BOUGAINVILLE ISLAND, Papua New Guinea. A NASA photograph of the dark-colored caldera lake of the Billy Mitchell volcano (right) above an ash plume originating from Bagana volcano.
BUKA ISLAND, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. December 11th, 2019. On this date, thousands of local islanders turned up at voting booths, which a picture from CNN more accurately portrays as a simple, open, wooden structure with boxes and pens, and voted 98% for independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG).
The referendum, which the PNG government is expected to authorize and formalize in the coming months according to a press release from Travel Wires, would create the newest country on earth.
For passport collectors, the visa for the soon-to-be-country of Bougainville represents a lucrative prize, as the fledgling tourism industry is yet to take flight in the country, and it would almost mean exclusive travel bragging rights.
Getting there as reported by Public Radio International and CNN is a little tricky, but rewards the determined traveler with volcanoes, intense scenes of local culture, crafts, tradition, and unspoiled beaches with crystal blue waters ready for swimming, kayaking, and surfing.
How to get to Bougainville
A series of islands and atolls east of PNG and northwest of the Solomons, Bougainville consists of two major population centers — the islands of Buka and Bougainville, plus a number of other smaller islets.
Holding her status as an autonomous region after a civil war concluded in 2001, Bougainville nevertheless maintains good relations with PNG, with the larger island nation still being the primary port of entry to newcomers visiting the strange new country.
Papua New Guinea to Bougainville
Many countries can benefit from a simple visa on arrival program in PNG, and from Port Moresby, the capital where any international flights will arrive into, you can travel to Bougainville in two ways.
PNG Travel states that domestic flights arrive in Buka Island, the administrative capital of Bougainville from Port Moresby three times a week. Flights are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with the aircraft returning the same days.
One can also, according to CNN, hire a private boat to go to Bougainville, as there are no authorized or government ferry companies between PNG and Bougainville.
There is no formal border between the two countries, so for now you need not worry about obtaining a visa, but expect that to change if you catch wind that the referendum has been ratified.
Solomon Islands to Bougainville
It’s possible to get to Bougainville from their neighbors the Solomons as well, specifically the Shortland Islands chain in the Western Solomons.
Once there, a person can hire a boat just like in PNG, as there is no official ferry system.
Since the connection between PNG and Bougainville is much stronger, foreigners entering from the Solomons will need to go through customs and immigration, with CNN stating that Bougainville prefers that travelers make visa arrangements before departing the Solomons.
A young country
Cash is king in the developing world, and WiFi, hard internet, and ATMs are all limited. The local currency is shared, at least for now, with PNG — the kina, with 10 kina equaling about $3.
In Bougainvilles there are many languages, but English is broadly understood at a medium level. Still a traveler should be ready with their hand gestures.
The Buka Passage divides Buka from Bougainville Island. Local boats will ferry passengers across for a small fee, but within the young country, no official ferry or charter companies exist that will allow you to easily plan a trip around a timetable.
Like many of the world’s best beach destinations, Bougainville will require a bit of daring to reach, but literally no one knows how worthwhile it could be, and that’s the fun part!
Continue exploring this topic — Capri, Ischia, or Procida: Which of Naples Islands Should You Visit