Sorrel meets PNG’s crocodile people when she cruises one of the world's most impressive waterways.
Papua New Guinea is a country of mystery, secrets, diverse cultures and languages.
There is very little archaeological evidence of its early history. People lived along rivers and coastal plains which have flooded, making it unlikely evidence will ever appear. Its population was broken into many language groups and clans some languages are spoken by fewer than 2000 people and there was much violence between them. The language situation remains the same and Pidgin is the common method of communication.
Tourists have been curious about Papua New Guinea for only about 30 years. Fortunately their small numbers have had little impact on local traditions and culture.
The Sepik region takes up a huge chunk of northern Papua New Guinea and can be reached by air in around two hours from Port Moresby, the country's capital.
The Sepik meanders 1126km from the base of the Highlands to the sea. It is one of the world's greatest rivers, navigable for almost its entire length. It is the lifeblood of the area, an essential transport and trade route, as most of the region is inaccessible by road, with only three access points. To travel on its broad waters is to feel the heart and soul of this incredible country, truly one of the world's last frontiers.
Trans Niugini Tours' Sepik Spirit cruises focus on the great river's tributaries. They operate three-night packages between their lodge at Karawari and Timbunke via the Karawari and Korosameri rivers, visiting remote villages along the way. There are fishing camps set up along the way and the forest gradually gives way to swampy flatlands. You can cruise either way, depending on which day of the week suits you.
Villages survive with no power. Women literally keep the home fires going day and night, as matches and fuel are very scarce. Many people have never left their immediate surroundings, but even those who live on tributaries consider themselves Sepik people.
At Kundaman village, local women process starchy sago, the staple food of the region. It is made into two varieties and generally eaten with greens. The diet is not very varied. Pawpaw is a welcome addition and the capture of a wild pig is cause for much celebration.
Residents live in little individual huts with bark floors and sago palm frond roofs. They dress in grass skirts with shell and feather decoration.
Two hundred students attend a small school across the Karawari River (many of them paddle to lessons). There are only three teachers and classes are large. Students love to meet and swap songs with visitors.
Mameri residents are very friendly. They sell carvings, woven baskets and animals and perform a sing sing in the spirit house (haus tambaran), complete with traditional dress, drums and dancing.
Mindimbit is famous for its wooden carvings, particularly of standing men and masks. It is a comparatively large village, with a few hundred residents who dress in a mix of traditional and modern clothes and live in simple huts.
Tambanum, the Sepik's largest village, is a great contrast to the others. It has rows of houses and a thriving carving scene, mostly produced for tourists. Many people find it a little too touristy. It was home for some time to American anthropologist Margaret Mead.
The MV Sepik Spirit was built in 1989 to specifications to suit a shallow draft for navigating inland waterways. It allows passage into the heart of the Sepik River and areas not accessible by other vessels. It accommodates 18 passengers in nine deluxe and spacious twin-bedroom cabins with private bathroom. There is a dining room, lounge, bar, video and covered upper observatory deck. It is air-conditioned and provides intimate exposure to remote areas. The Sepik Spirit complies with rigid safety standards.
Northern Papua New Guinea.
Trans Niugini three-night Sepik Spirit
cruise packages cost $2400 per person, twin share. Cruise, accommodation, meals, tours and air transfers are included. Karawari Lodge accommodation costs extra.
Qantas flies daily to Brisbane, with connections to Mount Hagen via Port Moresby operated by Air Niugini. Return economy airfares to Port Moresby start at $956 from Brisbane, $1066 from Sydney, $1471 from Darwin, $1644 from Melbourne, $1714 from Adelaide and $2223 from Perth, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing, but may vary at time of booking.
Trans Niugini Tours
PO Box 371 Mt Hagen
Papua New Guinea
Ph: 0011 675 542 1438
Freephone Australia 1800 634 773
Fax: 0011 675 542 firstname.lastname@example.org
Qantas: 13 13 13