Over the Easter long weekend of 2017 I had the privilege of riding a 265km section of the Boluminski Highway from Namatanai to Kavieng in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea (you can read all about it here). During the ride I pondered how amazing it would be to stage a cycling event along this quiet and picturesque road; weaving its way through coastal villages, fertile farming lands, and lush tropical jungle.
Fast forward almost two years and there I was, riding a small section of the same highway as part of the inaugural Tour de New Ireland (TdNI) road cycling event; a partnership between the PNG Government, Australian High Commission and Newcrest Mining (Lihir Island). As with my first visit, the focus of the TdNI was to raise awareness for domestic violence (Trupla Man, Trupla Meri), as well as showcase the recent roadworks ahead of their official completion and opening.
Cycling aside, my role within the event was broad and varied; designing and supplying the official jerseys, t-shirts and caps (thanks to Blackchrome), sourcing a fleet of new bikes and accessories for shipment to PNG (courtesy of Bicycle Centre Cairns and Bicycle Central On Mulgrave), building and fitting said bikes to riders, offering mechanical support during the event, and anything else required. Thankfully I enlisted the help of a great friend and bike mechanic (Warren Pike) to help me out - what's not to like about a free overseas trip to a Surf Lodge (and cocoa plantation) building and riding bikes, eating home-made chocolate and enjoying a quiet surf/swim in the ocean every now and then.
During the visit we had the pleasure of working with Coach Keith and Junior Members of the Kavieng Triathlon Club. Thanks again to the generosity of Blackchrome, Bicycle Centre Cairns, Bicycle Central On Mulgrave, Butler's Body In Balance and Cycle FNQ I was delighted to present the Club with an assortment of bicycles, merchandise and spares to assist them in their ongoing quest to grow and promote Triathlon and Cycling in Papua New Guinea (and throughout the Pacific).
The TdNI comprised three ride distances of 10, 20 and 60km in an out-and-back format from Karu Village, lead-out by Australian Olympians Michael Milton and Olivia Gollan. The majority of the riders were PNG Nationals predominantly from New Ireland Province, alongside expat Australians working in Port Moresby and at Newcrest Mining's Lihir Gold Mine. According to my Wahoo ELMNT Bolt, I rode 56.82km and climbed 747m - though I did ride a few extra hills (twice) and do a few circles whilst assisting competitors and taking photos. Whilst 747 vertical metres doesn't sound like too much, it was a somewhat "undulating" ride which caught many of the riders by surprise.
Overall the event proved to be a huge success, delivering the powerful message of Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence alongside the benefits of an active outdoor lifestyle. For many this would be the longest distance they had ever ridden on a bicycle (be it 10, 20 or 60km), and for a small group it would be their second time riding a bike ever (the day previous being their first time and a very quick learning experience).
How did we get to New Ireland Province? We were hosted by Newcrest Mining and flown directly from Cairns to Lihir Island on their (4hr) charter flight service - one would typically fly to Port Moresby then catch a connecting commercial flight to Kavieng. We were also accommodated and fed at the minesite on Lihir Island, where we slept soundly and over-indulged on gargantuan proportions of delicious food (and a few cleansing ales). A 2hr ferry ride to Namatanai (New Ireland), and a 45km truck ride up the coast then brought us to Rubio Plantation Retreat (a well-known Surf Lodge owned/managed by high-profile Surfer Shane Clarke), our home-base for the event.
For my previous trip I rode my trusty Norco Threshold CX bike, which was a perfect match for the roads and crushed-coral tracks negotiated. For this trip I decided to take my (Bicycle Central On Mulgrave) custom built Norco Search XR Steel; 1x11 gearing (38T AbsoluteBLACK chainring with a SRAM 10-42 cassette), 6th Element carbon wheels wrapped in 700x38C Panaracer GravelKing SK tyres set-up tubeless. Whilst I may have been a little under-geared for all out efforts on the tarmac (which were never going to happen), the setup proved comfortable, reliable and extremely versatile (especially for the detours we took). We even managed to ride the notorious 68km (1,228m elev.) loop around Lihir Island, including all eroded climbs and rutted descents - the only walking being through/around patches of mud and deep river crossings. Stay tuned for the knarly videos via Instagram.
See you there in 2020.