Girls on Paradise Beach
Yule Island Paradise Beach, Papua New Guinea
As I stood at the top of the lookout point at Delena half way between Kairuku and the Gulf province. I peered across the ocean trying to get a good glimpse of Yule Island. My view was obscured by a patch of finger like leafless trees that covered the cliff side all the way to the crashing waves at the rocks below.
It was about 4.30pm the wind wisping through the finger like trees and my guide and cousin John explained how our ancestors used to execute their enemies here on these cliffs and through their heads off this cliff and into the sea below.
I thought back to the words from my grandfather Charlie Haoda, “You know sonny I am a Kairuku man!” Grandad had never been back home since he left for Daru all those years ago, he even chose to be buried in Daru, so even though we were part Kairuku we never really knew the place and for many years this place always mystified me.
Now finally thirty four years later here I was standing in this spot visiting all the areas he often spoke about. But this time it was a whole lot different. I was finally visiting this place but also with a family of my own. Now tomorrow was a big day we would visit Yule Island, a place I had heard so much about as a kid but never actually seen with my naked eyes.
It was a Saturday on the 18th December 2015, having topped up the tank with about K150 worth of diesel we all gathered at J-Mart Erima at about 10am to restock ready to hit the Hiritano Highway.
We stocked up with all the essentials, drinks, water, tinned meat, biscuits, flex, batteries, and toilet paper including a bag of rice, flour, sugar and tea for the village folk. We called ahead to the family at Nabua letting them know that we were about to leave the city.
Next we split the family and the cargo into two groups half into the 15-seater Toyota bus and the other half into the white Nissan Ute. Then we set off along the highway, I rode off-side my Uncle Camilo, who often travelled this road. He gave me the whole family history lesson as we set off on a 3 hour journey along the Hiritano highway outside Port Moresby.
We passed several notable sights which I had never knew existed. Passing the Vanapa bridge an area called Kuriva, houses a large teak plantation which looks like something out of medieval England, then a little further is the Doa rubber plantation which further adds to the English forest scenery. These trees all neatly packed together, have oak-like features all prim and proper resemble the scenery from a Robin Hood film.
These estates belong to the Galley Reach Holdings and were part of Steamships Trading Company during the colonial era. A little further on we pass Toutu village, or the Kassman’s block, the Kassman’s being a prominent family in Port Moresby an interesting tale about how the original ancestor Kassmani who was an expatriate worker at the coconut plantations had settled there and then married and integrated into the local population.
A little further on we reach Agevairu Market or Pinu, the trading point. This place is a hive of activity, women selling fish, mangos, kulau and dry coconuts and of-course green gold betel nut.
People from Gulf, Kairuku and Mekeo converge at Agevairu bringing in the green goodies (betel nut), with the Highlanders in all manner of vehicle ready to trade. Makes one only wonder if there really is a betel nut ban in Port Moresby.
PMV buses, Highway PMVs, 5-doors, 10 seaters and all manner of four wheel drives cram the market, the Agevairu store store car park, and the surrounding roadside. The Agevairu store or Anna Pinu’s Papuan Produce store apparently dubbed the oldest store in Papua hasn’t changed much over the years. Probably the only modern things in it now has are the goods on its shelves.
Other than that building is something out the colonial era. A large white structure, resembling an American country gas station store in a 1960’s film. The sign above the door reads 1978 to 2014 but it definitely is older than that, and could probably be placed on a cultural heritage listing. Uncle Camilo explained that it was owned by a local lady married to an Australian and the whole family had since migrated to Australia.
Leaving Agivairu we take the back road, which is a dirt road through crown land, which is a large expanse of savannah and swamp land which were once large coconut plantations run by the Steamships Trading Company. Uncle Camilo explained that the 99 year lease on the land had since expired and the land was returned to the landowners but the government had also claimed this as state land so as with most things in Papua New Guinea it is now before the courts.
We then passed Iare, another village which was formed by expatriate plantation workers who had married into and settled among the local population. Finally we reach Nabua Paka and the small village of Anona after 3 hours. This would be our home for the next few days.
It was about 3pm, we were all exhausted, hot, sweaty and dusty from our trip. After un-packing our cargo, and distributing goods to the households, and making our sleeping arrangements. Some headed straight to the beach to cool off, while my cousin John insisted that myself and him take a trip which would be another 30 minutes’ drive passed Delena to Bereina station get party ice to keep our coldies from dehydrating. John hassled me to come along so he could show we could get a good view of Yule Island before sunset.
Later that night the village boys had a surprise in store for us, having placed a prior request with us to get a pack of ‘A+’ (big) batteries that night we feasted on a variety of reef fish and the infamous “Yule Island Crayfish.”
It is said that this the same tropical rock lobster or crayfish that is fished in the waters of the Gulf, Torres Strait and Daru. The cray migrate to Yule Island every year to breed before heading back through the Gulf and across to Daru and the Torres Strait.
At 35 US Dollars a kilogram, cray is big business in Daru, most being exported to Australia US and Asian fish markets while only undersized cray is sold in the local market, or ends up in restaurants and major supermarkets in Port Moresby.
Yet here at tonight at Anona we were digging into these delicious succulent export-sized crustaceans that would cost anywhere between K170-K200 a plate in any of major hotels in Moresby. Fresh from the reef and straight into boiling pot of water, over a hot fire, bringing with them the smell of the slaty sea breeze, we watched their hard shells change colour from bluish green to orangey-red. Served over a hot plate or rice, feasting on this pricy white meat with a trusty sturdy butter-knife, definitely a simple village meal made in heaven.
We woke up the next day and continued with our sea food buffet, then at about 9am we all headed over to Nabua Paka to await the dingy that we had pre-arranged to take us over to Yule Island for K50 hire and a 20 litre container of zoom.
As the morning mass was ending, we all passed by the Church with our picnic gear, hats, sun-glasses, mats, eskies, towels, balls, water bottles and so on. The village folk looking out could see all the, different colours, mix breeds knowing full well, this is the extended Aihi family, our family being one of the few who were all married to outsiders.
The 15 of us eagerly awaited the dingy operator who having finished from church brought the dingy around to the beach. After all cramming into the 23 footer and all the safety precautions lectured to the eager little kids on board we were finally off on a 20 minute cruise to Yule Island.
Approaching Yule Island was a spectacular site, a nice picturesque spot hidden away from the mainland Central province. Once you visit the place is not hard to imagine why the Catholic Church chose this spot to establish its mission headquarters in 1885, this later also became the government headquarters for the Central province before it was shifted to Bereina.
We sailed around the island as my Aunty Philomena pointed out the various sites, including the mission station, the old high school, where she gone to school. And the original and the recent villages that had been established on the island.
We then proceeded to a secluded patch of beautiful white sand crystal clear blue water, a beautiful spot call paradise beach. An untouched spotless beach in the middle of no-where. The kids were frantic as we all went wild, playing, swimming and enjoying the sun for the 2 hours.
Having expended nearly every ounce of energy, we all piled back into the dingy on a voyage back to Nabua Paka. Being entertained along the way by little nephew Jamie and his endless array of sea-faring jokes.
We then washed and rested a while before packing up ready to hit the highway back to Port Moresby at around 4.30pm.
As we drove back via Hisiu, Uncle Camilo explained how the different language groups of the Kairuku area, Roro, Mekeo and Nara, and were all connected. Hisiu famous for its long stretch of beach side was the site of a major coconut plantation from the colonial era right up until the 1970s. The plantations were part of the Steamships Company and there was even a coconut oil refinery and a warf that allowed for export direct from Hisiu to the overseas market.
A curious village is that Obo located just before Hisiu, obo was apparently the home of plantation workers from Kiwai area of Western province. Although the inhabitants now speak Nara and do not look like Kiwai Islanders they still perform Tae-bubu (Kiwai dance) and bear Kiwai sur-names. Ironic too is the fact that the word ‘Obo’ in Kiwai means ‘water or sea’ an interesting case study for any linguist or anthropologist.
As we continued on past Hisiu and through the crown lands, a mass of untapped agricultural land, I looked back at Hisiu and re-called the events over the past couple of days to stop myself from drifting off to sleep. Uncle Camilo rambling on with yet another story of how an expatriate Plantation Manager and his Samoan wife who were based near Hisiu, had a farm which had since been abandoned. The wild horses and cows that roamed the roamed the area all the way up to Mekeo were the result of this.
The sting from the sand and salt water and was making eye-lids heavy, as the darkness began to set in as we finally entered into the city limits at around 7.00pm. I imagined what it must have been like to be a Plantation Manager all those years ago back in Hisiu. This area was indeed once an economic hub and still had so much history and tourism potential.
So many untold stories, I thought as I pictured the blissful paradise beach. Why do Papua New Guineans travel as far as Fiji and Australia to experience a tropical holiday when you can just take a short drive out of Port Moresby for the experience of a life-time.
Paradise beach Yule Island, a personal family pilgrimage for me, a re connection with my roots but none the less an interesting journey and one that I will treasure and remember for the rest of my life. A must see destination for anyone in Port Moresby or visiting Port Moresby and only a 3 hour drive out of the city.
© 2017 Romney Charles Tabara