It could have been Mykonos, Barcelona or Paris but a cruise to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, although not typical gay destinations, sounded quite exotic to us. The fact that we had never been to either place before made it an easy choice for our honeymoon adventure.
As a precursor to the cruise we had five lazy days at one of our favourite gay resorts Turtle Cove, about a forty minute drive above Cairns in northern Queensland. With its tropical location, private beach and clothing optional pool and spa, the days slipped quickly by as we waited for our ship to arrive in Cairns for our 12 day voyage to Australia’s nearest neighbours.
Just before sunset our ship sailed out of Cairns as we sipped on cocktails with two of our friends who had joined us for our honeymoon cruise. After twenty eight years together before being married we did not really need ‘special’ time together.
We woke the next morning to a gorgeous 27 degree day, seas a little choppy giving us the feeling we were really on a high seas adventure. Unfortunately, the ship’s pools were closed due to the rough swell but the bars and buffet were open, so all was right with the world. After a few naps and more food we were ready for the evening show before arriving the next morning at our first destination, Conflict Island in Papua New Guinea.
This was a magical honeymoon destination with vibrant blue water and dazzling white, fine, coral sand. On shore we wandered up the beach, palm fringed and unspoilt, a dreamlike location for our first romantic adventure ashore. The island was so small we could walk around it in about an hour. In this pristine paradise the only thing we had to worry about was coconuts falling on our heads. However, the ship’s extremely handsome doctor decided to man his post shirtless all day so we were a little worried we would suffer heat stroke if we weren’t careful. Conflict Island has some of the best water we have ever had the opportunity to swim in, clean, azure and deliciously warm.
It was soon time for lunch and the locals were selling homemade meats pies, fish cooked in banana leaves and chicken satays. Further up the beach, shells, carvings, bananas and other local handmade items like baskets, wooden bowls and fans were keenly sought after by the cruise passengers.
Snorkelling just about 100 metres off shore was excellent and we were not surprised to see a traditional single sail outrigger style boat taking tourists for a ride. These boats are quite typical of those found in the Pacific south seas islands.
The next day we arrived at Kirriwina where the islanders turned out in there hundreds to observe the strange white people invading their beautiful slice of paradise. When a cruise ship calls in the schools close and the whole community assemble at the beach to sell the intricate wood carvings for which Kiriwina is well known.
Sitting in a line following the shoreline local people present wooden bowls, masks, drums and the highly sought after intricately carved ebony walking sticks. Not quite needing a walking stick yet we decided to purchase a bowl for A$50 which was beautifully carved and inlayed with mother of pearl. A bargain and our negotiated price was well received by the local artisan.
This community is very poor economically and quite a few of the passengers were thoughtful enough to come prepared by bringing books, paper and pencils for the schools, as well as giving donations of money to help with supplies and building projects.
The afternoon rains made their way over the island so we scampered back to our tender boat and we were soon back on board the mother ship to be whisked away to another exotic tropical destination.
The port of Rabaul was our next port of call. What a stunning harbour and the site of a number of fierce World War 2 battles. Today the area is thriving with a good number ships visiting the harbour. Rabaul is most notable for its active volcano (Tavurvur) which last erupted violently in 1994 and still regularly emits large amounts ofsmoke and ash.
We hired a local taxi which was an excellent way to see the tropical countryside and catch a glimpse of the way locals live. We could see the volcano was still emitting white steam and the water from the hot springs was boiling in the sulphur encrusted pools by the lake. Our driver also took us to a wrecked Japanese bomber shot down in WW2. It was not the most amazing thing we have ever seen but it is a stark reminder of how a beautiful harbour can be turned into a theatre of death and destruction in a very short time.
Rabaul was certainly no honeymoon for the Australian soldiers who served here during the war. Many of our fellow passengers had embarked on organised tours of the famous war cemetery located on the island but we chose to stay close to the ship and explore the local scene near the central market.
From a scenic lookout high above Rabaul we had stunning panoramic views of the harbour, tropical hinterland and, in the distance, the slightly ominous smouldering volcano. Our last stop was the local market that sold a huge range of fresh vegetables, dried tobacco and the favourites of these islands, the unusual combination of mustard seeds, betel nut and ground coral powder, a combination of which is chewed as part of their curious local custom.
In the evening, back on board the ship, we were lucky enough to be treated by our friends to a delicious dinner in Luke Mangan’s signature restaurant, Salt. We tried the perfectly cooked scallops on a bed of blue cheese and polenta, the signature crab omelette with miso dressing, the steaks prepared to each individual liking, and finished with the luscious liquorice parfait. The meal was superb.
At sea the next day was a time to relax, play cards, snooze by the pool and in the late afternoon we met up for drinks with four of the other LGBT group members we had met around the ship. When cruising don’t think for a moment that you will be ‘the only gays in the village’. Cruising is popular among mature gay guys, it is an easy way to travel and there are loads of opportunities to make new friends.
Gizo in the Solomon Islands was the next stop. It’s a tiny tropical island that sees just a few cruise ships each year but is well known for excellent diving spots. After a quick look around the port we hired an outboard boat to speed us to Fatboy’s Resort, about fifteen minutes from the port.
When we arrived we were awestruck by the natural beauty of this idyllic, tropical paradise. The thatched roof restaurant set over the water is where we disembarked. After ordering their very reasonably priced and ultra-fresh whole grilled lobster we had a quick survey of the resort. Bungalows set among palm trees all facing the water looked like a splendid way to unwind.
After enjoying our fresh seafood feast, we stripped down to our swimmers and dived into the pristine clear tropical waters. We didn’t have snorkelling gear with us but others who did experienced a reef teaming with fish including small reef sharks and rays, just 50 metres from the restaurant.
Back on board the ship it was time for a few drinks, a show, dinner and a movie. We looked forward to our sea days which meant coffee with new friends, a couple of mind challenging group games, relaxing by the pool, playing cards and of course, a whole lot of eating.
Our last day in the Solomon Islands was in the capital, Honiara. Although quite hot with drenching humidity we explored the nearby streets of this working port town. The central market was well worth a look and there were plenty of locally made craft items on sale. We had a relaxing lunch at the Heritage Park Hotel accompanied by a tropical downpour. In town there was also a National Museum, Botanical Gardens and an Art Gallery. Our friends hired a taxi and took themselves off snorkelling to one of the World War 2 shipwrecks which they said was well worth the effort.
At 5:30pm the ship turned towards Australia and for the next two days we cruised our way back to Cairns. Here we said farewell to our friends who disembarked but we stayed onboard for the final leg of the cruise to Townsville.
Whether on your honeymoon or not, cruising to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands will present destinations that have a touch of the exotic, a hint of luxury and bucketloads of fun and relaxation, especially when you take some friends along for the ride.