The sepik river is one of the world’s greatest rivers. At 1200 KM long, it is of similar size as the Amazon and the Nile – making it one of the largest rivers on this earth. It can be expected that a water system like this has so many secrets and stories to tell. It is visited by very few people every year and can only truly be discovered by travelling on a boat – a small dug out canoe, with a outboard engine attached !
This is your chance to go to one of the most remote locations on earth and meet the friendly people that depend on this immense vibrant paradise. The African and Oriental Travel Company can advise you and book for you, trips on the river of up to 4 days with and overnight stays in local family houses along the river. These trips start from Wewak, and you would need to arrive at least 24 hours in advance. You don’t need to be extra fit or super strong to do these trips – but you need to be well rested and have the right gear and mindset – you need to be healthy and flexible.
Your Sepik River tour starts with a 3 hour drive from Wewak town to the starting point – a muddy busy and hot landing beach from where supplies are loaded and where a small market area has sprung up. Here, on this muddy and perhaps unattractive bank of the Sepik River, you meet your boat, and your coxswain.
The boat for your Sepik river tour is a dug out canoe, and it has plastic chairs to sit in. That is the extent of your comfort. Food, water, and fuel get loaded onto the same canoe and without much ado, you depart. Local fishermen, and people from both sides of the bank traverse the river here, where it is shallow.
The trip starts down river, and within minutes the scenery changes very quickly. Depending on your Sepik river tour itinerary you will usually go upstream. The first settlements occur along the banks at first this river is wide and commercial but then it quickly turns more narrow and shows the mysterious, green smoky hills in the distance.
After a few hours, your net broad hat will become a necessity. As soon as the boat stops, and the movement is gone – the breeze goes, But then the first narrow channel full of lilies, birds and butterflies opens up in front of you, and you forget everything.
You quickly forget all when floating past stilted huts, people waving at what is still a strange sight here in New Guinea. You are travellers from a foreign land. We look, they look and one wonders who is the more curious.
Local fishermen trundle past in similar canoes. Some paddle across, from fields and forest, with a harvest of banana, manioc, a goat or some eggs. Some carry people and farm hands across. All are keen to see us and smile and wave. Under these circumstances, you cannot but wave back.
The Sepik river gets smaller over the next few days. It becomes apparent how small the reach of each cultural group is. Every 10 miles, or approximately every 4 villages, the appearance of huts, dress, artefacts, painting, carvings change. When possible, we go out and ashore to meet and visit houses and headmen. We have the chance of seeing the lesser bird of Paradise at sunrise, and marvel at a lady scooping up the fish so easily – none of our fellow travellers managed to catch a single one. We are shown drums that are over a 100 years old, and when keen to see more, you might be invited to come back and hear them being played. Costumes are proudly brought out for display. These are carefully guarded and maintained, some over 50 years old, and while normally only on show for special days – a traveller is considered a special moment!
Food and water is always offered. These people are incredibly kind and share all they have. The village and the community is clearly the corner stone of life, as without each other’s help, these remote habitats would not survive.
There is a dazzling array of things to see and watch: the way the stilted house are built and how they reduce the bugs coming at night; the eddies at the edge of the river where lilies are harvested; the way manioc is procured, the masks stored in ceilings of your guest house . Then there is the delight of a cool fresh water shower at the end of a day in a sweaty boat and the excitement of the village when 5 young crocodiles are caught in weaved nets. Crocodile is a delicacy here.
A number of tribes are visited, and these are planned ahead and given warning. This can be changed during your trip, so flexibility is a necessity. Villages are visited for half a day, and accommodation is in basic stilted wooden houses. But this is the only form of accommodation.
The scenery and visual overload of this trip is absolutely mind blowing and worth the ‘hardships’: when allowed to see the scarification ritual of the Crocodile Men everything else just fades in comparison.
Coming off the river, and getting back to Wewak and beyond, to the larger and more ‘developed’ regions of this stunning country the traveller will have a sense of elation, of being chosen – having been to visit a place where time stood still and where the Talking Drums are being played…
The sepik river is one of the world’s greatest. At 1200 KM long, it is visited by very few people every year. This is your chance to go to one of the most remote locations on earth and meet the friendly people.
Count on no power for a few days, so bring spare batteries, medication, and sun proof clothing. Please see our PNG packing list for full details.