The chance to help set up a new library took Philippa Robinson to the lush, green land of PNG.
Why did you move to the city?
I moved to Arawa, Bougainville, on a 12-month Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) assignment.
What do you do there?
I am library management adviser at the new public library in Arawa - a joint initiative between the Bougainville Heritage Foundation (based in Arawa) and the Bougainville Library Trust (based in Wellington, chaired by Lloyd Jones, author of Mister Pip).
My objectives were to set up the "haus stori" (library) and cultural centre alongside my local counterpart. We are now working on getting writing workshops, arts and crafts workshops and an oral history project up and running.
What do you like/dislike about it?
I love the beauty. In Arawa we are lucky to have mountains on one side and the sea on the other. The market and produce here is fantastic and the people are wonderful - very friendly and kind. Frustrations are that things get done when they get done! The systems do work, it just takes time.
How does the cost of living compare to New Zealand?
Day-to-day living here is very cheap. The locally produced goods are very affordable. However, anything that is imported can be expensive.
What do you do on weekends?
Walk into the mountains for river swims, or cycling out to Kieta Wharf for a swim and snorkel in the sea. There are many smaller islands off Arawa so we have occasional day-trips for fishing, swimming, and exploring.
What do you think of the food/what is your favourite thing to eat there?
The food here is amazing! Typical tropical fare: paw paw, mango, coconut, local greens and fish are all staples. My new favourite food is the galip nut. These are about the size of an almond and as versatile.
What's the best way to get around the city?
Walking or cycling. There are local buses which travel to villages outside of the main town but there is little or no transport within town. Public transport on the weekends is limited and irregular so having a bike is best.
What's the shopping like?
There are small trade stores on every street and two main supermarkets. It is often a topic of conversation as to what is new, or missing, from the shops. When a shipment comes in there are usually text messages from the volunteers/expats letting each other know which store has flour, which has milk, etc...
What's the nightlife like?
Quiet knock-offs on the balcony at 5pm with other Kiwis/expats, evening strolls to chirps of "good night" from everyone you meet and the odd rave/boxing match at 3Rocks - the only bar in town!
What is your favourite part of the city?
The "haus win" (veranda) at the library - I love sitting here looking across the road to the park and watching people go by, or the students from the neighbouring high school do their work under the coconuts palm. And the river - the water is clear and cold and the bush is lush and green, it reminds me a little of rivers in New Zealand.
What time of year is best to visit, and why?
If you like a hot, humid climate any time of year is good. Try and time your visit for the Buka and Goroka Shows in August and September. These are both great for seeing cultural performances and for buying local arts and crafts.
What's your must-do thing for visitors?
The new public library! Read about the history of Bougainville, or ask the friendly informative staff. Take a book outside and sit in the reading fale and get a close up look at the woven panels, design of the building and natural air-con. Or, walk up to the old water tower for the view over Arawa and out to the sea, organise a boat across to Pidea (where they filmed Mr Pip) or Pok Pok Island.
What are your top tips for tourists?
Remember that Bougainville is considered a post-conflict society, but don't let it put you off. Have a look at the new tourism website, created with help by another VSA volunteer: www.bougainville.travel.
Tee-up a hiking trip with Rotokas Ecotourism Group. The company covers several hiking tracks including Numa Numa, Mt Balbi (Bougainville's highest peak), Mt Baganar, Lake Billy Mitchell and the Benua caves (some of the largest caves in the southern hemisphere).
This group is locally owned and operated and is set up to ensure all members of the community in the trekking area benefit from tourism.
How easy is it for you to get back to New Zealand?
A 3am start and a three-hour drive by PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) from Arawa up to Buka, then a flight to Auckland - via Port Moresby and Brisbane. Sounds pretty easy but scheduling flights often means a night in Buka and a night in Port Moresby so it can take three days to get home.
If you know an expat who wants to share the inside knowledge on their home away from home, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Expat in the subject line.
- Sunday Star Times