General Cruising Info. for PNG & the Solomons
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON MELANESIA
In spite of certain negative points listed below, we found Melanesia to be, with a couple of exceptions, a great place to visit - a true adventure.
We traveled through the Solomons (Santa Cruz, Makira, Guadalcanal, Florida Islands, Russell Islands, Marovo and Vonavona Lagoons, Gizo, Choiseul) during October 2011 - Jan 2012, and PNG Feb-April 2012.
SOME SOLOMONS CRUISING BASICS
Customs/immigration were simple, fast, and easygoing. We had an extendable 3 month visa. We met a boat that had actually been in the Solomons for several months before getting around to checking in.
Anchorages and Guides
Places to anchor were somewhat limited and often deep/exposed. Alan Lucas’s guide was OK, but sometimes inaccurate. "Solomon Islands Cruising Guide" by Dirk Sieling was much better with good detail on lots of anchorages.
We rarely had enough wind to sail, but diesel delivery was generally easy to obtain at larger towns at about US $6-7/gal.
Most islands are sparsely populated with small villages. Supplies were very limited and imported goods relatively expensive, even in large cities. Local produce was real cheap - if you are on a shoestring budget stock up on used tshirts - you will get a week’s worth of veggies and sweet potatoes for one or two at isolated anchorages, and between that and rich fishing you should get by on $500/month or less unless the boat falls apart.
Repair services are limited but there are several small haul out facilities in the Floridas and Western Province, but they tend to be booked up. Try Vella Lavella’s Liapari Bay.
The people of the Solomons are extremely friendly and helpful. Most places we stopped, we were quickly besieged by a dozen or more canoes full of curious, friendly kids and adults. Pidgin is quite close to English and we generally had little trouble communicating even in very remote areas. They were eager to learn about us and exchange local goods (carvings, sweet potatoes, plantains, island spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, papayas, mangos, and bananas) for manufactured goods. Popular trade items from us were used clothing, fishing line and hooks, cheap dive masks, seeds, batteries - especially D size, carving tools and sandpaper, books and magazines, DVDs, and candy, marbles, and balloons for the kids. Bring a bag of goods into a village and you will see a veritable feeding frenzy!
SOME PNG CRUISING BASICS
Customs/immigration was pretty painless. We applied for a 60 day visa in Honiara. It’s rumored to be a painful process to extend one’s visa.
Anchorages and Guides
We had no difficulty finding good anchorages in PNG. We used the Southeast Asia Cruising Guide, which we don’t like because it is strangely laid out and only has info. on major ports.
As in the Solomons, there was rarely a sailing wind during the northwest monsoon. We had great difficulty progressing up the north coast Wewak-Jayapura against the NW monsoon in April - we made three attempts to leave Wewak, and two from Vanimo. It blew 20-25 knots down the coast, with some nasty squalls, pretty consistently for the 3 weeks in March we were there.
Supplies and Repair Facilities
PNG is a lot more developed than the Solomons, with a number of large cities and tin-and-wood villages instead of thatch huts. Availability of supplies and repair facilities in cities was not great, but better than in the Solomons. Diesel delivery was readily available in towns at about US $6-7/gallon. Local produce was very cheap (about the same price as the Solomons) and our manufactured trade goods were in demand in the more isolated anchorages.
THE SOLOMONS/PNG SECURITY QUESTION
The Solomons and PNG have some of the most beautiful islands and coral in the Pacific. Melanesian people are some of the nicest we’ve met anywhere. During our seven months here we saw only 6 other sailboats and met the most interesting expats… But there was obvious political unrest and violent crime problems in both the Solomons and PNG.
The majority of it in Solomons seemed to be between locals, and was unlikely to involve foreigners. The day we pulled in to Honiara, the government was overturned in a vote of no confidence. The city was closed down, riot police and troublemaking crowds owned the streets, and there were (fortunately untrue) rumors that they were burning down Chinatown again. There were three other sailboats in the harbor. One had a guard aboard, one had been attacked by pirates in the Floridas and suffered machete wounds, and one had been boarded by opportunistic thieves twice in the Floridas. That said, we never felt threatened in the Solomons, and we found it easy to avoid the few trouble spots (e.g. parts of the Floridas). We’re glad we went; it was one of our favorite countries. If you do go to the Floridas, we would highly recommend starting at Jonny Ruka’s (ask other cruisers or look for the village on the southern side of the northeastern-most bay off the Sandfly Channel)- he and his village will provide night-long security boats, information on where to go/not to go, and a great welcoming feast if you desire.
In PNG, Kieta, Buka, New Ireland, Rabaul, and eastern New Britain had a pretty safe and laid-back vibe and not too many rascal problems. Most people were really, really friendly and outgoing. In Kimbe and point west the atmosphere in town seemed a little more sullen and aggressive, and we started hearing expat statements like “Don’t walk around alone”, “don’t go to the Talasea Peninsula”. We felt that these were exaggerated and didn’t pay too much attention. Once we got to the mainland (Madang, Wewak, Vanimo), there was a definite aggressive attitude and some verbal harrassment of Gini and attempted touching from lots of unemployed men hanging around the city centres.
Papua New Guinea
PNG is very different from the Solomons. It has a high violent crime rate against both locals and foreigners. Rape and domestic abuse are very common - estimated to occur in 90% of families in parts of the Highlands. The justice systems is pretty much non-functional. PNG is rich in natural resources, but it would appear that over the past 30+ years most of the revenue from these has gone into politicians’ pockets, rather than into infrastructure and services for the people. To anyone planning a trip to PNG, I would strongly recommend getting a feel for the place by spending a week reading the online headlines of the two major newspapers- The Post Courier and the National. You will be amazed. All this was balanced by the fact that there are many reasonably safe, beautiful destinations in PNG. Many sailors, tourists, solo female travelers, etc. pass through every year without having any problems. The culture and diversity is amazing and most of the people are wonderful. For us, PNG was a great adventure, but maybe not a family destination.
Some of our interesting PNG experiences:
- While we were in Buka (Bougainville), armed elements of the former Bougainville rebel forces seized three ships and held them and their crews hostage. They demanded compensation payments for deaths in a recent ferry sinking that killed 200+ people. PNG police and army were powerless to do anything. The affair ended when the rebs released the crews and towed the ships out to a reef and burnt them.
- Some young men came out to the boat at night in canoes at Lavinia anchorage in south New Ireland at about 1800. We heard a bump against the boat and came out to look around and apparently scared them off. We noticed in the morning that some things had been stolen- a couple of shirts and trunks, small pieces of hardware and some rope. We had made some friends in the area who immediately told us who did it, so we went into the village with them and talked to the chief and got most of it back.
- We were attacked and injured by armed men in Garove - See Report here.
- The morning we arrived in Madang there were four separate armed robberies of businesses in town - not the news we needed right after being attacked by pirates!
Dave and Gini