Dukes & Dugongs – The Duke of York Islands

From Kokopo we motor across the channel for a couple of hours to the Duke of York islands. There are 13 islands in this group, all low-lying coral atolls.  Apparently in 2000 many of the inhabitants were re-located to the surrounding larger islands of New Britain and New Ireland due to fears of rising sea-levels, but there’s still a thriving community here and it’s a popular spot for day-trips from Kokopo.

We’ve been warned that the most popular anchorage off Mioko Island is also very busy with lots of banana boats zooming around, and the local village demands anchoring fees from visiting yachts.  We don’t mind supporting the local economy, but we’re in need of a few more days of peace and quiet so we opt to follow in the footsteps of our good cruising buddies, Rehua, and drop the anchor off the SE corner of Ruruan Island.

There’s no sign of the islands namesake Prince Andrew (or Fergie for that matter) but as soon as the anchor’s down we see a family of dugongs in the bay. How special! They’re notoriously shy creatures so they keep their distance and unfortunately we don’t get any decent pictures of them, either above or below the surface. 

This is the best we could do to snap the elusive dugongs!
A beautifully tranquil spot
Dawn breaks over the Duke of Yorks
Here comes the sun..

It’s a spectacular place with clear water and lots of coral which I’m sure would be lovely to snorkel over, but I have to stay out of the water due to a cut on my toe which is causing me some grief.  It’s very easy in tropical climates for small cuts and sores to become major problems so I’ve started a course of antibiotics and have to keep it dry. It’s frustrating but necessary, and hopefully will be cleared up by the time we get to the outer islands where we’ll want to do some diving.

It’s a very peaceful spot here — people wave as they go past and a few of the locals come by to look at the boat but aren’t particularly interested in trading. Mostly they’re busy with fishing or collecting coconuts, so we’re left to our own devices.

Every day we check the weather forecasts hoping for some wind to get us north, but at the moment there’s not a breath of wind so we sit tight.  After a couple of days people paddle by and start to ask if we’re OK – “yes, we’re fine, just waiting for wind”! 

Paul, an elder from the neighbouring Ulu Island paddles out and tells us that he charged an anchoring fee of $400 Kina (Aus $200) to the last boat that was here. What?!! It turns out it was one of the big cruise ships that come here twice a month.  Thankfully we settle on a much more reasonable $20 Kina and everyone’s happy.

Stunning sunsets

Finally the forecast gives us a faint hope of some wind on the weekend, so we’ll try our luck getting out of here. We’re still undecided about stopping at Manus Island. It’ll depend on whether we get good enough wind to keep going to the Hermit Islands, or whether we’ll need to top up our fuel if we end up having to motor for a lot of the way. Either way, it’s another adventure…

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