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Itinerary Help: New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG, Indonesia

Itinerary Help: New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG, Indonesia

Old Jan 19th, 2014, 04:48 PM
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Itinerary Help: New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG, Indonesia

Hello all,

After graduating from college in May I am planning to travel for several months (I have a hard-stop in mid-October when my job begins, but other than that have an open timeline). I have put together the following rough itinerary, and would love to hear your thoughts and any pearls of wisdom you may be willing to provide. I am especially interested in both recommended places to visit within the countries I have listed, and whether you would suggest any modifications to this itinerary (i.e. if you think I should spend less time in one spot and more time in another). I also realize that one could likely spend several months in any of the locations I am attempting to visit in just 1-2 weeks so please bare than in mind.

For reference, I am a 22 y/o relatively athletic male. I am also an avid scuba diver.

July 18 – July 23 (~ 5days): I will fly from Papeete to Noumea, New Caledonia where I will spend approximately 5 days.

July 23 – August 3 (~11 days): I will fly from New Caledonia to Vanuatu where I will spend approximately 11 days

August 3 – August 12 (~9 days): I will fly from Vanuatu to Honiara, Solomon Islands where I will spend approx. 9 days.

August 12: I will fly to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

In PNG I will spend 2 days diving in Milne Bay, then fly to Mt. Hagen to see the Cultural Show on the 16th and 17th. From there I will catch a PMV to Kundiawa and then on to Kegsugl where I will hire a guide to climb Mt. Wilhelm.

From there I will find a ride to Madang and then either fly or take a boat to Wewak. I hope to then spend ~5 days going up the Sepik. Then I will fly to Rabaul and spend a few days there scuba diving.

After approximately 2.5-3 weeks in PNG I will fly to Bali and spend another 2-3 weeks traveling around Indonesia. Finally I will fly to Palau where I will dive for a week.

I am also considering whether to include Malaysia either in addition or instead of Indonesia. Again any thoughts and advice will be much appreciated.

Thanks so much,

Fri, Jul 18 -- Wed, Jul 23 ~ 5 days Papeete -- Noumea, New Cal (AirCalin-Friday only)

Wed, Jul 23 -- Sun, Aug 3 ~ 11 days Noumea, New Cal -- Port Vila, Vanuatu

Sun, Aug 3 -- Tue, Aug 12 ~ 9 days Port Vila, Vanuatu -- Honiara, Solomons

Tue, Aug 12 Honiara, Solomons -- Port Moresby, Papau New Guinea

Wed, Aug 13 -- Fri, Aug 15 Port Moresby -- Alotau (Milne Bay)

Fri, Aug 15 Alotau -- Port Moresby

Fri, Aug 15 Port Moresby -- Mt. Hagen
Jbuckner14 is offline  
Old Jan 20th, 2014, 04:15 AM
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Sounds like an amazing trip to the South Pacific's best dive spots! I have scuba dived off Ile des Pins and Lifou in New Caledonia, but I'm far from an expert and I haven't been there for about four years so my info. might be stale. I planned on going back for the fourth time in 2011, but because of a grounded flight in Dunedin, NZ, I missed my flight from Auckland to Noumea and I had to cancel the entire trip. There aren't that many flights into New Caledonia, and, in my case, the next availability was in two weeks. I don't know how many flights there are from Papeete to Noumea, but make sure you don't miss your flight, especially if you are connecting from another island. I've visited Papeete a couple of times, also Moorea, and Huahine. The coral's not great, but you see lots of sharks and barracudas.

I'm sure you'll find NC's diving superb. Its barrier reef is the second-longest double barrier reef in the world (1,500 km long) and the reef and its lagoons have been designated a World Heritage Site. Tontouta International Airport is about a 40-minute drive from Noumea, the capital and NC's largest city, on the island of Grand Terre. I have never gone diving or snorkeling off Grand Terre, but I hear it's great, particularly off Amadee Island, close to Noumea. Grand Terre is the busiest island, and home to the country's nickel mining, which has caused some pollution and environmental degradation.

Because you're 22 and will need to reserve money for inter-island flights and scuba diving, I'm guessing you'd prefer budget accommodation (but I may be wrong). Noumea has a good bus system and a youth hostel, otherwise, like French Polynesia, it can be pricey. The Aquarium is small but worth a visit. Noumea's main beaches, Anse Vata and Baie des Citrons, are not great but they're easy to get to and Baie des Citrons offers good swimming. I won't mention other attractions, but you can look them up here:

From Noumea, you can take a short flight (25 minutes) from Magenta Airport or catch a ferry /high speed catamaran to stunning Ile des Pins, which is small (18km long and 14km wide) compared to Grand Terre (350 km long and 50 to 70 km wide), but more serene (except when the cruise ships arrive, but they just stay for the day). Its landscape is green, lush and dotted with distinctive New Caledonian pines (Araucaria), its beaches are gorgeous, its scuba diving and snorkeling are excellent, and its bays and lagoons are dreamy. Baie d'Oro is a must-see. We've only done boat dives on Ile des Pins. When the tradewinds are blowing, the ride can be rough, so if you're prone to seasickness, take some pills along. There aren't many places to stay on Ile des Pins, let alone budget places, but there are a couple of gites (simple family-run places) and at least one of the gites, Nataiwatch, has camping sites. Nataiwatch is next to two great beaches, Kuto and Kunamera.

The Loyalty Islands (Mare, Lifou and Ouvea) are also part of New Caledonia, and they also offer excellent diving and snorkeling, but with only five days, you won't have time to go there. You'll be there during whale watching season, and I have seen humpbacks there at this time of year.

I have also scuba dived off at Hideaway Island off Efate and off Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. Hideaway Island also offers budget dormitory accommodation, but it is popular, so it sells out fast. It's about 10 km out of Port Vila.
I also noticed this budget place right in Port Vila:

I stayed on Erakor Island, which is also outside of Port Vila. No budget accommodation there, nor good reefs.

The diving is amazing off Santo. The wreck of the US President Coolidge is a must! This was a former luxury liner that was commissioned as a transport ship during WWII. In 1942, it hit a "friendly" mine when sailing into Santo. 4,998 crew safely abandoned the ship within 90 minutes, two died in the wreckage. When you dive the wreck, you can still see weapons, light fixtures, personal effects, etc. It brings history to life! Because you have to dive so deep, you need to make a safety stop on the ascent, and the safety stop is like an aquarium, with fish surrounding you.

I stayed on Bokissa Island, which also had some fine diving, but strangely, there were no sharks on the reefs. I heard rumors that locals had hunted the sharks. I hope this was not the case.

Will you be visiting Mt. Yasur volcano on Tanna? If you're not taking anti-malarials, make sure you use insect repellent, which also will help protect you from Dengue Fever. I've read peak season for malaria transmission is December to May (the wet season), so you should be okay.
I loved Vanuatu. The people were lovely.

Indonesia is a wonderful, interesting place for the budget traveler. Bali is touristy, but maybe fun for a 22 year old. Do you surf? The diving in Bunaken National Park off Sulawesi was fantastic, but I visited Bunaken in 1996! A long time ago! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunaken_National_Park

Malaysia is pricier, but more organized, tidier, much smaller. My favorite parts of Malaysia are the islands of the East Coast (Redang, Perhentian, Tioman) and Borneo. The islands of the East Coast welcome a lot of visitors, so the coral probably reflects that. When I was last there, I noticed some coral bleaching. I never made it to much-raved-about Sipadan, but I climbed Mt. Kinabalu, near Kota Kinabalu, and that was fun. It is possible to see Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys, Hornbills, and other rare wildlife on Borneo.

I haven't been to PNG, the Solomon Islands, Pulau--but I've been told by folks who've been there that these places offer the best diving of all. What a journey!
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 05:42 AM
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I've been lucky enough to have been to all of those places, some for an extended time, and have dived in all (I'm a tech scuba instructor). Diamantia provided a great summary so I will build on that.

To start, my experience with New Caledonia was just average diving, especially off Iles des Pines. And the country itself really has little to offer. It's basically France-in-an-Ocean with super highways and feels like a tropical Europe. Glitzy in the city and boring in the country. As far as I'm concerned, 5 days is too much; maybe 2 in Noumea and skip diving and the Iles des Pines.

Vanuatu on the other hand … put those dropped days there. Port Vila is a couple of days but then get out to Espiritu Santu and dive on the Coolidge (with a side trip to Tanna). I've done several dozen dives on it and have barely scratched the surface. It's a deep dive, starting about 90 fsw and going down to 210 fsw, and can only be done with a licensed guide. Yet even with a basic open water certification you will greatly enjoy it. And.....it's a shore-entry dive! Don't sweat doing decompression dives, even without a computer, as the profiles are fixed and the guides are some of the best in the world. When I was there I also helped with initial exploration of some of the cave/cavern diving but have not experienced the final product.

In the Solomons, get out of Honiara as soon as possible and head west. If you must overnight, the King Solomon Hotel is interesting mainly because the rooms are up a steep hill from the public areas but there is a funky funicular which starts in the middle of the restaurant!

Best way to dive is on a liveaboard such as the Bilikiki but if that doesn't work, fly west and concentrate on Uepi and Gizo. Uepi has an amazing wall (unfortunately on the north coast) and terrific local culture. Gizo is known for fully (and easily) penetrable Japanese WWII wrecks and good local activities especially local village visits. Your 9 days in the Solomons is fine.

With 2.5-3 weeks in PNG you will have a fine (FINE!) time. Getting out of Port Moresby is smart as there's little of interest. Very glad you are adding the Sepik River sail which is fascinating, especially taking a launch up some of the small tributaries to very local villages.

We took a 5 day cruise on the Sepik Spirit and would do it again in a heartbeat. I had a great time and made friends with a local gentleman who introduced me to his family. He unabashedly asked for help so when I returned to Madang I bought two medium duffles and filled them with clothes and (as requested) shoes … brought them to the boat and they were happy to deliver on their next trip.

Rabaul is another great scuba destination with excellent diving just west. But I personally had much better diving off Kavieng and would recommend trying to get up there if possible. Diving in the small straits leading into the Gazelle Channel is fantastic because of the strong currents; it approaches the greatness of aggregation dives at the Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles).
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Old Jan 21st, 2014, 06:55 AM
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A word about PNG: Moresby isn't a place to linger at. It's pitiful.

In the north, Madang is OK, but I wouldn't just be leaving transport to chance, especially towards Wewak and the Sepik. There's a bit of rascal stuff happening on the coast that didn't used to be there. Last time we drove the road in 2011, there were more fellows trying to flag down a lift than we had seen previously, and the buggers all had machetes in hand. In a company vehicle we didn't stop, just put the foot down.

In your place, if I was you, I would be asking the people at Madang Resort or Jais Aben about present conditions, as they are a combination of locals and Australians who will give you good advice.

That's not to say you will run into any trouble, but PNG is unpredictable, and there are issues for some people, especially the ones on booze.
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Old Jan 25th, 2014, 06:31 PM
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Diamantina, NoFlyZone, and MareeS55,

Thank you kindly for your extremely in-depth comments - they are tremendously helpful, in-particular the diving advice is much appreciated. I am back at school finishing up my final semester now, so planning has slowed down substantially, but I will be sure to reach out again when undoubtedly more questions arise, and in the meanwhile don't hesitate to shoot me a message should anything else cross your mind.

Thanks again,
Jbuckner14 is offline  
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