Arfak exploring

Manokwari/Arfak Mountains, Western Papua, Indonesia

October 2022

We had another very early wake up this morning, but our departure was delayed as we had not yet reached our destination of Manokwari – our first landing on the mainland of Western Papua, on the north side of Birds Head peninsula.  So instead of departing at 4.30am for land, we did not depart till 5.30am! 

Manokwari is the capital of the Indonesian province of Western Papua and is also the administrative centre for the Manokwari Regency.  Despites it’s grand titles, it only has a population of around 110,000 people.  It is also worth noting, we have now moved from the predominately Hindu Bali, through some of the Muslim dominated central island groups, and now, in Western Papua, the majority of the population are Christian.  The people here are also predominately Melanesian and those living in the area are made up of over 20 different tribal groups, each having their own culture and language.

Despite being late, the sun was just coming up as we disembarked and finally on land, we jumped into our 4WD transport, driving through the town and then climbing into the Arfak mountains.  These mountains rise steeply from the sea to a height of almost 3,000m at their highest point and are a mecca for birders who come to see various species of birds of paradise and the infamous Vogelkop Bowerbird. 

The positive side of the delay was that we were travelling through the town in daylight rather than darkness (like the morning before) and it was nice to see the locals going about their early morning routines.  It reminded me of rural Fiji.  The negative side of the delay was that we would miss peak bird viewing time – that time being dawn.

After around 1.5 hour drive and 1500m up in the mountains it was much cooler (pleasantly so), and the views were amazing.  It was if we had gone back in time as we passed a guy with a bow and arrow!   Unfortunately, when we arrived at the village, it was disorganised mayhem yet again.  No one knew what was going on.  We finally managed to glean that between this village and the next one, there were various sites with hides in the jungle with opportunities to see Birds of Paradise or the bowerbirds, but as I mentioned we had already missed prime viewing time!

People started walking off in groups with local guides before we even knew what was going on, and to avoid any more wasted time we just asked our guide if we could just keep going to an area further down the road, to which he agreed.  The road between the villages was terrible (in contrast to the road up to the first village which was great), but it was fun as we were allowed to stand in the back of the truck, terrible in regard to health & safety but so much fun lol. 

Still not really knowing where we were going or what we were going to see, we spotted a small fantail like bird flittering along the roadside and then a nightjar (a nocturnal owl-like bird), before starting a trek up in to the bush for around 15 minutes’ walk – I was almost sweating as much as yesterday despite the cooler temperature).  We arrived at a small, corrugated iron hide where we were to sit and wait in the hope a bird would appear.  Our local guide closed the corrugated iron door and propped it closed with a piece of wood – he said, “bye, see you later”.  (FYI he never came back, though we did seem him later back in the village and had a laugh with him about it 😂).

I think our local guide was paying us a compliment when he said Indonesian women were not strong to do these hikes, but he sees western women are much stronger 🥴🤔😂

They had put out some pandan fruit (which I had never seen before) out in front of the hide but despite that, it was already 8.15am so after about 30 minutes waiting, we were ready to give up – thankfully I was in good company, so we had some fun sitting in this random little shed in the bush lol. Oh, and we did see a bird high up in the canopy, but as we did not have our local guide with us, I am not sure we know what it was.

As we walked back down to the road it started to rain but it was a nice break from the heat and humidity we experienced most days.  Unfortunately, there were already groups at the bowerbird hides which meant there was to be more waiting around, this time in the rain lol.   With no real idea of how long we were going to have to wait, we managed to convince a driver to take us back down to the wharf where a large group of locals were waiting for us.

It was a shame not to see the Vogelkop bowerbirds as they are incredibly unique and endemic to this area.  They are not spectacular to look at, but they are renown for the incredible ‘bowers’ that the males build – large cone shaped structures, decorated with colourful items.  Some natural like leaves and flowers, others unnatural such as bottle tops etc.  Each is completely unique, and they are meticulous with their placement and spend much of their time in the pursuit of perfection. 

Not many of the groups had luck in spotting any birds (paradise or bower), but the one group that saw the bowerbird, only had a brief glimpse as he flew in to replace a bright blue bottle top that the group’s guide had moved in an attempt to lure him out lol!

Back on the wharf we had time to look at all the souvenirs that the locals from the surrounding area had brought to sell until some of the other groups arrived back and, as we were about to leave, we received the formal welcome lol!   The head of tourism for the region was there, as well as a group of Biak dancers, lot of children, the ladies with souvenirs, and of course after the dancing and speeches, everyone wanted selfies. (Although I think the English word ‘selfie’ has really just now become their word for ‘photo’!) 

There was a group of students from the local university who were studying tourism who came along to help with translating between us (as most of the local people did not speak English) and it was lovely to be able to chat with them.  They were equally happy to have the opportunity to practice their English and chat about our lives. 

It was nice to see the harbour in the daylight and by then we were back on the ship in time for lunch, in time for another afternoon at sea.

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