Culture is the main catalyst for unity amongst Bougainvilleans, as the autonomous region strives to be the newest country on the planet. Our South Bougainville – Siwai Cultural Show tour showcases that this is truly a land where history can not only be told, but can also be seen and touched.
From the scenes of turbulent WWII, to more modern-day history with the recent civil war surrounding the Panguna Mine, to the fight for independence to the rebirth and acknowledgement of their rich culture. Throw in a pinch of raw adventure and South Bougainville has it all. Witness experiences that few will see in their life. Play in the playground that was the location for so many clashes between the Japanese and the Allies in WWII. Think tanks, crumbled bunkers, artillery and shipwrecks. Home to pristine beaches, traditional headdresses and sing-sings, isolated micronations and a cultural show born out of cultural pride. This back-to-basics festival is a rare privilege for cultural purists. Forget the grandeur and opulence of the highland cultural shows, step back in time to a more humble, truly local cultural show. Bougainville has not always been the easiest place to access making it perfect for those seeking bragging rights of visiting a place your friends haven’t – let alone going to a cultural show that has never, until now, seen foreigners!
Welcome to South Bougainville! Upon arrival in Buka, you will be met and transfer deep into the province towards to the decommissioned Panguna Mine. Today, you simply drive by the mine – taking in the natural beauty that surrounds it, as you start to learn the background to its tumultuous history and the story of South Bougainville. We will return to explore it further on day four.
The Panguna Mine was the world’s biggest copper and gold mine when it was operational and still contains an estimated 5.3m tons of copper and 19.3m ounces of gold, which would make the reserves worth about $60bn at today’s prices. The mine has sat at the centre of the decade-long civil war between rebels in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, due to rising community anger at the environmental damage and the inequitable division of the mine’s profits. The locals forced the mine closed, blowing up Panguna’s power lines and sabotaging operations. The civil war claimed the lives of about 20,000 people and amplified calls for Bougainvillean independence which held a referendum in 2019 with an overwhelming 98% of the population calling for independence from Papua New Guinea.
Enroute, you will stop at a local village where you will witness the men wearing traditional Upei Headdresses – a domed shaped hat worn by young men at their initiation and marriage ceremonies which is unique to this area, so much so, that this tall hat features on the provincial flag! You will have an insight into village life here too, where it seems time has forgotten those here. Life is basic but happy. Hunter-gatherer practices are still the main way of obtaining food for the locals. Witness a traditional sing-sing or cultural performance.
Continue to your accommodation at Panakei Lodge which sits next to the showground of the Siwai Cultural Show. Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening to the sounds of a traditional bamboo band. (D)
3 nights Panakei Lodge or similar
Today is an exciting day! We set off to experience the Siwai Cultural Show. The Siwai Cultural Show began in 2021, as an initiative of the Siwai people. It is a celebration of the unique cultural, historical, and natural wonders of the Siwai District. It began as a post crisis relief to help people break through the calamity of the pandemic, and as change is pushed as Bougainville emerges from civil war, this show is an indicator of such change and people uniting, as they display their culture and traditions. The focus of culture is recognised as one of the most important assets in the country. Embrace the colours, the singing and dancing. The swishing of grass skirts, the power of the local patriotism. Such a young cultural show has so much energy and passion to fuel it – the privilege to be one of the first travellers to ever witness such a spectacle, will not go unnoticed. The chanting of voices, the stomping and thumping of bare feet on the dirt will hypnotise.
Whilst at the cultural show, we will seek permission and permits to experience something truly out of this world. If permitted, you will visit the Twin Kingdoms of Me’ekamui and Papaala and to greet Noah Missingku, reigning as King David Peii II. There are plenty of stories floating around about the king, but few have ever seen him, as he never leaves his island. What we do know, is that he adorns a 5kg gold crown on his head!
After the civil war ended and a peace agreement was signed, there were armed rebels who did not sign the agreement. One of the rebels’ fathers, the late Francis Ona, set up the Kingdom of Me’ekamui, which means ‘Holy Land’, in the Panguna Mine area and proclaimed it as a no-go zone. The now king (self proclaimed of course), sought refuge here with Ona after a failed money scheme forced him to leave Port Moresby. The king then set up his own Me’ekamui stronghold in Tonu, South Bougainville, naming it the Twin Kingdoms of Papaala and Me’ekamui, where he now resides in a remote, fortified stronghold and operates the International Bank of Me’ekaumi offering ‘first class financial solutions’.
From here, you will venture down another historical path. Drive to the fringe of the jungle before continuing on foot pprox.. 45mins to reach the World War II crash site of a military plane carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who masterminded the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour. Yamamoto’s plane was gunned down by allied forces in 1943, sending the Mitsubishi G4M ‘Betty’ crashing down into the thick jungle, after American code-breakers found out he was planning to visit troops stationed off Bougainville.
Yamamoto is the most exalted hero in the imperial Japanese navy’s history. He has been untainted by Japan’s defeat, and he’s been untainted by any hint of war crimes. He is still seen as a hero today in Japan.
Return to your accommodation. (B,L,D)
Return to the showground today for more traditional performances and embrace the rich culture and traditions on show. Chat to the locals from various tribes about their practices, their beliefs and their mythology. Each tribe has a different story. The atmosphere and the energy of the locals swaying and thumping to the local beat will intoxicate you.
Continuing on from the show, this afternoon, you will explore some of the Japanese bunkers from WWII, as well as some of the relics left behind. Visit Kangu Beach, where you will have an impressive view looking out towards the Solomon Islands.
If time permits, spend the afternoon at a local beach (bring your own snorkel). The coastline here is pristine, the water crystal clear and teaming with marine life. Go for a wander along the beach and simply soak in the serenity. The local village kids are quite curious and may come to frolic in the water with you. (B,L,D)
Departing at 8am this morning, it is time to head back towards the Panguna Mine site. This time, we will descend into the mine for a closer look. There are still certain areas which are off limits, so depending on the day, will depend on how close to the core we can get. The views of the sheer size of the mine are beyond impressive. It is not uncommon to see the locals fossicking for gold.
Continuing on, drive back to Buka and transfer by banana boat to Buka Island Town. Visit Hahela and Parliament House, which showcases a spectacular view across the Buka Passage, home to rusted, bulky shipwrecks from WWII. Transfer to your hotel. (B,L)
2 nights Destiny Guesthouse or similar
Today you will head down to the port and head out on a private boat for the day. The boat is basic – just like the boats the locals use to zip around the harbour and the islands, but it will take you to some of the most pristine and untouched islands not far from the mainland. Be sure to bring your snorkel (no rental options in Buka), as you spend the day exploring the spectacular underwater marine life, WWII wrecks or simply relaxing and strolling or lazing on the untouched islands. Lunch today will be a barbeque lunch on stunning White Island. (B,L)
This morning following breakfast, you will transfer to the airport for your flight back to Port Moresby (flight not included). On arrival, you will be met and transferred to the Grand Papua Hotel. This afternoon you may wish to visit the Nature Park where you can see some of Papua New Guinea’s endemic wildlife and exotic birds or perhaps visit the Boma War Cemetery. (B)
Overnight Grand Papua Hotel or similar
This morning you will transfer from the Grand Papua Hotel to Port Moresby for your onward flight. (B)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.