The air is hot and steamy, and I’m completely drenched in sweat. It rained the day before and the trail is still muddy and slippery. There’s actually no trail to speak of, we are literally bashing our way through the thick vegetation that is sprouting in all directions.
I am here on the Lelioa Trek, hiking through the forest-clad ridges of Tufi with my local guide, Randol. He’s racing along the trail at lightning speed despite being barefoot and I’m barely keeping up to his pace. The skinny Papuan may be in his early fifties, but he has the humor and energy of a young lad. I comment on his agility and ask how he gets all that energy. Flashing me a betel-stained grin, he says,
“I’ve been walking these trails since I was a child. Here we don’t need gyms, this is our daily exercise.”
Tufi: Ridges and Rias
Located in the Oro Province of northeastern Papua New Guinea, the Cape Nelson area has an extremely unique geographical feature that can be found nowhere else in the country. Its craggy coastline is studded with fjords known as rias, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. The ridges were in fact hot lava flowing down to the water. Today, the volcanoes are long dormant and these ridges are now covered with thick foliage and crops.
Hiking trails criss-cross the top of the ridges, bringing travelers from one fjord to the next, and through clusters of rural villages. There’s even one that stretches all the way to Port Moresby. Randol tells me he’s been on almost all of the treks in the Tufi area, “I know Tufi inside out.”
I’ve chosen to do the short and easy Lelioa Trek that starts from the bay across Tufi Dive Resort and ends up at Komoa Beach. Curious to get a taste of trekking in Tufi, I’m keen to explore the backcountry and at the same time visit some rural villages in the area.
After a short but steep uphill hike from the water’s edge, we find ourselves at Randol’s house, perched right on the top of the ridge with a full view of the Tufi Bay.
Not a bad place to live huh?
“Yes, I consider myself very lucky.”
He goes on to explain that he was born and raised here in Kofiri village, and that his father had passed on the land to him. Besides a two-year working stint in Alotau where he met his wife, he has lived here all his life. His three children now live and work in Port Moresby, but he has no intentions to move. I ask him why and he says, “In Papua New Guinea, we live where we own land. This is where we belong.”
As I find out later, every land in Papua New Guinea is either communally owned or owned by a family/tribe. Families live together on the same plot and land gets passed down from one generation to the next. Land is extremely important to their sustenance as they get almost everything they need from their land — cultivating their own food like taro and sweet potato, using materials from the bush to build their houses, and cutting down trees to construct their dugout canoes.
His three children now live and work in Port Moresby, but he has no intentions to move. I ask him why and he says, “In Papua New Guinea, we live where we own land. This is where we belong.”
Walking through Someone’s Backyard
Continuing on the trek, we enter a world of thick palm trees, ferns, sugarcane, banana trees and sweet potato plantations. There is so much vegetation that Randol has to use his machete to make a clearing for us to traipse through. We slither our way through tall grass, jump over rainwater puddles, and leap from one volcanic rock to another. At times it feels as though we are trekking through someone’s backyard, and at other times, it’s as though we are lost in the wilderness.
Along the way, Randol brings me to various viewpoints at the cliff’s edge to see the Tufi Fjord from different angles. Black volcanic ridges rise from the indigo water that shimmers under the sunlight. A few dugout canoes bob on its surface like tiny lego pieces. No matter where we see the fjord from, it’s just strikingly beautiful.
We pass through several villages, including Lelioa, the place that this trek was named after. According to Randol, Lelioa was overcrowded in the 1970s and many families had to move closer to the coast as a result.
Goodenough, the next village we come cross, is where many of the families settled. A church is the first thing we see: an A-shaped tin roof provides shelter for an altar and wooden log chairs perched on a sand-covered floor. We sit and watch a group of children play football. Life’s simple and laidback here, a far contrast to Port Moresby.
Eventually, the thick jungle disappears behind us and we see the Solomon Sea ahead. I remove my hiking boots and dip my toes in the spearmint water that rushes all the way up to the white pearly sand.
We have arrived.
To be continued…
Going Local: A Homestay Experience with the Ruaba Family
The trek is easy and short, taking around two hours to complete. It starts from Tufi Dive Resort and ends at Komoa Beach. The resort can bring you to the starting point by boat and pick you up at the end of the trek.
At the time of my visit, Randol is building a homestay at Komoa Beach. The basic, bamboo house on stilts stands right on an elevated hill overlooking the beach, with a dining area and kitchen side by side opening to equally cool views. He plans to open it by February 2014.
The guided trek costs US$75 you can book directly with Tufi Dive Resort or contact Randol directly at +675 71444541.
Disclosure: This experience was made possible by PNG Tourism Promotion Authority and Tufi Dive Resort but all opinions expressed above are my own.