Article | Ten Must Do Bougainville Experiences. The moment you touch down and adjust your watch to Bougainville time (one hour after PNG time), an adventure unlike no other, of volcanoes, waterfalls, caves, WW2 relics, island hopping, and snorkelling begins.
There’s heaps to explore, so here’s a list of Ten Must Do Bougainville Experiences to help you dive straight into planning your trip
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Stay a night or two (…or five) on Pokpok Island
There’s something truly magical about Pokpok Island, children splashing and giggling in the shallows, chickens roaming the beach, and hornbill and white cockatoos flapping in the trees overhead.
The island gets its name for being the shape of a crocodile, not because it’s a haven for them, and Uruna Bay Retreat is the perfect place to kick back and soak up Pokpok. The reef right off the beach, where you can snorkel over 3 feet giant clams, shoals of inquisitive fish and curious reef sharks. Then head off kayaking in the sheltered bay, explore nearby islands like Arovo Island, or hop in a banana boat with your host and catch your dinner hand-line fishing.
Accommodation is a 3-bedroom beachside house with kitchen and bathroom, or two smaller wooden bungalows, both with rustic ensuite bathrooms, and all just 30 seconds from the water’s edge.
For bookings contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trek overnight in the mountains of Rotokas
To delve a little deeper into the forest-covered mountains of Bougainville you’ll need a couple of days, a passion for adventure, and an experienced guide, and there’s no one more knowledgeable than Rotokas Ecotourism to organise your trip.
Hike up to the village of Sisivi and enjoy a local welcome as you stay overnight in a village style house, then continue your trek onwards for a full-on day of waterfalls and caves hiding deep within Bougainville’s lush forest canopy. Get set to wade through rivers, tread up cascades on grippy, porous volcanic rock, and maybe even climb the vines to the entrance of the Ukoto caves.
Or perhaps scaling a volcano is more your style? With smouldering Mount Bagana to the south and Bougainville’s highest peak, Mount Balbi to the north, Rotokas Ecotourism organises treks up both where you can pitch a tarp or tent amongst the jungle on an epic 2-3 day camping adventure like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
For bookings and more information, visit: https://rotokasecotourism.com
Spend a day island hopping
Bougainville offers a plethora of delightful islands just waiting to be explored with the biggest challenge is getting to them, which just adds to the adventure!
In Buka, ask around the boat stop to find someone to take you to White Island, Christmas Island or Sun Island. If you’d rather not venture quite as far, Sohano Island is less than 5-minutes away and can be circumnavigated on foot in about an hour.
In Arawa, ask at your guesthouse for suggestions of islands to explore and how best to arrange a boat. For something a little different, Metora Island, 30 minutes from Arawa, is a tiny, ever shifting sand island, where birds take a well-earned rest and thousands of hermit crabs do what hermit crabs do.
Visit a village
Expect to see children playing, cockerels crowing, and smoke bellowing from outdoor haus cooks and a warm welcome. With the majority of Bougainvilleans living in villages, you might say a visit to one is the best way to see and experience every day life in Bougainville.
There are several village stays offering overnight tourist accommodation, including Pidia Village Mini Guest Haus outside of Arawa, where you can paddle an outrigger canoe, take a walk at low tide around the stunning peninsula, get a hands-on lesson in making the local delicacy of tama tama – a sweet treat of cooked taro, cassavas and bananas, often reserved for special occasions and visitors – or just chill out and enjoy taking turns with the local pikinini at splashing off the rope swing into the sea.
Or, if you are staying in a guesthouse in Buka, Arawa or Buin, check with them to see if they can help arrange a day trip to one of the many villages nearby. A visit will need to be organized ahead of time by someone who has a close connection to the community, so it’s best to discuss the possibilities with your guesthouse in advance of your trip.
To book overnight at Pidia Guesthouse: look up the Pidia Village Mini Guest Haus Facebook page and send them a message.
Wander the local markets and small stores of Buka, Arawa and Buin
The marketplace is the hub of town, an explosion of chit chat, colour and neatly organised produce in small heaps, from spikey red rambutan, to the always present banana, taro and kaukau. There are also treats like fried fish to munch for lunch, and of course, there is plenty of buai – a betel nut that’s chewed with crushed lime and mustard as a stimulant – available throughout all of Bougainville.
The main market in Buka operates every day except Sunday, Arawa opens 4 days a week Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Buin market, twice a week on Thursday and Saturday mornings. Smaller markets are available 7-days a week all over Bougainville.
Also spend a couple of hours wandering around the many small stores. It’s a great way to mingle and get to know a few people. Plus, they’re a treasure trove of unknown quantities, from second-hand clothing, to ice-cream cones, to packets of Em Nau crackers for a snack on the go.
Go snorkelling – off the beach, off the boat, or off the islands
Papua New Guinea offers incredible snorkelling, and Bougainville is no exception. There are many top snorkelling destinations, and most of them you can have all to yourself! Gaze upon graceful angelfish, anemonefish protecting their patch, and shoals of shimmering neon blue, yellow and silver damselfish.
The islands off Arawa, including Pokpok Island as well as the outer reef, offer particularly magical snorkelling spots. Your boat skipper will be able to advise the best spots in the area. In Buka, organize a trip out to White Island, Christmas Island or Sun Island.
Take in a sing sing or bamboo band performance
People come from far and wide to experience a colourful sing sing or the hypnotic beats of bamboo bands at big festivals in Papua New Guinea. In Bougainville, you might get the chance to watch a performance in a smaller, more intimate setting, which is something to be treasured forever.
Look out for public holiday celebrations and other advertised general public events in Buka and Arawa, where a sing sing or bamboo band is often included. Performance-focused events include the Reeds Festival (bi-annual) and Cool Culture Competition (annual), held in Arawa around mid-year.
Catch a lift in a public motor vehicle (PMV)
Travelling via Bougainville’s PMV fleet of open back trucks and 10-seater Landcruisers is the most common method of transport throughout the island. The main and largely unpaved road snakes its way along the east coast, sandwiched between the Crown Prince Ranges and the Pacific Ocean. It’s undeniably bumpy but a gorgeous drive.
There’s never a dull moment on a PMV trip – stopping off at market stalls for a bunch of peanuts, replacing a flat tyre, and responding to the many waves from people you pass by. Plus, with Bougainvilleans being super welcoming, you and your travelling companions will all have shared a few stories by the time you wave goodbye.
PMV’s from Arawa going north to Buka depart around 5-6AM, Monday to Friday, arriving at Buka at approximately 10AM and cost a standard rate of 60 Kina per person. They can be booked in advance and pick-up at your guesthouse.
PMV’s from Buka going south to Arawa depart around mid-day, depending on how long it takes to fill up with passengers; arriving in Arawa around 5PM and cost 60 Kina per person. Bookings are not necessary, instead simply take a 2-minute banana boat ride across Buka Passage to Kokapau, and then select your PMV of choice.
Explore WW2 Relics
Bougainville offers visitors the chance to see rarely seen WW2 relics hiding in the bush, including Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M ‘Betty’ plane in the Buin District.
An insightful local guided trip to Rigu Lagoon, 20 minutes from Arawa, provides a look at Japanese trenches, machinery and other artefacts, as well as a chance to hear fascinating stories about the lagoon itself. From Buka Island a short 5-minute boat ride takes you to Sohana Island, a WW2 Japanese seaplane base, which can be circumnavigated by foot in less than an hour, with no guide required.
Think about staying longer-term and volunteering in Bougainville
There’s no better way to truly experience a destination like Bougainville than staying for a longer period of time. It enables you to get involved with community initiatives, make friends and really get a feel for day-to-day life. Volunteering organisations present in Bougainville include VSA from New Zealand, AVI from Australia, and Horizont 3000 from Austria.
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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