Sunday 30 October 2022

From On Board: Heritage Expeditions in Melanesia - Nissan Island, Bougainville

#expeditioncruising .

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Again, on the gorgeous island of Nissan in the Green Islands of Bougainville, we are presented with the perfect tropical hideaway.

Our Zodiacs land amid an enthusiastic throng of Balil villagers, bedecked in grasses and facepaint and singing loudly in high, melodious tones. The coral sand beach is framed magnificently by giant, centuries-old hardwood trees which provide cooling shade from the relentless sun.

Scary mask dance (RE)

We are welcomed in the exuberant fashion that is becoming quite familiar to us all throughout the region. I recall visiting here in 2006 with Coral Expeditions and vividly remember the warmth of the people and their angelic singing.

Godfrey and Isadora (RE)
The ensuing performance includes a visit by comical masked spirits from the forest. Their appearance is supposed to appease frightened children and remind them to stay close to home and not wander.

During WWII, Nissan was initially occupied by Japanese forces and then by a joint US/NZ garrison who ousted the Japanese and later built a large base and airfield. Richard Nixon was even stationed here at one time and saw visits from Bob Hope and Jack Benny.

Cordelia and Rachel (RE)
Today Nissan faces a whole new challenge with rising sea levels, unpredictable rainfall and more intense storms. Like the other islands we visited, rain has been absent for several months and the AUSAID rainwater tanks are less than half full.

“Fresh water is an issue for us,” Sylvia the district administrator tells me, “we have no rivers, so we must rely on rainwater and a few wells.”

Sylvia also mentions their ongoing need for medical supplies and school material. We have gone some way to address this with several boxes literally bursting with textbooks donated by New Zealand children.

Transportation also presents an ongoing challenge as the only air operator is a small private airline from Port Moresby and infrequent calls by island trading vessels who will deliver goods and collect the island's copra export. The “big sickness” currently means no traders call.

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