BY JEFFREY ELAPA
THE Varirata National Park at Sogeri in Central is a national treasure but many do not see its value.
It is a national icon that is a multimillion kina project that can be further developed through a public-private partnership arrangement with the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority (Cepa), the Tourism Promotion Authority and the local people.
Virirata was the first national park to be declared in PNG, and it was officially opened on Oct 8, 1973, during self-government days and two years before independence.
According to facts supplied by Cepa, the national park land is a state land which was given as a gift by the Koari landowners to the state and covers an area of 1,063 ha.
It is located in the Sogeri Plateau, approximately 48 km out of Port Moresby and it’s only accessible by road.
It is situated at an elevation of between 600 and 800 metres above sea level and gets an average rainfall of 1400-2000mm annually.
The land was called Wodobonomu and is a traditional hunting ground of the Koiari people. The park, one of the best scenes available to city residents, offers a clear view of the National Capital district and is directly overlooking the Jackson International Airport.
From the main lookout point which stands at 833 meters above sea level, the picturesque view of Port Moresby and parts of Central is like looking out from an aeroplane.
The park has been maintained by the Cepa with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) which joined in recently.
It simply is a fantastic and awesome place, a thrilling environment that is free of noise and dust.
While this national treasure is left to be maintained by a few people, it is one of the hot spots for local tourism.
The beautiful scenery and its undisturbed natural environment is an ideal spot for a weekend out for the many city dwellers who want to take time out and experience nature.
It is better for the entire family to get out there and enjoy peace and the unpolluted flesh air over the nice lawns or trek the many circuits as if you are walking the Kokoda Trail itself.
It is also an ideal place for birdwatching, barbeques, weddings and birthday celebrations but not just limited to that.
However, there is a need to improve the facilities like having water and toilet facilities as the toilets are not working any more.
The park is home to deer, forest wallabies, possums, bandicoots, cassowaries, Raggiana Bird of Paradise and many more animal species.
The resident rangers collect fees of K10 per adult and K5 per child to help maintain the park.
The park is open from 8am to 5pm from Monday to Friday and 6am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday.
It would be a great idea through the PPP programme of the Government to modernise the iconic park and have a hotel built into the environment where other services can be provide but without harming or disturbing the existing environment.
This could be the best place for those who want to get away from the heat of Port Moresby and enjoy the cool breeze and fresh air that is free of pollution and noise.
It is a place for meditation and for those who want to get out of their problems and tune your mind to nature; a better place to get refreshed and feel that healing balm of nature than Port Moresby General Hospital or Pacific International Hospital.
The tracks and lawns are well kept and clean so people can feel free to walk.
Although I have lived in Port Moresby for a long time and do travel to Sogeri and other places occasionally, last weekend was my first visit to this awesome park, an incredible spot for a good weekend out with magnificent views and spots to relax in.
Just as I enjoyed it all, the family I accompanied no doubt cherished the weekend outing away from the noisy city environment.
The place is looked after by rangers who live within their quarters at the site.
As soon as you past 17-Mile, you are on a complete mind refreshing journey as you see the beautiful landscape, the big boulders look like as if people have placed them there to be rolled down anytime to the beautiful but scary steep hills as you drive up.
It would be a big blessing if this road was widened with sufficient funding so it opens up tourism and agriculture in this part of the Sogeri Plateau.
However, as you go further up on the summit, there are also nice spots or lookout points to enjoy the wonders of nature that make up Sogeri, home of the Koaris.
With more people moving in and out of this beautiful place, it is also boosting the local economy of the people that sell food and other local produce to passing visitors.
It is therefore a win-win situation for the locals as well as for the visitors who can indirectly benefit from the national park.
Not only that, the locals can be employed as rangers so they are empowered and benefit directly.
Besides tourism, the Sogeri plateau is a food bowl for Port Moresby; it has the right climate, just like Mt Hagen and other parts of the Highlands. It has the best altitude for temperate vegetables and fruits.
The Sogeri Valley has more to offer and support Port Moresby, not through its water alone but also the beautiful scenery that city residents can take a time to experience.
So those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city can just drive up and have a quiet day walking the many well-kept tracks or just sightseeing.
BY JEFFREY ELAPA