The National, Friday, April 29, 2011
A 30-minute drive from Port Moresby, can be found one of the many jewels in Papua New Guinea’s crown, writes MALUM NALU
SOGERI, for many years, has been a means of escaping from the sweltering heat and scorched landscape of Port Moresby.
While Moresby is dry as a bone for over six months of the year, Sogeri, invariably, is moist and green and its mountain air cooler.
The mountains, foothills, forests, savannah woodland, rivers and streams have long captured the imagination of many.
This great land of the Koiari people provides water and electricity for Port Moresby, which was very much in the news this week, and for which we are indebted to them for.
It goes without saying that when one goes to Sogeri, one returns to the city very much relaxed, and reinvigorated.
Sogeri is a chance for residents of Moresby – often disparaged (rather unfairly) as one of the “world’s worst cities”- to get away from the stresses of the capital.
It is quite ironic that, 30 minutes drive from Moresby, can be found one of the many jewels in Papua New Guinea’s crown.
In fact, the whole drive from Port Moresby to Sogeri, particularly from Bomana War Cemetery onwards, is spectacular and breathtaking, that I often wonder why not that many people – apart from Kokoda trekkers and tourists – visit this part of the country.
I feel an attachment to Sogeri, as my father, the late Mathias Nalu, trained to be a teacher here in 1956 in the same group as Michael Somare, Paulias Matane, Alkan Tololo and other great men of the country.
Many close friends and family members of mine have attended the national high school at Sogeri over the years, an unforgettable experience.
Beatrice Grimshaw, the Irish writer, traveler and close friend of Sir Hubert Murray, the lieutenant – governor of Papua from 1908-1940, had a cottage built for herself overlooking the falls at Rouna, where, amongst other things, she might enjoy the “excellent health” that she had observed in the other white residents of the district
It was Grimshaw, in fact, who described Sogeri as “one of the most beautiful places in the world”
Last Friday, I travelled to Sogeri with Tanja Meijer, who had travelled halfway around the world from Ireland to revisit her beloved childhood home at Itikinumu rubber plantation.
With Meijer was Australian Alan Cullen, another child of the colonial era, who grew up in Port Moresby from 1950-1970, and for whom Sogeri was a playground.
All the way from Port Moresby to Sogeri, Cullen, 60, and Meijer, 51, point out their old stomping grounds like excited children.
We later enjoyed lunch and coffees at Kokoda Trail Motel, a delightful home-away-from-home overlooking the meandering Laloki River, that would test the best hotels in Port Moresby.
The Sogeri Road runs close to the Laloki River, between the twin spurs of Hombrum Bluff and Varirata, passing the popular drinking hole, the Bluff Inn, on the left.
A little further, on the right, can be seen the old tin smelter’s works, set on the kunai-grass slopes a few hundred metres from the road.
Known as the Sapphire Mine after a nearby creek, this group of workings has also been called Errol Flynn’s Tin Mine.
Local folklore claims he worked the mine in the 1930s.
Lying at 600m and 46km inland, Sogeri is much cooler and greener than Moresby.
Sogeri Road leaves Sir Hubert Murray Highway near the airport and follows the Laloki River, climbing above the gorge with a view of spectacular Rouna Falls.
Soon after the falls, a road to the right leads to Varirata National Park.
There is some pleasant walking here, with a network of trails, grassy picnic areas and shelters with barbecues, and lookouts giving fine views to Port Moresby and out to sea.
Wallabies are common and birdlife is plentiful.
The next road left, marked by the Kokoda monument, goes to Owers’ Corner and the start of the Kokoda Trail.
McDonald’s Corner and Owers’ Corner, further in from Sogeri, have always been a favorite place for many residents of Port Moresby.
They are famously known as the beginning of the Kokoda Trail and are visited by hundreds of tourists, mainly Australians, every year.
A family picnic at Owers’ Corner under the blue sky, white clouds, majestic mountains and lush, green environment is a moment to treasure.
Crystal Rapids, where you can picnic and swim for a small fee, and Sirinumu Dam are along the next road right, or continue straight ahead to Sogeri.
Sogeri, in Kairuku-Hiri open electorate, supplies fruits and vegetables to local markets, supermarkets, restaurants/hotels and large companies throughout PNG.
So abundant is the harvest of the land along the Sogeri Road.
The Pacific Adventist University (PAU) at 12-Mile produces quality farm products like banana, water melon, corn, aibika and pawpaw.
Sogeri Primary Produce located in Sogeri is the largest in the Pacific.
This modern hi-tech hydroponic farm grows and supplies lettuce and tomatoes to the city residents and mining, oil and gas companies.
Livestock and poultry is farmed and bred at various locations.
Koitaki Farm is the second largest cattle farm in the country.
It provides fresh beef carcass and meat supplies to the city freezers, butcher shops and the local market.
Boroma Limited at 14-Mile breeds and provides quality hog carcasses and Hagen Planters located at 15-Mile, specialises in piggery and ducks.
Hugo Canning Company located at 15-Mile is the supplier of Ox & Palm corned beef, Boston, Hereford and a distributor of Ocean Blue tinned fish.
Rubber is mainly grown at Itikinumu, and then taken to Doa factory along the Hiritano Highway, to be processed into quality cup lump rubber for export to overseas markets.
Coffee is milled by a nationally-owned company, Koiari Holdings, which manages and operate the only coffee mill in the the Southern region.
Vanilla is grown on small scale.
There is a prospective gold mine at Mt Bina in Koiari. Landowners are in favour of commencing operations, whereas, other Koiari people are concerned about its impact on the Kokoda Track and the environment.
Sogeri National High School holds a special place in the education history of PNG.
The school began in 1944 when commander of ANGAU (Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit) Major General Basil Morris decided to set up a ‘central school for teaching natives various trades’ on Sogeri plateau outside Port Moresby.
Established at the former site of the 113 Australian Convalescent Depot, the school was blessed with mild climate and green environment that was a stark contrast to the hot and dusty Port Moresby only kilometers away.
The history of Sogeri has been recorded in a 342-page book titled Sogeri – The School That Helped To Shape A Nation by former schoolteacher Lance Taylor.
My father, the late Mathias Nalu, was in the last teacher-training course Sogeri would offer in 1956 and included a “top notch bunch of trainees”, which included Enos Baloiloi, Lohia Boganu, Vela Kila, Bobi Livinai, Paulias Matane, Aisea Taviai, Alkan Tololo, Ronald ToVue, Waterhouse Wai Wai and Michael Tom.
Michael Tom emerged from Sogeri in the 1960s as Michael Somare.
Teacher John Newnham recalls that the class of ‘56 was “an absolute delight to teach.”
Likewise, magical Sogeri remains an absolute delight, to this very day.