I WAS TEACHING AT KERAVAT NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL and on my way home to Sydney for my Christmas break in December 1977 I decided to do a hop, step and jump through the Pacific islands and it turned into a marvellous trip.
I was to leave on a late Air Nuigini flight to Bougainville but the plane was delayed so much we had to overnight in Rabaul. This meant a free overnight stay at the Rabaul Travelodge, the best inn in town! After a delicious meal I joined the plane crew in the lounge for drinks then it was early to bed as we had to make an early start.
It was a lovely clear morning when we set off over Blanche Bay and headed over the Solomon Sea towards Bougainville. When we were close to the island of Buka, to the north of Bougainville, the captain, whom I had met the previous evening, motioned for me to come into the cockpit.
Here I was invited to sit on the small seat between the pilot and the navigator. When he found out that I had never been on that trip before, as they approached the northern tip of Bougainville, they took the plane down to about 300m and we cruised at that height all the way down the east coast of Bougainville to Kieta.
Wow! What a sight! We seemed to be just skimming over the tops of the coconut palms growing in the many plantations along the coast.
This strip of Bougainville had huge plantations of thousands of acres, mostly owned by large companies and run by managers, due to the excellent well-distributed rainfall and the rich volcanic soils.
To our right was the majestic Emperor Range, over 1,500m, with Mt Balbi, 2,743m, an active volcano surrounded by old cones and extinct craters. Closer to Kieta we passed a smoking Mt Bagana, 2,000m, surely uncomfortably close to the Catholic Mission of Torokina.
After thanking my cockpit friends profusely, I headed off to a nearby motel, which had a lovely view over the nearby passage between the mainland and an offshore island.
I became friendly with the owner of the motel and he lent me his utility for the day. So I was soon off driving through Kieta and Arawa, and up to the Panguna mine area where I picked up a friend and former pupil, Cathy Kuira, as my guide.
Well, I saw all there was to see, and more! We drove up the port-mine access road, which wound its way up through the Crown Prince Ranges to the mine. Here we saw more housing, the administration buildings and the mine site, a huge hole in the ground where the copper ore was being extracted and driven out in huge haul trucks.
We also saw the power station, near the port, which commenced in October 1971, and were taken through the concentrator and the factory where the ore was treated to produce a product with a higher copper concentration.
That evening I went with people from the motel to Arovo, the beautiful rainforest-clad island across the passage, and enjoyed a delicious barbecue. Then the next morning I was off to the airport to catch a small Solair plane down to Honiara in the Solomons.
I waited for the others to climb on board then there was just room for me, up in the co-pilots seat, next to the pilot! It sometimes pays to travel alone as people take pity on you.
The trip down to Honiara was through a patchwork of islands and we landed once at Munda on New Georgia Island, where the small airstrip is very close to one of those marvellous turquoise lagoons, dotted with small coral islands, found throughout the Pacific.
After a short stop we headed south with views of other huge turquoise lagoons strung out along the coast of the many hundreds of islands that make up the Solomons, and finally landed at Honiara airstrip on Guadalcanal.
These two magical flights, with their glorious panoramas, are precious memories. Now I sit at home and watch them on SBS TV!
Barbara Short’s latest book, a 440-page blockbuster on her mother's family history, has just been published in colour hard-back. A soft cover black & white edition will be available later at a cost of $50