‘Ghost’ island of Samarai

It was once a bustling administrative capital of Milne Bay, with foreign vessels docking at its port.

Today, the beautiful island of Samarai lies forgotten at the southern tip of the mainland.

White sandy beach and glistening, clear water will greet you as you approach Samarai, a forgotten electorate of Milne Bay that still boasts picturesque selfie spots and fantastic diving and snorkeling sites.

In the 1960s, Samarai was a busy administrative hub of Milne Bay with a port that greets vessels servicing the Tokyo, Shanghai and Brisbane routes.

However, in 1968, the provincial headquarters was moved to Alotau as the island was getting too small. Today, remnants of the once administrative capital can still be seen while locals carry on with their daily activities, pushing to support themselves in an electorate that is yet to feel the full presence of its government.

Longtime resident and boat operator, Jackson Luweina, can still remember their colonial heyday.

“Back then, you have businesses booming, you got people everywhere, you got tourist ships coming in. Back when I was kid, I saw all those things.

“One hotel I can remember, it was called the Pacific View. Those days, there was money on the island. Today, no. Many people call this one as a ghost town but people still live here and people still make money here.”

Luweina, whose father was a shipwright while he is a certified fitter machinist, remembered how safe it was at sea, where people could travel by boat and not get anxious about getting robbed.

“Those days, there was nothing like that. You could travel on a dinghy – maybe sleep inside the dinghy – and nothing would happen to you. Today, sea piracy, I don’t know how it came about. And for me, maybe those people who do sea piracy, they shouldn’t exist because somebody works hard to earn a living and somebody just come from somewhere and steal from him or her.”

Luweina further said the only government services on the island are from the health department and PNG Power, while small businesses and islanders alike struggle to stay afloat.

“But everybody tries. So what I want is, people who left Samarai like this, can they develop Samarai to help our people? Especially our politicians that get into power. They come in here and say ‘Samarai is going to be like that’ but when is it gonna come? And when will it come?”

Carmella Gware