Tears of Joy as Climate Challenger Returns Home

AFTER A THREE MONTH epic canoe voyage, Climate Challenger has finally returned home.
It was around 8am 5th of December, making a steady 10 knots with our sails well set, that we returned to Pere, our home, after a sometimes hazardous voyage that had taken us from Manus to the Solomon Islands and back to PNG again, hurrying north just ahead of the cyclone season.

Climate Challenger flying the Solomon Island flag, cruises into Pere village after their 3 month long distance voyage. (photo: taken as a still from video)

Climate Challenger flying the Solomon Island flag, cruises into Pere village after their 3 month long distance voyage. (photo: taken as a still from video)

On Pere we could see a crowd of waiting friends, families and loved ones who had flocked to the shore. Echoes of the steady rhythm of the garamut filtered to our ears as we sailed in through the reef. Nearby, four canoes decorated with sago palms waited to escort us to the beach front. They were the proud seafaring canoes performing a guard of honor. We, the crew of Climate Challenger, were also dressed in our traditional attire and danced to the beat of the garamut as we sailed in. I kept my video camera rolling, filming every action, it will be a big celebration, I thought to myself.

Villagers of Pere village wait on shore for the Climate Challenger and crew. (photo: still from video)

Villagers of Pere village wait on shore for the Climate Challenger and crew. (photo: still from video)

The garamut rocked Pere as traditional dancers danced in to meet us as the guard of honour escorted us ashore. The flower girls put wreaths around our neck and we proceeded to meet the village chiefs, councillors and church elders who had lined up to receive us. In every corner we could hear people shouting and cheering. Everyone was so proud and happy to see us back safe and sound. The crew members were rounded up by their immediate families – shaking hands, chatting, crying. I could see tears of joy everywhere. It was a proud moment of my life and indeed a relief to be on Pere, finally home and reunited with our families.

Pere villagers happy to see the Climate Challenger crew return home safely. (photo: still taken from video)

Pere villagers happy to see the Climate Challenger crew return home safely. (photo: still taken from video)

The challenges, the sleepless nights and stressful times were over but the voyage is not. There is far to go in making our Pacific an environmentally secure place.

Climate Challenger Voyage Documentary

I am in Brisbane Australia now working on editing all of our video footage with film maker, Kat Gawlik. We expect to complete the documentary about the voyage by early April, 2013.

Climate Challenger will commence its journey early next year once funding is secured. This year, the crews planned to build a bigger canoe where it will join Climate Challenger on the next epic voyage where the crews planned to sail from Manus to Palau then to Marshall Islands. Open Member for Manus Hon. Ronny Knight has already pledged his support to build the new canoe.

Thank you all for joining us and we hope to update you all soon on the progress of our preparation and what is forthcoming in regards to our fundraising and our Pacific voyage.

Captain Manuai Matawai

Manuai Matawai, Climate Challenger Captain

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Climate Challenger at Lihir Island

After Kavieng, we set sail for Lihir Island a small island with a large gold mine operated by the Australian based mining company Newcrest, which at this time are also prospecting for gold on our own island of Manus.

On our way to Lihir Island, New Ireland Province.

Modern meets traditional: Manuai testing the satellite communications gear

We arrived at Lihir Island late last Thursday night (13th Sept) and were greeted with dinner made by the Manus community.

Dinner on arrival. photo: Manuai Matawai

During our stay on Lihir Island we shared our experience of climate change adaptation in Manus and performed our traditional garamut dancing at Lihir International School to coincide with 37th Papua New Guinea Independence celebration.

Manuai thankfully receives a donation at the climate change fund-raising night

On a less positive note, when the we saw the scale of the gold mine on Lihir island and the impacts it is having on the people and environment, it really hit home for us. This could soon be a reality on our own island of Manus where Newcrest is currently prospecting and proposing to open another large gold mine.

The Climate Challenger crew at the Lihir gold mine, New Ireland, PNG

When crew member Pokakes Pondraken saw the mine he commented with “It is a monster. I hope it does not happen in Manus (Worei), as it will destroy our reefs and spawning aggregation sites”.

Photo: Panoramio by user Petadel

The tailings are dumped out at sea and as you can see from this picture, there is a lot of sedimentation and runoff, which invariably affects the coral and marine life. It is a disaster for the environment. We also noticed alot of steam and gases rising out of the mine which is attributed to the geothermal activity of the volcanic island, and most probably contributes to climate change too.

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Paddling to Kavieng

Two days ago, on Sunday 9th, we reached the tip of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, so we are now in Kavieng fixing our rudder (with the help of the National Fisheries College), doing minor repairs, charging batteries, checking emails and doing some sightseeing. Yesterday we made a convoy with 8 other boats from the Manus community living in Kavieng to the local market where we put on a show for local NGOs, Government officials and the public. We blew our tapur (cone shell), beat the garamut and danced in our traditional attire. It was an exciting day and all the crew were buzzing. A few days before, we were not so enthusiastic….

After leaving our home villages of Pere and Baluan Islands, saying sad farewells and summoning the spirit of Sir Paliau Maloat the late Win Neisen leader to guide us on this voyage, we encountered a very strong wind about 50 nautical miles (100km) from Baluan Island. It was dark and we were manouevering well but all of a sudden our rudder snapped off. From there we had no choice but to use the outboard motor. For the next day and a half we battled with strong wind and rough sea, sailing when we could. Tingwon Island was ahead of us, but by that time we had exhausted all fuel and water reserves. We had to change our plans to push on through to New Hanover Island while the wind was favourable. Just before we reached New Hanover, the wind changed direction so we got the paddles out and paddled in the dark, putting the sails up whenever the winds turned.

Once we reached the western side of New Hanover, we searched for petrol and water. We were first greeted by a man called Manase in his small outrigger canoe- a godsend to us, who saw us coming and guided us back to his village, Namaseleng, where we were warmly greeted with Buai from a community that had never seen a canoe as large as the Climate Challenger before. After restocking our water and fuel supplies we set sail arriving at Kavieng on Sunday afternoon.

Once everything is in order (including a new rudder) we are expecting to depart Kavieng for Lihir Islands, New Ireland, tomorrow.

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Our Voyage Featured on Planet Change Blog

We are very happy to tell you that our voyage has grabbed the attention of The Nature Conservancy’s Planet Change Blog – dedicated to enhancing the conversation on climate change and inspiring actions of all sizes.

You can see the blog post here:


It is really great that our voyage is getting worldwide attention on this important issue of climate change, adaptation, and experiences of climate change from a Pacific island perspective! Lets hope the developed nations do something to curb their emissions to stop our islands from sinking!

An excerpt from The Nature Conservancy’s Planet Change blog article written about the Climate Challenger Voyage on the 7th Sept 2012.

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Broken Rudder

Good morning all.  Our travel to Kavieng was slowed by rough seas over the past 24 hours and the fact that we broke our rudder.  We did some on the spot repairs, and one of the canoes oars is now serving as a makeshift rudder – we will replace it when we arrive in Kavieng.  We are currently about 10 km from Tingwon Island, where we plan to stop and do some awareness.  The sun has come out this morning.  The boys are relaxing and chewing lots of buai and we are eating some yellowfin tuna we caught yesterday afternoon. The rough weather meant we were also unable to communicate with the shore support team until this morning.  All is well, see you in Kavieng.


Currently about 10km from Tingwon Island…

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Baluan Island to Kavieng, New Ireland

Only a few days into our voyage, and we are currently crossing the longest section of ocean so far- Baluan Island to New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. After spiritual ceremonies on Baluan, we left the island at 5pm last night. Over night the seas were quite rough, with a swell of about 2-3 metres, but with little wind and alot of rain. There is a small problem with the rudder which we will fix when we get to New Hanover late this afternoon hopefully.
We have a new map on our blog showing our latest position making it even easier for you to follow us on our journey. Once again thanks for all of your support!

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Climate Challenger Current Location

Click on the map for more information

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Goodbye Manus!

All is well, this morning (Thursday 6th September) we sailed the 40 km distance from Pere to Baluan Island, and have now set off with favourable south west winds for Kavieng, New Ireland, a distance of 360 km. We are currently working on an interactive map which will show our current location. Stay tuned!

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Official Climate Challenger Voyage Launching

The people of Manus and all honorary guests gathered together yesterday on the 29th August at Lorengau town’s NBC Beach to farewell and wish us well before our long and risky journey around the Pacific.

Climate Challenger and crew leaving. Photo: Kat Gawlik (from video)

It started out as a fine and sunny morning with a mix of traditional and contemporary entertainment. 2 Degrees, an electronic 6 piece band played upbeat island style reggae, the Mix Mates String Band played their acoustic guitars, and traditional dance team Green Frog, a mixture of young men and women danced to the traditional garamut drum beat.

Green Frog Traditional Dance Team. Photo: Noah Jiwaibae

We decorated our canoe, raised the Win Neisen flag and sailed in to the beach where everyone was waiting. There we were welcomed and heard speeches from Piwen Langarap of MECCN (Manus Environment Community Conservation Network), Theresa Kas and Robyn James from The Nature Conservancy and The Governor of Manus; the Honorary Charlie Benjamin.

The Governor of Manus. Photo: Noah Jiwaibae

During the speeches, although the rain came, support for the crew did not waver. All of the speakers and people gathered showed their utmost support and gave their blessings to us for our voyage before Governor Charlie Benjamin officially cut the ribbon signifying the beginning of the voyage.

Woman from Pere village farewells the crew. Photo: Kat Gawlik (from video)

The honorary guests were taken for a short sail on the Climate Challenger before being returned to the beach before we set off. The wind picked up, and even blew the guest’s tent down – a good omen. We’ll be seeing all you Pacific brothers soon!

Climate Challenger Crew

Guest’s tent blowing down in the gust of wind that picked up as Climate Challenger was leaving. Photo: Kat Gawlik

Captain and skipper of Climate Challenger, Manuai Matawai waves goodbye to supporters, friends and relatives at Lorengau, Manus Island. Photo: Kat Gawlik (from video)


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