Day #21 New Guinea Adventure

Kokas, McClure Gulf, West Papua Province

Map of the region showing our heading

Map of the region showing our heading

We have been sailing all night and at one point had reached the western most point in our journey along the coast of the island of New Guinea. We are on course for McClure Gulf and the village of Kokas in Fak Fak province. Due to a one time transmigration program the government ran for many years in the region, much of the population here is Muslim. We’ve been told that these differences will be evident in their cultural performance today. Also this area is home to some significant rock art, and we are planning to head out in the zodiacs to see what we can find.

Approaching the village of Kokas

We arrive off the village at around 08:30 and the expedition team man the zodiacs and head in to the village to prep the landing site and make sure all is okay for our arrival.

By 09:00 our flotilla of zodiacs is heading for the village. As we approach we can see there is a large crowd waiting to greet us at the wharf where we will disembark.

Zodiac landing site

Zodiac landing site

Once we are all safely back on dry land we head up through the village toward what must be a community centre building where a sheltered seating area has been constructed for us in front of an open square.

Old clumsy me again falls over one more time as I’m climbing up a grassy hill toward the seating area, I have to think this big lens completely does in my sense of balance. Finally I make it and take a spot on the ground facing the open area in front of the building.

Kelly at the welcoming ceremony

All around the square there are people everywhere, some of the kids are dressed up in their costumes all of them eager to get a look at these strangers who’ve come to visit.

Mark and Mick surrounded by kids from the village

The ceremony starts off with a welcome to the village by one of the elders.

Welcome to the village

Over the next hour we are treated to a wonderful presentation of dancing, singing and performances by men and women of the village and especially by the children. 

Women’s traditional dance

There’s a bit of a dodgy old sound system that cuts in and out but nobody seems to care as it’s all great fun.

Young hula hoop dancer concentrating on her performance

After the ceremony has finished I got to hang out with some of the kids while we were offered some local food to sample.

Teaching the kids of Kokas to do the “live long and prosper” hand sign

We are invited to walk around the village and as we head off we find ourselves in the company of several children who have taken it upon themselves to be our guides. Which makes for a lot of fun as we can’t really communicate that well.

The village is quite large and there’s a lot to see and take in as we walk around. On one of the walls of a building, not far from where the ceremony was held, is this wonderful frieze, that I think depicts what I think looks like two men watching a cock fight, while others are cooking and a dog and a cat square off over a fish.

Wall frieze

Further on we end up in a large field, near the school, where there are a large group of cows and what seems like a million bugs flying all around them.

Group of cows swarmed by bugs

On the way back to the main village area there are quiet spots where you can just stop and really take in the ambience of this beautiful spot.

Walking alone

We find ourselves on a long avenue that leads back to the wharf and by this time all of our walking groups have attracted quite a following.

Walking one of the main avenues

Along the way we stop to say hi to and swap pictures with people who seem happy to have us visit and there are always the kids.

Hanging out with the kids

In front of one house there is a perch and two beautiful coloured parrots.

One of the Parrots

As we round a corner at the end of the avenue there are some caves in a rock wall to our left and a military cemetery on our right. The caves are a remnant of the Japanese occupation during World War II and the cemetery is a reminder that conflict has continued in this area and that lives throughout Papua have been lost, even in a small town like Kokas.

Military Cemetery

We are almost back to the wharf where we landed when Kelly meets this young woman wearing the most beautiful Hijab and carrying a stunning pink parasol. A picture opportunity not to be missed.

Young woman with parasol

As we near the shopping area there is an old man, with what I think is a Loris, showing it off to the kids.

Loris

Loris

The town is not that big but there are a few motorbikes and other vehicles around so I had to laugh when we came to the local petrol station. I think Bensin Murni translates to Clear Gasoline and with the exchange rate that would be about an Australian dollar a bottle.

Kokas petrol station

We’ve made it back to the wharf and unfortunately it’s time to head back to Orion. There's a crowd gathered around a general store and the women have put fruit and vegetables out for sale.

Visiting Kokas has been a wonderful experience, the people have welcomed us warmly and it’s hard to say goodbye. We say our final farewell to our young guide and board the zodiacs for the ride back to Orion.

Farewell to our young guide

Once we are all back on board Captain Frank ups anchor and proceeds to reposition the ship to Arguni where we are going in search of Rock Art. It’s another stunning day in paradise as around 14:00 hours we set out in the zodiacs. 

Orion anchored off Arguni

Orion anchored off Arguni

It’s a pretty hot day out there and we are going to be in the zodiacs for almost three hours so it’s important that we put on some good sunscreen, wear a hat and bring lots of water.

Max doing his Lawrence of Arabia impersonation

The village of Arguni sits in a bay dotted with limestone outcrops and uplifts. These limestone islands are not uncommon throughout Asia/Pacific but what makes these so interesting is that rock art has been painted on them.

Limestone island

We head out into the bay and toward a group of islands, as the zodiacs are manoeuvred under the overhang Mark talks about the rock art and it’s relationship with art from the Northern Australia.

Mark points out the rock art

The exposed rock walls display sprayed pigment from layers of stencilled hands with varying tones of red (from ochre), black (from ash), and white (ground limestone). Predominant designs show hand stencils, fish, birds, angled boomerang-like objects, and depictions of mixed animal-human figures.

Sprayed Hands

Fish painting

It’s quite breathtaking to be out here, on the zodiacs, silently gliding under the overhang past all this beautiful art.

Moving in for a closer look

We’ve been out for an hour or so and it’s pretty hot as we move out from around one of the islands we hear the sound of a bell ringing out over the water. In the distance we can see a zodiac that looks like it has an umbrella mounted in it. As we get closer we can see Tracy (hotel manager) waving what looks to be an old school bell and some of the guys from the restaurant holding trays of ice creams. Awesome!

Tracy and the boys at the ice cream boat


We pull alongside and pick up our ice creams as we head out into the bay again. As we transverse another small island we can clearly see a white bleached skull sitting on a ledge.

Sun bleached skull

The Papuan people of the McClure Gulf didn’t believe in burying their dead, they were placed in the limestone caves along the cliffs, the same locations that house generations of Rock Art. Legend has it that the original tribes were all but wiped out by tribal war and the bones dumped here. This bloody history also lends its self to the myth that the rock art is painted in the blood of war victims, and that hand stencils were from severed limbs held as stencils celebrating the victory of war.

Skull and bones on the island

On our return to the Orion we head past the village of Arguni with it’s silver domed mosque brilliant in the afternoon sun.

Mosque in the village of Arguni

As we round the island we see a lone villager out on a large wooden raft hauling in oyster cages.

Oyster farmer

By about 17:00 we are back on board, exhausted but excited about the wonderful day spent in McClure gulf and the sights and experiences shared today. As the Orion sails for our next destination, the Kai Islands, it’s time to once again take in another beautiful sunset.

Sunset in McClure gulf

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia