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Diverse, colourful, extreme – Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the last frontiers for travellers and remains one of the least explored countries in the world. I have always wanted to visit PNG, a nation that comprises the eastern half of the colourful rainforest island-continent that lies between Australia and the equator. Much of Australia’s 20th century history is entwined with that of PNG and I know many people who have lived in PNG, working as teachers, booksellers, engineers, agricultural advisors, aid workers and administrators pre- and post-independence, all of whom have colourful tales of this culturally rich, scenic and geographically remote nation. Just a 90 minute flight from Cairns, PNG is home to 38 species of Birds of Paradise (BoPs), unique cultures and a largely rural/subsistence economy. This year, I booked a scheduled Birds and Culture tour with Sicklebill Safaris rather than making my own arrangements. My goals were to see Birds of Paradise and to attend the colourful Mt Hagen ‘’singsing’’, a cultural show where clans gather to flaunt, flourish and flutter in traditional regalia, featuring music and dance from the Western Highlands province and further afield. Sicklebill arranged travel with local operators and key guides by private mini-bus, scheduled flights and river boats which are common forms of transport, due to ragged jungle roads and a feudal land ownership system that is jealously and violently guarded. Rugged mountains, tropical rivers and coastal islands are home to tribal peoples whose villages of thatched huts now have satellite dishes and men who hunt with spears now sport mobile phones. A local guide is essential for communications and access to, and safe travel through complex land ownership and village sensitivities. Visits to some Bird of Paradise leks and habitats involve mud, steep hills, jungle treks and long river trips. Highlights were: · Paiya village ‘mini-show’ and the Mt Hagen ‘singsing’ · Boat trip up the Fly and Elevala Rivers · Birding around Kumul Lodge · Birds of paradise My pre-trip reading revealed the following: · During the colonial period PNG was governed at various times by the Dutch, Germans and British. It was part of the British Empire in the late 19th century and administered by Australia from 1906-75. Independence was celebrated on 16 September 1975 at a ceremony attended by Prince Charles, who was referred to in Tok Pisin (Pidgin English) as ‘the nambawan pikinini bilong Misis Kwin’; The nation of PNG comprises the eastern half of the world’s second largest island; The population of around 7,000,000 people uses one or more of over 800 languages; ·70% of the country is covered by tropical forest; ·PNG comprises one of the world’s largest remaining rural communities with 82% of the population living outside urban centres; · PNG is classified as a developing country by the International Monetary Fund, with 40% of people living a subsistence lifestyle; Social and religious systems are a mix of traditional and modern practices; The PNG coastline was mapped many centuries ago, yet land exploration occurred as late as the 1930s when Australian gold prospectors Mick and Dan Leahy trekked into the highlands, discovering the amazing hidden world of central PNG Stone Age tribespeople dressed in loincloths, grass skirts and plumed head-dresses who hunted with poisoned arrows; During World War 2 over 200,000 Australian, American and Japanese soldiers died in PNG, many along the Kokoda Trail. The fuzzy-wuzzy angels (as the PNG people were known to the soldiers) who assisted soldiers from both sides of the campaign are remembered annually at Anzac Day services in Australia and New Zealand; PNG may harbour undiscovered plants and animal life as fore-shadowed in Throwim’ way leg (1997) by Tim Flannery a book which records a relatively recent expedition to PNG and West Papua in search of new species; and · A guide told us that 70% of land in PNG is privately owned which caused me to wonder about the average number of acres owned per capita and per family when compared to Australia. Before winging my way from Cairns to Port Moresby I spent a few days around Cairns and the Atherton Tableland, which as well as being very scenic also have interesting birds and wildlife.
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