The drums started before sunrise. As National Geographic Orion’s first trip of the day departed the ship at 4:00 a.m. (yes, you read that right!) for a morning birder’s tour, the local villagers of Manus Island lined the walkway from the beach to greet them. Or so I was told — along with most of the ship who wanted a bit more of a sleep-in, I came ashore just before 8:00 a.m. The performers expertly performed Manus Island’s regionally-famous hip-thrust dance to the beat of two thunderous drums. A local resident mentioned that she and her family came running to the pier as soon as they heard the distinctive drumbeat — it marked a celebration as National Geographic Orion became the first ship to visit the island since the onset of COVID in early 2020.

The focal points this morning were the island’s lush forests — including a set of limestone pools that were once the legendary home of two mermaids — and crowded Manus market. The market was overflowing with local dresses, bags, and dozens of varieties of island fruits, vegetables, sugarcane, and other staples. To beat the tropical heat (a balmy 31C/88F and 85% humidity), later in the afternoon we visited an incredibly vibrant coral reef extending along the coast of neighboring M’Buke island for snorkeling and diving. A lucky few stragglers on the last boats before sunset were treated to a few more gifts from the island: visits by friendly island locals bearing fresh coconuts, a pod of spinner dolphins, a Bryde’s whale, and the elusive green flash as the sun dipped below the horizon! I just missed the flash … I guess we’ll have to spend a few more days along the northern coast of Papua New Guinea and try again?