Sorrel continues her amazing journey down the Sepik River, staying in this cultural lodge.
The Stone Age is alive and well in Papua New Guinea. It's true that some dugout canoes are powered by motors and modern tools have made an impact, but the basic lifestyle remains almost as it always was.
The Sepik region is a mixture of primitive and modern, with villages sprinkled in jungle along the Sepik River, one of the world's most mysterious waterways.
The region is divided into three parts, upper, middle and lower, with middle being the most popular with tourists and considered the cultural treasure house of PNG. Almost every village has a distinct artistic style and the whole area is of great interest.
Sepik people harvest sago and catch fish. In the Highlands they cultivate small plots and will go to war if their clan is threatened.
Karawari Lodge is on one of the middle Sepik's main tributaries and is a cool, clean and comfortable place to stay. Bob Bates took over the lodge in 1978, just as tourism was beginning. Under Papua New Guinea law, there is virtually no individual ownership of land and much is held by traditional communities. The rest is held by the government. Karawari Lodge is held on a 99-year lease.
There are no roads. Guests get around in flat-bottomed, outboard-powered aluminium punts known as river trucks. They aren't great to look at, but are stable and carry 10 or more passengers sitting comfortably in chairs under canvas canopies. They are easy to get on and off.
When Bates took over the lodge, there was a very inefficient airstrip. People had to take the 150km journey to get there by boat and even jet boats took several hours to do the trip. That method of transport was unsuccessful for many reasons the wake caused dugouts to swamp and the waterways have hazards such as floating logs.
Bob had an all-weather airstrip installed, as well as a road from the river to the lodge, a swimming pool and covered walkways between the chalets and the main building.
The lodge stands on a lone ridge amidst a vast expanse of dense tropical lowland rainforest. It is in Arambak country, one of the most remote and unspoilt areas of the country, with the Karawari River 100m below.
The main building is built in the form of a haus tambaran or spirit house, which is where the dining area, bar and lounge are. It also holds an impressive collection of Sepik artefacts.
Karawari Lodge generates its own power, but this is turned off between 10pm and 5am when torches are provided.
The 20 accommodation rooms are built from materials gathered from the rainforest and have sago palm roofs, giving a totally authentic and rustic feel. There are two adjoining but separate and self-contained rooms per building. Each has a spacious and modern bathroom and there are ceiling fans, mosquito-netted beds and a breezy verandah.
Mosquitoes can be a problem they can bite through light fabric, so it's a good idea to wear impenetrable clothing and long pants tucked into socks.
The Sepik area of Papua New Guinea
Trans Niugini Tours have three-night packages staying at Karawari Lodge for $1895 per person.
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 $957 from Brisbane, $1066 from Sydney, $1471 from Darwin, $1644 from Melbourne, $1714 from Adelaide and $2223 from Perth. 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