19 February 20
“Foresight and planning are the secret to low numbers here as the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea has introduced a global first to maintain and limit the crowds for the benefit of all – the locals and the visiting surfers.”
A disclosure here, Vanimo Surf Lodge have an ad in our current print issue, and we’ve run articles on SAPNG initiatives in print in the magazine over the years.
Vanimo Surf Lodge has a range of surf breaks on the north coast of Papua New Guinea neighbouring Indonesia’s territory of Jayapura. Vanimo has remained a relative secret, and still today enjoys a low profile as thousands of surfers fly overhead to other locations around the globe overlooking what is basically a wave mecca on Australia’s doorstep. The surfers travelling to Vanimo are typically serious surfers and don’t mind some tropical discomfort whilst chasing equally serious waves. Surfers looking for a 5 star experience are advised to look at other hotel options.
The waves on offer in Vanimo make it an idyllic location for surfers who are looking to surf without a couple of hundred “mates” in the water. On most days you would be lucky to have in excess of six surfers at any break and more likely three to four. Arguably, one of the safest surf locations in Papua New Guinea as the breaks are predominantly over sand, rock and limestone bottoms which means no coral cuts. The staff are trained in basic first aid and survival skills (CPR) and the local hospital is a short 5-10 minute drive from the lodge if required. We are arguably the safest surf destination in PNG.
Foresight and planning is the secret to low numbers here as the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea has introduced a global first to maintain and limit the crowds for the benefit of all. SAPNG has introduced a membership fee for all visiting surfers of AUD$50 / K100 once only.
The various locations around Papua New Guinea have a limit on the number of visiting surfers and at Vanimo the current limit is 20 visiting surfers spread over eight breaks. The ability to travel to the different local breaks by foot, land and sea provides great variety.
The Lido breaks are easily accessible and don’t require any marathon walking or paddling efforts in distance or through board smashing shore breaks. In saying that the range of waves varies from the easy Town Beach to the freight trains at the right at Log Point and Lido’s Left. Immediately out the front of the Vanimo Surf Lodge within easy view from the restaurant deck area is Lido’s right which peels endlessly over a mostly sand covered rock bottom with enticing backdoor sections similar to Australia’s famous Angourie Point. Similar to Fiji and other destinations, surf road adventures to other breaks outside of the Lido Right and Left can be arranged for a small fee (approx. K100/surfer min.4) usually with at least 24 hours notice.
The size and direction of the surf means that Vanimo’s breaks mostly all turn on at the same time providing plenty of selection. The swell charges in from any northerly direction originating rom Philippine Monsoons and North Pacific swells with nothing to block its path, so it breaks from 2–10ft all season.
The local surfers can always be seen to be having a fun time with smiles from ear to ear – a real contrast to other countries big name surf destinations. The local surfers are made up of all ages and both boys and girls and it’s encouraging to see that the girls are on equal footing for once in our surfing world. It is a little like what you could imagine or remember what surfing was like in the early days when you looked for someone to go for a wave with to share the good times and witness each other’s barrels.
Vanimo’s surf area offers a total backdrop of tropical wilderness with a view back to shore only occasionally dotted with a village hut amongst the thousands of coconut palms and beautiful tropical jungle. Another great feature of the Vanimo Surf Area Management Plan (VSAMP) is that the small surf fee(AUD$15) goes into local community projects and the local surfers are encouraged to ensure all the visitors have an enjoyable experience. So it’s a win/win model for the locals and visitors.
The Vanimo Surf Lodge, facing the Lido Right point, opened with three huts in November 2011.
Co-owned by Papua New Guinean and Australian proprietors, the lodge currently accommodates 12 – 16 guests. It is located on the beachfront adjacent to the small Lido village. The lodge employs a local workforce and ex-pat manager to train the staff in all manner of skills from carpentry to food service and management. There are no surf shops but there are local doctors, hospital, banks, supermarket, airport and pharmacy in town a short 5-10 minute drive away.
Local villagers gather each day in the Vanimo town centre to sell their crafts made from all natural materials. An item worth picking up at the market is a traditional PNG string carry bag called a “bilum”. It is an excellent carry bag for the beach as it is exceptionally strong and allows the sand to drop out from your beach gear.
Vanimo Surf Lodge has contacts with local villages to facilitate tours around the area. A favourite is the Waterfall tour where you meet with a team of guides who walk you along the cool mountain stream for approximately two kilometres upstream to a series of waterfalls where the water is so refreshing, crystal clear and cool.
The lodge can on occasion also arrange snorkelling and game fishing tours on request. The sea abounds with life as you can imagine in this idyllic blue water location without the threat of fishing trawlers attacking it on a daily basis. Local fishing is mostly enjoyed using a handline in a single person dugout canoe. For those looking for some adventure a little further afield the lodge can arrange transport to the Indonesian border, approximately 45 minutes’ drive to the west, but you’ll need to arrange an Indonesian visa either before you leave home or at the Indonesian consulate in Vanimo town if you wish to cross the border.
Clientele ranges from those looking for adventure in waves surrounded by a jungle shoreline in uncrowded waves where smiling and waving dominates any aggression in the line-up which is reserved for the wave faces to those simply wanting to relax by the beach sipping a cool drink of your choice or coffee. There are no child minding facilities, so children must be supervised by their parents at all times. Papua New Guinea grows some of the world’s finest Arabica coffee so you can be sure it is as fresh as you can get.
It makes for a holiday atmosphere where you can totally relax in and out of the water, time is not a problem because not many people bother with a watch and nothing much runs on time in Papua New Guinea.
Consistent swell is about the only thing that runs on time and most times the season runs early in October and finishes late in May. The Lodge is open from November to April for surfing and closed May to October. Fishing can be another option, we’ve had Giant Trevally up to 10kg caught right out the front of the lodge, just off the beach, on lures. Enjoying a meal at the restaurant with a couple of ice cold local South Pacific lagers to wash it down is not a bad way to end the day as the sun sets to the west in a very similar scene to that of Hawaii’s North Shore except there’s hardly anyone around to get in that sunset photo snap.
Meals at the lodge may be made from locally sourced seafood, meat, chicken and vegetables so it’s always fresh and cooked in the traditional way for another cultural experience. If you like fruit there is certainly no shortage as the lodge grows its own red paw paws and there is a wide selection of other locally grown fruits including bananas, star fruit, pineapple and even local vanilla beans. The locals are always up for a bit of a chat and you’ll get the chance to learn some “pidgin” English at the same time.
Before travelling we recommend having adequate travel insurance with medical cover and visit your local doctor 4-8 weeks prior to travelling to receive professional advice.