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expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this epic Secret Compass expedition to Papua New Guinea.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this team or, once approved, to secure your spot on this expedition team with a Booking Form and deposit.

Key facts

  • Arrive: by 1700 on 23 September 2017 into Cairns, Australia.
  • Depart: leave Cairns any time from 1700 on 7 October onwards.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure on 23 June 2017.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.


The aim of this epic, Adventure Academy expedition is for you to earn a Whitewater Rescue Technician qualification and to raft Papua New Guinea’s wild Watut river.


The expedition begins in Australia where you’ll be taught to whitewater raft and complete an internationally recognised course by some of the best instructors in the world on the Tully River. Next, you’ll fly over to PNG itself before taking on the might of one of the most epic jungle rivers in the world: the Watut.

This river has 150 rapids and descends through canyons and deep jungles. At the end of the trip you will get a chance to relax by sea kayaking and snorkelling in the idyllic seas off the coast of PNG.


  • Obtain the internationally recognised Whitewater Rescue Technician from Rescue 3.
  • Learn to raft on the famous Tully river in Queensland near Cairns, Australia.
  • Descend one of the most epic and remote jungle whitewater rivers in the world, the Watut River in Papua New Guinea.
  • Enjoy sea-kayaking and snorkelling off the coast of PNG.
  • Experience the unique tribal culture of Papua New Guinea.


Visit our Flights page. You need to organise your own international flights. We have a unique partnership with Student Universe (a specialist division of the Flight Centre Travel Group and no, you don’t have to be a student to use them). The dedicated Secret Compass team understand us and our destinations and uses global buying power to save you money and to offer security along with a 24-hr assistance helpline. Fill in a free and no-obligation Flight Quote Request or call (UK) 0844 560 9799 for assistance in booking international flights. It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed for fee or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason.

You need to be arrive in Australia on or before the 23 September and to get yourself to the team hotel in Cairns. Getting to the hotel is each team member’s responsibility; taxis and buses to town are plentiful. The expedition will officially start at the team hotel in Cairns at 1700 where you will meet the Secret Compass Expedition leader who will deliver a safety briefing and talk through the expedition plan.

The expedition cost includes international flights between Australia and PNG, as well as a domestic flight within PNG. To book these, Secret Compass will require a clear, colour copy of your passport.


Visit our Insurance page. Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
  • Activities – ensure that any activities carried out on the expedition are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region – check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
  • Foreign Ministry advice – check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and https://www.gov.uk/travelaware
  • Dates – make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions – if you have any pre-existing medical conditions please ensure you disclose this to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hr emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Insurance page.


Visas are your responsibility so please check the specific requirements for your nationality. For most travellers, a free visa on arrival can be obtained in Papua New Guinea. To enter Australia, an E-Visa must be obtained. This is free though a $20 service charge will be applied.


You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and your travel dates and with six months remaining before expiry from your date of entry to PNG (26 September). Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe, waterproof place. Once booked onto this team, you’ll be able to use the Upload Docs function within the MySC teammate zone to get your passport scan and other docs in to Secret Compass.

Day 1: Sep 23 – Cairns

Arrive in Cairns, Australia and make your way to the team hotel by 1700 to meet your leader. Welcome meal and expedition briefing.

Day 2: Sep 24 – Tully River

Depart for Tully River. Spend a full day on the river to conduct the rafting training learning all the techniques and procedures to be able to paddle efficiently and safely as a team. Stay in a eco-village resort on Mission Beach.

Day 3: Sep 25 – Tully River

On your second day of training you will receive the Whitewater Rescue Technician course training. You will get further live scenarios to complete the course while on the Watut river itself. Depart back to Cairns.

Day 4: Sep 26 – Lae

Depart Cairns for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and onto Lae.

Day 5: Sep 27 – Mapos

After breakfast drive towards Mapos where the Watut originates in the mountains. After collecting your PDFs and helmets, you’ll start the expedition with an easy float downriver including a village visit.

Days 6 to 9: Sep 28 to Oct 1 – Watut river

Over the next four days you’ll experience amazing rapids such as BARAAHP (Between A Rock And A Hard Place), Bikpela and Four Part Harmony to name a few. This river is packed with Class III and IV rapids among stunning gorges and rainforest. In the middle of your adventure, we’ll plan for a rescue scenario using the skills you’ve been taught thus far. You’ll be left to arrange safe solutions under the expert guidance of your river team which is the final phase of your Whitewater Rescue Technician course. After the whitewater you’ll get a lift from a motorised dug-out canoe to the confluence of the Watut and Markham rivers for your final night’s camping on the river.

Day 10: Oct 2 – Lae

A short paddle to the take out point this morning then a road transfer back to Lae.

Day 11: Oct 3 – Nusa Island

Fly from Lae to Kaveieng and onto Nusa Island Retreat. Sea kayak safety briefing and short paddle.

Day 12 to 13: Oct 4 to Oct 5 – New Ireland islands

The next two days will be spent paddling between picturesque islands from scenic beaches, to turtle nesting sites to stunning reefs with regular stops for snorkelling. Nights will be spent camping.

Day 14: Oct 6 – Nusa Island

Boat transfer back to Kaveieng, celebratory meal at Nusa Island Retreat.

Day 15: Oct 7 – Cairns

Flight from Kaveieng, to Lae, to Port Moresby to Cairns. Team free to depart after 1700.

About Secret Compass itineraries

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.


All Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you will be sore, tired, hungry and wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go! You will be required to be fit enough to:

  • Expedition grade: 270°.
  • Swim: be able to swim at least 200m non-stop and be comfortable with the prospect of immersion in whitewater and snorkelling in the sea.
  • Paddle: make a positive contribution to paddling a raft for up to eight hours a day as part of a team and paddling a sea kayak between snorkelling sites on different islands.
  • River: the Watut river has 150 rapids over a six-day section through rainforest, canyons and gorges, the water conditions at the time will dictate which of these rapids can be run and which will be portaged (carried) around.
  • Climate: temps will average 28°C with high humidity.

Previous experience

No prior experience is necessary for rafting as all techniques and safety procedures will be taught as part of the course, and to prepare for the Watut river phase. That said, this is a demanding and challenging whitewater river rafting expedition. It will be beneficial if you attend an introductory session at any rafting centre. Similarly, sea kayak training will be given at Nusa Island so no prior experience is required.


Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS website Fit for Travel and Travel Health Pro are useful sources of information. There is a risk of malaria so please bring appropriate prophylactics and mosquito repellents.

Dental: it is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.


In Australia all credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are available everywhere. In PNG there will be very few opportunities to exchange money or get money out from ATMS. Credit cards will only be excepted in major hotels. It is suggested that you exchange your Australian Dollars into the local currency of Kina, or take in US dollars for exchanging.

This expedition is all-inclusive so you won’t need much money, only for a few beers in the hotels and some souvenirs on the way or for discretionary (but always appreciated) tips.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the 2017 expedition to Papua New Guinea. Secret Compass will supply all the rafting equipment, camping, cooking, safety and medical equipment. Secret Compass has arranged a teammate discount with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of which will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and sleeping

  • DUFFLE BAG OR RUCKSACK: 40-50lt, all your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack for the flight. Any items that you will not have on the river can be placed in this at the hotel in Lae.
  • DAYSACK (optional): Useful for travel days and on the flights.
  • WATERPROOF DRY BAGS: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You will be given a large canoe bag to carry your personal items when on the River, but is useful to further protect and organise your items into smaller bags.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least comfort +5C. Down is lighter and more compact than synthetic options but also invest in a waterproof stuff sack. The river starts in the highlands so can get chilly at night. A sleeping mat will be provided for this expedition.


  • LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: 2x quick drying long sleeve shirt or top (not cotton). One shirt for when on the river on hot days and one for when in camp
  • LONG SLEEVE TROUSERS: 1x when in camp in the evenings
  • RIVER SHORTS OR SWIMMING COSTUME: 1x for when rafting
  • RIVER SANDALS: Must be closed toe. Trainers are also ok
  • BASEBALL CAP: To wear under the helmet when it is sunny on the river.
  • FLEECE MID-LAYER: When in the evenings around the campsite
  • FOOTWEAR: When not on the river for use when travelling.
  • SARONG: For ladies to cover up legs when in the company of locals
  • PADDLING OR CYCLING GOVES: To prevent blisters and chafing whilst paddling for several days.
  • TRAVELLING CLOTHES: Can be left in the Lae hotel when on the river.


  • NALGENE OR SIMILAR WATER BOTTLE AND CARABINER: To attach to raft while paddling. Hydration bladders are ok, but needs to be worn under life vest.
  • WATERPROOF SUNSCREEN AND LIP BALM: All day suncream like P20 is ideal for this.
  • WASHBAG: Only pack the small travel size toiletries with biodegradable soap and shampoo.
  • HEADTORCH: Bring spare batteries.
  • PERSONAL FIRST AID KIT: Include any personal medication you may be taking. A full group first aid kit will be taken but useful to bring along extra items such as pain killers, plasters, tape, etc
  • CAMERA: With waterproof case. Gopro style cameras are ideal.
  • WATERPROOF DOCUMENT HOLDER: To protect money, passport, etc.

Our approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local partners and bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and natural events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.


In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Incident management and medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.


Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.



Cairns and Mission Beach in Australia are well known for all things adventure. They are perfect locations to start such an epic expedition. Papua New Guinea is known for its cultural diversity with many tribes and languages and with 80% of its population living in rural areas, it will be useful for women to carry a sarong to cover swimming costumes if the team meet locals whilst paddling. This expedition provides a fascinating insight into the biodiversity of the landscapes on the river and of the many tribes that live along it. You’ll experience life on the river and will witness first-hand a spectacular coastal paradise.


The Watut river descends through caverns and gorges and through rainforests. There are a total of 150 rapids of varying difficulty rating. You’ll camp by the river. There may be times that rafts need to be portaged (carried) around rapids that are too difficult, and this may be on steep and slippery terrain.


Papua New Guinea’s climate can be described as tropical, with the coastal plains averaging 28°C, the inland and mountain areas averaging 26°C, and the higher mountain regions averaging 23°C. The area’s relative humidity is quite high, and ranges between 70% and 90%.


Team members are responsible for their own airport transfers with taxis or buses to the hotel from Cairns International Airport. This is located just outside the city. Once in Cairns, all forms of transport will be covered until returning from PNG. There will be several flights, including a small propeller plane to New Ireland for the sea kayaking phase. Minivans and boats will also be used for transport.


When not on the Watut river you’ll stay in a comfortable hotels and guesthouses in twin rooms. Before the river section you will be able to leave a small bag with items you won’t need such as travelling clothes here at your own risk. Throughout the expedition you’ll camp in technical tents shared between two.


You’ll eat in local restaurants and hotels while not on the river, where there will be a variety of delicious meals. While on the river, fresh food will be prepared and the whole team will help cook the meals, which will provide enough energy for the rafting. Though sufficient calories in terms of meals and snacks will be provided by Secret Compass, teammates are advised to bring a few favourite snacks or bars to keep spirits high.


Hamish McMaster will be the expedition leader for Papua New Guinea. After 18 years of running rivers to every corner of the world, Hamish loves nothing more than to get out on paddling trips exploring new and exciting destinations. Mush (as he’s known!) is incredibly proud of his team of instructors and guides who are all living their dreams and looking forward to sharing that philosophy with everyone who joins them.


Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.

Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone: Your mobile roaming will work in Australia and in the towns when in PNG but once on the river and during the sea kayaking phase there will be no signal.

Here are some frequently-asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never rafted. Can I come?

As part of the training package you will be taught all the skills necessary to paddle a raft through demanding rapids. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, then you will have no problems. There are many whitewater centres which can do introductory courses too if you want to get a feel for what whitewater rafting is about.

Can I have a one-person tent?

Secret Compass will provide the tents for this expedition. Due to the limited space on the rafts, team members are required to share a tent.

Can I arrive a day late?

As the plan outlines, there is a chain of transport to get teammates to the location where the training will commence, so start and end dates are not flexible.

Can I charge all my electricals?

Once the team start the rafting there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

Will there be telephone signal?

There will be mobile signal in Australia and the villages at the start and end of the rafting however you should plan on having no signal throughout the river phase or whilst sea kayaking.

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