The privately owned Conflict Islands is a coral atoll located 152 kilometres from the tip of Papua New Guinea. Comprising 21 uninhabited islands, which were once part of an oceanic volcano, the destination is exclusive to P&O Cruises -- the first cruise line to ever call here after negotiations with its owner, Australian entrepreneur Ian Gowrie-Smith.
Passengers disembark onto a paradise of crystal clear blue waters lapping white sandy beaches. Sheltered by an untouched reef system, the island is abundant with marine life and perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.
What sets Conflict Islands apart from other Papua New Guinea stops is the resort feel. Sandy walkways are groomed and manicured, beach chairs are available to hire, a bar serves chilled beers and slushy cocktails, a food stand sells Western-style food such as satay sticks and salads.
As well as spending the day floating in the water or reading a book under the shade of a tree, there is also an activities desk where stand-up paddleboards, transparent sea kayaks and glass bottom boat tours can be arranged at a fee. For a free activity, follow the walkways through lush green jungle that takes you to an airstrip and gardens where fresh produce is grown. The ultimate goal is for the island to be self-sufficient and serving only vegan food.
The Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative runs projects to protect the environment and marine life, with a special interest in turtles, rays and sharks. Cruise passengers can visit the turtle hatchery as part of a P&O shore excursion.
The Conflict Islands surround a deep blue lagoon, where ships can anchor and tender passengers to the pier. A second pier has been built on the other side of the island so that visits are less likely to be cancelled due to wind and sea conditions. The tender service takes about 15 minutes to reach Panasesa Island. There is no wheelchair access along the jetty or on the sandy island.
The weather in this part of the Coral Sea is unpredictable and not many cruises made it to land in the first season in 2016, but a second jetty was built in 2018 to ensure ships can always access the island. Take care when swimming or snorkelling; although the water is shallow around the reef, there is a sudden drop-off and a strong undertow when away from the shore.
Prices are displayed in AUD but payment is made using vouchers. Australian dollars and Papua New Guinean Kina can be exchanged for vouchers at a stand on the island. The vouchers can be used for food, drinks, hire of water sports equipment and glass bottom boat tours. Purchase wisely as you cannot get a refund on unused vouchers.
All island staff speak and understand English as well as PNG Pidgin.
An open-air market stall is set up near the vouchers stand, and other stalls are located along the central walking track to the other side of the island. Souvenirs include local handicrafts such as weaved mats, wooden dolphins, jewellery, t-shirts, soaps, lotions and large sea shells. The souvenirs are priced significantly higher than sold at the markets at other Papua New Guinea port stops. However, as this is most likely the last PNG stop, there's no other option but to purchase at inflated prices to get rid of your local currency.