it. When it started we even asked one of the main organizers if there was a schedule of events. He taught us a lesson in Melanesian culture when he replied, "We generally know what is going to happen...but we can't give you a time or dates. But don't worry, you won't be bored."
So, just show up the first week of November, you will not be bored.
For a sailor interested in the traditional canoes in the Pacific, this festival is a must. The main event is races and competitions for sailing canoes and paddled war canoes. We saw at least 5 different types of sailing canoes, all with different rigs and hulls. Some small, some as large as 25 ft. Most have tarps as sails, but some flew traditional thatched woven sails. The races are like watching a good dinghy race, fast paced and athletic. At times they allow spectators to take a joy ride on the canoes for a mere 5 kina.
On land there are dancers and celebrations going all over the temporary village and stages. It was overwhelming just how much was happening at once.
We found Alotau safe and friendly, and was surprisingly good for provisioning. The community is trying to make tourism into a real business here and is doing a good job of it. Cruise ships have recently started stopping here. People went way out of their way to make sure we were having a good time and were safe.
We anchored right in front of the Alotau International Hotel in deep (100ft) water, and we used their beach as a landing spot and place to keep the dingy. We made friends with the guards and they kept an eye on our boat for us. It’s a little exposed to afternoon winds. This spot is right next to the fairgrounds, and very close to the action -- so close our boat was used as the turnaround point for one race (and it was amazing).
The Driftwood lodge is a few miles east of town and has better protection, shallower depth, and great security. A long walk or taxi is needed to get to town. If their dock is free they will let you tie up too.
The canoe festival was a great way to kick off our cruise in PNG. We met people from all over Milne Bay Provence at the festival and then spent 2 months sailing around visiting some of their islands. Our route went from Alotau to Samarai and then out towards the Louisiades, then back to Normanby and Ferguson Islands, the Amphlett Group, Trobriand Islands, New Ireland, Feni Islands, Green Islands, Buka/Bouganville.
We had no major problems, though played it safe. The largely uninhabited islands of the Conflict Atoll and Hastings Island were a nice break from curious villages. The only place we had issues was Kaibola on the north end of the Trobriands. You are safe from violence here, and most of the people were really friendly. But cruise ships now visit this spot and expectations are high. If you want carvings it is the best place to stop, but don’t leave anything on deck and be prepared to haggle. We had a good time at other spots in the Trobriands. In the Feni Islands, there is a lot of mining exploration, and hence mistrust, so make sure your intentions are clear. The people were very nice once we gained their trust. Though the reputation of Buka/Bouganville is not great, we had a good time here getting ready for our passage to Micronesia. We stayed over a week with no problems. Provisioning was not great here, but you can make do. We made friends with the elderly and highly respected chief, and many other people, on the west side of Sohano Island, where we anchored. After we made enough friends they looked after us and our boat.
Our travels in PNG were a major highlight on our sail around the Pacific. We encourage you to go, but be safe, respect the people, and be sensitive to the impression and expectations you leave behind.