Trekking the Kairiru ‘highway’

Normal, Weekender

NATHAN MOSUSU treks a gruelling track that was used by both the Japanese and Americans World War II.

KAIRIRU Island lies approximately 10km northwest of Wewak town, the provincial capital of East Sepik province. It is separated from Wewak and the Sepik coastline by two stretches of waterways, the Kairiru Strait and Muschu Passage, and the low-lying Muschu Island.
Apart from the breath-taking sight of Victoria Bay and its geothermal waters, one of the wonders of Kairiru is the ‘highway’, which I stumbled upon quite accidentally, on my visit to Kairiru Lake (or Lake Malangis).
At first I didn’t quite realise the significance of this track until well onto it, when our guides kept calling it the highway. The Kairiru Highway may be likened to the yet-to-be realised “trans-New Guinea Highway”, linking Lae to Port Moresby via the Highlands provinces.
The Kairiru Highway links the northern villages of Koragul, Minamisil, Shagur, and the Bau Mission to the southern villages of Brauniak, Sham, Dakar and the St John’s and St Xavier’s Mission stations.
After a field reconnaissance survey of the Kairiru geothermal fields, a colleague and I decided to visit the Kairiru Lake, located approximately in the centre of Kairiru Island, at an elevation just over 600m above sea level.
I asked one of the guest house keepers how long it would take to reach the lake. He said between one and half hours and two hours, depending on speed. Regular villagers would take on average an hour.
At 7.45 the next morning, my colleague and I departed Polem Guest House, Shagur village and headed eastwards towards Koragul village. I carried a laptop on my back and in hand a 1-litre water container. My colleague had a knapsack with Snax biscuits and a 1-litre water container.
With us were our three guides, one of them carrying oranges in a small carry bag.
We reached Koragul just after 8am and were joined by two others, one of them also doing his first trek up to the lake. I was leading the climb at a rate that attracted one of the guides to comment, “Bata, wokabaot isi. Yu spid tumas ia!” But I was hell-bent on showing I could climb mountains too! But that was only a hill.
A few minutes after leaving Korugal, the first of the many steep climbs began. And so was the many “klostu naos”. It was a testing time. My speed gradually reduced, and it wasn’t long before I noticed I was trailing behind every one. But I pushed on, all 90kg of myself, body, blood and sweat.
My colleague, younger and fitter, kept turning back to make sure I was still on the track. Sweat was now freely flowing and my water supply quickly running out.
We were soon joined by a group of boys all walking to the top to cut rafters for a new house. After about an hour and a half we arrived at the original site of the Koragul village, situated about 400m above sea level. The current village, we were told, used to be a fisherman’s transit village, where villagers from Koragul used to stay during fishing expeditions. Eventually the whole village moved down to the current location on the coast, and I guess because they didn’t like the steep climbs, especially with their catch. This, to me, made a lot of sense.
Another half hour trekking uphill we reached a clearing with a stream running down slope pass some saksak plants. By then my water container was almost empty. I slumped into one of the old saksak leaves and let one of the young lads quickly refill my water bottle. The taste of the cool natural water was real refreshing. I took a few more gulps and then poured the remaining water over my now sweat-drenched body.
Soon we got to a site with a memorial plaque that marks the location where two SVD Missionaries, Fr Otto and Fr William where beheaded by enemies during World War II. It then struck me that the track I was walking was used by both the Japanese and Americans and her allies during World War II.  I felt proud and good that I had decided to walk this track. Lake Kairiru suddenly became an inferior motive for my walk.
We pushed on further inland and reached a clearing where we were informed people of the island congregated during the procession of Mother Mary around the island. Here people would stop to pray and recite their “Hail Mary” prayers.
I actually thought it was a good location to stop for a breather, as it was almost the mid point between the north and southern parts of the highway.

To be continued next week.