Island immersion: a visit to the Duke of York Islands


Kate Webster journeys to the Papua New Guinea’s Duke of York Islands to experience life in a homestay.

The Duke of York Islands with a volcanic backdrop. Credit: Kate Webster

Nestled like precious gems in the embrace of the South Pacific, the Duke of York Islands offer an authentic off-grid experience.

Anchored in Papua New Guinea’s north-eastern waters, these islands boast a tapestry of vibrant island life, pristine shores where footprints are scarce, and traditions that have stood the test of time.

Among the island treasures is Maira Homestay – an immersive experience that lets you unravel the islands’ captivating history while being enveloped in warm Papua New Guinean hospitality.

My journey starts in PNG’s East New Britain Province, where I board a boat in Rabaul’s Simpson Harbour and set off across the water to the Bismarck Archipelago.

Passing the magnificent active volcanoes, the hour-long ride to St George’s Channel between New Britain and New Ireland islands is scenic, and we are joined by dolphins riding the bow wave and locals travelling around in their canoes.

The Duke of York Islands are more than just picturesque landscapes; they are a testament to the resilience and unity of the local people. Steeped in history, these islands were named after Prince Frederick, Duke of York, and have witnessed the passage of time from colonial eras to modern-day PNG.

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Arriving at Doy Island, I am greeted by the laughter and squeals of delight from the children of the village. They swing from overhanging tree branches, launching themselves into the water in acrobatic displays.

I’m met by Simon Robin, the owner of Maira Homestay and my host for the coming days. He walks me up the beach and into the lush gardens I have come to expect in the region, showing me to my room so I can offload my bag.

The traditional wooden hut is basic but has all I need. My bed is a thin mattress laid on the ground on top of a woven mat, with a sheet and a pillow provided. A mosquito net hangs over the bed from the ceiling.

Outside my hut, there is a separate toilet and shower, simple in set-up but a welcome sight as I was prepared to brace myself for jungle restrooms. A short walk down a jungle path from my hut is the kitchen hut and dining area.

The Maira Homestay experience isn’t just a visit; it enriches the soul through a community that embraces you with open hearts.

Once I have settled into the homestay, Robin joins me to discuss the activities on offer, from visiting the neighbouring island of Mioko Palpal, canoeing, snorkelling, shell money making, dolphin spotting, traditional masked dancing performances and more.

Opting for the snorkelling trip, at PGK10 per person, we head out to a reef off the neighbouring island. Under the glassy ocean surface there is thriving, vivid coral reef. The vibrant corals shelter an abundance of marine life. The kaleidoscopic colours and movement of fish are dazzling, and hours pass before I realise the sun is starting to go down.

Arriving back at Maira Homestay just as the sun dips beneath the horizon, casting golden hues on the waters, I am greeted by a delicious smell wafting from the dining hut. A feast of freshly caught fish, chicken and vegetables from the island await. Joined by Robin and some of his children, the dinner experience makes me feel like part of the family. Robin tells me stories about island life and the traditions they continue to pass down to the next generation.

As I lie in bed that night, reflecting on my day, I feel touched by the warmth of the village’s hospitality and willingness to invite me in to immerse myself in the rhythm of local life. My thoughts are broken by the sudden downpouring of rain, that soon turns from a deafening drenching to a light patter, and it lulls me off to sleep.

The energy from the villagers and how they bring it into their everyday lives is refreshing. As my time at Maira Homestay comes to an end, I farewell my newfound family in warm embraces. The Maira Homestay experience isn’t just a visit; it enriches the soul through a community that embraces you with open hearts.

Getting there

Boat transfers from Rabaul to Maira Homestay are PGK250 each way.

Staying there

PGK120 per night. Breakfast/lunch/dinner PGK15 per plate.


Simon Robin tel. +675 7932 0882,

This is an edited extract of an article first published in the November/December issue of Paradise, the inflight magazine of the Air Niugini.

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