The options for future white-water exploration in Papua New Guinea are endless! Although it seems like we covered a lot of ground in our expedition, the reality is that we have only scratched the surface. Changes in political stability and tribal tension could see the Southern Highlands open up to exploration as well as some rivers in the Enga Province. If you were to commence a trip in the sweltering 'Wet-Season' you would find enough water to paddle the smaller tributaries that were either two low or dry when we were there, these were present in every area we went to. Most notable the Upper Lopogo in the Morobe Province. And if you were there on a bigger budget... this one is tricky as there is plenty of scope for using helicopters and light-winged aeroplanes to access super remote areas but this would come at a tragic cost, which would be the inability to develop a good repore with the local communities. Papua New Guinea is highly impoverished and the presence of money or valuables WILL affect people's behaviour whether you're working out prices for transport, during your stay in their village and how the communities receive you. Barny, Shannon and Myself are young adventurers, earning modest incomes and therefore were not a huge budget but even having shoes for example indicated to people of our personal wealth. I personally think that if you were to go PNG on a big budget you would get to paddle a few amazing rivers but at the cost of getting the real experience of PNG.
Specific Rivers worth a look....
A part of our expedition was to bring back information on a few rivers to try and rouse future interest in Papua New Guinea, here they are...
Further up the Watut - We paddle two sections on the Watut, from Gwasak to Bamjim and from Society to the confluence of the Bulolo River. Both these sections had some great class IV+ medium volume paddling, with Mangke Gorge providing the best white-water. Society, however, is not even nearly at the source of the Watut. We think by travelling up to Aseki you will find a steeper part of the Watut that could have some goods.... Also contacting the Hidden Valley Mine could be a good idea, it is located further up the Watut and they MIGHT be a good source of information if you get the right person on the phone.
The Upper Lopogo - We paddled the lower section of this run, putting on with only an hour of daylight and therefore hardly stopping to appreciate our setting. The section above, however, WILL be some continuous class IV+ - V when there is water in it, leading us to believe this could be a good wet-season option. It is roadside for a few kilometres, if you go up further you are looking at a jungle-bash to access the river but there is a good chance there is some sort of hunting or village track... there always is!
Chimbu River - This province has the most potential out of anywhere we went and the Chimbu or 'Wara Simbu' is a real test piece. We first descented the section from Banana Market down to Benebi Corner, and the Sikewage Gorge at Benebi Corner. Unfortunately we had to abandon our attempt to paddle down to Kundiawa due to Barny loosing his boat overnight. So this section that has at least two box canyons stacked with class IV-V (parts are visible from the road) is prime for the taking. Though beware, there are sections where the river goes underground!
Marl River - With only Shannon and myself being able to paddle we only committed to a 2km section of this River. Driving along the Waghi River, heading SE from Kundiawa, we found that many of the small and medium size drainage's were granite. After paddling Karanule Creek we figured that exploring further down this road made sense. The Marl was the first major tributary that we came across, at Gumine. We put on at the first bridge crossing the river and took out at the first creek that came in on river left. With more time, and more team members for safety, it would be worthwhile continuing further up the road to paddle the gorge above our put it or even above that OR continue further down below where we took out, maybe taking out at the Wahgi.
As mentioned, there is an unlimited amount of potential in PNG for paddling. After our experience there here are a few things that you might find useful for a future expedition there.
(i) Use common sense, the people of PNG are a lot more astute that you might think. There were situations where a genuine person was trying to help us to the best of their ability BUT their friend did not share the same honest streak. Every deal is a favour, through their Won Tok system of family, so you might be paying a little more here and there but just keep track of it.
(ii) Use the local knowledge CAREFULLY. Once you have assimilated into a specific community or group EVERYONE wants to help you. People will say 'yes' to things that they don't know about just because yes is usually positive. For example, "Is there big rapids and danger down there", "Yes".... "Is it flat/calm water down there", "Yes, very safe". We'd ask either way to see if locals understood what we were asking, something that we found to be handy.
Also the locals drastically under-estimated distances, our first section on the Watut we were told was 1km, and it was 4km. Society to Baiune was meant to be 2-3 km and it was about 10km. We generally doubled the distance that they said and were not surprised if it turned out to be longer.
(iii) Realise that PNG-time is like island-time but even slower! Unless you had an huge sum of money and were employing a security company and chartering flights, you will find yourself being stalled out by PNG-time. Actually even then you will, our initial flight to Lae was delayed by four hours and no one in the terminal was surprised. Planning to have a few days up your sleeve is not a bad idea, we got messed around for 3 days negotiating a price for a 10 day trip to the highlands and we ended up settling on the initial price. Don't get frustrated, and try and sort things out in person opposed to over the phone.
(iv) Play down everything to do with money. It is a hard thing to do when having shoes and clean clothes separates you from the majority of the populas, especially when all you want to do is take video and photos of your experience! We did not go around with our cameras constantly clicking, as we may have liked, but only took photos/video in safe situations and after asking if it was ok. When queried about the price of our gear, cameras etc we would always give low estimates. And with negotiating we always pleeded our lack of money, mainly because it was true, which got us close to local prices!
Well it is hard to explain the experiences we had and to tell of the things that we learnt. But one thing if for certain and that is 'trust is contagious'. We had to put a lot of trust into people we didn't really know, in both our preparation and during our expedition. And we believe that it was this blind trust that made people then trust and want to help us. A lot of our expedition's success came down to luck. With the lack of internet in PNG it is hard to contact people or groups that are not related to tourism but we were fortunate to be put in touch with a certain ex-pat who really made out trip possible. The Union of Watut River Communities also greatly contributed to our success, specifically Reuben Mete and Reuben Paul, not to mention all the boys that looked out/after us. PNG is not this mystical place that has an 'untouched' population of tribes, it is a nation struggling to find the balance between a traditional and western lifestyle. The environment it grand, uncultivated (by a western definition) and treacherous. We were able to overcome these obstacles and almost achieve our admirable goal of 10 First Descents. Eight First Descents in 26 days is an amazing achievement but one thing we think is a greater achievement is that we spent 26 days in a country that we had been warned off, been warned to take guns, were advised that it was unsafe and we not only came through unscathed but we also got to meet the REAL people of PNG. We develop friendships and showed that the stereotypes put on PNG are unfair and unjust. People fear what they do not understand and PNG is a perfect example of this. PNG is an adventure in all its meaning and a place I would highly recommend to anyone seeking just that!
If there is anyone thinking of planning a trip to Papau New Guinea do not hesitate to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org,
Thanks again to everyone who supported us SPARC, Bliss-Stick, Hydroscapes, Bivouac, Back-Country Cuisine, Immersion Research and Canadian Club Whisky.