Day #7 New Guinea Adventure

Tufi, Papua New Guinea

Ooops, missed the sunrise this morning, now I’m going to have to be ostracised by all those who’s alarms went off. But never mind it’s a beautiful morning and we are out on deck having Eggs Benedict, thoughtfully provided by Donny and a Latte courtesy of Emil and we can see the coastline of Tufi and once again the sky is filled with towering clouds.
Approaching Tufi Coast

Apparently the Tufi area on the south east coast of Oro Province is one of PNG’s best kept secrets and is a spectacular place to visit. Cape Nelson, jutting out into the Solomon Sea, was formed by the eruption of three volcanoes, whose fast flowing lava created the rias, or fjords. Unlike the fjords of Scandinavia, the water is always warm and the bays are home to stunning coral formations and tropical marine life. The fjords are over 90 metres deep and rise vertically out of the water to over 150 metres. The vertical cliff faces of the gorges are covered in moss and orchids and waterfalls cascade directly into the sea.

Map of the region showing our heading -  Google map link

 It’s a pretty busy day today with a number of expeditions taking place. There’s snorkelling at the outer reef, a Tufi Village Tour and a Suicide Point Walk.
We had initially put our names down for scuba diving but unfortunately there were only three of us and they had to cancel it. In hindsight, if we had been smart we would have just paid the extra and done the diving as we realised at the end of the day what an experience it would have been.

However we are scheduled on the Tufi Village Tour in the morning and snorkelling at the outer reef in the afternoon. I’m hoping we will have time for a quick bite of lunch between expeditions.

At 09:30 we are assembled for the departure to the village and there are about 4 zodiacs leaving at the same time. To get to the zodiacs you descend a stairway from the Delphinus Café to a small loading platform, there they have a large board with hooks and a plastic counter with all of the cabin numbers. There’s one for each of us, one side is blue the other white. As you head down to the marina deck you turn over your counter so it’s displaying white. When you come back you turn it back to show blue. That way they can quickly see who’s back and who’s not. Low tech, love it.
Zodiacs waiting at the marina deck.

So we are all on the zodiacs and heading down one of the fjords and the faces of the gorge is thick with vegetation. It’s hard to imagine how the towering palm trees can find enough earth to anchor themselves.
Fjord vegetation

In the distance we can see a number of outrigger canoes and young Papuan natives dressed in their ceremonial gear. I’m not sure how many of us get to sit on each canoe but the platform area looks pretty small.
Outrigger Canoe and Crew

Well on ours we have three of us and they gave us implicit instructions not to move around! I don’t think the outriggers are all that stable. Once we are settled and happy all of the guys start paddling the outriggers into a narrow channel leading into the jungle from one of the fjords.

The vegetation on either side of the channel is rich and green and the trees overhang the channel so it feels like you are heading down a green tunnel. There is the occasional outrigger that has been hauled up onto the bank. After about half an hour we approach our landing spot deep in the jungle.
Heading up into the jungle
Outrigger on the bank
Approaching our landing spot

At the landing point we all “gracefully” hopped off the outriggers and waited until everyone had disembarked. Before we could head up the trail into the jungle the village elders came around and put a dab of coloured paste on our faces to show we were welcome. We had only walked for a couple of minutes when we heard shouting and these three warriors came running out of the bush leaping and yelling, brandishing spears and challenging us for walking in their territory.
The Challenge

Of the three one was just a young kid but he looked the part with a painted face and spiky headdress.
Young warrior

I guess we must have looked suitable chastised for entering their territory because after a few minutes of spear rattling we were allowed to pass and enter into a clearing where there were a large number of villagers and a welcoming committee.
Welcome to Tufi Village

At the village we were shown a number of crafts and activities they perform on a daily basis, one of the most interesting was how they harvest, prepare and cook Sago.

Sago is a starch extracted from the pith of sago palm stems, Metroxylon sagu. It is a major staple food for the lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas, where it is called saksak and sagu. It is traditionally cooked and eaten in various forms, such as rolled into balls, mixed with boiling water to form a paste, or as a pancake.

Step one is to cut down the palm and carefully remove the outer layer of the main stem. This can be somewhat dangerous as the Metroxylon sagu palm has thorns on its stem that are six to eight inches long and VERY needle-like and sharp. The section of trunk that will be worked for starch extraction is about seven to ten feet long.

The second, and probably the most energy consuming, task is to chop-scrape the heart "pith" of the palm. This is done with a special hand crafted tool that is designed to shave off a bit of the pith with each swing. The object is to end up with sawdust like shavings. I was worried the guy was going to take his toes off with that axe!
Shaving the plant
Sago axe

Once the pith material has been thoroughly shaved and beaten it is then soaked in water. This has the effect of helping the starch separate from the non-starch part of the pith material. A filter is used that allows the starch through with the water that is channeled into a tightly woven bark bag. After the starch powder is filtered it is mixed with water and kneaded into a sticky dough.
Kneading the sago

To cook it they took the dough and  put it in a split green bamboo stem, then built and lit a large fire of dry palm leaves over it. The heat was intense and the fire burnt very hot and very quickly, in a matter of minutes it was done. After the fire died down they cleared the charred palms, lifted out the sago and prepared a bag for it using banana leaves so they could carry it home.
Preparing the fire
Stoking the fire
The fire at it’s most intense
Removing the cooked sago
Wrapping it to carry it home

They came around offering a taste of the freshly cooked sago, they call it Papuan chewing gum. I tried some it definitely was chewy but it didn’t really have a taste. Some of the kids told me they cook it up as a pancake and have it with banana and sugar which sounds pretty good.

After the sago presentation we were treated to another cultural dance and song performance which was different again from the others we had seen and very dramatic amongst the dappled light coming in from the jungle canopy.
Young woman dancer
Young male dancer

After this we talked and took pictures of the villagers and eventually made our way back to the landing point for the outrigger trip back down the channel to the fjord. This time we have some motor boats waiting for us, we climbed on board waving goodbye to the outrigger paddlers as we headed back to Orion.
Kelly on the boat back
Some scruffy fellow she is with

Wow, what a great morning, Tufi is a fantastic place to visit. We’ve just got time for a quick lunch, then we are off to grab our snorkelling gear for a trip to the outer reef.

At 13:30 we are assembled for the departure to the village and this time rather than taking zodiacs there is a motor boat waiting for us.  Apparently the trip to the outer reef is about half an hour so I’ve got my Kindle with me so I can have a read on the way out to the reef.

I’m reading a very interesting book called “The Ghost Mountain Boys” by James Campbell.

Here’s an overview of the story, “Lying due north of Australia, New Guinea is among the world’s largest islands. In 1942, when World War II exploded onto its shores, it was an inhospitable, cursorily mapped, disease-ridden land of dense jungle, towering mountain peaks, deep valleys, and fetid swamps. Coveted by the Japanese for its strategic position, New Guinea became the site of one of the South Pacific’s most savage campaigns. Despite their lack of jungle training, the 32nd Division’s Ghost Mountain Boys were assigned the most gruelling mission of the entire Pacific campaign: march 130 miles over the rugged Owen Stanley Mountains and protect the right flank of the Australian army as they fought to push the Japanese back to the village of Buna on New Guinea’s north coast.”

You can get more information if you are interested at the Ghost Moutain Boys website.

Book/Expedition Trailer

We arrive at the reef and it’s spectacular! The water is so clear you can see the coral and the fish swimming below you. We waste no time in getting our gear on and hopping overboard. What more can you say but it was a bit of heaven on earth.
The reef
Parrot Fish
Fish (unknown)
Reef from the boat

They had to almost physically drag us from the water, I don’t think anyone wanted to go back. But all good things must come to an end and once again we headed back to the Orion.

As we came in sight of the shore there was a beautiful cloud formation building up over the fjords and some isolated rain falling. This is a shot, inspired by the work of Peter Eastway, of that scene.
Clouds over Tufi Fjords

By about 16:30 we were back on board and time for a beer and a plunge in the jacuzzi. Dinner tonight was a island buffet under the stars in the Delphinus Café. What a way to end the best day yet.

Tomorrow, the Tami Islands.