Travel Destinations

Sepik River: A Mysterious River, Tribal Art And Birds Galore

Winding across a vast delta before ending 685 miles from its headwaters in the soaring highlands, the Sepik River was once the domain of anthropologists, naturalists, and adventure seekers. Today, an expedition up this mysterious river is for any-one wanting to explore one of the world’s last unspoiled reservoirs of nature, culture, and — most especially— tribal art.

Some native peoples here have only just emerged from isolation, and their customs and crafts are so unique that many collectors consider this region to be one of the world’s best sources of primitive art. Unlike the members of Papua New Guinea’s highland tribes, who express themselves in face and body painting (see yesterday’s headline article), the Sepik peoples do so through their wood carving. Their tambaran spirit houses, embellished with intricate posts and gables, are living museums of their past.

The Sepik Basin is included in most organized tours of Papua New Guinea, which are the only feasible ways to visit this remote region of few roads and limited air service. Most book you on the nine-cabin MV sepik spirit, a shallow-draft vessel that takes you on a trip along the river before depositing you at the Karawari Lodge, a handsomely rustic inn on a ridge overlooking the jungle-clad Karawari River, a tributary of the Sepik.

Karawari Lodge sits in the middle of Arambak country, one of the most unspoiled parts of the country. Dugout canoe is still the favored means of transportation for the local people, but the lodge’s canopied motor launch transports guests to nearby villages, where you can see firsthand the collision of ancient and modern cultures. The bird-watching alone makes a late-afternoon boat ride unforgettable: Cormorants, cockatoos, hornbills, kingfishers and parrots are regularly sighted on the quiet waterway. Birds of paradise are an elusive plus.

Where: The town of Timbunke is 444 miles/715 km northwest of Port Moresby. How: U.S.-based Asia Transpacific Journeys offers customized trips. Tel: 800-642-2742 or 303-443-6789; Mv Sepik Spirit: Tel 675/542-1438; 3-night cruises between Timbunke and Karawari, both accessible by air only. Cost: $2,342, all-inclusive. Karawari Lodge: Tel 675/542-1438; Cost: $510 per person, all-inclusive. Best time: Jul–Nov is cooler and drier.

Excerpted from 1,000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE. Copyright © 2011 by Patricia Schultz. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York. All Rights Reserved

1,000 Places to See Before You Die (second edition) is out now published by Workman at £14.99.

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