Discover the Secrets of Melanesia

Exploring Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu aboard the Heritage Adventurer


Uncover the hidden gems of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu as you cruise into a world few ever experience—idyllic islands and isolated villages where unique time-honored traditions and elaborately costumed dancers welcome you into their world. From the culturally rich Sepik River, sail across the Bismarck Sea exploring remote shores and villages still living traditional lifestyles, and delve into the history, culture, and wildlife of New Ireland and New Britain. Crossing the Buka Channel at Nissan Island, you’ll see reminders of intensive World War II action, then enter a long-isolated world as you are among the first travelers to return to Bougainville in more than two decades. Sailing through the turquoise waters of the Solomon Islands, new vistas and unexpected encounters await. Discover one of the conservation jewels of the South Pacific on Tetepare Island, while villagers on culturally-rich Malaita Island still make and use traditional Malaitan shell-money as a dowry and wear it as a status symbol. Experience a kaleidoscope of cultures as you explore Vanuatu, where more than 100 indigenous languages are spoken. With over 80 habitable islands, islanders have closely guarded their own cultures and languages. 

Throughout Melanesia there are spectacular reefs, which are home to masses of fish and coral gardens of every color. These waters offer some of the greatest marine diversity and snorkeling in the world and you this ocean aquarium is waiting to be explored and discovered. For birders, this itinerary offers once-in-a-lifetime species on remote, hard to reach islands. The birding potential is exceptional; highlights may include the superb pitta and, endemic to the Solomon Islands, the Roviana rail, Solomon sea eagle, and Vanuatu’s Vanikoro white-eye.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Day 1, Oct 23, 2023
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Arrive in Papua New Guinea’s sprawling capital Port Moresby and transfer to your hotel where you will spend the first night of the expedition. This evening meet with your fellow travelers and the expedition team over dinner at the resort.

Day 2, Oct 24, 2023

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before your flight to Madang, the picturesque peninsula surrounded by islands and waterways. Madang is a thriving community renowned for its traditional artists, world-class diving opportunities, and the richness of its surrounding forests. Enjoy a Madang and Environs tour upon arrival, which includes a visit to the Coastwatchers’ Memorial Light at Kalibobo, Madang museum, and Bilbil Village before returning to Madang to explore the markets. Boarding your ship, you will have time to settle into your cabin and familiarize yourself with the ship; you will also be introduced to your expedition team and the voyage plans. You are invited to join the expedition team in the Observation Lounge and up on the Observation Deck as the ship sets sail for the Sepik River.

Day 3, Oct 25, 2023
Sepik River

Sure to be one of the highlights of the expedition, the expedition team has allowed plenty of time to fully appreciate this remarkable river, its birds, animals and the people that call it home. The Sepik River, the longest in Papua New Guinea, flows from the highlands to the Bismarck Sea. It is a rich arterial river that has fostered great traditional artists. You will explore the river by Zodiac, following tributaries and channels in search of local wildlife. Enjoy a warm welcome at Kopar Village where you will experience village life and a traditional Dragon Dance unique to this region. Bring along plenty of the local currency (kina) to purchase unique carvings directly from the artists.

Day 4, Oct 26, 2023
Manus Island

Seldom visited and little known, Manus Island is considered a jewel in the crown of Papua New Guinea. Biologically isolated, the Manus Province is home to a high proportion of endemic species and your stop here is likely to be a birding highlight. Once the location of a detention center, part of Australia’s “Pacific Solution,” life on Manus Island continues according to traditional customs. Comprised of 10 villages and a population of less than 1,000, your visit to Derimbat Village includes taking part in an elaborate welcoming ceremony before exploring their village and unique way of life with a local guide.

Day 5, Oct 27, 2023
New Hanover Island

Traditionally known as Lavongai Island, volcanic New Hanover is a wild, rugged and untouched paradise complete with a dense rainforest, waterfalls, and exceptional beaches fringed by reefs and smaller satellite islands. Sparsley populated, the villages here enjoy a subsistent, traditional lifestyle. Exceptional snorkeling is a given here with much to experience below the surface, while Three Island Harbour, on the northwest tip of the island, features four Japanese WWII wrecks that were sunk by Allied bombers in 1944.

Day 6, Oct 28, 2023
Rabaul and Kokopo, New Britain

Six beautiful cone-shaped volcanoes ring Rabaul’s dramatic, flooded-caldera harbor. Visit the bubbling hot springs and take in the magnificent views of the harbor and volcanoes from Observatory Ridge. As you explore the island, you will see fascinating reminders of the Japanese occupation, and your tour takes in the site of the enormous volcanic eruption that all but destroyed Rabaul town, the underground bunker that was the hiding place of Pearl Harbor commander, Yamamoto, and joining the locals shopping at the bustling Kokopo markets.

Day 7, Oct 29, 2023
Nissan Island

A tropical atoll adrift in the azure waters of the Buka Channel, Nissan Island is bathed in rich tropical currents that abound in marine life. Seldom have outsiders had the opportunity to discover this world that promises abundant pelagic fish life and pristine coral reefs. Ashore there are still reminders of the brief but intensive World War II activities during which the islands were recaptured by Kiwi, Australian, and British forces from the Japanese occupiers. During your time ashore you will meet with the friendly locals from all three of the island’s Balil Villages and search the dense woods for some of the elusive birds that occur here. Later, the snorkelers will find plenty to discover in the coral reefs that surround Nissan.

Day 8, Oct 30, 2023
Bougainville Island

Be among the first expeditioners to re-discover the treasures of Bougainville, long isolated and in a strange way protected by the conflict that swirled around its shores. Today it is emerging once again as a newly vibrant and remarkably pristine island paradise, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the region, both above and below the waters. We plan to explore the area around Arawa, including the Panguna Copper & Gold Mine site—the setting for the movie Mr. Pip—with great opportunities to access the island’s interior and its reefs. Spend your last Kina under the thatched roof of the Arawa Markets among the hum and chatter of hundreds of locals.

Day 9, Oct 31, 2023
New Georgia Islands

The volcanic New Georgia Islands are found in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and are characterized by extensive reefs and lagoons, rugged terrain, and an abundance of rivers. Nature enthusiasts will relish landing on Kolombangara Island, where you will visit the Imbu Rano Lodge and Conservation Area, which protects the island's central peak, and search for the rare Roviana Rail along with other endemic bird species. Snorkel the wreck of a US NAVY FAF Grumman Wildcat (carrier version) WWII plane off a tiny island where the surrounding reefs are home to some of the highest fish counts in the world. Stock up on the local currency to purchase the wood or stone carvings that the people of the Western Province are so famous for.

Day 10, Nov 1, 2023
Tetepare Island

Uninhabited for 150 years, this rugged island cloaked in rainforest and fringed with coral reefs is home to one of the Solomon Islands’ leading community-driven conservation projects: Tetepare Descendants’ Association, receiving international recognition for its conservation and archaeological significance. Three species of turtle, including the endangered leatherback, nest on its beaches, while other species inhabiting the island and surrounding waters include dugong, the world’s largest skink, endemic Tetepare white-eye, and many more.

Day 11, Nov 2, 2023

Mountainous Malaita is home to one-third of the Solomon’s total population and features pristine rivers and unexploited tropical forests to explore. This morning we plan to visit the beautiful uninhabited Leli Island, an ideal snorkel site with its calm clear waters and abundant array of fish and corals. In the afternoon you will be among the first to visit a remote and hard to reach village where you will experience a rapturous warrior welcome from the Kwaio mountain people. This is one of the most traditional communities in the Solomon Islands, and you'll enjoy an authentic slice of village life as you learn about their conservation efforts.

Day 12, Nov 3, 2023

Makira is the most easterly of the main islands in the Solomon’s archipelago. This morning the ship anchors in the calm waters of Star Harbour. Join the naturalists for a Zodiac exploration of the abundant mangrove forests that line the shores, and take a short walk to Makira’s south coast where the villagers live much as they have for millennia. You'll spend time with the locals, who share with you their traditional song and dance. If you are lucky, the local boys might be surfing on their hand-carved palm wood boards.

Day 13, Nov 4, 2023
Nendö, Temotu Province

Nendö is the largest of the Santa Cruz Islands, which lie to the southeast of the Solomon Islands. The Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira unsuccessfully attempted to establish a colony in 1595. Biologically these islands share more in common with Vanuatu. It is also the home of red feather money, sourced from the scarlet honeyeater. Watch the manufacture of red feather money, and join the locals in dances that reverberate through the ages.

Day 14, Nov 5, 2023

Today you'll explore the archipelago of Vanikoro, with its five islands encapsulated by a dramatic barrier reef that offers superb snorkeling. French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, famously disappeared here after both his vessels, La Boussole and Astrolabe, struck the reef in 1788. On the shore you will visit a monument to Le Pérouse, erected by fellow explorer Dumont Durville in 1827. Join the naturalists on a forest walk in search of the endemic Vanikoro white-eye and monarch, or marvel at the delicate Vanikoro orchid. You also have a good chance to see the recently rediscovered Vanikoro flying fox, considered extinct until just recently.

Day 15, Nov 6, 2023
Espiritu Santo

Today you explore Vanuatu’s largest Island, Santo, the setting of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. Indulge in a swim in the crystalline waters of Champagne Beach with its famed powdery white sand. This afternoon, enjoy Zodiac cruises to the iconic blue holes of Santo. For those with an interest in the history of the island, there is a visit to Lugainville and Million Dollar Point.

Day 16, Nov 7, 2023

Visit Ambrym, renowned as the island of volcanoes and magic throughout Vanuatu. You'll head ashore at Ranon on the northern coast where the traditional Rom dance is still practiced and custom carving is alive and well. A walk through the forest brings us to the ‘arena’ where masked dancers emerge from the forest. The forests of Ambrym offer some excellent walks to go in search of the local birds and plants, accompanied by the naturalists. This afternoon, enjoy a final snorkel excursion.

Day 17, Nov 8, 2023
Port Vila, Vanuatu

Arrive in Port Vila in the early morning and disembark. Upon disembarking, a transfer to the airport concludes your voyage. To allow time for disembarkation procedures, we recommend booking flights from Port Vila after midday.



Experience a kaleidoscope of the island cultures of Melanesia
Explore the remote and isolated shores of Bougainville
Search for a tremendous variety of birdlife including the superb pitta, paradise drangos, and Solomon sea eagles
Active options including snorkeling and kayaking


Length: 17 days
Cost From: $10,695  
Arrive: Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Depart: Port Villa, Vanuatu
Lodging: 15 nights aboard 140-passenger expedition vessel, 1 night hotel
Meals: All meals included aboard ship
Activity: Small Ship Cruising, Snorkeling
Trip Level:

15-day cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours