Having secured a job in Port Moresby it was then necessary to get there. Knowing that the last couple of weeks in Belfast were scheduled with “the client from hell” I decided that a few days stopover en-route to PNG were necessary. In any case then, as now, there were no direct flights from Belfast to PNG (I wonder why?) so I had to change planes somewhere!
Basically I had to get to somewhere in Asia or Australia with connections to PNG. In those days, again as now, the only major airlines flying servicing PNG were the national airline, Air Niugini, and QANTAS from Australia. I discounted going via Australia as there would be plenty of time for that later and having looked at Air Niugini schedules I decided on a few days stopover in Manila as I knew return trips to Europe, work and holidays would take me to the other Air Niugini destinations later. The accountant in me also veered me towards Manila as well as it was Air Niugini’s most expensive routing from PNG and I wasn’t paying this time round!
I have absolutely no recollection of how I got to Manila (except that there was a refueling stop in the Middle East – Abu Dhabi as I recall). I do however have very clear recollections of Manila.
I recall being amazed at the beautiful sunset over Manila Bay and my guided tour of the Chinese Cemetery. Yes, Dear Reader the buildings you see in the picture below are tombs and not houses while the second picture is of a rather younger Rambling Wombat sitting at the bar inside one of the larger tombs. From what I read the cemetery is rather run down these days.
My biggest surprise, or was it shock, in Manila awaited me at the airport. Having made my way to the departure lounge I looked out the window and was confronted by a plane almost completely covered by a bird. This was my first sighting of an Air Niugini plane – and my first realisation that I was really bound for the Pacific. I had, a year or two earlier, encountered planes covered in pictures in the Caribbean and considered them rather tacky. I felt the same about this one from PNG and welcomed myself to the developing world.
I soon learned that in PNG the Tok Pisin word for aeroplane was ‘balus’ which also meant pigeon (or bird more generally). Not so many years earlier and certainly within living memory the Highlands of Papua New Guinea were being explored by westerners. Given the terrain much of this exploration was done by overflying areas by plane. Locals, unfamiliar with such devices, likened them to birds and referred to them as such – the name stuck. This explains the consequential painting of much of the Air Niugini’s fleet in a ‘balus’ livery. Picture one is a model in this livery.
Very shortly after my arrival Air Niugini decided to modernise itself and out went the balus livery and in came the rather more slick designs of later years, my favourite of which is depicted below (circa 1990).
Today Air Nuigini flies to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Honiara, Fiji and a number of ports in Australia – with Fiji and Kuala Lumpur not being serviced in my time there.
Current flight details can be found at http://www.airniugini.com.pg with additional flights to and from Australia at http://www.qantas.com . Be warned though that the Air Niugini – QANTAS monopoly have not partaken of the trend among airlines elsewhere to discount flights. Also English readers should be aware that when your bags get labeled POM this refers to the Port Moresby airport’s designation code and is not an attempt to insult you!
In terms of quality both airlines are of a high quality and I have no problems recommending either.
Air Niugini has a significant network within Papua New Guinea.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a couple of years living and working in Papua New Guinea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Leave Your suit and Tie at Home – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Papua New Guinea – Personal Memories.