A cruise was never at the top of our bucket list, but, when the opportunity presented itself with a cruise to Papua New Guinea over the September school holidays, I jumped at the chance. I mean, who wouldn’t love to cruise PNG!
Papua New Guinea is a destination which not many people have the opportunity to travel to as a tourist. I know of quite a few people who have been with work to Port Moresby and were heavily guarded with security. But, what would it be like to explore islands of PNG which are remote and relatively speaking, untouched?
There are not many Papua New Guinea blogs available to read so we found out on our 9 night Papua New Guinea Cruise onboard the P&O Aria.
Here is our ultimate guide for cruising in Papua New Guinea. Including the most popular Papua New Guinea ports and things to do in Papua New Guinea which most cruise ships will visit.
What you can find in this post
Cruise New Guinea
There are a couple of higher-end cruise ships which travel to these islands of PNG. Although, options are limited and even though we didn’t love our cruise we’d highly recommend booking yourself and your family onto this P&O Papua New Guinea Cruise. You can find the best way to book here. It’s an affordable and family-friendly option.
Most Australians these days would be familiar with PNG due to the war and the Kokoda Track pilgrimage made by many Aussies.
We travelled on the P&O Pacific Aria cruise ship for 9 nights; departing from and returning to Brisbane. There are quite a few other P&O cruises ex Brisbane if PNG doesn’t take your fancy. We were to visit 4 ports in PNG but due to rough seas, we missed one port.
We didn’t love our cruising experience. I really thought it would be something that we might enjoy, but it wasn’t for us.
The locals were lovely, kind and a had strong willingness to share their way of life with us. Of course, this came with a hand out for money.
I had read that this is a truly untouched part of the world with previous visitors feeling like they were having a real magical experience. On the other hand, Ross and I are still undecided when it comes to Papua Guinea itself and the effect the cruise industry is having on these remote islands. It’s a tough one. On one hand the locals are adamant that the cruise ships are not having a negative effect and because they don’t visit regularly each ship is met with great enthusiasm. But, we feel like the locals were really only coming to the beach to meet the ship to try and ask for as much money as they can. There were many occasions where the experience did not feel authentic and everything was put on for cruise ships only.
It’s really tough. Is this small scale tourism or large scale? A cruise ship is massive (even our small P&O ship had 1400 passengers) and this many people ascending on untouched islands is going to have a negative effect at some stage. On the other hand, when we sat on the beach we had locals come and sit next to us with a shy smile. These were the interactions which I really liked. There was no request or push for money, just a few questions about our age, what we did, details on the kids etc. It was really lovely and I wish we had more of these interactions.
Papua New Guinea Cruise Ports
Our scheduled ports for our PNG Cruise were Alotau, Kiriwina, Kitava and the Conflict Islands. Around this area of Papua New Guinea, Kiriwina and Kitava Islands are the biggest two. There are four other islands called Kaileuna Island, Vakuta Island, Simsimla Island and Tuma Island.
Kiriwina Island is made up of at least 54 main villages, 17 Primary Schools, 34 Elementary Schools and 1 High School.
Kitava Island is made up of about 5 main villages, 1 Primary School and 2 Elementary Schools.
Most children will attend the Kiriwina High School but some will be sent to the mainland to attend High Schools run by a religious order (both Catholic and Protestant).
There are 10 Aid Posts (small health clinics) spread around the region and 1 Hospital.
Papua New Guinea Cruise VISA requirements
When cruising around Papua New Guinea no VISA is required for visitors to PNG. However, The Papua New Guinea Immigration & Citizenship Service requires all passports to be valid for a minimum of 6 months after the date of the cruise return. Any guest whose passport expires before this time will be denied boarding.
There is however, a Quarantine fee charged by the Papua New Guinean Customs branch. This will be charged to your on board account through P&O. This happens automatically and free electronic visas will be issued to all guests upon arrival to Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea Local Currency
Get the local currency, Kina, before you arrive. The villagers will accept Australian or US dollars, but then have trouble exchanging it into Kina. Please don’t use Australian dollars. It is really not fair for the locals.
You should also be prepared for kids asking you to exchange coins over to Kina also. They will often ask cruise passengers to help exchange Aussie dollars for them.
We ordered our Kina online and picked it up from the Post Office. We had no choice with the denominations, but if possible, request for smaller dollar value. We were worried about only having large denominations with us but we were able to swap for smaller onboard the ship once the money exchange was open.
Bring your own snorkel gear. You can buy and rent equipment from the ship, but if you are a keen snorkeler, I would recommend bringing your own as it’s always nicer! We just brought masks and snorkels, and the kids Ninja Masks. Not that we used them – yikes, I’m still bitter about that day! In saying that, one of the enticing things about Papua New Guinea for kids is the underwater world! Some of the New Guinea beaches are so pristine and untouched.
Safety in Papua New Guinea
Although many places in PNG are unsafe to travel as a tourist we felt extremely safe at the islands we visited. Even Alotau, which is a main hub and was busy with locals everywhere, we walked into town and did not feel unsafe at all. The local islands are small and remote and we were comfortable walking around ourselves.
At each port, P&O set up water stations, along with a First Aid station. So please don’t feel like you will get off the boat and have nowhere to fill up water etc.
In Alotau, the first and largest port and the Conflict Islands (private island) there were P&O shore excursions you could book. We didn’t do any of those tours, for Alotau we pre arranged a tour with a local guide who came highly recommend through the Cruise PNG Facebook group. We felt completely safe in booking these local tours.
Upon disembarking you will notice all the red smiles of the locals. Everywhere you walk there will be both men, women and lots children chewing and spitting the red juice. In the markets, it seemed that half the produce for sale was betel nut and the bits and pieces you need to chew it properly.
The “Don’t” List for a PNG Cruise
Don’t take lollies with you for the kids. There are no dentists and they know where to get sweet things if they want.
Don’t buy any Triton Trumpet shells. These are the natural predator of the Crown of Thorns starfish. They have the Crown of Thorns on their reefs and if you buy these shells there will be one less available to kill the starfish.
Don’t haggle too much. The Papua New Guineans have been told to have a ‘Best Price” available but they are not used to haggling. If you go to the ordinary markets you will see that everything is priced and they pay what is asked.
Don’t buy anything with seeds as part of the item. You will possibly lose this in Australia when coming back through customs.
Donating items whilst visiting Papua New Guinea
I had read lots about donating goods to the local islanders whilst we were visiting on our P&O Cruise.
School supplies, bra’s, medical equipment, sporting good, fishing line and hooks and even shoe polish were all things that were recommended to take with you.
Please don’t pack sweets or lollies etc as there are no dentists available to help with rotting teeth!
We had a whole extra bag we took with us filled with school supplies and bras. As I have said before many locals were appreciative, others I am not so sure. I think they would have preferred cash.
Process on board if donating goods
P&O communicated that in order to take goods ashore to be donated a “Notice to Land and Disposition of Cargo” form or ‘Cargo Landing Form’ needed to be filled out and signed. P&O will supply these forms from reception for you. This will all be communicated on the nightly newsletter.
The staff on reception will help you fill out the forms. There will be mention in the daily newsletter of where to meet with the customs officer before disembarking in Alotau. There was a huge number of people when we went and the ship hadn’t even docked as yet. There was no way we were sitting below deck waiting! We sat upstairs watching the boat pull into the pier. Once we were secure we then went back downstairs to wait our turn to have our items checked off (the customs officer has to board the boat once it docks so there is no point in waiting early if you haven’t even arrived yet!).
Keep your stamped form with you when you get off the ship. Customs officers may stop you to check, but we walked straight off the ship.
There is also a customs officer available to sign your forms for the other islands. There was only one other person waiting before Kiriwina. I think Alotau does receive the most number of donations. If you can, keep items for the smaller islands.
Papua New Guinea Cruise Ports – Alotau, Papua New Guinea
Alotau is a regional hub and is visited daily from villagers for supplies etc. This is the only port where you ‘dock’ so there are never any issues with being able to get off the boat (in saying that, there was some swell so it took the captain longer than he thought to pull up alongside the pier) in Milne Bay.
Once you disembark (which doesn’t take long as everyone can just walk straight off the ship) you will be met by some tribal dancers. The ladies were not wearing tops and I was sure the kids would make a comment about ‘boobs’ ha! But they didn’t utter a word. I think there was so much going on, music, stomping, shouting and spear thrusting. They were captivated. On our return to the ship we placed some money into their donation box and we were called over to have a photo. Olive thought this was great. Ned wouldn’t go any closer so he was the photographer!
P&O offer quite a few different tours which you book directly through your cruise ‘portal’. This is where you will find all the information on your particular cruise. We opted to do our own thing in the morning and in the afternoon we had a tour booked through a local company. The price wasn’t too much different to what P&O were offering but we thought that we would prefer the money going straight to the local economy.
I was expecting more locals to be standing near the gate offering tours but we only saw a couple. I think most people might be pre booking everything these days.
It takes around 30 minutes to walk between the pier and the main shopping strip. There is not a huge amount to see along the way. There is a hotel, a museum and various ‘supermarket’ type shops once you arrive into the town. I found the items in the supermarket to be quite expensive, even the ice creams we bought were more expensive than I was expecting.
We arranged our tour of Alotau with Ben from Alotau Tours. He came highly recommended through the Cruise PNG FB page. There are a couple of other tour operators which are recommended also.
Here is a brief rundown of the local tours available to book through the recommended operators.
They are Alotau Tours, Villink Tours and Expedition PNG, AlphaBlue and Ulumani Treetops Resort.
All tour operators are local people from the Milne Bay Province and have traditional links to the areas they operate in.
It is recommended that initial contact be made through Facebook Messenger or through their Facebook page.
Advanced bookings are recommended and will be requested.
All tour rates generally include site fees, dinghy transfers, guide, bottled water and will provide air-conditioned buses and 10 seater land cruisers.
Tours over 4 ½ hours will also include lunch. You will need to bring your own towels and gear for all tours involving swimming and snorkelling, insect repellents and sunscreen.
It is recommended not to pay in advance for any tours. Cash is accepted on the day. I was concerned about using a local tour operator (especially as our tour was moved to the afternoon) and being late back to the ship. On a P&O official tour, the ship will always wait for you if there is a delay. If you are on a local tour then the ship may depart even if you are not on board. But given this tour company came very highly recommended I knew that they would do everything to make sure we were on time.
ALOTAU TOURS, with Ben
This is a local family-owned operator who are well versed in both Milne Bay’s rich cultural heritage and its role in WWII.
The tours allow you to interact with local villagers in a way that gives you a real glimpse into their way of life. The tours are set around the bay. We visited the Gopaia Fishing Village. The village was approximately 20 minutes drive from town along a rough road. We were not worried but I know these conditions might freak out those who have not visited third world countries before. There were potholes and bridges washed away and a few river crossings (on the main road!!).
This village, even though set up for tourism still felt remote and slightly untouched. There was a young girl who took the lead on the dancing and it was very unscripted and a joy to see the villagers all performing with no pressure for it to be perfect.
We tasted fresh young and old coconut, learnt about sago making, coconut and lighting a fire (it’s a special type of wood, hence why it doesn’t work when we try camping!).
We visited the local lookout for a birds-eye view of the town and onto the local primary school. I was disappointed that we arrived just as school was finishing, but we still met the principal, had a chat and visited a classroom. Ned handed over a bag of school supplies to the principal.
We then visited the local market. A couple on our tour didn’t even get out of the bus as they were too scared! We love a local market! Best way to really immerse yourself in the culture. We also stopped off at the war memorial but we just hunted for shade as we had already had a look on our walk into town.
I am glad we took this tour. If you only walked into town and got back on the ship I think you would have been very underwhelmed by this port. In saying that, this tour cost $300 AUD for the 4 of us and I am not sure it was worth quite a steep price tag.
Kiriwina and Kitava Islands
Unfortunately, the captain of the ship made the decision that the water was too rough for us to visit Kitava Island. I was really disappointed. There was meant to be some lovely snorkelling around the island and a lovely untouched village feel. I have heard that a cruise ship hasn’t been able to stop there for the past few months. A real shame for the villagers to miss out time after time.
We had no issues at Kiriwina though. We took a tender to shore. This is actually a lifeboat from the ship. The process was to meet in the theatre and grab a number and then wait till your number was called. If you can have an early breakfast and get there as early as you can the wait will be much shorter. It took a little while to disembark as only 70 passengers were on each tender. I’d highly recommend being ready to board the first tender at around 8am.
Fascinating Facts for Kiriwina Island
Thanks to information supplied by the Cruise PNG FB group
DOBA – Womens Currency
Trobriand women are the only women in the world who have their own currency. Women’s status in her family and community is determined by her ability to pay her clans traditional obligations with DOBA. You might be lucky enough to see the process of turning green banana leaves into valuable traditional money.
A Trobriand Grass skirt is made out of dried banana leaves and pandanus leaves. You’ll possibly see the process of turning green leaves into beautiful, colourful Trobriand Grass Skirt.
Moi – Mats
There are three different types of mats (sleeping mat, umbrella mat & burial mat) on Kiriwina Island and they are all made out of dried pandanus leaves.
TOKWALU – Wood Carvings
Trobriand Islanders are well known for their beautiful, intricate wooden carvings. All carvings are hand made, but because they do such a good job, some tourists think carvings are factory-made from China and shipped to Trobriand Islands for sale – not so!
SIPOLU DANCE – Womens Song and Dance
When Kiriwina men went on Kula Trade expeditions to other islands, women look after each other by doing group activities. One of the activities is gathering at the Chief’s wife’s place every evening to sing, do their sit down dance and share their betel nut while wishing their men safe travels.
Traditional wear of Trobriand Islands:
– Ladies swimwear
– Ladies casual wear
– First-time mothers wear (mother & baby are kept in the house for months after birth). When she comes out of the house, she wears this cloak to keep her breasts warm for her baby.
– Mourning wear (how a man/woman of high status is mourned)
– Ceremonial wear (different dressing indicates clan status)
PO Shore Tours on Kiriwina
P&O doesn’t offer official tours on Kiriwina. Upon arrival, you will be greeted by quite a number of people wishing to guide you or sell you something. There was never any pressure to use a particular guide. We decided that we would wander around ourselves rather than taking a guide. We felt we saw everything the island has to offer by just wondering around ourselves.
If you turn left along the beach track you will walk between the sellers of carvings and other items. The market reaches a long way! Stall after stall after stall with beautiful wood carvings. I can appreciate the craft and care taken with these items and the kids bought a little turtle carving each as a memento.
We just kept walking! There is a small village on the left-hand side past the oval which we walked into (with constant reminders to please place our money donations into the tub) and had a brief look around. Here I left a couple of bags of bras with a village elder who was going to distribute to those who needed them.
We walked a little longer and Olive stopped to hand over some school supplies to a group of students and their teacher lining the path.
Up further there are other villages and children singing and dancing. The little kids singing were adorable and we heard Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 10 times! The kids were milling around playing and as soon as they saw the tourists they were hassled into line and told to start singing. Adorable, but so obviously just singing for us.
We left a couple of bags of school supplies with various children. Some seemed more appreciative than others. To be honest, we felt like they would have been more excited if we were handing over Kina.
On the beach we walked passed fish being cooked on the open fire, a large shark on the shore and about half a dozen smaller sharks lined up, ready to be cooked I imagine.
We later saw a group of young boys dragging a shark up along the beach to a little cove where they chopped, washed and hung up pieces of the shark on a stick. The boys then carried the stick between them back to the village. Ned and Olive didn’t believe that other kids not much older than them were off hunting and preparing a shark for dinner!
We visited the skull cave which was 2 steps behind the market. The guide there brings the skulls from his home and sets them up in the cave for tourists. There is a charge just to look at them and another charge if you’d actually like a photo.
We relaxed on the beach for a while, it was a little choppy so not worth trying to snorkel. There were plenty of little wooden boats waiting to take you out if you felt like it.
We had another couple from the ship ask to sit next to us as they were feeling a little overwhelmed with all the attention. We actually felt safe and comfortable all the time. I really enjoyed sitting on the beach with locals coming to sit next to us. We didn’t feel at all uncomfortable. I think the locals were just as interested in us as we were of them. A couple of different girls came and sat next to us asking us questions about our age, the boat, our jobs and the kids whilst chewing betal leaf! It was very sweet.
Even though we were on a cruise we only felt like we were amongst hundreds of other people when waiting for the tenders on the boat and then waiting to get back on.
When you arrive at the Conflict Islands Papua New Guinea tenders will once again take you ashore. This is another stop where people have missed out on visiting due to the swell. It really does depend on the weather and tides.
Both sides of the island seem to be set up for arrival depending on the wind and swell. You will cruise into the atoll or the ocean side of the island. Both have floating pontoons to walk along so it can be quite unstable.
There is a voucher system set up on Conflict Island. There will be places to buy coupons worth $12.50, $25, $50 and $100 at the reception hut.
You are able to use $AUD and your leftover Kina. Be advised that the exchange rate is terrible for the Kina (other currencies are also accepted).
Once you have changed over your money into the vouchers you are not able to change it back into cash. So, if you don’t spend it then you loose it. I’d recommend only changing a small amount at the time and going back again if you need more.
P & O shore excursions Conflict Islands
There are a lot of P&O shore tours to choose from at this port from snorkel tours to glass-bottom boat rides to visiting the turtle conservation. After Sri Lanka, I was worried about the nature of the turtle conservation. I did contact the company and had a prompt reply but we still made the decision not to participate in this activity.
The island is fabulous and can be walked round in a couple of hours.
The reef swimming is brilliant but the proper reef is about 100m from the shore, so unless you are a very competent and strong swimmer you probably will only snorkel near to shore. Apparently, there is still plenty to see closer in.
If you are not a swimmer then the glass-bottomed boat is highly recommended but it gets booked out quickly.
Both the tour on the glass bottom boat and the tour to take you out to the pontoon seemed quite expensive for what it was, but in hindsight, we should have booked either or both these tours.
There are beach chairs available for hire ($5.00 for the day). I think people booked these but other people jumped on as soon as the original passengers had moved on. I am not sure how they police this (if they even do).
There are eco toilets near the main swimming area and at the wharf.
There are limited items such as t-shirts, woven bags, drink can holders, etc. for sale with the vouchers. They have now started selling carvings etc. but the prices are quite steep compared to the other islands.
The best snorkelling for those who are not strong swimmers is at the sandy spit at the far left-hand side of the island. You can walk out quite far before needing to swim out to the edge of the reef. We saw lots of people doing this but of course, the kids were having none of it!
The water is warmer on the side of the island that is inside the lagoon. When you walk over to the other side of the island the temperature is lower because it is the open ocean. The ocean side was so rough when we walked over.
If you are following along on social media you would have seen how visiting the Conflict Islands was our worst travel day with the kids ever. We decided to walk around the island when we first arrived. I actually said that we should turn back and enjoy the beach but I was overruled by the kids. Then they started complaining. I was so excited to get the beach and do some family snorkelling but the kids were having none of it. Ned wouldn’t even put his mask and snorkel on and Olive had a mega tantrum in 3 centre meters of water. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal but I lost the plot. I was so grumpy for the rest of the day. They wouldn’t even try for me.
We overheard other snorkelers talking about what they saw. Loads of fish, coloured coral, a little reef shark and turtles. I was so disappointed. This is a pristine underwater world which is not yet decaying due to boats and tourist numbers.
One thing to note and which P&O did not notify passengers about (and we read it on the welcome sign) was to make sure you are using reef-safe sunscreen. I’ll touch base with P&O and see if this is something they can make passengers aware of in advance. Maybe they could have big tubs of reef-safe sunscreen on the beach that passengers are able to use.
We had spoken to the kids about snorkelling so it wasn’t a shock to them that we were going to do this. I don’t know what it was. They are still learning to swim so I think I may have just expected too much of them. We had read that it was a good idea to take a noodle with us and it was on my original list but somehow was forgotten. I think this would have helped on our visit to the Conflict Islands PNG.
We had also talked about hiring a glass-bottom kayak for an hour. Ross and I were so grumpy that we didn’t even do this with the kids. You could hire these on the beach and they were $20 an hour. Ross thought this was pretty expensive but I thought it was reasonable.
There is a bar set up on the beach and also a shack selling food. I was surprised at the number of people who got off the boat and went straight to the bar to buy a coke (when they were about $5 a can!), weird. Well, I think that’s weird anyway haha!
Overall thoughts on our P&O Papua New Guinea cruise
Wow, there seems to be a lot of information in this post on our P&O Papua New Guinea cruise. We thought parts of this cruise were absolutely amazing and others we were not so sure about.
I think if you are looking to book a cruise to take you to a destination such as Papua New Guinea that you should plan to book this as soon as possible. Yes, you can experience a cultural experience with pristine beaches and marine life, but, it is changing fast. I don’t think it will be as pristine and untouched for much longer. Visit the P&O website to check out cruise dates and details
If you have any other questions about any Papua New Guinea cruises and the ports we visited in PNG please leave me a message in the comments and I will make sure to get back to you.
Keep in touch via email here if you like. We don’t send out many, but it’s a really nice way to keep in touch.
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