Trekking the Kairiru Highway

Normal, Weekender

NATHAN MOSUSU continues his journey to Kairiru Lake in East Sepik

I now needed divine strength to help me reach the lake, and continue towards St Xavier’s Mission.
It was now a good two hours since we started, and we were only halfway there. So I asked one of our host guides, “klostu nao?”.”Em nao, klostu nao”, came the response. “Bai yumi go antap tasol lo liklik kil blo maonten ia, na bai yumi kamap lo lake!”
Another ridge to climb! I felt like giving up. It was now only sheer determination (or should I say, the fear of failure), that kept me going. It was no turning back for me.
We soon reached a junction and turned left towards the lake. We had to climb for another thirty or forty minutes before we reached the highest peak overlooking the lake. At this location, Digicel reception is very good, better than in Wewak town. I could hear our guides calling relatives in Wewak and Vanimo. I quickly reached for mine and made a couple of calls; one to Travel Services in Port Moresby to confirm our seats for Monday, and one to Hertz in Wewak to confirm our hire car.
I sent a text to my colleague in Port Moresby, Manager Special Projects at the Mineral Resources Authority, and told him that I was just a few metres from the lake. My colleague hails from the area, and challenged me to the task, as he’d never been up to the lake.
Just to be sure we were near the lake I asked my guide, “Yumi kamap nao?”, to which he replied, “Ssshhh, em tambu tru lo askim. Yu bai harim tasol ol rok rok blo wara karai, nao bai yu save yumi kamap pinis.” I trotted on without further questions.
Just a few metres from the lake we came across a huge log that was felled across a ditch. My guide told me that some years back people from his village dug the ditch up in an attempt to divert water from the lake towards an enemy village on the eastern side. The plan was somehow aborted and the huge tree was felled to ensure that people could still cross to the lake.
We reached the lake slightly after 11am and what a sight it was. This is the Spirit of Kairiru, and I thought the Spirit must have been pleased I made it to see her as it started raining heavily soon as we arrived.
Kairiru Island actually derived its name from this lake, because according to folk tales Kairiru means land of water.
After lunch we slowly tracked back to the highway. I checked my time, 12:20. Almost halfway up the ridge I got a congratulatory SMS from my colleague in Port Moresby for having beaten him to the lake.
The climb to the top of the ridge and down to the highway was now more difficult, thanks to the rain. I was feeling my thighs could barely support my legs, and I knew soon I was going to have a muscle cramp. But I pushed on, and eventually reached the Highway.
We turned right and tracked towards St Xavier’s Mission, and came to the lookout. Here one could see Mushu Island immediately in front, Wewak Town to the east, St John’s and St Xavier’s missions below you and the islands of the western Sepik coastline to the west. Amazing sight!
The track was now between gentle and steep, almost running parallel to a river. In places where the slope was gentle and the foot path firm, I just let my body go, almost rolling downhill. In other places, however, I had to be extremely careful that I didn’t put my foot in loose soil. “One wrong foot, mate, and you’re down in that river gully”, I told myself. So I had to basically crawl in such places.
At the first sighting of St Xavier’s Mission I felt a huge relief, only to be cut down by a muscle cramp attack. Unknown to me, a few metres behind me, one of the new trackers also went down with muscle cramp. That halted our progress and I was mad that I wasn’t going to beat the 1 and a half hours tracking time to St Xavier’s from the junction to the lake.
We arrived at St Xavier’s Mission soon after 2:30pm. I was deeply satisfied I took this adventure which will go down as one of the most memorable adventures of my lifetime; to walk a track used during WWII and visit a lake that is the core of the local folklore of Kairiru Island.
To top it all of, at St John’s wharf I stared in total disbelief as a whale slowly and almost silently glided by like a mini-sub, only surfacing to blow air at about four-minute intervals. That was the first time I ever came close to a real whale! I was told whales are a common sight here, and they often come in a herd.
For those who want to visit sites of significance to WWII, there are other places of interest such as the Gunner’s point on the south-eastern part of Kairiru and underwater tunnels where Japanese submarines used to hide from Allied forces’ aerial attacks. One of the most interesting places we visited is a cave used by Japanese forces to hide, and which is close to a geothermal outflow where their wounded soldiers were bathed before being stretchered back into the cave.


* This is the second of a two-part article continued from last week.