National Geographic Orion woke up to a drizzly, moody morning with dynamic cloud cover and the sun wrestling with the sky. As we sailed to our first destination in the early morning, the clouds broke up a little, revealing a dappled sky with a lush, tropical forest in the distance. We had no idea what was in store. Well, we knew we were doing water activities, but little did we know the amazing things that we would see.

Fire and water were the themes for the day! With stunning coral everywhere we looked, all the undersea lovers were in for a treat. In the morning, not only did the snorkelers get out to see some amazing coral and an incredible selection of fish, but the divers got to dive and there was also the option to take out the good old Tom Ritchie, glass-bottom Zodiac. Everyone got a chance to look down and see what the rich waters of New Britain had to offer.

After a light lunch of pizza, mac-n-cheese, fish and chips and chocolate brownie, instead of a nap, the undersea enthusiasts went out again for another round of snorkeling! And diving! And glass-bottom Zodiacs! This time some of the snorkelers found an underwater wreck with an old engine block exposed in the coral. Some guests who were more interested in looking to the skies and forests, got to work on their photography and birding via a Zodiac cruise.

Everyone gathered back for an early dinner in anticipation of the evening’s activities. We were going to witness a Baining, also known as a fire dance. The origin of these fire dance ceremonies started as a celebration: The birth of a child, the end of harvest, a rite of passage. The dance included elaborate, large masks, hand carved from bark, bamboo, and leaves. There was percussion accompaniment and lots of singing and chanting. The masked dancers would occasionally pass through the central bonfire with their incredibly large and intracate masks. We were all speechless as we watched this very special ritual take place before our eyes. It is hard to capture in words just how magical and powerful the evening felt. There were over a hundred locals gathered on a very tiny islet for this performance. People from the lowlands and people from the highlands came together for this stunningly special evening and we were so lucky to get to witness the ritual.