Backbreaking dirt ride to Mt Wilhelm

A rider from the Simbu Bikers Association accompanying the 10 riders who participated in the Niugini Dirt Tour of Mt Wilhelm putting on a stunt.
Lae City Authority interim CEO Neil Ellery crossing a creek on his way from Usino.

ADVENTURE tourism is growing increasingly popular among the young and youthful at heart.
There’s much excitement in stepping outside their comfort zones for exploration or travel to remote, exotic and possibly hostile areas.
It is a type of tourism in which travellers do some adventurous activities like as skydiving, mountain climbing, scuba diving and so forth. It may be experiencing cultural shock or the performance of acts that require some degree of risk (real or perceived) and physical danger.
It takes place in an unusual, exotic, remote or wild destination and tends to be associated with high levels of activity by the participant, most of it outdoors and the travelers expect to experience various levels of risk, excitement, and tranquility, and to be personally tested. Adventure tourists explore unspoiled, exotic parts of the planet and also seek personal challenges.
Lae and Morobe have their own uniqueness and welcome partners to get on board with the Lae City Authority (LCA) and Lae City Tourism Bureau (LCTB) to further explore and develop this potential.
It is a really good opportunity now for the newly established LCTB to show more of what Papua New Guinea is all about, as the city has always been seen as the industrial hub. LCA wants to make sure the city becomes a tourism hub in the country along with places like Alotau and Kokopo-Rabaul.
LCTB is here to prove that there is huge potential for tourism in Morobe and it means working with all the other areas together. And if LCTB can do a little bit to help Morobe tourism that would be great, according to LCA interim CEO Neil Ellery.
A recent adventure in the beginning of the month of February saw Niugini Dirt Tours proudly promoting Lae, Morobe, the Highlands and PNG tourism and getting adventure tourism values out through Niugini Dirt Tours’ three-day bike tour to Mt Wilhelm in Chimbu.
The journey started in Lae at 4.30am on Feb 1 and ended 2,800 metres above sea level at the base of Mt Wilhelm the same day.
Lae is a natural starting point for tourism in the Momase region and indeed for the whole of PNG.
The trip also saw four riders depart Madang, meeting the Lae riders at Usino junction midway between Ramu and Madang. Once the party left Usino, it was full-on up to Snowpass where the riders were greeted by the stunning Burning Head dancers of Imure in Karizokara.
This treasure of Papua New Guinea is rarely seen and was the highlight of the adventure. The riders rode through 13 districts and four provinces on this trip that ended up in Goroka, Eastern Highlands, after covering Morobe,

The riders who overnighted at Snowpass on arrival at Betty’s Lodge at the foot of Mt Wilhelm on Sunday Feb 2.

Madang and Chimbu in trying to make people think a little differently.
Ellery expressed that adventure tourism around the world was enormous and PNG has not touched into it and dirt bikers are crazy and they’ll travel anywhere in the world to go and do it and normally those types of tourists pay top bucks.
“So roughly looking at the potential, little things like backpackers we don’t have the infrastructure in place yet. Dirt bikers as adventure tourists come for the adventure, not something that is packaged, not something that is off the shelf. They want something that is a unique experience,” Ellery pointed out.
“Currently in PNG, we tend to focus on a few things like diving, fishing and surfing and that seems to be it. Yet take New Zealand for example. New Zealand is very similar to Papua New Guinea in a lot of ways with the natural beauty of it. PNG hasn’t been spotted by the world or shown to the world and this is the opportunity to do it. Dirt bikers have that opportunity to access lots of places which vehicles cannot get in through.”
“Around Morobe there’s hundreds of beautiful areas bikes ride through, and Niugini Dirt Tours has done a great job of promoting them. Hundreds of tourists have actually come through Lae specifically to ride motorbikes. We’ve had Japanese, Americans, many Australians – and Kiwis – considering New Zealand has a beautiful country for riding but still they want to come to PNG. It shows we have got something unique.
“The more PNG adventure tourism gets exposed to the world, the more the demand will come through, the more tourism kina will come into our cities and districts. And we want to use Lae as the gateway to that sort of tourism that will create jobs and create wealth. It’s a real niche sort of industry within our own city.”
Ellery also highlighted the challenging nature of the recent trip saying that it wasn’t as easy as was expected.
“We underestimated the challenge just a little bit and are thankful that we are here having a cup of coffee here at beautiful Betty’s Lodge whereas the others last night (Feb 1) were sleeping in huts and having their own unique experiences, which is the part of the adventure and there will be stories about it.”

Daniel Hargreaves (right) and Neil Ellery greeting a rider arriving at Betty’s Lodge at the foot of Mt Wilhelm on Sunday, Feb 2.

Daniel Hargreaves, who along with Neil Ellery, were the only riders of a 10-man party to make Bettys Lodge as per their plan, reiterated that when riding dirt bikes in Papua New Guinea there is no quarter given. Daniel highlighted that often nothing tends to go according to plan.
“You know what to expect and you plan as best you can to get there but success is not given; it’s an experience that evolves around every corner. One phrase that’s comes to mind is that PNG is the Land of the Unexpected, so expect the unexpected. And I think last night was a testimony to that phrase.”
Asked what the challenges were, Hargreaves replied ‘Nobody was expected to be sleeping at the bottom of the bridge last night; only Neil and I made it through and only just. We were about to give up as well. We were on our last legs and it was without a doubt one of the hardest rides we’ve done with the group.

The 10 riders setting off at Usino junction in Madang after preparation and refueling their bikes to tackle the rugged terrain of Usino into Mt Wilhelm in Chimbu.

“The actual trip took us nine hours covering 131km to do it and we had a lot challenges along the way, an awful lot. I think one thing we underestimated was the level of skill that was required to complete this trip. We have to be pretty good too on the bike on two wheels to get from Usino to here (Mt Wilhelm). The road is absolutely shocking, we had fuel problems as we underestimated the mileage. I mean we can’t exactly go on Trip Advisor and look up reviews for this trip, can we?
“I gave fuel to one of the riders and kept going and I think our mission was to get fuel back down to the stranded riders who did not have fuel. Neil and I came up unexpectedly around one corner and surprisingly there was a lady dressed up as a werewolf and another with a mask! They were dancing and we got an awful shock and thought we were losing our minds.
“Then they welcomed us and said, “you follow us up to Snowpass and we’ll wait for you up there. We said okay it must be just around the corner and we said its okay look we’ll go ahead we’re low on fuel and we need to keep going.”
“We went and went and went and I don’t know how those ladies with the mask managed to run from where they met us and yet they took us all the way up to the top of the mountain. We got to the top of the mountain and as we were riding it was heading towards dusk and it was all foggy. As we approached a village, we saw these people with their heads on fire…what!!! What is this… we thought we were really at the pearly gate we’re going to dive into hell!”
“This was our introduction to the ‘Burning Head Dancers of Imure in Karizokara
“This was our welcome party by Vincent (Kumura) who runs the Snow Pass Eco Lodge there and he was a wonderful chap. He had our backup fuel and everything ready. The villagers put on a beautiful show for to welcome us, did all the traditional stuff dancing and fed us. We organised for young boys to run back down the mountain with the drums of fuel for the bikes at the bottom of the hill and Neil and I continued on our way, with it getting dark and darker.
Neil’s bike didn’t have a light, so I could hear him falling regularly. I gave him my head-torch, but could still hear him falling and at one point I could see his light pointing to the sky. I was waiting and didn’t move. I waited for about five minutes and turned around and went back down. I found him underneath his bike in a big pile of mud he was stuck in and couldn’t move.
“Add to that Neil rides in glasses, which were all fogged up.
“I pick up his bike, helped him and then we kept riding and riding and going around the corner we are thinking are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet. It’s only just Neil and I right at the top of the mountain with not a soul around. I even hear my favourite movie theme, from Deliverance and wonder will we be delivered from this mayhem. Then we take our phones out and look at the GPS, do some quick math’s and trying to work out where we are, whether we are in fact on the right track. The GPS tells us we are in the middle of nowhere, but we are on the right track.
“Neill puts on a smile said and suggests we just sleep here in the bush tonight with our bikes. We were almost thinking about giving up and that it was too dangerous to ride on. Then we thought back to an earlier Niugini Dirt Tours ride in 2012 when 14 riders including 10 Kiwis set out from Usino. They got stuck by landslides and heavy rain but still managed to make it to Betty’s at 10.30pm. So we soldiered on, finally seeing the lights of Kegsegul at around 9pm. Cold, wet, muddy, exhausted we had used every last ounce of energy we possessed. But we made it.
“Relaxing by the fire after the ride, we realise that we’re part Papua New Guineans so we know the culture and we know it’s very colorful and people around the world they just don’t get to see it. The sights coming into the mountains all around us, the greenness of the bush, the mist around us, all these people covered in white mud and flames on their heads. It was amazing to see it, the experience is actually breathtaking. PNG has got to be very proud of our exhibitions and our numerous cultures, it’s something other countries don’t have that is very marketable to the world.”
Daniel echoes this from his chair and shared from his perspective of having been around the world a bit.
“We as Papua New Guineans take what’s available here for granted. The rest of the world is so developed now and everything is commercialised and fake, so the experience you get here in PNG is very unique.
“It’s not fake, it’s not fake mud, it’s not fake feathers, it’s not fake choreography when you turn up you get to see the real thing and it’s very unique. People in the villages here are shocked to see us because it’s just a walking track, not a car track, a walking track and yet with our bikes we lift and push and carry and drag we get through from point A to point B where cars won’t go. Bikes you know, are a good motor transport, it’s healthy, and it’s fun.”
Ellery believes the word that can really drive PNG tourism right now is ‘authentic’.
“Authentic experiences you cannot get in most parts of the world and Papua New Guinea has that kind of unique product. Daniel and I had our own unique authentic experiences and the next person that goes there will completely have different experiences, authentic experience of their own.
“We should be proud of our country when we see the real Papua New Guinea traditions and cultures. This is what the world should be seeing and not the negative aspects of what has been said or published.
“This is real PNG, this is real PNG custom, real culture and who are we. We just rock up in our motorbikes and they’ve performed shows for us, made sure food was served, given us cold water to drink, that’s what Papua New Guinea should be known for, not the negative, opportunistic stuff.
“LCA’s focus is that we want to set a positive impact and positive image for PNG, not the stuff they publish in the media around the world. And this is the stuff (adventure tourism) we have to do more of, more people have to see it.
“The more people see it, the more people will transform the world’s vision of Papua New Guinea. If that changes you watch the gates open up. Many more people will want to come and experience this,” said Ellery.
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