It is my second day, and first time, in Australia’s nearest neighbour. After an encearingly shambolic welcome “sing-sing”, the men of Noipus are demonstrating the “whipping ceremony” an initiation ritual that involves one man cracking a two-metre-long solid reed across the upraised arm of another. Each crack reverberates like a rifle shot and I’ve noticed even the locals flinch as they take their turn.

It is this that I have, literally, put my hand up for (something about “when in Noipus) and I have serious doubts that the protection offered me – a mouthful of chewed-up leaves and coral lime spat onto my wrist in a green band – will offer any protection at all.

Using the full weight of his muscled body, my initiator belts the stick unerringly across the thin green shield on my arm. It wraps completely around my wrist and then snaps, the force of it like a concentrated punch. It hurts, though not as much as I feared. To complete the theatre I pause for a moment, arm still in the air, then fall face first on the ground. Laughter. Applause. Am I initiated?

An hour later, what had been a red welt on green skin, has entirely disappeared and, with it, all trace of pain.

Over the next 10 days I will discover that Papua New Guinea has other skins, each a cause for wonder.

I’m aboard TRUE NORTH, a luxury Australian cruise ship built to take no more than 36 passengers to remote wilderness areas. A charted jet has flown us north from Cairns to Kavieng, the Capital of New Ireland Province, which lies 860 kilometres north-east of Port Moresby. From here for the next 11 days, we will sail south, then due west, along the Bismarck Archipelago, through the Admiralty Islands and finally, to Papua New Guinea’s most remote territories, the Hermit and Ninigo islands, before turning south once more for the mainland and the tribes of the Sepik River.

The first week is a checklist of tropical clichés. White sand? Check. Palm-fringed islands? Check. Reckitt’s-blue seas clear to the bottom? Check. Pristine coral reefs? Check. Volcanic peaks and craters? Again, check. Sunsets to make a poet weep? Check.

To read the full article please click here: Gourmet Traveller, Andrew Denton Feb 2014

Read more: Sepik Soiree – PNG & Sepik River Cruise

Andrew Denton Last Seen in the Sepik GT Feb 2014

Andrew Denton Bay Watch GT Feb 2014