Protected within by its rugged mountain ranges and dense rainforests, Papua New Guinea is one of the world's least explored countries; a treasure island for researchers, adventurers and entrepreneurs.
With 852 known languages, Papua New Guinea is also one of the world's most culturally diverse countries, and home to significant mineral deposits, abundant natural resources, and breath-taking natural beauty.
Last year my (then) neighbours, Caroline & Jono, invited me to attend a charity bicycle ride “Trupla Man, Trupla Meri”, which they were organising on New Ireland over the Easter Long Weekend 2017 - New Ireland being the largest island within New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea. The ride was born to raise awareness for violence, and sponsored by Newcrest Mining’s Lihir Island Mine (a smaller island within the province where Jono works).
Whilst the invitation to ride had been extended to workers at Lihir and a few close friends here in Cairns, the majority were local boys from the Kavieng Cycling Club (and two members of the Lae Cycling Club who had flown over to represent their region) – about 37 riders in total.
Following is a very brief outline of my experience (words cannot truly describe the beauty of this location), with a full report to be published in hardcopy by a national cycling magazine (hopefully).
Starting in Namatanai and finishing in Kavieng, the ride covered approximately 265km (1,500m elev.) along the Boluminski Highway. As the highway hugged the coastline there were no major climbs to encounter, just regular waves of rolling hills - I would say "undulating", but this is a very loose term in cycling depending on whom one is speaking to.
The ride was undertaken over three days as follows: (Ride With GPS files are linked)
Day 1: Namatanai – Dabanot Village 66.5km / 564m (approx. 30km of dirt road included)
One often wonders where bikes go when they reach the end of their life-cycle, and Papua New Guinea may very well be that destination. Unloading the trucks in Namatanai at the start of the ride I was amazed to find an assortment of retro bikes from yesteryear, as well as a handful of heavily modified Frankenbikes (home projects). And whilst the average Western cyclist would shake their head and chuckle in disbelief at these heavy contraptions, the local boys happily mounted them every day and punched out a steady 25kph (often more) for the 265km ride - riding barefoot or in thongs. Incredible.
For this adventure I packed my trusty Norco Threshold CX bike, running my Audax-proven 38T single chainring upfront with an 11-36 cassette on the back. Whilst I could have used more top-end gearing (there wasn't a need for a 36T granny gear) I never felt under-gunned for the social pace of the ride - okay, there may have been a few intermediate sprints between villages.
Not knowing what road conditions to expect, and with approximately 30km of unsealed road on Day 1, I was confident with my bike choice and it's 700x36 tubeless tyres inflated to 30psi. Could you ride a standard road bike? Absolutely. All the other Cairns' riders did. Aside from groupings of potholes large enough to swallow a front wheel (or small child), the bitumen was as good as any city around Australia (possibly even better than Cairns roads in places).
Traversing the Boluminski Highway by bicycle is a truly amazing experience; from it's genuinely friendly and inquisitive locals, to it's blinding natural beauty. Throughout the ride we were treated to coastal stretches of villages (all offering 180 degree vistas of barreling surf waves and diving nirvana) interspersed with vast oil palm and copra plantations. Coconut trees also lined the roadside and offered sustenance to those with the energy and know-how to extract their nourishment (or just ask a local to do it for you, such was our case all along the route).
As for traffic, the highway is extremely quiet, with more villagers encountered walking alongside the road than actual vehicles driving it. This ride certainly gives one an insight into the many facets of village life, and all from the comfort of your bicycle.
As previously mentioned, there is no shortage of food and drinks along the route. Most villages have small roadside stalls which sell a range of goods from local produce to softdrinks. I made a point of sampling the various flavoured biscuits (which are a staple food within PNG) along the way, often washed down with fresh coconut water.
Highlights of my trip included:
The friendliness of the locals.
The natural beauty of the area.
Swimming in the ocean and NOT worrying about crocodiles.
The delicious food.
The serenity of the roads.
Feeding Kathy's eels at Laraibina Village.
The home-made chocolate from Rubio Plantation Retreat.
Relaxing at Nusa Island Retreat.
Falling asleep each night to the sound of the surf crashing outside.
For the ride I was accommodated at the following places:
If you enjoy surfing, you'll love Rubio Plantation Retreat. Shane (Owner/Manager) is a life-long surfer who proudly caters to an international market of wave riders and suburban escapees. Shane runs a very private and personal service, so you'll never have to fight the crowds. He also makes his own chocolate.
Nusa Island Retreat is the perfect place to kick-back and relax after a few long days on the bike. Only a short 3min trip across the harbour by dinghy, the island feels a million miles away and instantly calming once you step ashore. Not one to sit still for long, I found it frighteningly easy to nap the hours away in my hammock. As for the food, I swear I put weight on during this trip from the gourmet food I devoured whilst there (crayfish, fish, crocodile, fresh tropical fruits, desserts ...).
Would I go back and do it again next year? You bet. In-fact, I would go back next week if I could. Whilst there is so much to see and do in Papua New Guinea, I have no hesitation in recommending New Ireland as a holiday destination for the whole family; sightseeing, surfing, diving, cycling, eating, cultural experiences, history, relaxing and much much more.
A very special thanks to Jono & Caroline for their amazing work getting this all together. To Erik, Mary-Anne, Lynette, Andy, Oli, Hugo, Grant, Louise, Markus, Francis, Nogul, Terrence, Knoxie, Shane, Shaun and all the New Ireland and Lae boys, it was a pleasure. See you all in 2018.