TRAVEL: Unleash your inner adventurer in PNG
JADED travellers who have crossed most destinations off their bucket lists - and this can happen when you get to a certain age - will be delighted to know they can now visit a place where few before them have been.
Now that P&O Cruises sails into some uncharted waters of Papua New Guinea, there are remote islands to explore, isolated atolls where lush jungle edges white sandy beaches.
You will have to use the ship's tender boats to get ashore, these islands do not yet have wharves or infrastructure, but on our cruise on board Pacific Eden in September, there were seniors galore nipping down the gangway like sprightly teenagers.
Perhaps it was the thought of those remote islands with their turquoise waters that had us all keen to get ashore...more likely it was the opportunity to mix with the locals for a day, see how they lived, and to relax in the warm embrace of their generous welcome.
Some of the islands visited by Pacific Eden are untouched by the 21st Century, utopias previously denied to all but the young, the strong, the fearless.
Now we seniors can arrive in absolute comfort and step into a mysterious world where age-old traditions are still upheld.
P&O's Pacific Eden made her inaugural PNG visit from Cairns in September and will be based in that city until the end of this month and then again from August through November 2017.
It takes just one day sailing from Cairns to reach this other world.
Being there is a simultaneously uplifting and humbling experience. At our first port, Alotou, the capital of PNG's Milne Bay province, the dancers were there to greet us, their feathered headgear waving to their stomps, their fierce bone-nose adornments at odds with their beetle-nut stained smiles.
Next stop Kitava, where the locals had come down from the hills to display their hand-crafted products on the white sand. It seemed horribly wrong to pay so little for an exquisitely carved, wooden bowl inlaid with shell. It must have taken days, even weeks, to craft but the old man selling it asked for just 20 kina (about $12).
The children had obviously been given the day off school for Pacific Eden's arrival and were dressed in grass-mat skirts and skimpy loin cloths, adorned with feathers, beads, and bits of nature's bling. A group of exuberant boys danced, banging bamboo poles to the beat of a drum, their choreography rhythmical, perfect. They giggled and laughed as they danced, making the world seem a more innocent place.
Getting P&O's ships close to these remote islands is a small miracle.
"When we look at a destination we need to know a ship can get in,” a documentary on the television in our stateroom told us.
"In remote destinations the waters are uncharted. We want to offer new exciting experiences for our travellers. That's what keeps us doing what we do.”
At our next island, Kiriwina - where women enjoy higher status than men, and pigs are an indicator of wealth - it was the teenage girls from the nearby school who danced for us, their colourful skirts and feathers swaying with their dainty movements while the local 'musician' accompanied them on an old guitar.
At all the islands, the snorkelling was some of the best in the world, and right off the beach, or further out by canoes where one of dozens of enthusiastic boys offered to paddle us out for a few kina.
After reluctant farewells at each island, it was a joy to return to Pacific Eden where colourful cocktails, grand dinners, live theatre and non-stop entertainment waited for us.
You need to plan your time on board Pacific Eden before you venture ashore in PNG. Start with a fitness class, or join others in the Walk A Mile on the decks.
That entitles you to a guilt free breakfast in The Pantry (eggs benedict, pancakes, bacon?) and gets you fuelled up to enjoy those idyllic islands.
After an unforgettable day ashore, there is a great deal waiting back on board Pacific Eden in the late afternoon into early evening and on to the wee morning hours.
Join a salsa dance class, test yourself in a trivia game, indulge yourself in the Elemis spa, attend a lecture or workshop before a cocktail in the Dome bar with its bird's eye ocean views, then a multi-course dinner at Waterfront Restaurant followed by a live show in the theatre and finally some wind-down music in the Blues Bar.
Themed party nights on board include the popular White Party (anything white will do) and Gatsby Party...anything goes.
Pacific Eden will cruise from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and Cairns in 2017, offering a range of itineraries including themed short breaks, Australian getaways, Pacific Island holidays, Papua New Guinea explorations, Asian adventures and main event cruises.
Carrying 1500 guests, the 55,820-tonne ship takes local cruising to the next level with a stunning design which reflects the contemporary style of modern Australia, while capturing the relaxed and sometimes cheeky spirit Australians are known for. Pacific Eden features 15 dining options including a plush private dining room and Luke Mangan's Salt grill, luxe new bars, a penthouse suite, a resort-style pool deck and the child-free Oasis.
Fares start from $799* per person quad share for a seven-night Papua New Guinea cruise departing Cairns on September 9, 2017, and including calls to Alotau, Kitava Island, Kiriwina Island and the Conflict Islands plus up to $600 onboard credit.
For more information and bookings contact a licensed travel agent or P&O Cruises on 132494 or visit www.pocruises.com.au