The alternative route to Indonesia. (Part 2)
Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Like us you may have heard loads of horror stories, read up on piracy & are close to changing your mind about stopping in this country. Let me put your mind at rest & give you some positive news. We have had nothing but positive experiences & wish we could have spent longer. Interested? Read on!
At the time of writing you need a PNG visa prior to entry, we did this in Honiara. All very straight forward just took them a few days to process. Be aware the PNG Consulate is only open for visas in the morning 9am until noon. You can however collect the forms needed in the afternoon. Have heard of other boats arriving in PNG without visas & not having a problem but this is your call.
There are many places to check, due to wind direction we checked in at Buka. Check in was free but everything else there was expensive. C-Map was accurate. Do NOT anchor in Ramun Bay. We did, dinghied to town and were told that roving armed youths would be visiting us if we stayed there. We moved the boat to town immediately (05 26 590, 154 40 203 - s end of Buka Pass). You might want to time the flow through those passes. We were slowed to 2 knots. It could be an issue with a small engine.
Where we anchored, the currents charge through at 5 knots and the taxi boats think it's fun to buzz you as fast as they can. Not the best of anchorages, we felt a little uncomfortable but checked in & left the following day with no problems. Make sure you buy as much diesel as you can in Honiara because no matter how high the price is, it's higher in Buka. There is an ATM (South Pacific Bank) & a small fresh food market.
DO NOT trust C-Map. It was showing us on reefs & islands when we weren't even close but it was all pretty straight forward. As you come close to the final approach of Kavieng keep the huge white maker to starboard. Its 2 meters high & denotes the east reef, no marker on the west reef. The better anchorage is 02 35 108, 150 46 900. That's in front of the Nusa Island Resort (confusing markers denoting the reefs, but you're all prudent mariners just go slowly).
Rough guide is to head for the island just prior to coming alongside the fishermans Wharf. Beware, there is a sandbar & a reef so you will have to do a little zig zag but its clear water & easy to see. We managed it no problem, lowest depth reading we had was 11 feet. Anchor near the small cat (surf charter business. Danni is the lady and super nice) No theft but heard it maybe an issue on the other side of the channel. All in all we felt very safe there. The resort has a delicious "all you can eat" meal in the evenings & a lunchtime menu. Nice spot to get off the boat, play table tennis & eat an ice cream! There is a Japanese plane sunk very near the anchorage in 36 feet.
Put a local in your dinghy and have him take you to it, the white people all gave poor directions. Cora and Dorian are the dive shop in Kavieng and their dock is just across the channel. They have some dogs, so make sure someone is on the dock when you arrive to keep them from biting you! In town there is only one place with internet, the internet had been down for 2 weeks when we were there. There is an ATM (SPB) plus a branch of Westpac (no ATM). Provisioning is almost a comedy but you can get cold sodas, flour, bread, rice & well that's about it! The fresh market was limited but ok. Diesel - pull up to the new fisheries wharf (not government wharf).
You can buy 200 liters of diesel prearranged from Island Petrol (opp side of road to Port Captain at the Government wharf) & they will deliver it to you. The diesel is cheaper than in Buka. You can also get water here (we treated it) plus ice, ask at the fisheries (if you ask the day before they'll make you a block, otherwise it's all shaved) & while you are doing that if you are bad fisherman like we are you can buy some delicious fish & crab!
Give yourselves loads of time for this archipelago. It has tons of great anchorages and dolphins in the bays. Ribnits Bay(02 39 649, 150 36 782) was another fun spot for us. Abraham is the patriarch and very welcoming. It can get rolly though. The tiny island of Ral is your best chance for surf but surf season doesn't really start until November. There are international flights from here to Australia if you need crew changes etc.
The jewel in the crown for us was Alacrity at Hermit in the Admiralty Islands(01 29 155, 145 07 937). Again DO NOT trust C-Map. VERY far off. But you'd be a lunatic to miss this anchorage. Easy to get in through the pass (better to take the north pass), again the water is crystal clear & you can clearly see where the waves are breaking on the reef on either side of you. Anchor in 35 feet & you'll be able to see your chain & anchor from above water. One of the best spots to date & cannot recommend it enough, total paradise. No canoes bothering you, just you, clear waters & deserted islands!
The village is on the island Luf, see the chief Bob Poplis when you come ashore. There are moorings available. We didn't use them but met the yacht who put in the one in the center & it sounded secure. The whole village is Seventh Day Evangelist so they do not eat shell fish but are happy to catch them for you. We ate lobster for 7 days. They are so plentiful here you can catch them during the day. Locals happy to trade lobster & fish with anything you have got! They had very limited fresh vegetables & fruit available for trade. You will be their best friend if you can spare any petrol or even bring some that they can buy from you. I promise you'll spend longer here than you originally planned & don't forget to check out the manta ray pass!
From here we went to Vanimo to check out before checking into Indonesia. It's a calm anchorage, we dropped the hook in 20 feet. Its not a pretty town but it is super friendly. No theft problems & we were told its safe to leave the dinghy ashore in day light whilst we are in town. We did - no problems. There are ATM's (SPB & WESTPAC) & numerous supermarkets, but again limited supplies although you do come across a few surprises like apples!! No internet so make sure you have your CAIT & sponsorship letters printed before you get here. If you are in a pickle ask at the Vanimo Beach Hotel, the owners here have been really helpful, printing documents & received faxes. Indonesian Consulate is open Monday - Friday 9-12 & 2-3. Bring 2 passport photos, your CAIT & sponsorship letter plus 135 kina per person. It will take them one day to process your visa.
It also appears that you may not need a sponsorship letter to get the social visa - maybe I just got lucky but there wasn't a problem & it didn't cost any more. Again it's your call! We didn't get water or fuel here & opted to wait until Jayapura where we are told things are cheaper but speak to the Port Captain if you need to tie up to the dock (there is a charge, about $35 US).
For you surfers there is surf here on both sides of the harbor entrance. On the eastern side of the bay the kids are surfing on tiny pieces of wood that don't even float, one kid was even surfing a door - you have to see it to believe it! Get a taxi to what the locals call the surf club on the western side for the bigger waves - beware of the sand fleas if you are going to be observing from shore!
We thoroughly enjoyed this dusty little town & it was a positive ending experience to Melanesia.
There has been little wind up here but the squalls haven't been as bad as we were expecting. If you don't like sailing slow you'll burn loads of diesel, plan accordingly. We now plan passages computing an average of 3 knots instead of 5.
Provision in Honiara & take onboard as much food as you can. I really can't stress it enough! The bulk stores there are great & you won't see anything as good in the rest of the Solomons or PNG unless you can live on rice! The fresh food markets at the places we have visited have not been very good so we are finally eating those tinned vegetables that we bought back in Panama! Don't say you weren't warned!