To Tufi

Trip Start Jul 14, 2009
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Trip End Aug 09, 2009


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Flag of Papua New Guinea  ,
Friday, July 24, 2009

Early morning: 4am! I was awake, anticipating the alarm, and didn't feel that tired. Going to sleep at 9pm certainly worked well.

Breakfast of fruits and Nescafe were waiting for us, then, at 4:30am, we piled into the van for the drive to the airport. Just a few other cars on the road. It was obvious when we reached the extension of power lines from Kavieng: suddenly lights in the jungle!

No problem with check-in or boarding, though Keegan had to rush of the terminal to get sick. (Hopefully, just the early morning/Doxy on an empty stomach). Half-full plane, departed on time.

On our landing in Rabaul, we were able to get a good view of the erupting volcano. Took a few pix. Then on to POM, past another erupting volcano.

We weren’t met on arrival, which was a bit disconcerting, but apparently our guide thought we hadn’t arrived (maybe because our bags were last off and so we were last out of bag claim), so he went off in search of us. But it all worked out, so we, plus driver, plus two guides, set off for Variarata National Park.

The Park sites in the mountains behind Port Moresby. Leaving the airport, we went through a farming area, past the Seventh Day Adventist University (heard a funny thing about the SDAs in PNG: they forgot to consider the time change, so, for a long time, celebrated Sabbath on Sunday…), then up a very steep, narrow winding road to the Park. The road goes through grasslands studded by massive lava boulders, thrown out of a volcano thousands of years ago, and still lying where they landed. I’m always amazed by the lack of decay in lava rocks, even in an environment set for water and root erosion, like PNG.

Along the road, we stopped for a view of spectacular waterfalls, then continued up the road to the Park. The Park’s entrance kiosk was unmanned – windows broken, wood falling apart – so we drove in. The signs looked like they dated back to when the park was established in the 1960s: many were broken, the paint was missing, and the area around was overgrown with weeds. The visitor/info centre and one picnic area looked equally sad. The picnic tables each had a pergola and was set up on a concrete base … but the thatch had broken. The weeds had consumed the tables, and the area was entirely non-functional.

We drove past, on a dirt track, through the trees to Variarata View Point. Spectacular view – even through the rising smoke – of Port Moresby and beyond. We could see the general lay of the land, from airport to the city. The view point had a lovely grass area – perfect for picnics. We also took a short walk into the forest, to see where the could spot Birds of Paradise, were it dawn or dusk. We could hear them but saw nothing.

Returning to the van, we drove to the main picnic area, which was quite nice: large lawn, big tables, good shade from the pergolas. Before lunch, we took a walk to the Koiara tree house. The local people (Koiaras) built small houses high up in trees and lookouts or as places to sleep at night. We climbed up, even over the missing rung, to see the view. It felt a little questionable for five large adults … but just as stable as the kids’ bungalow at the Treehouse last night.

We had sandwiches, slaw, yogurt, and biscuits for lunch. After lunch, we returned to POM, making a brief stop at the Boy Scout Camp: our guide, Glenn, is a Scout leader, and was very happy to learn that both Paul and Keegan were Eagle Scouts. So we saw the camp (nice setting), learned that the Orienteering, involves climbing a trackless route two-thousand feet up to a viewpoint on the nearly-vertical basalt, used the toilet, then went to the airport to check in for our flight to Tufi.

On time flight to Tufi – there were eight of us in the Twin Otter. It was a fun flight over the highlands, through two cloud-enshrouded mountain passes, with cliffs rising above our plane on both sides. I kept thinking, "I’m sure these fly-boys know what they’re doing." They did … but one can always see the headlines …

We were met by the Tufi Dive resort people, who put us in a jeep and drove us the half kilometer to the resort … which is gorgeous, set up on the cliffs above a fjord. Lovely grounds, with a patio overlooking the fjord. We checked in, were greeted with fresh coconuts and cool towels – lovely after the long day – and had a bit of a chat with the manager, Simon. He had been coordinating food for our next four days and wasn’t happy with two of the guest houses where we were slated to say. So he’s reorganized our itinerary, much to our satisfaction. I am very impressed with the hospitality of the Resort. Wish we had a couple of nights here … but this trip is about culture and adventure, not luxury. Save that for Cairns.

Talked briefly with Simon, the manager of Tufi Dive Resort, about PNG. He says land disputes are very common, especially in Tufi. The current inhabitants arrived about 150 years ago, and killed or drove off the previous people. Now those people are returning and demanding their land back. He says the magistrate has to get called in regularly to resolve disputes.

Paul and I sat out on the deck, admiring the fjord, until dark. The weather was perfect for relaxing: comfortable temperature, light breeze. I may not leave.

Dinner was delish – fab presentation, too. Definitely the best meal of the trip so far. [Editor’s note: best meal of the trip period.] Such a very pleasant environment, too. We lingered after dinner a bit, until exhaustion drove us all to bed.
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