Papua New Guinea is a place full of wonders. It is a unique region that conserves the best pristine natural treasures and local cultures that will amaze and welcome you. This post covers the Sepik river villages and Wagu lake.
Highlights – Part 1
Highlights – Part 2
Highlights – Part 3
Photos & Maps
All photos used in this post can be browsed in large size in the post Wild Green Papua – Gallery in the section Galleries.
To explore the places of this route in an interactive map, follow the post Wild Green Papua – Maps in the section Maps. Another great resource of maps with all the small villages in the region of Sepik (and the rest of PNG) is https://mapcarta.com/16513982.
Wild Green Papua Niugini – Part 2
Sepik river is one of the most rewarding experience of travelling in PNG. Plenty of boat rides, unique art craft traditions in small villages along the river side, and remote village life beauty among nature.
There are more villages in middle Sepik with focus on spririt houses and very nice carving. If the art craft carvings is your main goal to visit the region, I suggest to stay in the middle Sepik and visit just shortly the Upper Sepik until Ambunti.
The Upper Sepik is more remote, takes several more hours by boat to reach but you get to visit more nature and beautiful places and villages that blend into the nature with their way of life.
One of the great experiences of the Sepik is actually the boat trip to get to any village, you will watch the local life from the water.
Wagu village is an excellent base to stay a few days enjoying village life surrounded by nature. The village is at the end of a lake in the upper Sepik region about 1.5 hour by boat (at full speed) from Ambunti.
From the Sepik river, we enter in the Wagu lake via the Yambon connection. Once we reach the most open part of the lake the Hustein mountain range is visible at the distance.
The village does not have any haus tambaran neither art crafts. But there are a lot to compensate since the villagers are very welcoming. This village is probably the best place in the Sepik region to participate in local life activities. Matthew Kaka (mobile: 7378 6776) is the village chief and runs the only guesthouse which is impressively well taken, see more advice in the section below.
As you wonder around the village through the houses and common spaces, people smile and wave at you with interest as there are typically no other visitors in the village. Most people will be curious to talk to you. It is easy to approach men building canoes and houses, visit the school after the classes or play with the most curious kids in the playground and around houses.
Besides the life in the village, the lake offers a glimpse of activities in preparation for the dinner. Check with Matthew if you can be taken for fishing, bird watching and checking the crocodiles. The guides are widely knowledgeable of the local fauna.
Finally, the last frontier in the Wagu region is the jungle behind it and the Hunstein mountain range. It is exciting to hike through the jungle looking for birds of paradise and when the jungle opens have a view of the Hunstein mountains.
Wagu village activities
Wagu lake fishing
Hunstein range and bird of paradise
Carvings – Ambumti, Palembei
Ambunti is a small village in upper Sepik that is a good base to visit the haus tambaran in the smaller sepik villages further up the river. Ambunti is quiet, surrounded by green mountains, and can be reached by plane once a week or pre-arranged.
The richness of the carvings in the villages of the Sepik attracts art lovers the world over. In the upper Sepik, once such villages is Japandai. Further down the river (south of Pagwi) in the middle Sepik, Palembei (Palimbei) is an excellent village to visit as is Korogo.
Wewak is the gateway to access the Sepik river, it can be reached overland from the Vanino (after border with Indonesia Papua) or also from Madang but here the road is extremely difficult and often impassible. Hence, the easiest is to reach the city with an internal flight. There is not so much of interesting sites in Wewak, so I would recommend to stay only enough time to arrange your trip to Sepik or the islands of Muscho or Yuo.
Stay at one of the hotels by the beach close to the airport and enjoy the sea while waiting for the Sepik adventure. For more advice on travel organization, accommodation see the section further below.
To get to upper Sepik, one must reach Pagwi village which lies by the river between middle and upper Sepik river regions. If you don’t have an already arranged transportation from Wewak, the typical route is to get a PMV to Maprik and then onward to Pagwi. See prices and times for transport in the section of travel advice further below.
Maprik is a mid-size village with excellent examples of Haus Tambaran, some in use while others abandoned. If you have a couple of hours while changing transport, walk around the town looking for them. Other than these beautiful buildings, there is not much more to keep you in Maprik.
Pagwi is a quiet small village by the river bench with one guesthouse and a small shop with basic food ingredients. The only proper movement happens during the week days which are market days. In the early morning the transports arrive with people from Wewak and the Sepik villages and all leave after the market ends. You can plan to stay here only the night before getting the transport onward.
Wewak – accommodation, transport
The airport is 10min by PMV from the centre, but staying in one of the hotels just opposite from airport by the beach is an excellent option.
The cheapest hotel is the one in the middle “Sepik Surfsite Lodge” (phone: 456 1516 or 456 2525) which is run by Alois Mateos, a very friendly folk that is one of the most experienced travel arrangers in the region. He can recommend you what to do from Wewak. Call directly Alois Mateos: 7265 6367. The rooms are very simple at this lodge and cost 130 K without AC and 150 K with AC. I strongly recommend AC, reason is quite simple: due to the location by the beach, there are occasional cockroaches on all these hotels and there are only two options to keep them away from your room: leave the lights on at all time or turn on the AC.
If you pre-arranged the trip to the Sepik with a local guide with transport from Wewak included they may offer accommodation with a local family in Wewak for the evening before the midnight departure. I have arranged with Matthew Kaka the transport to Wagu and the family he arranged in Wewak was really friendly and living in a local house with their kids. Highly recommended.
Sepik river – getting there on your own
To get the the upper or middle Sepik river villages, the most common route is overland from Wewak to Maprik and then to Pagwi.
Wewak – Maprik – Pagwi
Maprik is reasonably large village, so it is easy to get between Wewak and Maprik every day of the week in the mornings by leaving until latest noon. Between Maprik and Pagwi there are also PMVs running, but almost none during weekends. I took one on Friday from Pagwi to Maprik, took some time to get full but it was sure that it was going. Price combined of the stop in Maprik is similar to take the PMV from Wewak to Pagwi or back, 40 K.
On the way to Pagwi however I took a direct transport from Wewak with just a short stop in Maprik. The transport is with a truck PMV which does this route over night, leaving around midnight from Wewak and arriving in Pagwi early morning.
Pagwi to Sepik villages
To continue onward from Pagwi along the Sepik there are many men with their boats waiting for clients in the morning. If you are on your own, follow the other people heading to their villages and negotiate with boat owners to take you to any village up or down-stream. In case you have pre-arranged the trip with a local guide, he will be waiting for you with a boat in Pagwi.
Sepik river – guides, costs, transport
Everything in Sepik can be highly unreliable in terms of trip times and what’s included. If the boat engine stops or other happenings. The cost of boat traveling in the Sepik increases very fast, do not be put off my the high prices. Take a relaxed approach at it.
The best resource of information is the very friendly Alois Mateos (mobile: 7265 6367). Contact him in any case, to stay in Wewak for a couple of nights, to ask for recommendation of guides in Sepik or contacts to islands in front of Wewak. He also arranges tours to Sepik, but if you are alone, the prices will definitely frighten you off (around 6000-8000 kina for one person, four days).
Sepik is very very expensive, my first advice is don’t be put off with prices of guides and trips to get you there. Once you arrive to the remote villages, you will see how the locals also have to pay a lot to get the most basic things like rice or travel to neighbouring villages. But most of their living is self-subsistent, fishing and hunting. When preparing to go to the Sepik, take bottled water and most basic food like rice. You can buy most things in Pagwi and Ambunti, but the prices are quite expensive. You can fish and buy their potatoes, but items like rice come from the city by boat.
Depending on what is your main target of the Sepik visit, take some care when choosing your guide. For example, I recommend below Matthew from Wagu but he will spend much more fuel (money) to get you from Pagwi to visit villages in middle and upper Sepik then if you take a guide from e.g. Ambunti. However, if Wagu is your main goal, then do go with a local guide from there.
A number of guides are recommended: Chris and Philip (Palembei, Angoram), Joseph Kone (Ambunti), Mathew Kaka (Wagu). You can chat with Alois Mateos about the guides prices and he will give an honest opinion.
Impressively, there is mobile phone coverage in about every village by the river in the Sepik even in upper Sepik more remote like Wagu village.
Wagu – accommodation, transport
Mathew Kaka (mobile: 7378 6776) runs the only guest house in Wagu which is one of the best places to overnight in the whole Sepik region. It is very clean, the food prepared by Matthew’s wife is excellent and there are almost no mosquitoes.
Matthew or someone from his family will pick you up where you arrive, can be at Ambunti, Pagwi, or even Wewak. There is no regular transportation to get to Wagu, you will have to hire boat and driver or guide from Pagwi. A friend of Matthew has put up a site for announcing the direct connection to Wagu village, www.sepiktours-individualrates.de.
In general, I recommend to directly negotiate with local guides in Sepik rather than via larger tour organizers since you can directly see that your money stays in the village.
Next post in this series – Wild Green Papua Niugini – Part 3
Continue reading the third and last part of the PNG trip:
Highlights – Part 3