PNG Dancers: Credit :Fairfax NZ News
LADIES AND gentlemen, if you would be so good as to take your wine glasses to the top deck, you will see a volcano erupting." The announcement from our captain, Jean-Pierre Ravanat, is barely finished before there's a stampede for the exits from the ship's restaurant.
It's a moonless night, and high above our heads a blade of red fire glows in the black sky. It's just possible to make out the silhouette of the cone as the volcano flares and dies, like a living, pulsing beast. A tongue of molten lava dribbles down its flanks until it disappears, swallowed in the dark of the sea.
We're travelling along the north coast of Papua New Guinea on day three of our expeditionary voyage aboard the MV Orion.
Papua New Guinea's dense rainforest hides poignant reminders of a brutal Second World War campaign, says Mark Stratton
Anthropologists adore Papua New Guinea. Most of this immense country remains blanketed by impenetrable tropical forests while its numerous indigenous tribes pursue rural subsistence lifestyles. Yet, running through much of the country, you find evidence of the Second World War – a conflict that remains exposed like an open wound.
"Two years ago near my village, a B-26 bomber was found in the jungle with six dead American crewman," said Rodrick Vane, my trekking guide. "The airmen were still strapped into the plane and American officials came and took them away for burial more than 60 years after they'd died."
I'd met Rodrick in Popondetta, the northern airport hub of the Kokoda Track – and the beginning of my journey through history. This year marks the 70th anniversary of fighting all along this route between Japanese and Australian soldiers. Having steamrollered through South-east Asia, the Japanese invaded northern Papua New Guinea in July 1942. They set off south along a jungle trail over the Owen Stanley Mountains of Kokoda towards the Australian-held capital, Port Moresby.
IN PAPUA New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, coral-ringed beaches, smouldering volcanoes and rainforest-covered mountains set the stage for unforgettable adventures.
* Exploring the landscape
Test your mettle on a 10-day trek following the steps of Australian Diggers along the Kokoda Track, or climb Highland peaks for a glimpse of both sparkling coasts on a clear day.
Prowl through jungle-clad scenery with village guides, en route to thundering waterfalls or in search of magnificently plumed birds of paradise.On the coast, hundreds of islands and atolls cry out for exploration. You can travel by slow-boat along pristine stretches of shoreline, staying overnight at peaceful villages.
* The life aquatic
The Solomon Islands and PNG are world-famous diving destinations, with excellent conditions most months of the year. Live-aboard boats and first-rate dive resorts provide access to sites far from the hordes. The waves are equally uncrowded for surf lovers, with fantastic reef, point and beach breaks scattered around the northern shores.
There's also fantastic fishing, with yellowfin tuna, mackerel, sailfish and Papuan black bass in abundance.
Click on the image below to go the Kokonda Tracking Authority Website