The roadtrip less travelled: travelling down the Boluminski Highway is an experience of a lifetime! Jump on a truck, drive down the freshly paved highway together with the most colourful people in the world and jump of in a world which seems centuries ago! This is the true adventurers roadtrip. One which should be on the same list as Route 66, The Great Ocean Road or Via PanAmerican...

Before you go

Where is this Bolumisnki Highway? Never heard of. The Boluminski Highway is the main road on an island called New Ireland. New Ireland is part of Papua New Guinea and a 3 hour flight from Port Moresby. Why is this highway so unique? Well, with it's 193 km of perfectly paved road, it gives a unique chance to meet local melanesian tribes and experience life as a villager like no place in the world. There's hardly any tourism. Which makes the environment unspoiled and the local people very open and willing to meet you!

There hasn't been written a lot about the Highway. Or even New Ireland. But a little research on the internet learns that it has perfect surf, fantastic diving, a genuine art culture and the most unspoiled beaches ever seen. Because of its remote location, it's not the most common place to go for your surf break. But this remoteness has a true advantage: it's unspoiled!

It's very hard to get a good impression on what to expect from New Ireland. Most tourism focusses on the capital, Kavieng and it's surrounding Islands. Perfect for beachcombing, surfing and diving. Not many travel literature has been written about the highway. But there's more to explore.  And New Ireland Tourism is very helpfull. View these websites for information and inspiration:

New Ireland Tourism

Lekkertrekken.nl

Budget

PNG is not cheap. Even worse: it's horribly expensive! Don't make the mistake thinking an undeveloped country can't be that expensive. Everything, but litteraly everything has to be imported. Most things come from Australia and with Australia vecoming very expenisve over the years, PNG is getting even more expensive. Buying ingredients for a soup or a salad in the supermarket can cost you easily 30 AU$. An avarage room in a hotel 100 to 150 AU$ and a meal with a few drinks is easily 30-50 AU$. Even renting a bike for a few days on the Island can be quite expensive. However, jumping on a truck and drive down the highway is very affordable. For about 10 AU$you're almost halfway down the road!

50-75 AU$ a day per person makes you a budget traveler. High End is only available around Kavieng. The good part is: there is no High End or Midrange accomodation down the Highway. The bad part is: budget is still very expensive. It might be wise to save some extra for when you return to Kavieng, just to treat yourself on a nice meal or a fancy beachhut!

Arriving at Kavieng

Arriving on New Ireland is an adventure itself. Air Nuigini flies frequently on Kavieng, the capital of this remote but huge island. When you jump of the plain, it's very likely you're awaited by someone from New Ireland Tourism. They will hand you a small green booklet, with a lot of information about the Island, the villages along the highway, but also more about the westcoast of New Ireland. Keep it! It's your most valuable source of information! If you haven't booked anything, they'll even phone to the guesthouse of your choice to pick you up. This is very convenient there only the more expensive places are listed on booking sites and email is not always checked by guesthouse owners.

Probably coming from a place like Cairns or Hong Kong, it feels like you have landed in a remote country town. There's nothing there! At the supermarket they sell mostly rice, corned beef, tinned fish and instant noodles. If you fancy a decent meal, you probably end up in one of the more expensive hotels. This might feel like you've landed at the end of the world. Far away from all the comforts you're used to. Very limited in options. The funny thing is: when you arrive back at Kavieng, from a few days or even weeks staying at villages, Kavieng feels huge! Everything is there! And you'll love it!

Kavieng has a wide range of accomodation. This varies from very very basic, staying at a church, maybe a decent but simple guesthouse or going to a nice fancy beachhut at one of the Island right of the coast. Whatever suites you, the option is there. New Ireland Tourism made a very complete list of all accomodation including budgetranges. View there accomodation list: http://www.newirelandtourism.org.pg/a...

How to start your roadtrip?

Driving down the Boluminski Highway asks for some serious preparation and planning. After all, this isn't just a regular highway in your homecountry. There is almost no cellphone reception, email is a rare item like tourists are. You'll need to let them know you are coming! Here's a small list to keep in mind when planning your roadtrip:

  1. Sunday is churchday, so there'll be no traffic and no trucks. Supermarkets are closed. So work your way around this day!
  2. Saturday is lower on traffic. When trying to catch a truck, you might spend some time waiting (e.g. some hours!!!)
  3. Tourists are rare andit's very likely guesthouses are not prepared for your arrival. So send word you're coming!
  4. Take some food and nescecities with you for the first night and morning. If arriving on a friday or saturday, you might have to take enough for the whole weekend!
  5. There are no shops or supermarkets, except some rare drinkstalls. Stock up on insectrepellant and sunscreenor you'll regret it!
  6. Take some extra supplies to share with the locals. Rice or honey or oil will be very welcome! Also cookies are a big treat when sharing a truck with 20 women coming home from the market!
  7. Consider buying a machete (and grinding it) in Kavieng. It might be usefull for chopping coconuts, bushwalking etc...

You'll need at least one day to do some shopping at Kavieng. but start whit paying a visit at the Toursim Office. It's an adventyre itself! At least 3 or 4 people will be lingering around the office. You might have to ask for the right person a few times, but they're abe to provide you on information about travel times, places to stay, things to do etc. They will make sure you are on the right truck, walk with you to show you that one supermarket where they sell uncooked spaghetti and maybe most important, they will make sure to send word to your guesthouse of choice! Yes, word. With a serious lack of communication options on the island, most is done by word of mouth. It might happen that someone hears you go down to Dalom and asks you to make a reservation for them...

So make sure you send word to your guesthouse, so they'll know you are coming and are able to stock up on supplies!

The supermarket

The supermarket is an interesting chapter in Kavieng. Most supermarkets are ran by chinese. Not all locals are very happy with their precense. It might happen that they simply deny that a place exists (even at the tourism board), or that they very clearly advise you not to go there. But getting you shopping done ain't easy! Every supermarket has 5 ingredients: rice, nescafe, tinned fish, corned beef and instant noodles (the only billboard in PNG are from tinned fish, Nescafe and Maggi noodles). The rest is very different per store. So you get your baked beans at one store and your vermicelli (substitude for spaghetti) at another. This way you easily run arund the whole town to get your groceries done! They mostly dó have onions, tomatoes, paprika, green beans, banana and papaya at the villages. They garden that themselves. At Lelet they have oranges and cucumbers. things as garlic, oil, peanut butter or jam will be very handy. Also milk creamer and sugar may became usefull. Of you are planning to do some serious cooking,ake sure you bring salt, peper and soysauce with you!

How to travel down the highway?

There are a few options going down the highway. The highway is long. About 193 km. So walking would be an option, but yo probably end up roasted a few miles down the road. Consider one of these:

  1. Rent a bicycle. A few places in Kavieng rent bicycles. For 30 kina a day (15 AU$) you take your own bike and drive down the perfectly paved road winding through the most unspoiled villages you've ever seen! Take your time. locals are curious and as long as you are up for it, you p[robably end up in enjoyable conversations. The highway follows the coast. So once you're boiled, cool of in one of the rivers or run down the beach and plunge in the ocean! If you plan to make the crossing to new Brittain, they will send your bicycles back by PMV from Dalom. Also is it possible to let them send you bag up front, so you don't need to carrie it all the way!
  2. Rent a motorbike. This might be a fast and convenient way to go down the highway. The quality of the road is good and the drive will be comfortable. It will give you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery an mix with the locals! unfortunatly no information on rentals are available so far.
  3. Hitch a ride with a PMV (truck). The cheapest and probably most fun way to get to your village is jumping in the back of a PMV! It's your ultimate chance to mingle with the locals! Enjoy the genuine intrest of your fellow travellers while sqeeze yourself onto the hard wooden benches. You may have a pig tied to a bamboo pole as companion, or a bunch of curious ladies coming home from the produce market! Whoever it is, they are friendly and really interested in you, not trying to scam you. Which makes it very comfortable to ease and enjoy their company!

 

Where to go?

Depending on your interest and the season you are visiting, there are a wide range of places to go. All along the highway guesthouses are available. Keep in mind that standards are basic and pets come as a standard accesory with your room. Ask for a box or a cupboard to store you food in. Otherwise you might wake up during the night and find a mouse eating your beloved chocolate cookies! Roomrates aren't cheap. You are facing easily a 50-100 AU$ for two persons excluding food. If you think roomrates are too high, there's allways the possibility to walk into a village and ask for a place to sleep. People are mostly very hospital, but it might happen they think their place isn't good enough for you. Here are a few recommendations coming from own experience:

  • Must do: Dalom village! Kana and Milika will give you the ultimate village experience. The scenery is stunning, located next to a beautifull freshwater river coming from their own riversource. The water being even more blue then the blue ocean in front this is the place where locals will wash and play during the day! Even when you come unexpected, Milika will do everything she can to make you a comfortable stay. She's very creative with the limited food available and make you meals which will leave nothing to complain. There are two bungalows available and four rooms with shared bathroom. A bathroom in this case means a toilet. A flushtoilet even, which is a novelty down the highway. More regular are pit toilets like Lelet and Bol have. Bathing doesn't happen here, bathing happens in the river! Dalom is the perfect place to relax. You can have a swim in the ocean, a stroll down the beach passing several villages or slide down the river on a surfboard. Whatever you want, Milika and her family is very happy to help you. From november to april waves are getting big and surfing should be a pleasure here! Outside surf season snorkeling can be done and you might even see seaturtles and dolphins hanging around the bay!
  • Lelet plateau. Inside the highlands of New Ireland, Puroro guesthouse will provide you a comfortable stay. Don't freak out when arriving late at night about the freaky cockroach-like creatures. There not cockroaches and are not nearly as quick and disgusting as cockroaches are. From Puroro you can arrange everything you like, birdwatching, bushwalkingor just visiting a school or the mens house or womens house. Accomodation is cheap and comfortable. Set in a nice garden with a beautifull view over the plateau! Make sure you go into the gardens and rainforest. Because of the humiditythe forest is more green and dense you've ever seen! 
  • Libba village. There's only one reason to visit Libba. It's Ben Sisia, one of the last true Malagan carvers, and his son David Ben Sisia. Malagan art is supported by an ancient form of copyright which allows carvers to carve certain stories and creations. Ben Sisia is the last of a family of carvers andpassing the science on to his son and his nephew, in order to save the ancient artform from extinction. His workshop has a few carvings on display andfor sale. But just a chat with Ben and David is already very interesting!
  • Bol Village. A logic place to go due to it's position between the Eal farm and Libba Village. In the green booklet it states that they're quite able to cook you a decent meal. Reality learns it were the poorest  meals along the highway. White bread with an agg in the morning. White rice with a sauce of instant noodles during for lunch AND for diner. The owner provides poor quality accomodation compared to Lelet and Dalombut is the most expensive! Make sure you ask for a better room when pointed to the room next to the kitchen or you'll have the cook standing in front of your window. The cook is very friendly though. At the time of stay, rainwater was boiled, but mosquito eggs were still in it. Last but not least he overcharges you for rides with his fan to Kavieng. Going on a shared ride is no difference (no extra stops etc) but saves you a lot of money. However, it has to be said that he can arrange you a lot of villagelife experience. He is one of the village elder and is very willing to get you involved in happenings like funerals or weddings. in season, Bol is also a good otion to surf!

Safety

Traveling in New Ireland is very safe. They do have a prison, but very few murderers are locked up. But ofcourse you need to travel with common sense. So lock up your stuff where you can and avoid being out in the forest or at the villages alone after dark. In general the people are very friendly and are more likely to ask you to help you then do anything unwanted...

When to go? 

You might think twice before you plan your trip. Highlights of your trip are strongly season related. If you want to combine New Ireland with other provinces, you should have a look at the seasons closely. When it comes to New Ireland, the season calendar below covers most activities. 

 

  • Combining a Bolumiski Highway with several other provinces of Papua New Guinea is best done in november, the only month when there's no wetseason in the whole of PNG.
  • Surfing is best done from November to April. The start of november doesn't have the pro-waves...
  • Snorkeling is best done outside the surfing season. From May to October. The sea is less strong during these seasons and the outer reef is easier to reach. Around Kavieng there is good snorkeng all year round!
  • Diving is best done around Kavieng and conditions are good all year round. New Ireland Tourism states that April-July and September-November have the best allround conditions.
  • Cycling can be done all year round, but you might consider going outside the wettest months of December to February. The Tourism Biard organizes a cycling race down the highway every year around October. For information on this event, please contact the New Ireland Tourism Board.
  • Festivals are there in two flavours. Local and Island wide. To attend a Sing Sing (traditional sing and dance performance, supported mostly by traditional costumes) your chances are best around the Festival season, from June to September, with highlights in June and July. But please note that these arn't fixed events. Notifications go by word and dates can differ per year. The New Ireland Tourism Board (yes, these guys are very valuable!) has up to date information on these events. You might be lucky and be able to attend a local Sing Sing. These are mostly helt in remembrance of a funeral, a few months later. Other local events are traditional feasts (mumu) during the funeral itself, weddings, the sale of a piece of land or the right or the transition of copyrights of artists. Which all, by the way, also involve payment in traditional shellmoney!
  • Shark Calling are typical for the west coast of New Ireland and not something for the Boluminsky Highway. This is an event which takes place during quiet seas for the simple reason that the chance of catching a shark is bigger during this period. Since 2008 there is a 2 day festival helt in the village of Kontu-Tembin. Some environmental precaution have to be taken. Shark calling is an ancient ritual which isn't too dangerous for the environment. It takes days of preperation, including spending nights away from the family and sleeping in the mens hut. The danger is that tourism gives sharkcallers a way of living which is easy and convinient and in the end resut in extinction of sharks in the area. So make sure you attend legitimate shark calling sessions to prevend this ritual from extinction. Attending the 2 day festival is a good way to make sure you're not providing the callers easy money!
  • Bushwalking is done all year round, but please note that conditions may not always be optimal. The climate can be very humit and trails may be flushed away or simply too slippery to walk. Again, the tourism board will have the most up to date information on closed trails etc.
 

Coming back at Kavieng

It is easy to soend a couple of weeks down the highway. you'll get detached from your life back home by the lack of communication and you'll get sucked in to village live by the friendliness of the locals! You'll collect stories and experiences, make new friends and suffer slowly but surely from homesickness... Because, let's be honest. Western life has it good parts. After a week, a cold can of coke sunds like a treasure. The diet down the highway isn't exactly Paris in the Pacific. So once you jump of that PMV in fromt of the supermarket in Kavieng, civilization opens up for you! All these options which looked so limited when you arrived, now look like heaven! Treat yourself on a club sandwich at Malagans Beachresort. Or even better, top off your adventure with a few days of luxury at Nusa Island. Without a doubt the best kitchen in town! 

 

Diving (Not on the Boluminski Highway)

Once you are back, you will meet the other travelers again. Surfers and divers. And they come here for a good reason, getting that unspoiled surf or that one dive they always dreamt of. And they will! Surfing is controlled in the area. There is a limited amount of people in the water allowed. This avoids situations like Bali, where thirty to forthy people are waiting for that surf at once... Diving in the area is in one word: stunning! You kniw how every guidebook always boasts "worldclass diving!" wherever you go. If it's Koh Tao, Thailand or Cozumel in Mexico. Honestly, it's not worldclass! Come to New Guinea and coloured coral will pop your eyes out. Dive to WWII plane wrecks. Every dive is different. This is truly worldclass diving! And the best part: there's most likely just a couple of you out there! 

Sending your souvenir home

Maybe you go home after this trip. Which is good! This means you can carry your souvenir with you. This is probably the easiest way to get your souvenir home. All you have to do is to get a customs form from the quarantine office. This will cost you around 60 AU$ and the very friendly man is more likely to sell you a room in his future guesthouse then to actually check what is inside your package. The office is across the fresh produce market at the harbour. If you have bought a carving from Ben Sisia or Nusa, make sure you get it fumigated at home. It is very unlikely they will fumigate it at the airport, mostly the machine is out of order. If you are lucky, you get it done in Port Moresby. Apparently if you have a stopover in Australia, you are screwed and better send it home...

But the trouble comes in when you want to sent it home. You still have to get the clearance form. But you probably have to get a box made. Make sure you don't try to get this done the day before you leave. With some serious pressure you will get it done in two days. If you are unlucky and talk to the wrong people, it takes you more. A box is made by one of the home improvement stores in town. They will make you a triplex box for somewhere between 50 and 75 AU$. Be aware that multiplex is very expensive here. To fill up the gaps, you can buy newspapers in front of the biggest supermarket. This saves you a lot of hassle. Inside the supermarket you can try to get old newspaers for free.

Photography 

Locals love it when you take a picture! They may sometimes refuse to smile, because they are embarassed by their teeth affected from beetle nut. But most of the time, they pose before you can ask! This can fill up days! Ask ine person ans she will drag you to the next to make his/her picture as well. Before you know you are making oictures like an old fashioned schoolphotographer! Once you are home, all these nice people are soon forgotten. But they do know there's something called email! Try send them some pictures. By email or regular mail. It might take ages, but it will be appreciated and the will recall your visit for years. Like you will probably do as well...