Thursday, 29 January 2015

From the Coral Sea to the South China Sea
(Part 6)

On to Papua New Guinea: Tuesday, 27th January 2015

Particularly since we were over three hours late leaving Singapore, I found the flight rather gruelling. I was tired when we started and having the narrow seat in an almost vertical position all night didn’t help. The aircraft itself was a fairly modern Air Niugini Boeing 767-300, registration P2-PXW with 2-3-2 seating in economy and the audio-visual system in economy was a seat back mounted touch-screen. There was quite a wide range of video on demand programming but the touch screen was rather erratic – often touches failed to be registered whilst at other times, all sorts of commands were spuriously triggered. I nearly gave up at times but watched most of ‘The Judge’ and later ‘The Pelican Brief’ (which I’d seen before). I’d been led to expect no catering in economy but, in fact, we were served a reasonable lunch on a tray with drinks shortly after take off and a simple ‘breakfast box’ comprising a cake and an apple also with drinks shortly before we landed at Port Moresby airport. Looking out, I could see the terrain was very ‘lumpy’. Papua New Guinea is at the meeting point of two tectonic plates where folds of earth have been pushed up by the action of the two plates moving in opposite directions.

We left the aircraft through a conventional airbridge, but the fixed corridors linking each airbridge to the terminal building was a rather odd design with a pitched roof. We trooped into a fairly scruffy arrivals hall which soon became quite crowded. However, the Immigration Staff were processing passengers quite quickly and I was soon through to the Baggage Hall. After a short wait, I retrieved my luggage and, in the Arrivals Hall, met up with the helpful staff from the Local Agents acting for Noble Caledonia. They took away the luggage to travel by a separate lorry and divided us up among the four non-air conditioned and fairly care-worn buses. Leaving the airport, I was quite impressed by an iconic Douglas DC3 which was supported on two pylons.

We were heading for the Crowne Plaza Hotel where ‘Day Rooms’ were to be provided for us to ‘freshen up’ and take breakfast before using the same buses for a city tour. Port Moresby is no Singapore. Although there were multi-storey buildings, the overall impression was decidedly ‘Third World’. The city seemed to sprawl without apparent plan and it was clear, from the ‘Shanty Towns’ we passed, that there is widespread poverty.

The entrance to an Open Market.

We were warned that crime was widespread (just like England, I suppose). The latest round of civil unrest, we discovered, had been triggered by a strike of workers in the petrol industry causing shortages of fuel. Every time we passed a filling station which was still selling petrol, we became embroiled in a traffic jam of motorists trying to ‘top-up’. Despite the strike, there seemed to be heavy traffic. There were some modern commercial buildings, there were some attractive-looking chalet homes and a lot of new development was taking place in the ‘hotel area’ overlooking the sea which was our destination.

The 'hotel area' overlooks an azure sea.

There were certainly a lot of mobile phones in use. But the overall impression was rather depressing despite the hot sun. It was rather reminiscent of Africa, in fact the name ‘New Guinea’ was given by one of the early explorers who thought the natives looked similar to the people of Guinea in Africa.

We were made very welcome at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The hotel staff were local people: the senior management were Australian. Once we had identified our luggage, we were taken up to our rooms. Because of late arrival, very little time was left. I managed a shower in cold water (although I discovered other rooms had hot water) before going for breakfast, where an area of the dining room had been reserved for the Noble Caledonia party. The staff were very friendly and looked after us very well. Then the lights went out. Power cuts are not unknown in Papua New Guinea but after a short pause, power was restored. I returned to my room, where I could hear the hotel’s standby diesel generator chugging away outside. I re-packed my case and, as instructed, placed it outside the room for collection. As I finished getting ready, the lights went out again and, this time, there was no re-assuring chugging from the generator set. Without power, of course, there was no lift in operation so I made my way to the nearest fire exit where there were hotel staff and a group of Noble Caledonia guests. We walked down to ground level, noting the bright orange numbers stencilled on the wall at each floor. I noticed that the ‘3’ for level 3 had been stencilled upside down. We emerged in the hotel grounds and had to walk round to the entrance to get back into the hotel, where we waited for the staff to struggle down the stairs with our luggage. It was all very good-natured and it was impossible to be cross.

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Port Moresby.

We boarded our four buses and set off back along the road we’d arrived on, turning off to pass by the harbour where we would board our ship in a few hours. I was pleased to catch a glimpse of our ship, already moored. The tall stacks of shipping containers meant I couldn’t get a good view of the facilities but I counted three massive Straddle Cranes used for moving containers on and off the stacks. We passed a large, modern brewery which produces the popular ‘SP’ lager beer and pulled up at the National Parliament building, a large, dramatic structure.

We were told it was a ten minute photo-stop to see the outside but, unusually, we were invited inside (the parliament was not sitting). The huge entrance hall was impressive enough (although it seemed an odd place to house a large collection of mounted butterflies) but we were taken up the broad stairs and entered what I supposed was the Public Gallery, looking down on the debating chamber itself. Each member had a modern swivel chair set behind a desk provided with a microphone, all set in a series of semicircular rows facing an arrangement similar to the United Kingdom Government. There was a table (presumably for two party leaders), a row of chairs I imagined were for Clerks (since they faced a row of law books) and, looking down on all this, a massive, elaborately-carved chair which must be for the Speaker.

Papua New Guinea's National Parliament Building, Port Moresby.

Back in the buses, we drove to our final destination – Port Moresby Nature Park. We were divided into two groups and conducted around the park by experienced local staff who showed us plants, animals and birds.

The Papuan Hornbill at Port Moresby Country Park.

We finished up at ‘Natures CafĂ©’ where we enjoyed a meal in a covered but open-sided dining area. In a nearby grassed area, there were a number of craft stalls and we were treated to a performance of a traditional dance by a group. Apparently, this had all been set-up because of our visit.

A traditional dance performed for us at Port Moresby Country Park.

I talked to the young Australian lady who is general manager of the park. They are keen to attract more tourists – at present foreign tourists are only about 8% of the total. The local staff were from the park’s Education Department. All school children in Papua New Guinea have visits to the park, which tries to harmonise its tours with the needs of the school curriculum. But they also encourage family leisure visits and there are a number of picnic areas around the site. I was charmed by the visit – the professionalism of the staff combined with their friendliness made it a memorable visit.

Then it was ‘back on the buses’. There was confusion amongst some passengers because three of our four buses carried the painted number ‘4’ and two of the three were in the same livery. I didn’t think to memorise the registration number on the number plate. One lady said to me “You’re in my seat” before I explained she was in the wrong bus. Once sorted out we drove back to the harbour, this time driving onto the site and right up to our home for the next few days – ‘Caledonian Sky’.

View of Port Moresby from ‘Caledonian Sky’ prior to departure.

I’ll tell you more about the trip when I'm able. You can find all the posts on this trip here.

My pictures

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Port Moresby.
Port Moresby Country Park.
Port Moresby's Docks.

[Updated 30-Jan-2015: Links to pictures added 14-Feb-2015]