Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific

Martin Clunes Island of the Pacific

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Martin Clunes: Islands of the Pacific

Episode 1

Martin Clunes resumes his epic ocean wide adventure in search of the real Pacific in a new documentary series for ITV.

His voyage is inspired by reading a book given to him when he was a child by his father about the Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific. Martin was hooked by their adventure – the unexplored desert islands and the amazing sea life.

The Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on the planet, covering 63 million square miles, is strewn with tens of thousands of islands with coral atolls, jungle clad mountains, and lava spewing volcanoes. It is rich in animal life and has an astonishing kaleidoscope of humanity.

Martin says: “For centuries we’ve been sold the idea that paradise on earth is here in the Pacific Islands. But in our uncertain, changing world, how much of that paradise is left, and how long can it survive?”

Martin began his journey in 2019 for the first series of Islands of the Pacific. But his travels were halted by the pandemic. He resumed his travels in 2022 to discover more about the magical islands of the Pacific for a new series.

“Three years ago, a worldwide pandemic brought my journey across the Pacific to an abrupt halt.  But, thankfully, I was able to return to do more exploring.”  

His first port of call is Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.  This specific island nation sits just above Australia and is its closest neighbour. From here, there are six hundred islands to explore.  He heads to one of its most isolated and inaccessible areas, the Trobriand Islands.  

These islands remained largely unknown until the early part of the 20th century. Since the pandemic there's been no tourism here and no commercial flights either.  

Martin’s arrival causes a stir among the islanders who have seen very few outsiders since the pandemic. He is the guest of the villagers of Tilakewa on Kiriwina, the main island of the Trobriands.  

With no hotels on the island, the villagers have built  Martin his own house. One of the villagers plants a tree to commemorate Martin’s visit. Martin is honoured and touched.

Kiriwina is forty kilometres long and just under thirteen kilometres at its widest point.  

Martin says: “When I flew in, all I could see was a green canopy, but underneath the trees it's filled with villages. It's thought that 26,000 people live on Kiriwina, but no one knows for sure.  Families live close together, sharing the cooking and the childcare.”

Martin visits the village school in the neighbouring village of Kabwaku as they hear the sad news that Queen Elizabeth has died. He joins the children and their teachers as they say prayers in memory of the Queen, and sing the national anthem together.

Martin says: “My time on the Trobriand, staying in the village of Tilakewa, has been really eye opening.  These are people who by our frame of reference don’t have a great deal.  There's no airline landing there, the cruise ships don’t go there, they don’t have industry, they don’t export anything.  They subsistence farm, they grow what they need to eat.

“And yet I've just been blown away by their generosity and their kindness. They accepted us in to their village, and they gave and shared with us everything that they had.”

The next stop on Martin’s travels in Papua New Guinea is New Britain, which sits in the middle of the Bismarck Sea, just 250 kilometres north of the Trobriand Islands.  

Melanesian people first came here 40,000 years ago, and more recently, the uninvited colonial powers of Britain, Germany and Japan.  But it is New Britain’s spectacular volcanoes that have literally shaped this island.  

In September 1994, two volcanoes simultaneously erupted, spewing out millions of tons of volcanic ash which fell on Rabaul, the island’s capital, with a population of 17,000 people.  The government building still stands, but all the surrounding houses were destroyed, their roofs collapsing under the weight of the ash.

Ima Itikarai who leads the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory explains what happened:

“Before the eruption happened activity was increasing. Eventually the eruption happened around 6 o'clock in the morning from Tavurvur and then about 15 minutes later, on the other side of the harbour exploded very violently.” He predicts the volcanoes will erupt again.

Martin learns that there has been some benefit to wildlife from the eruptions. The landscape of bush and volcanic sand is home to the Megapode bird, which don’t nest. They find a convenient heat source for their eggs in the hot volcanic sand.  

Papua New Guinea became fully independent from Britain and Australia in 1975. Martin’s stay in East New Britain coincides with the Independence Day celebrations. The parade is part of the Frangipani Festival, named after the only flowers that were left after the volcano eruptions.

Before leaving Papua New Guinea there's one last place Martin wants to visit —Gilibwa - to meet the community of subsistence fishermen who have been fighting to survive the rising sea levels.

For centuries their village has existed on the beach here.  Where once there was an entire village, now just seven families still live on the beach.  The same storm that washed away the church, graveyard and many houses on the beach also washed away the road.

With no road and a two-day canoe journey to the nearest town, the inhabitants here are largely marooned

Martin says: “Over the centuries, the people of Papua New Guinea have endured armed invaders, exploding volcanoes, well intentioned missionaries, and now rising sea levels.  

“My time on Papua New Guinea has come to an end, and I'm reminded how living on a Pacific Island is a fragile existence, and how humanity needs to adapt to survive in such a changing world.”  




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