Papua New Guinea - Packrafting but not as we know it

After some days of asking I had finally found someone willing to drive me for the hour or to the start of my Easter Packrafting trip. The drop off point was in an area that had previously been planted with rubber but now the trees were mainly (but not totally) cleared for cattle or old & overgrown. From there, on the edge of the Sogeri Plateau, it was a 10 km walk down a gravel road to the Musgrave River. While easy driving the daily rains meant it was too risky to take the vehicle down the steep descent to the river.

As I walked the words ‘its packrafting Jim but not as we know it’ kept going through my head as I glanced back to see my two companions (from a nearby village) with one carrying my boat and the other the backpack with the rest of the equipment.

Getting to the small hamlet at the rivers edge there were some friendly greetings and a couple of men came and joined me as I got the packraft (Aire BAKraft) ready. Then it was time to go. Well, only after I paid my two companions.

The river was low and indeed for the next 40km I would be regularly scraping the bottom of the boat or have to walk ten or fifteen feet over the shallow parts. Indeed, I think probably this was, at about 70km, true for most of the trip. The river banks were not that crowded and while for the first 8km there were regular greetings and questions there were less people than I had expected but at the same time I was looking forward to getting into the remoter areas. This happened soon enough and the hard work of paddling down a slow river hit in, and at the same time the realisation there was no turning back. The thoughts of an easy one or two day walk out in case of problems were put into perspective when looking at dense bush and steep slopes – damn Google earth it makes things seem so easy. Could I walk out, yes - would I suffer terribly doing so, definitely yes! In fact the best way out would have been to swim and walk along the river.

While there were no humans to be seen or heard there was the occasional bush material shelter as used by hunters. Nearing dusk I stopped at one and like a good Indian scout felt the charred wood in the fire but couldn’t tell if it was recent or not. I would probably have stopped there but having realised that I had forgotten matches it seemed better to continue for a while. This possible error of judgement became apparent as the next two places I stopped to camp had signs of wild pig activity. Eventually I just took the first half reasonable pig free site I could find and set up camp amongst the trees. Not sure that’s right - is putting a tarpaulin over a packraft really setting up camp … Then after eating a few packets of sachet tuna it was bedtime. At this point my lack of knowledge of wild pigs, except that they kill, became obvious as I wondered if they scavenged at night and if they followed the scent of food like bears. Otherwise, the possibility of snakes worried me but soon I was asleep with the packraft proving quite comfortable.

With about 15km to the first village I had an early start and the hard work paddling began. In fact it was to be about another 25km before I met anyone as the village turned out to be completely deserted except for, as I passed, the sound of a metal pipe being banged. I think it was an SDA village and all the people were at church but still it was a bit eerie with not a single person, young or old, nor any clothes drying or dogs barking.

There is not much I can say about the river as it was just a river without anything special but the occasional birds were interesting to see and as I approached the next village I began to see the first few people. Indeed this was when I first saw one of the bamboo rafts, which are used to transport produce to market. This village was the complete opposite to the previous one with women washing clothes and kids running along the bank calling out and waving. My failure to bring matches was made worst when I came across a couple of girls spearfishing and with long threads of prawns which would have made a great campfire dinner. Indeed the river was so full of fish that was another lost opportunity.

Just on the outskirts of the village I had my only swim of the trip as I miscalculated the width between two boulders and ended-up flipping and being swept through under the raft. This was a reminder to take care with no helmet and far from medical care. By chance a group was watching and offered assistance as a group of goggled small boys swept the river to look for (and return to me) anything I might have lost.

As I travelled I heard a group of market rafters were ahead of me and finally in late afternoon I caught-up with them as they set up camp. But as they were families I felt intrusive joining them overnight and continued for another 15 minutes before setting up my own camp.

At six in the morning as I prepared to leave I realised that delaying my trip to see these rafts actually moving was better than going ahead and so I waited. Three hours of waiting later they arrived and it was worth it to see them! After maybe 30 minutes of travelling together I moved ahead and around midday I passed the road access point where they finished their journey and then shortly after a damn of discarded rafts forced me to carry the boat around. From there it was onto the Kemp Welsh River for the final 10km, and as it was in flood (a bit only luckily) it took little more than an hour to get to my exit point at the Kwikila Suspension Bridge. While the final stage was fast it was also a bit unnerving at times with large trees in the water and when once, due to lack of concentration, I crossed a mini whirlpool (?) it was unnerving to feel the stern of the raft being sucked down. At that point I was certainly glad I was wearing the inflatable (Anfibio Buoy Boy) packraft vest from the German packrafting store.

Then it was an overnight stop (thankyou to my kind hosts) before a PMV minibus trip back to Port Moresby and then taxi to my unit. As we entered the city I had seen the distinctive plume of smoke of a burning vehicle (stolen / crashed) but for unknown reasons I didn’t get my camera out until we actually saw it and so of course missed the perfect end of trip picture!

All in all a good trip. The river was a bit slow but then it would have made a better three nights on the river trip with time spent with a campfire. I would recommend it for the chance to feel like an explorer and gain an insight into the people’s lives and friendly nature. 100 kms of river travel completed.

The pics – none of which are impressive but then it was interesting rather than impressive trip are at:

How can I put this diplomatically …… Photobucket is not good so only some of the pics I intended / tried to load are there.