Forget the 21st century in New Ireland. It really isn’t important whether your friends believe that you re-enacted your Swiss Family Robinson fantasies on a remote island, discussed the fine art of carving with a master carver, acquainted yourself with the intriguing traditions of Malagan, stayed in a traditional guesthouse amid a landscape that belongs to the dinosaur age and witnessed a shark-calling ceremony. It’s just important that you savour such uplifting experiences.
Few other places in PNG can boast such an interesting and accessible pick ‘n’ mix of nature, culture and landscapes. Sure, New Ireland doesn’t offer the thrill of puffing volcanoes (in this respect, New Britain steals the show), but it boasts broad white-sand beaches and rivers of clear water tumbling down from the thickly forested central Schleinitz Range and a clutch of secluded islands off the ‘mainland’.
For fans of traditional cultures, New Ireland is an unmissable destination. In the rugged south is the spiritual home of Tumbuan culture. The north is home to Malagan, while Kabai culture dominates in the central areas.
And there’s the wonderfully down-to-earth, unfussy atmosphere. New Ireland is far less developed than New Britain. Once you cross St Georges Channel, which separates the islands, you’ll notice the laid-back vibe, the more sedate pace of life and a greater emphasis on the old ways. Outside Kavieng and Namatanai, the only towns of consequence, there are coastal communities on each side of the island but no real settlements bigger than a trade store or two.
The good thing is that you can mix slow-paced sun-and-sand holidays with action-packed experiences. For outdoorsy types, the pursuit of choice is scuba diving, on an equal footing with surfing. Kayaking, sport fishing, snorkelling and even cycling (yes!) are available.