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  #1  
Old 10-05-2002, 08:41 PM
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The Magic of Ambua Lodge

Story by Steven Mago
Photographs by Cullen Serr and Steven Mago
Source:
Paradise Magazine No. 150 March - April, 2002 and reproduced courtesy of Steven Mago.

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The Magic of Ambua Lodge

A 2001 edition of the 'National Geographic Adventure' magazine lists Ambua Lodge in Tari, Southern Highlands Province, as one of the ten best eco-tourism facilities worldwide. These facilities have been highly recommended by environmental groups for 'their innovative and uncompromising approaches to conservation of the environment and to preservation of the world's diverse cultural heritage'. There are two in Canada, one each in Australia, Ecuador, Kenya, Nepal, Panama, Peru and the US Virgin Islands. Ambua Lodge is the only South Pacific listing.
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:17 PM
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Ambua's 'top 10' status comes as no surprise, having won Pacific Asia's Travel Association's 1991 Pacific Heritage Award for being 'a superb example of culturally sensitive and ecologically responsible tourism'. If world-renown maturalist Sir David Attenborough has been to Ambua more than once to film the bird of paradise and bowerbirds, who would argue ?

What really is Ambua Lodge and why travel all the way aorund the world to be part of the Ambua experience ? Ambua is located at 2,000 metres in the Tari Gap area and was built in 1985 by one of Papua New Guinea's leading tour operators, Mt Hagen - based Trans Niugini Tours, owned and operated by long-time PNG residents Bob and Pam Bates.

Trans Niugini Tours also owns other wilderness accommodation facilities in Karawari Lodge, located along the Karawari River, a tributary of the Speik River, the 9 - room floating MV Sepik Spirit and Malolo Plantation Lodge, an excape destination situated along the North Coast Road of Madang Province.
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:19 PM
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Ambua's success and rise to prominence in the world's adventure tourism and travel circles have largely been due to its sensitive and responsible approach to tourism development. Ambua is not your normal conventional mass tourism facility. It is a high-class facility that brings much needed comforts to an inhospitable land. It succeeds in organising tour activities that enable eco-+tourists to mingle with the locals and learn about their unique culture, while encouraging the conservation of the natural environment of the Tari Valley.

Looking from Ambua Lodge over the Tari Valley:
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:22 PM
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Among Ambua's top tour activities are bird watching, orchid viewing and village study tours, which include wig-growing and wig-making, widows in mourning, spirit dances, sun worshipping, traditional weddings, singsings and other cultural demonstrations.

There are also soft adventure activities like nature walks along the Wota and Magara Rivers viewing rhododendrons, orchids and the serenity of free-flowing waterfalls that cascade into crystal-clear pools.

Traditionally dressed Huli from Tari:
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:27 PM
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The best-known feature of Ambua Lodge is the interactive cultural tour actifivities that it organises with the local host community, the Hulis, one of Papua New Guinea's best known and colourful tribes, numbering about 40,000. Theylive in a total land area of 2,500 square kilometres in the Tari Basin.

The Hulis, sturdy, warlike people, who have a long history as subsistence farmers, have put Papua New Guinea on the world tourism map, largely due to their elaborate and colourful facial paintings and mushroom-shaped human hair wigs. These wigs are worn by men and decorated with yellow and red everlasting daisies. The men blow endlessly on panpipes of bamboo.

Centred around a 40 unit lodge, Ambua offers some of the best birding in the world including the intricately-plumed birds of paradise, admired the world over for their beautiful nuptial plumage and elaborate courtship displays.

Staff at Ambua Lodge:
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:38 PM
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The whole island of New Guinea including Irian Jaya to the west has a total of 43 species of the bird of paradise. Thrity-eight are found in Papua New Guinea and the TariGap near Ambua has 13 species. Ambua's total bird list is 220 and more are being added every year. The 13 bird of paradise species and other exotic species are the reasons why birding enthusiasts are prepared to travel around the world for the 'Ambua experience'.

Commonly sighted around the Tari Gap area and the birding sites around the Lodge are the Blue Bird of Paradise, Crested Bird of Paradise, Loria's Bird of Paradise, Yellow-breasted Bird of Paradise, Brown Sicklebill, Black Sicklebill, the magnificent Astrapia species - Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, Arfak Astrapia, Stephanie's Astrapia (Princess Stephanie) - Wahnes' Parotia, King of Saxony Bird of Paradise and the Superb Bird of Paradise, popularly worn by the Hulis on the front of their headdresses.

In the local vernacular, Ambua Lodge was named after a yellow coloured clay that can be found in the Tari Gap area. The Hulis use this yellow clay for facial decoration.

The Lodge is nestled on a mountainside south-west of the Tari township, along the Southern Highlands stretch of the Highlands Highway. When the Highway was in pefectly driveable condition, a bus ride to Ambua from the Tari airstrip used to take 40 minutes. It now takes one hour 50 minutes.

The road has deteriourated but the scenery along the way still remains as beautiful. You forget the road conditions as you drive past pockets of thatched-roof houses organised in homestead groups, family units built beside food gardens, churches, aid posts and schools.

Tumbi, a clan leader from Ambua Lodge:
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:45 PM
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As Ambua's courtesy bus begins its climb past the last populated village at Koyan, the scenery gradually changes. One begins to see a rising blanket of green forest cover and a network of mountains in the background. As the bus climbs further, the Lodge units come into view and are distinctively recognisable. Their unique architecture is based on traditional design.

Evenings and mornings at Ambua are memorable. At dawn, one can catch a spectacular and breathtaking veiw of the Tari Valley below. Its cloud formations stretch over the mountain tops like a flat-lying cobweb, punctuated in places by protruding summits. You almost feel that you are on top of the world and looking down over the pages of 'National Geographic'.

Except for the scars that have been carved out of the Basin to make way for the township, oil and gas fields nearby, much of Tari sis till pristine, untouched territory, with people still isolated by geography and history. At Ambua you are really at peace with yourself and you forget the hassles of everyday life because there are no telephones and television. Your only companions are the local staff, the birds in the forest and invertebrates on the forest floor.

Guarded by the massive bulk of the Muller and Karius Ranges to the south and the Central Range system to the north, this part of the world is in fact the very centre of New GuineaIsland. The Southern Highlands was the last of the five highlands provinces to be explored. The first patrol in 1935, approaching from the south, took months to break through to the Tari Basin and lost three of its members from sickness and exhaustion. The explorer of the Huli country called it the 'Papuan Wonderland'. When the first white men walked through the country of the Huli, they found a culture quite different from any previously known in what was then Papua.

Huli children help prepare a mumu in Tari:
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Old 10-05-2002, 09:51 PM
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They found a relatively dense population of light skinned, stocky warrior farmers, who did not live in villages, but in settlements spread out over the open grass amoung gardens and terraces.

Today, nothing much has changed for these 'Last Papuans', as they are known to other Papua New Guineans. With the arrival of the missionaries and advent of education, improved health services and a modern cash economy, the Huli's have been able to continue to nurture a rich and complex cultural heritage that is the envy of many. They have survived because they have learnt over centuries to co-exist with naturein an otherwise harsh environment.

Tari Airstrip:
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Old 05-12-2002, 11:57 PM
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If you are interested in a guided tour of Papua New Guinea or other tours on offer, please click on the following :

http://www.pngbd.com/forum/f93s.html

Steven Mago seen here on a trip to the Sepik earlier this year with a group of Japanese Tourists :
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