A Visual Tour of Panguna in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

Article | A Visual Tour of Panguna in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea | 2018. In August 2018 I visited the town and mine of Panguna in Central Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. During my time living, supporting and promoting tourism in the nearby town of Arawa, I had passed through Panguna on one occasion. It was during a trip to the West Coast, but it was a fleeting visit, and nothing quite like this visit to Panguna and surroundings. I was invited on a tour with a local police officer and his colleagues who grew up and lived in the area, so they knew it very well. It was an offer too good to refuse and a real privilege to experience Panguna before leaving Bougainville in late 2018.

The road which winds up to Panguna.

As you pass the manned roadblock at Morgan’s Junction, the sealed yet pot hole prone road is lined in dense, vivid bush and snakes its way steeply up towards the highpoint before descending into Panguna township. The ears pop as we reach the highpoint and we spot the township far below on our left; a few people can be seen going about their day and a couple of vehicles cruising around. Our 4WD weaves and winds its way down passing the occasional passenger truck which are full to the brim with standing people heading towards nearby Arawa in the opposite direction. 

Looking towards town and the old mess building.

Political art of times gone by?

An old structure no longer in use.

The Mess. An old canteen for the workers in Panguna.

A sight of Panguna town.

We spend the next 4 hours exploring Panguna town, a small bustling marketplace, a pre-school and many structures, and chat with people who greet us in Tok Pisin with a beaming smile. We buy a couple of coconuts from the marketplace, which are expertly opened with a large bush knife by our guide for the morning, and we drink the coconut water. A number of shy children watch our every move at the market and run off giggling when we try to talk to them in Tok Pisin. After a short while we head off to look at ‘the mess’, an old dis-used canteen for the Panguna workers, which is now just a steel structure and concrete pad. From this viewpoint we can see a number of other structures and buildings in the distance, some lived in, some long ago abandoned.

A small Panguna fruit and vegetable market.

An old structure and existing homes.

Panguna homes.

Hanging out the washing.

Volley courts and structures in the distance

We continue a short distance and gaze upon an old swimming pool surrounded by the Bougainville bush, a volleyball court in surprisingly good condition with nets, and even a building which was once the cinema. We listen to stories of how popular the facilities used to be. Many people had sent me messages and shared their fond memories and stories of the swimming pool in particular, and to see it in person with those stories fresh in my mind really helped to visualise what it must have once been like. 

The swimming pool changing rooms.

The swimming pool entrance and changing rooms.

An outdoor swimming pool.

A short while later, crossing through a man-made canal / waterway we approach the edge of the old copper mine itself and pull over for a better look. The sides of the mine are terraced and remind me of a previous visit to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. A very odd and unexpected sight indeed. The bright green pool at the pit’s base stands out and even looks somewhat idyllic from a distance.

Panguna mine with the green pit in the distance.

Heading into Panguna pit.

We slowly head down in the 4WD on the loose gravel track, passing half buried trucks on the way, people digging for gold and other minerals, and a number of small homes. Eventually, we cross a dried river bed of large stones carefully guided by a family from a nearby house and approach the green / blue-ish pool of Panguna. I feel nervous. I’m not too sure why. As I stand there I recall numerous stories about Panguna which I have been told during my time in Bougainville and being here now really brings them to life. As we walk around the water’s edge it feels oddly peaceful, as birds sing, the breeze whips across the surface and a gentle humming of a nearby water pump can be heard moving water to an  unknown destination. The water is clear for quite a metre or so before the good visibility changes to darkness. There’s a small hut perched at the water’s edge on the opposite bank. 

As deep into Panguna mine as we can go…

A HUGE electric crane.

An old mini bus now home to Panguna ferns.

Panguna, Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

After nearly two-years living in the town of Arawa supporting the development of tourism in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, to experience and hear stories from an area which holds so much historical significance to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville was a real honour. Thank you. 

I hope you enjoy the photographs and they bring back some happy memories. If you recognise any of these Panguna landmarks and have a story to share, please feel free to do so in the comments. I would love to hear them!

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Ready, Steady, Go

Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, a content creator, who calls New Zealand home, who is currently living in the young nation of Timor Leste sharing my love for adventure through videos, photography and written articles.

Follow me and my adventures, both big and small, via my website https://www.travelinspired.co.nz and other social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram & YouTube Channel

A little more about me… As well as a content creator, I am also a full-time volunteer through New Zealand’s VSA supporting the development of tourism in Timor Leste. I have also recently lived and worked in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea supporting the promotion of small-scale tourism.

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  1. Wow that certainly brings back some memories. I remember going to Panguna pools for our school swimming carnival and how much colder it was,jumping into that icy water was something I will never forget. But the canteen had the best hot chips so that made it better. I’m not sure the road to panguna was much better back in the 80’s cause it was just as scary and pot hole ridden. Thankyou for sharing those photo’s it makes me sad to see it like this. Best place on earth to grow up.

  2. Pingback: GO Bougainville: The 2-week Itinerary & Travel Guide

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