I met Max for the first time over 20 years ago – in the domestic terminal of Port Moresby airport where we were waiting to board a flight to Kimbe Bay. The trip leader introduced him as “this is Max, he’s the owner of Walindi” which was where we were going to.
My first impressions turned out to be pretty accurate… before me was a man who would look you straight in the eye and quickly understand your intent - no BS with Max, he seemed to be able to read you like a book!
The southern coast of the large island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea is a truly remote location isolated from the northern coast by high, rugged mountain ranges with no real roads through them. There are no commercial airports here—only landing strips and old WWII airfields used for small-scale charter flights. Practically, the only way to get to the southern coast is by boat from Rabaul, on the eastern tip of New Britain.
World War II came to the Australian territory of Papua New Guinea in January 1942 when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Rabaul in New Britain, followed shortly after by the taking of Kavieng in New Ireland. The invasion turned Papua New Guinea into a major theatre of war in the battle for the Pacific, and there were many brutal encounters between the invading Japanese and the defending Allied forces.
From a distance, there is little to distinguish the small island of Gonu Bara Bara from the myriad of others in this part of southern Milne Bay Province; and few would guess that just off its northern beach is the best place in the whole of Papua New Guinea to see the magnificent reef manta ray—Manta alfredi.
When it comes to superlatives, diving and Papua New Guinea certainly go hand in hand. Sharing the world’s second largest island with Indonesian West Papua, the island nation is positioned at the easternmost extremity of the Pacific’s famed Coral Triangle—an undersea Eden boasting an unrivalled diversity of life.
The 21st of January in 1942 was a really bad day to be a resident of Kavieng, in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. On that fateful day, the full might of the Imperial Japanese Navy was unleashed on this small town on the remote eastern edge of the Bismarck Archipelago, as it prepared to seize the main prize of Rabaul in nearby New Britain.
Is there another country anywhere with so much diversity? The six million inhabitants of this nation of mountains and islands are spread over 463,000km2 of mountainous tropical forests and speak over 800 different languages (12 percent of the world total). Papua New Guinea occupies half of the third largest island in the world as well as 160 other islands and 500 named cays.
I’ve been on the road for 36 hours now, and I’m pretty much on the other side of the world from where I started back in rain drenched England. At last, I’m approaching the final legs of the journey—just a short one-hour flight to go.
Things have gone smoothly so far, I’m thinking, as I wander up to the check-in desk for the last leg of my trip. “The flights full,” the attendant tells me, “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.