Passport stamp seekers could soon have another to add to their wish list after citizens of the Bougainville autonomous region of Papua New Guinea recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence.
The December 11 referendum could well set the region on the path to becoming a new nation, although there are considerable hurdles to cross before this could happen.
Want to travel there and experience what could become the world’s next newest country for yourself? Here’s how.
Bougainville’s independence vote passed by an overwhelming 98 per cent. Ness Kerton/AFP/Getty Images
Bougainville consists of a small cluster of islands and atolls that are, for now, part of Papua New Guinea (PNG). It’s located in the Coral Sea to the west of the Solomon Islands and directly northwest of Queensland, Australia.
Extra confusing? While the region is now known as the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, before that it was called the Northern Solomons Province.
The two largest islands are Bougainville Island and Buka Island. The administrative capital is Buka.
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer and navigator, gave the islands their name. He is also the namesake of the Bougainvillea flower.
While Bougainville is difficult for many people to access, especially from North America and Europe, the tradeoff is gorgeous, unspoiled beaches ready for swimming, surfing, kayaking and simply taking in the scenery — not to mention the bragging rights of visiting a place none of your friends have been to.
At least a dozen languages are spoken throughout Bougainville. Shutterstock
It is possible to access Bougainville via the Solomon Islands, their neighbour to the east.
Boats are available from the Shortland Islands on the western side of the Solomons, but keep in mind that you will still have to go through customs like you would at any other border.
These are private boats that you’ll have to hire yourself, as there’s no official ferry system between the island groups.
You must present yourself to immigration upon on arrival in Bougainville, and it’s preferred that you make arrangements with PNG Immigration prior to departing Solomon Islands.
As for getting to the Solomons, the easiest way is by air. Direct flights to the country’s capital of Honiara are accessible via Port Moresby (PNG), Nadi (Fiji), Port Vila (Vanuatu) and Brisbane.
The number one source of revenue in the fledgeling nation is copper mining. Ness Kerton/AFP/Getty Images
As things currently stand, it’s possible to travel between PNG and Bougainville without having to deal with customs or immigration, as there is no hard border.
PNG has a visa on arrival program for residents of countries like the United States, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. Travellers who don’t have a passport from countries on the approved list will need to organize their visas in advance.
Several international carriers fly into Port Moresby, namely Qantas and Virgin via Australia. There are also directs to Port Moresby through Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and other Asian capitals.
Within the country, your best bet is New Guinean national carrier Air Niugini (sound it out), which flies to Buka.
The Buka Passage divides Buka from Bougainville Island. Local boats will ferry passengers across for a small fee, but there are no formal ferries or charter companies.
Tourism here is still a relatively new industry — that’s great if you want the feeling of visiting a place no one else has been to, but less great if you want to stay at an upscale hotel or have regular Wi-Fi access.
You should definitely get cash in advance, as ATMs are limited. The local currency, for now at least, is the PNG kina, with 10 kina equaling about $3.
English is one of the official languages of Bougainville, but not everyone speaks it comfortably.