“For the best part of 8 years I have been very lucky to visit some of the best surf destinations on the planet. I just returned from arguably the best surf destination I’ve ever experienced. Papua New Guinea has been on my list for a long time but like many surfers, I was always skeptical about pulling the trigger on a surf trip to an area where I had heard mixed reports about the consistency of the swell. I should have paid attention to odd hundred customers we send there each year but like most millennials, you have to experience something to really teach yourself a lesson”.
I now place PNG up there with the likes of Indonesia, The Maldives, Samoa and Fiji for the best surf adventures I’ve journey’ d to.
Here is a day by day report of my experience on board the PNG Explorer.
Day 1 & 2 – Like any surf trip, you just want to get there…The beauty about PNG is that it’s a 3 hour flight to Port Moresby, quick stopover and 2 hours to Kavieng…You are boarding the boat by around dark and getting stuck into a welcome SP! (local PNG beer) just before dinner. We awoke at dark and in the distance were able to make out small waves breaking a stones throw from the bow. Boards, waxed up, zinc – wedding cake thick and plenty of H2O we were on our way to the infamous “slab” which can either make your stomach churn or eyes pop in anticipation. To our surprise, the ocean was flat…Huey must have been slow out of bed or wanted to build up to the moment! Whistles then echoed from the bay… 3 sets approached and broke mechanically 20 metres from us…”what, did I just witness” one of the boys said!!!
6 frothing surfers stumbled frantically to get their boards from Neil (deck-hand) and it was a challenge to be the first surfer getting the first wave.
The slab is a beautiful wave, something you draw in a boring grade 10 maths class… or any other maths class for that matter. Beautiful – but intimidating! Sure, there are wipeouts but nothing to disheartening and once you cop your first beating a sense of accomplishment can be worn with pride at even attempting to tame this beast.
3.5 hrs later we were back on the boat chowing down chef Noah’s delicious bacon and egg omelettes. An hour later we were back out at a sik left called “Malili” where we had another great session. A real pretty wave, turquoise blue and perfect tapered lines breaking along a colourful reef. A few locals from the newly established Ungalik surf club were out and it was great to share a few waves and trade smiles and throw a few shakas to share the stoke and good vibes.
The arvo session was back at the slab and with an extra 1-2ft in the swell that had pushed in on the higher tide…it was officially on! Some “wave of your life” moments went down a few times and if only it wasn’t for fading light, we could have surfed into the wee hours of the morning! It’s the first day and we are frothing.
Day 3 – Started the same way yesterday finished. A siiik session at The Slab and a quick mid-morning session at Vala Vala which is a long bowling right hander comparable to tea tree in Noosa national park without the 200 other humans in the lineup.
Around 11am we sailed 6 hours north to an island known as ‘Emerau’ where we were to find water visibility like nowhere else in PNG and a fun but challenging left called “feeding grounds”. With fading light we checked out the break but decided to chuck out a line and snag some dinner! Barracuda, Rainbow runner and one tasty Spanish Mackerel.
Day 4 – Up for our 4th consecutive sunrise session we made a B line for Feeding Grounds. Some nice glassy conditions but a bit too much East in the swell according to Peely & Undies. This meant we were surfing the end bowl which was fairly challenging but if you picked the right one it would be a barrel to remember!
After surfing, some of the guests went for a dive to what Peely and Undies describe as a fish tank with thousands upon thousands of all different marine life. You can literally sit on the bottom of the sea bed some 20+ metres below the surface and watch the show…amazing!
By 4:30pm we were back into our unspoken fishing battle between T1 & T2 (tender boats). T1 took out the first day of competition landing 6 fish to 0, so T2 were looking to make amends. Success with a 2-1 victory…1 all in the silent standings!
Day 5 – After a rocky run from Emerau back to Ungalik we woke a little blurry eyed but all with a moment many hadn’t really experienced in their lives. Peely jovially claimed it was one of the ‘better’ crossings he had done between Emerau and Ungalik. I don’t think many of us were too concerned and the small morning swell meant we could catch up on some Z’s. Around 3 the offshores started again and the tide started to fill in. Vala Vala was the pick with some nice long walls in the 2ft range. This wave is perfect for a twin fin or long boarder. You can really open up on the face and fit in a nice nose ride if you are capable. It was an epic 4 hr session! It’s New Year’s Eve so we are off for NY dinner on the boat and a whole bunch of shenanigans.
Day 6 – New year, new swell! Our predicted swell has arrived and everyone is frothing! Although not without its challenges with a full 360 degree of winds. The slab was fun in the morning but Vala Vala was all time! Picture ‘Tea Tree’ in the Noosa National Park with 3 people out! At one stage, just me out for 2.5 hrs! What a session…riding the twin fin racing down the line and belting a few sections all the way! One session I will never forget.
Like days 3-5 we didn’t quite get the arvo glass off but everyone was pretty surfed out anyway so it was a good chance to sit back, relax and watch the sunset while Peely played some of the best shots of the day on the big screen.
Day 7 & 8 – We started with a great morning session at Vala Vala…this wave works great in all conditions. Even though it prefers a higher tide, it’s still a lot of fun on low tide. One other great thing about the wave is it is extremely rippable even when the trade winds kick in and go on-shore. Similar to Macaronis in the Mentawais.
The last 2 days, Captain Rigby anchored in between Vala Vala and the Slab. It makes a massive difference being able to post up next to 2 of the most consistent waves in PNG without another boat or land camp raining on your parade. You can paddle out whenever you want or ask for the JetSki to drop you right into the take off zone! I have done trips all over the world and I am yet to find any surf trip where the service is that good! Right now I’m sitting at the bow of the boat staring at the palm fringed beaches and mountains in the distant background. To my left is Vala Vala peeling down the reef with 3 people out and to my right is the slab with 4 people out, Peely floating in the lineup to get the barrel shot you have always dreamed about. They are so close you can hear them smack talking. Neil and Angie (deckhands) are on the JetSki’s running water, extra sunscreen and zinc to whoever wants it and captain undies is in the wheelhouse planning the afternoons session. Sounds like we could be heading to a swell magnet South of here called ‘two trees’.
The final round of T1 & T2 fishing challenge took place tonight and unfortunately we are going to have to call it a tie. Both boats landed 2 fish each which made for a great sashimi / SP party on Explorer tonight!
Day 9 – Well here it is, the final day of an epic trip…spending 10 days on a boat with 9 other absolute legends has been unforgettable! We started the final day with a surf at the slab and although the barrels weren’t quite as hollow as we would have liked we still managed to find our way out of some smaller fun ones. It also gave the less capable surfers a crack at getting into some memorable pipes.
We pulled anchor around 10am after chowing down on yet another amazing meal from chef Noah! We were headed for a famous dive site where an old Japanese war bomber lay rest. Being only 8m deep meant those who didn’t have a scuba ticket could free dive the site and everyone was amazed with what they saw. So much history and surrounded by amazing beauty.
Next stop was ‘the drift’. A narrow passage-way that dissects 2 islands with a naturally flowing current as the tide pushes out. This experience was like no other and the best way I could explain it is as simple as it sounds. You sit on your board with a beer with Peely and Undies dropping off beer top ups whenever you have an empty. There isn’t a football game, cricket game or anything in the world where you can get that kind of service. Are you kidding me!!! This was certainly one of the highlights of my trip and it didn’t involve cutbacks or barrels.
After the drift we headed back to port in Kavieng. That wasn’t without its positives either! Amazing scenery along the way and a good chance to trade contacts with your new group of mates. Captain Undies, Peely and all the crew kept the vibes high even though we would soon be saying our goodbyes…
Day 10 – We woke early, threw the boards on the truck and headed to Kavieng airport. It’s normally an early start if you want to get back to Australia same day. We said our final goodbyes to the PNG Explorer crew and although it was a sad moment, everyone was somewhat excited to get back home to see loved ones after a great trip away.
Thanks to the entire PNG Surfaris team.
Andrew and Jude Rigby
Chris Peel for his amazing photography skills
Noah for keeping us well fed and our taste buds tingling
Neil, Angie & PenPen for ripping us around on the tenders and jetskis whenever we wanted
Jane, Rebecca & Layla for keeping everything so clean, making amazing muffins and always laughing
I will be back!