From the traditional South Pacific “Coconut Milk Run” from Mexico or the Panama Canal, yachts arrive at season’s end through Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, checking in to Papua New Guinea at Rabaul. Yachts arriving from Micronesia or the Philippines have historically had no problems stopping, despite having not yet reached a port of entry.
Yachts setting sail from Australia during the cruising season will reach across the trade winds from the east coast of Australia and around the eastern end of the big island of Papua. Check-in is possible at Alotau on the big island of Papua or on New Britain at Rabaul. Gentle southeast trades flow west from Rabaul, so the remaining 500 nm to Ninigo, with convenient stops in friendly Kavieng and the Hermit Islands, is easy sailing.
From Darwin, a yacht might consider riding the monsoon up and around the bird’s head of Indonesia, but this option requires tacking or motoring against light trade winds once on the north side of Papua. Roughly around December of each year, the monsoon shifts and westerlies occur at Ninigo. This brings unsettled weather, but with careful planning, it could make the sail from Indonesia easier. Vanimo is the most convenient entry port for this routing. Christmas is a special season in the Catholic villages of Ninigo and the families warmly welcome visitors.
A tourist yachtsman visa is required to cruise aboard your yacht in Papua New Guinea. In the absence of a PNG embassy, 60-day visas for the master and crew are issued by customs upon arrival, except in Port Moresby where the Immigration & Citizenship Service Authority handles the visa. Advanced notice of arrival is recommended. A visa extension of 30 days is possible upon application to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In practice, short stays in remote anchorages such as the Ninigo islands, are tolerated for small yachts prior to checking in when the area is distant from any port of entry. Take care to check with the latest security warnings about entry ports, as some have reported incidences of robberies on the PNG mainland. Ninigo is absolutely safe; you are treated like honored guests there.
An AIS transceiver is a good tool to have aboard, as shipping between the South Pacific and Asia passes through this area. We’ve found that purse seiners do not transmit AIS signals until they are right on top of you, but at night you can see their glow for miles.
There are four main passages into the Ninigo lagoon — two nearby to Longan Island (one north and one west), one south of Lau Island on the southwest corner, and the eastern passage. Locals assure us the eastern passage is suitable for keelboats, but we did not confirm this. Most of the smaller atolls have no entrance, though Heina does and one of the local families assured us the channel is still marked. Waypoints for Heina can be obtained on the Noonsite website. We entered the southwest passage near Mal Island and departed the passage to the north of Longan at the end of our stay. Neither was hazardous. We made and used geo-referenced satellite raster “chartlets” to define our routes into the lagoon and to navigate around the multitude of shallows inside. The programs we used were GE2KAP and SASPlanet.
The key yacht contact at Ninigo is Oscar Sinapling on Longan Island — he has the PNG Tourism Board yacht book. He is responsible for coordinating dive and snorkeling; a 10 kina fee is charged by the PNG government per person per dive, snorkeling is free. On our visit, one kina was worth about $0.30 USD. There is no way to reach Oscar ahead of time. Michael Tahalam is also an important contact. He is a ward councilor and can be reached on the public telephone (when it’s working) at “The Station” at Mal Island (Tel: +675 276 4542). Michael can answer pre-arrival questions such as what items might be most needed by the islanders.
Fear not to bring items of some value, for instance copper or stainless steel nails, exterior or marine paint, small amounts of resin and hardener needed for canoes, hand-held GPS units, binoculars, etc. Islanders are willing to pay you appropriately in kina for goods. Thomas Ailis and family at Puhipi village on Mal have been called the “ambassadors.” Expect a visit from him; he will likely bring Elizabeth, his wife, and a gift of a Western Islands woven hat as well as some of their garden veggies.
Great donations to pack aboard include: clothing (children’s clothing especially), sunglasses (polarizing is best), reading glasses, solar lights, popcorn, brown rice, spices, 3-in-1 coffee, children’s books, hand tools (small axes, hand drills, sharpening stones, kitchen knives), soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, wound-care supplies, school supplies, 2.5- to 3-inch copper roofing nails, 16-by-24-foot good quality woven plastic tarps for making sails, sailmaker thread and needles for hand-sewing, three-strand or braided line (polypropylene is okay) in sizes from 5 to 19 mm.