“Experience Papua New Guinea culture as the first explorers found it”, says the brochure for Karawari Lodge, just one of four locations offered by Trans Niugini Tours.
Thirty years ago a young engineering graduate, Bob Bates, arrived in PNG. He worked for the government building roads and airstrips. It took him all over the country. He liked what he saw. He decided to stay and began a business showing visitors around. By 1986 he had 30 vehicles running tourists out from Port Moresby. He saw a need for accommodation. “Not”, Bob thought, “the standard international hotel but something more characteristic of the country.” He built his first lodge. It was the start of Trans Niugini Tours.
From reef to rainforest Trans Niugini Tours offers visitors a unique experience. Ambua Lodge near Tari in the Southern Highlands, Malolo Plantation Lodge on the north coast near Madang, and Karawari Lodge and the expeditionary vessel Sepik Spirit on the Sepik River and its tributaries, have all been carefully positioned to allow the inquisitive or specialised traveller the best locations to see and experience all the incredibly diverse natural and cultural wonders this country has to offer.
“We take our visitors from hot to cool, from high to low, by air, by boat, by canoe. Most of our clients go to all four facilities. They have come to see the people and nature”, explains Bob Bates. Accommodation in Ambua Lodge is a series of 40 round thatched cabins nestling in lush tropical rainforest. After a day of crossing vine bridges, spotting elusive tree kangaroos or birds of paradise and meeting the flamboyant Huli people, visitors can relax with a drink by the huge fireplace and enjoy fine cuisine amidst massive Sepik carved pillars. Everything is built from traditional materials. Electricity comes from a mini-hydro plant which called on all Bob’s engineering skills to develop. Ambua Lodge won the Pacific Heritage Award as “a superb example of culturally sensitive and ecologically responsible tourism”.
Malolo Plantation Lodge is of a different style. Originally a coconut plantation, the lodge retains its colonial architectural charm. It has 14 air-conditioned rooms each with a balcony or garden patio overlooking the ocean and flanked by magnificent gardens. This is where the rainforest meets the sea and the emphasis is on the natural environment – blue lagoons, remote island cays and colourful coral reefs with exotic marine life. Expert guides offer a range of activities including walks, bird watching, snorkelling, diving and sea kayaking. Or you might just want to relax by the fresh water swimming pool and sleep to the sounds of the sea.
Karawari Lodge is more of a challenge. It is cut out of the jungle on a ridge above the Karawari river, a tributary of the great Sepik river. Traditional style houses offer all the comforts of a first class hotel in a location about as far removed from international as you can get. You can dine and enjoy a drink in the ‘haus tambaran’, a Sepik spirit house complete with stunning artefacts and hand carved furniture. This is Arambak country, a country of craftsmen. There’s a thousand miles of jungle in every direction with only two ways in and out, the air and the river.
And if the river beckons you can take a few days on the Sepik Spirit. It is the ultimate ‘floating lodge’. A river boat of revolutionary new design which accommodates a maximum of 18 passengers in fully air-conditioned comfort. The Sepik Spirit cruises the middle reaches of the river, with the prolific traditional wood carving of the Latmul people, up to the seldom visited Blackwater Lakes.
Trans Niugini Tours encourages the fully independent traveller as well as small tour groups. It is the very best in eco-tourism. Bob Bates says, “Papua New Guinea is something of a ‘last frontier’ for that small number of international travellers who visit our country each year. We’re a destination where mass tourism has no role to play, a land where the conservation of the wetland, bird habitat, rainforest, rich flora and fauna and the traditional cultural lifestyles of the local people should always be paramount.”