Papua New Guinea is like no other place on Earth
Papua New Guinea is indisputably the most culturally diverse country in the world, with over 860 languages, and well over 1,000 distinct cultures. It is a land of stunning mountains, spectacular wildlife and one of the world’s last intact systems of tribes, clans and rituals. In many remote villages across the country, first contact with the outside world is well within living memory.
This expedition takes you to one of the most remote and little visited parts of Papua New Guinea... the Sepik River. At 1,126 kilometres, the Sepik River is Papua New Guinea’s answer to the Amazon. It is the country’s longest river and is often referred to as Papua New Guinea’s ‘cultural heart’ because it is so rich and varied in its tribal cultures.
Following on from Redfern Adventure’s extremely successful 2018 expedition up the Sepik River, the Redfern Team has developed this itinerary to focus on the most interesting villages that the Sepik River has to offer, and to venture even higher along the Upper Sepik to visit villages that are very seldom visited by outsiders. We will witness two large “sing sings” (gatherings of tribes for traditional dance and singing), as well as a mumu feast (involving cooking food on hot stones in an earth oven in traditional Polynesian style).
Life on the Sepik River, despite the best efforts of missionaries, is still dominated by Spirits, they are everywhere from The Haus Tambarans to the dark of night. People can change their forms and be possessed, ancestors are still present, not dead like ours; never far below the surface lies a society still very much involved with magic and ritual. In this expedition we aim to spend as many evenings as possible with friends we made on our last expedition in their Spirit Houses, sitting quietly in the dark as they play on garamut drums and Sepik flutes, watching and listening to the initiated, hearing them tell of their clans origin myths, of the spirits that surround them and of the time before first contact – still just within living memory.
During this 12 day trip, we travel by canoe to the Upper Sepik and Middle Sepik to visit villages with ancient beliefs and rituals. We will meet the famed crocodile men, known for their intricate crocodile-skin scarification marks. We will visit many varied and ancient Spirit Houses, and discover the Iatmul tribe’s mythologies of wayward spirits and animal gods that still hold sway over traditional village lifestyles.
Along our journey on the Sepik River, we will have many bird-watching opportunities (with good chances to see several birds of paradise), and we have the chance to spot diverse waterfowl as well as crocodiles on the Sepik River itself.
We will visit numerous villages for artefact buying opportunities, and may be allowed to go out with the crocodile warriors to observe their traditional livelihood of hunting crocodiles at night. Artefacts along the many (varied) villages along the Sepik River include exquisite wooden carvings (such as figures and masks), shields, spears, dancing sticks, stone tools, pottery, axes and traditional knives.
- Cost: US $3,950 per person.
- Start Point: Wewak, Papua New Guinea.
- End Point: Wewak, Papua New Guinea.
- Dates: Monday November 16th to Friday November 27th, 2020 (note this expedition is deliberately planned to start on a Monday and finish on a Friday, allowing you to travel to/from PNG over weekends. Only 10 work days are required to take part on this trip!) To book a place, please email us.
- Group Size: 6–10 plus staff.
- Bespoke Tour: We organise this trip as a private trip to fit your dates and your interests. Please email us for details and a quote.
Day 1: We meet in the town of Wewak (pick up from airport) and are transferred to the Wewak Boutique Hotel where we overnight and have dinner. At 7 pm we have a detailed briefing meeting to discuss the itinerary of our expedition.
Day 2: After breakfast, at 8:30 am, we drive to the small town of Pagwi on the Sepik River (about 5 hours driving time). At Pagwi, we are met our canoes and canoe men who will transport you up river to Wagu Village in Wagu Lagoon and check into the guest house there. Overnight and dinner in the guesthouse.
Day 3: We awake early and visit birds of paradise sites to see them performing their dawn chorus. We have a chance to see the lesser bird of paradise, the twelve-wired bird of paradise, the magnificent riflebird (a true beauty!) and the king bird of paradise. Sightings cannot be guaranteed, but we have a good chance!
After birding, we return to the guesthouse for breakfast. We then motor in canoes upstream to Amaki Village on the Upper Sepik. Overnight and dinner at Amaki.
Day 4: Amaki Village is absolutely stunning. It is extremely remote and little visited, and home to a vast Haus Tambaran (Spirit House). We explore the village, and witness an impressive sing sing showcasing traditional clothing, dancing and singing. The villagers in Amaki are exceptional carvers, and we have the opportunity to visit dozens of artefact sellers in the village (often with very interesting pieces). Very, very few outsiders have the chance to visit Amaki and witness the villagers’ ancient customs and way of life. Depending upon the time we are finished, we may travel even further up the Upper Sepik to villages beyond Amaki. In the afternoon, we then travel downstream to the village of Korogu. Overnight and dinner at Korogu.
Day 5: We canoe from Korogu to the stunning Chambri Lakes, filled with fish and waterfowl. We visit Aibon, a village fames for unique pottery that is traded across the Sepik River, and several nearby villages for artefacts. We dine and overnight in a local guest house at Chambri.
Day 6: Today, we visit a series of villages of the Chambri Lakes to meet artefact carvers, visit sectacular Spirit Houses, and glimpse local life. We may have an opportunity to observe the villagers crocodile hunting (their traditional livelihood) and may join them for a traditional crocodile meal. We dine and overnight in a local guest house at Chambri.
Day 7: We journey from the Chambri Lakes to Kanganaman Village, spotting birdlife and crocodiles along the way. On arriving in Kanganaman, we witness a traditional cassowary dance (the dancers are dressed in amazing leafy costumes) and a spirit dance sing sing. Afterwards, we see ancient “blood stones” (where enemies were tied up and executed), and visit a very distinctive two-level Spirit House (completely different from all that we will visit on this trip). This is the largest Spirit House on the entire river. We dine and sleep in Kanganamun village guest house. After sunset, we return to the Spirit House to hear traditional music on bamboo flutes and giant garamut drums! We may hear stories from the tribesmen.
Day 8: We undertake a day trip from Kanganamun to visit the beautiful villages of Palembei and Yentchen, both of which are known for their handicrafts and artefacts. Palembei has two really spectacular Spirit Houses, which we visit. We meet initiated Crocodile Warriors of the Yatmul Tribe (and see their unique scarification patterns on their backs). The Yatmul are famed for their ‘Crocodile Clan Culture’ and we meet the village chief to understand their complex relationship with crocodiles. We will likely meet many artefact sellers. We return to Kanganamun for the evening and visit the initiated men in the Spirit House. Some expedition members may opt to go crocodile hunting in the evening with young men from the village, and it is possible we may join a traditional Yatmul crocodile feast (crocodile meat is the locals’’ main source of protein). We sleep and dine at Kanganamun village guesthouse.
Day 9: We undertake a day trip from Kanganamun for Kamindibit village to watch a mumu feast ceremony and to witness the cooking process (heating stones in a fire, building an earth oven, and cooking food in banana leaves). While dinner is cooking, we visit artefact traders and can undertake a nature walk. We sleep and dine at Kanganamun village guesthouse.
Day 10: We undertake a day trip from Kanganaman to Kamanimbit Village, home to the Havalan clan of the Yatmal clan, and the epi-centre of carving and artefacts on the Sepik River. We visit a master carver and trader called Ronnie, and witness traditional weavers and sago makers. We listen to stories from village elders, concerning the origin myths of the local clans, and may be able to witness traditional techniques of building dugout canoes.
Day 11: After breakfast in Kanganaman, we motor upriver, stopping off at Korogo village before we return back to Pagwi. We say goodbye to the boatmen, transfer into a private charter bus, and are driven back to the “Wewak Boutique Hotel” where we dine and overnight. We will aim to arrive in Wewak during the early afternoon to allow time to visit artefact traders and to pack any artefacts we have purchased, ready to fly home tomorrow.
Day 12: After breakfast, we transfer from the hotel to Wewak airport for departing flights to Port Moresby.
Note: all transport on the Sepik River will be undertaken on motorised dugout canoes. Our team of local guides have extensive experience navigating the river channels. The canoes offer excellent photographic opportunities for wildlife and river life scenes!
On our last visit in 2018 we were amazed by the enormous variety of beautiful, wonderful and strange artefacts that were available to buy for extremely reasonable prices. The Sepik River has one of the worlds richest artistic traditions, and unlike in other parts of the world there is no artisanal class – everyone in the village makes things, all the men carve, the women make beautiful bilums, baskets, fish traps and pots. In many ways the Sepik is a cashless subsistence economy however the locals do need cash for, amongst other things, medicine & education and by buying as many artefacts as possible not only do we help keep ancient traditions alive but we support a desperately poor economy.
Accommodation will mainly be in village houses allowing us to immerse ourselves in the Sepik way of life, however the accommodation will be very simple. There is unlikely to be any electricity, let alone mobile phone reception, during our trip.
There are many options to fly to Port Moresby. Don't just go to your local travel agents - they will probably give you a really high price for flying to Port Moresby, as flying this route is quite specialist.
From the USA & Canada, you can fly to Australia, then on to Port Moresby; or fly to Narita (Tokyo), Hong Kong, Manila or Singapore, then on to Port Moresby.
From destinations in Asia, Air Niugini flies Between Bali (Denpasar) and Port Moresby one day each week. Air Niugini also has weekly flights between Port Moresby and Manila (four days each week), Singapore (five days), Hong Kong (three days) and Tokyo (Saturday only). Phillipines Airlines is expected to join Air Niugini on the Manila–Port Moresby route in 2016.
From Australia & New Zealand, it is best to fly to either Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney, all of which have regular flight connections to Port Moresby, both with Qantas and Air Niugini.
From the Pacific, Air Niugini flies to Nadi (Fiji) via Honiara (Solomon Islands). The only other way of flying to PNG from the Pacific is via Australia.
From Europe, either fly to Asia or Australia, then catch onward connections to Port Moresby (see above).
Many people find flying to Singapore is the easiest option. From Singapore, there are direct flights to/from Port Moresby with Air Niugini. If you time your flights right, you can fly to Singapore and then continue on to Port Moresby the same day, or of course, break up your journey and have a night or two in Singapore exploring this wonderful city. For those with an overnight connection in Singapore, there is an excellent airport hotel within the terminal building of Singapore Changi Airport.
Flights to Port Moresby should not be crazy expensive. From London, a flight to Singapore can be as little as £400 return. And the Air Niugini flight from Singapore to Port Moresby can be as little as £600.
Please don't hesitate but to email us if you need any advice regarding flying to Port Moresby.
Adventure Rating: Moderate
Before or after your Sepik Adventure, you can extend your stay by visiting the breathtakingly-beautiful Yuo Island (and other islands nearby) off the coast of Wewak. These volcanic and coralline islands offer spectacular treks, many WW2 war relics, birdwing butterflies, traditional way of life, excellent local food (including fresh lobster), world-class coral reefs snorkelling and even regular dolphins sightings. If you wish to spend time on these islands, we will introduce you to all required contacts, so you can organise your add on trip directly and at cost price. Accommodation on the islands costs approximately US $50 per person per night. Add on trip to see birds of paradise and other wildlife close to Port Moresby (see details above) (2 days) To get a quote for any extensions, simply mention which extension(s) you are interested in when you apply to Join this Adventure!