South Pacific

Papua New Guinea

written by | Posted on February 1st, 2010

Indeed, the effluvia of war are prevalent in the area. The rusty engine from an Australian bomber downed by Japanese fighters sits near the entrance to the lodge, and sunken wrecks from military vessels are popular diving spots.

Walindi is also homeport to the MV FeBrina, a live-on diving vessel that plies waters far removed from Kimbe Bay. With seven air-conditioned cabins and carrying up to 12 guests, the boat is furnished with every accruement divers will need while exploring the shallow waters of the Bismarck Sea.

This is nature at its most opulent.

Walindi Plantation is bound to enthrall from the moment the sun rises (it doesn’t rise, it explodes) to quiet evenings when the plantation is enshrouded by the inky hues of tropical dusk when guests gather to exchange stories on a waterfront verandah. Electricity normally is turned off at 11 in the evening and guests are lulled to sleep by the monotonous serenade of frogs and insects, as waves lap against the shore.

Rates at Walindi include meals and daily laundry service. They range from approximately $190 pp per night, dbl for a bungalow, to about $260 pp for a Plantation House. Airport transfers are an additional $70 pp.

Landlubbers will find that the astonishing sight of people living as if the clock stopped centuries ago more than makes up for what the country lacks in luxurious extravagance.

For an up-close look at this enchanting world, few places rival a stay in the Karawari Lodge, a riveting resort in East Sepik Province, deep in one of the country’s most remote and inaccessible areas.

Karawari stands atop a ridge that towers over a vast and dense tropical lowland rainforest. Accessing it is tricky, as there are no roads. Visitors arrive by single-engine airplane from Mt. Hagen—the country’s third largest city—landing on a dirt strip before boarding a canoe upriver to the lodge’s landing spot where 4WD vehicles carry them up the hill.

Operated by Bates’ Trans Niuguini Tours, Karawari is a marvelous and unexpected surprise in such rugged country.

The main house is patterned after a haus tambaran (spirit house) and is decorated with masks, penis sheaths, mythical sculptures and multitudes of fascinating native artwork.

There are 20 bungalows with verandahs, private bathrooms and ceiling fans. Rates generally run from about $350 pp per night, dbl and include meals, tours and air transportation to and from Mt. Hagen.

What makes Karawari Lodge worthy of a visit is the chance to go on tours to villages thriving along the river. This is home to the Arambak tribes, a people relatively untouched by technology and progress.

The villages are primitive yet picturesque; houses are built on stilts and have walls decorated with plaited matting. Their interior, however, is dark and stifling with smoke and sunlight seeps through hatches on the roofs.

In Manjamai Village, about one hour away from the lodge, visitors will glimpse fisherwomen wearing elaborate grass outfits and smoking incessantly to repel mosquitoes. They are usually accompanied by children who sit on the stern of handcrafted skiffs and eat fish and corn cooked over a smoky fire on the bow of the boat. Konmei Village, meanwhile, is known for the elaborate and engrossing dances that natives perform to welcome visitors. The focal point of Tanganimbit Village is a spirit house with an altar displaying human skulls, an eerie reminder of the bloody warfare some tribes waged not long ago when cannibalism ran rampant in these parts.

As a matter of fact, it’s not uncommon to hear natives describe the taste of human flesh supposedly told to them by a grand uncle. For the record, we taste like cassowary.

The area is a place that will both shock and fascinate. The shock comes from finding a place so primitive, the fascination from observing a thoroughly mysterious world.

For those moving on from Karawari to the newest lodge operated by Trans Niugini Tours, the Rondon Ridge Wilderness Lodge, the 1-hour airplane ride back to Mt. Hagen is a gateway to a different Papua New Guinea.

The lodge sits at the end of a treacherous dirt road at 7,100 ft. above sea level from where magnificent views of the mind-boggling Wahgi Valley stretch in all directions. Rondon calls itself “the pinnacle of luxury in a rural setting,” and it is—by Papua New Guinea standards.