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The Sepik River

There is nowhere quite like the Sepik River! One of the great rivers of the world, with a total length of over 700 miles, the Sepik is more than just a waterway. It is an essential cultural link for the many peoples that inhabit this vast unspoilt area; it is a symbolic focal point for artistic expression.

Rising in the Highlands at Telefomin, the river heads west into Irian Jaya before dog-legging east. Dropping down through the Thurnwald Mountain Range, the river wanders through Ama and Ambuti before spilling into the Bismark Sea at Watam, south of Wewak.

Wewak is the gateway to the Sepik; location of the Japanese surrender in 1945, there are ugly reminders of this war near the airport, where bomb craters dot the landscape. Wewak is now a pretty town with beautiful palm-fringed beaches stretching along the shoreline. Off shore from Wewak is Kairiru Island, an active volcano with hot springs, geysers and mud pools. An enormous Japanese gun, used to protect the fleet that often harboured here, stands as silent testament to WWII.

The Upper Sepik is known for its specialised religious cults; the Maio and Yessan people have a yam cult, and Swagup is home to Insect people. Their artform incorporates the sago beetle, dragonfly and praying mantis. The villages in the region are spread well apart, and each tribe has a separate language which others cannot understand. This is one of the world's most wild and remote areas.

The Middle Sepik, starting at Ambuti and finishing at Angoram, is domain of the most artistic of the Sepik tribes. Each village has its own distinctive style of art, from wood carvings to personal adornments. The only connection that these people have is in their Haus Tambaran, or Spirit Houses, in which the artefacts are stored. These houses, massive constructions of wood and matting, have an angular gabled front carved in a rich display, generally depicting scenes from everyday life and the peoples' spiritual past.

Located near Ambarak on the Karawari River, one of the Sepik's major tributaries, is Karawari Lodge. Operated by the same company as Ambua, Karawari is built on a high escarpment with incredible views across thousands of square miles of untouched rainforest, through which meander rivers and streams, like veins on a leaf. The Lodge consists of a main building, designed as a Haus Tambaran, containing the dining area and saloon, which is filled with splendid wood carvings and artefacts collected from all over the Sepik. Accommodation is in self-contained bungalows running across the ridge. Each has ensuite bathroom, and is tastefully decorated. Tours from Karawari include meeting some of the local people going about their daily lives, trekking through the forest to see the spectacular wildlife, and trips on "river trucks", small aluminium boats with shallow hulls that can easily negotiate the intricate waterways and channels of the region. The Chambri Lakes region is a vast network of swamps, waterways and small lakes which flood in the wet season. The intensity of the rain can dislodge huge chunks of the river bank, forming "floating islands". The lakes sustain many fish, and white egrets can be seen roosting in the orchid clad trees along the shore. The lakes are usually covered in a blanket of lilies and weeds.

The Lower Sepik, the shortest section of the river, runs from Angoram to the coast near Watam. Angoram is administrative centre for the Middle and Upper Sepik, and features a large Haus Tambaran built for the purpose of selling and displaying many artefacts from the surrounding area. Masks, flutes, jewellery and the famous Kambot storyboards can be readily purchased here. Along the shores of the river can be found small villages where the locals spend their days carving their wares.

The ideal way to see the Sepik is by canoe. Our trips begin at Wewak, from where you will take a domestic MAF flight to Ambunti, one of the largest villages on the river. From Ambunti you will cruise upstream to the Middle Sepik and through the Chambri Lakes. At night you will stay in local villages, where your experience will be as in Tari - learn about the villagers' ancestry and their spirits. You can either return via a different route to Wewak or hop up to Karawari Lodge for a spot of over-indulgence! From here you can catch a plane to Ambua or Mt Hagen. Our canoe trips include all your equipment, including motorised canoes, English-speaking guide, all meals and accommodation. You guide, who is drawn from the local area, will act as interpreter during the trip. While the canoes are stable, we recommend you take the bare minimum of baggage, as little is required. To really experience one of the world's last great wildernesses, there is no better way to than this!



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