The Louisiade Archipelago is a cluster of islands extending east-south-east from the south-eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, approximately 500 nautical miles northeast from Cairns. They belong to the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea, which is administered from Alotau.
Proximity to Australia makes the Louisiades one of the most popular overseas cruising destination for Australian yachts, especially those making their first bluewater passage. After weeks of preparation and typically three to five days in the open ocean, yachts that make the crossing are rewarded with beautiful tropical islands surrounded by stunning coral reefs and crystal clear waters.
Development and Construction
Despite various attempted development over the years, most of the islands appear today as they would have centuries ago. Nivani Island shows the relics of a copra plantation and WWII military outpost, Kamatal Island hosted a slipway and boat repair facility in the early to mid 1900s, and Misima Island was the site of a successful gold mine until a few years ago, however the harsh seaside environment constantly raked by tradewinds combined with irrepressible tropical jungle quickly erodes and conceals anything left idle for too long. The only signs of development visible on most islands consist of small villages of huts constructed from local timber and palm thatch, and perhaps a communal rainwater tank with a tin roof for catchment.
The communities of the Louisiades are some of the most isolated in the world. They mostly live a subsistence lifestyle, growing fruit and vegetables in island gardens, keeping chickens and pigs, and catching fish and the occasional turtle from the waters around their islands. Each community also has its share of professionals and tradesmen such as teachers, the local magistrate, "shipwrights", and fishermen. These people also depend on their gardens for survival, as even public servants in this region cannot be sure that they will receive their pay from month to month - apart from which the only shops in the region are a day's journey by sailing canoe from most islands. It is also worth considering that the minimum annual wage in PNG is approximately 1,500 kina, and the average annual income is about 2,200 kina - about A$1,000.
In spite of their lack of wealth, the people of the Louisiades are some of the happiest, most content and hospitable folks that you are ever likely to meet. Although they recognise that yachties are, by their standards, billionaires, the vast majority are happy to trade the produce from their gardens in exchange for the things that they cannot produce themselves: clothing, tools, fishing line and hooks, sugar, soap, etc. Only once did we encounter an individual who was excessively demanding, but mostly we actually had the impression that if there was something we really needed from them, we only had to ask.
Click to view Slideshow from the 2009 Louisiades Rally
Health and Well-being
Medical services for the islands are limited to two hospitals staffed by nurses at Nimoa and Misima, and a few aid posts on the more populated islands. The aid posts consist of a person with very basic first aid training and a handful of dressings and penicillin tablets. For most islanders, the nearest hospital would be about 1 day's voyage by sailing canoe. Furthermore, they need to take their own food and a family member to prepare it.
The nurses conduct regular clinics around the islands to immunise expectant mothers against tetanus and administer certain childhood vaccines, however there is a limit to the procedures nurses are permitted to undertake. Patients requiring anything more complex than incision and drainage of wounds must be evacuated to Alotau where there is a doctor on staff. The journey from Misima to Alotau takes approximately 36 hours aboard the new Nimoa Island Ambulance.
Despite the best efforts of the local nurses, this communities still suffer from preventable diseases, malaria, and infant and maternal mortality are significantly higher than in the developed world.
Nevertheless, observing how happy these people can be living under relatively harsh conditions and with so little of the luxuries that we take for granted is a profoundly unforgettable experience.
Facts and Figures About Papua New Guinea
|Average Life Expectancy||57||80|
|Fertility Rate||4.4 births per woman||1.79|
|Infant Mortality Rate||57 per 1,000 live births||16.6|
|Child (<5) Mortality||75 per 1,000 live births||~36 (<4 years)|
|Maternal Mortality Rate||733 per 100,000 deliveries||11|