Duke of York Islands, Papua New Guinea

Photo: Oceania Expeditions

Papua New Guinea is one of the most undeveloped, unexplored countries in the world. For years, the Pacific nation was ruled by the Aussies. They didn’t venture very far beyond Port Moresby or its nearby coast. Until recently, wealth outside of the small capital was largely measured by land, pigs, and wives. The discovery of natural gas and mineral reserves started to change that on the island of New Guinea. Creativity was needed on the outer, smaller islands.

The Duke of York Islands lie in between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago. The Germans first arrived here in the second half of the 19th century to set up a trading settlement and a Methodist mission. Since the Karawara people practiced cannibalism, the newcomers didn’t fare well. Another German, author August Engelhardt, decided to try again at the beginning of the 20th century. He established a sun-worshipping colony, whose naked vegetarians believed that they could survive solely on coconuts. It, too, failed. So did the farms that the Japanese created during World War II. Allied aircraft made sure of that.

The low-lying coral islands have been largely ignored since then. Frequent earthquakes and tsunamis, courtesy of two tectonic plates pushing against each other beneath the islands, didn’t help. But the Karawaras, looking to generate new income, recently created the Kabakon Island Survivor Experience. They built a bungalow on Engelhardt’s former home, which is now used as a garden island. Guests get to catch fish from outrigger canoes, forage for tropical fruits, and learn about local rituals.

Don’t worry, the Karawaras no longer practice cannibalism. But they are up against climate change. Rising water levels already threaten the islands, which sit just 12 feet above sea level. Some residents have already been evacuated and resettled on larger, nearby islands. The trend is bound to continue unless dramatic policy changes are enacted.

This should matter to all travelers. While you may not be ready to plan a trip to the Duke of York Islands quite yet—let’s see how the Survivor Experience goes—you might want to in the future. Let’s hope the islands are still around when you’re finally feeling adventurous.

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