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Birdquest's Ultimate West Papua, Indonesia birding tour explores the western half of the island of New Guinea (a territory that used to be called Irian Jaya). Our Ultimate West Papua tour is exceptionally comprehensive and concentrates on the endemic specialities of this part of New Guinea, including its offshore islands, where marvellous creatures can be found such as Macgregor's, Red and Wilson's Birds of Paradise, Western Parotia, Arfak Astrapia, Long-tailed Paradigalla, Western Crowned Pigeon and Numfor Paradise Kingfisher.
Wednesday 3rd July —
Wednesday 31st July 2019
Leaders: a Birdquest leader and local bird guides
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy to fairly demanding walking and comfortable to mostly basic accommodations (including quite a bit of camping)
When, in the mid 19th century, Alfred Russel Wallace first approached the shores of western New Guinea he wrote that he could barely contain his excitement knowing that “those dark forests produced the most extraordinary and the most beautiful of the feathered inhabitants of the earth”.
First sighted by the Portuguese in 1526, this huge island, second only in size to Greenland, exhibits incredible ecological diversity. In just 60 miles (100km) the land rises from the steamy mangroves and peat-swamp forests of the coast through impenetrable rain- and moss-forests up to the open alpine grasslands and jagged snow-capped summits of the Jayawijaya (or Snow) Mountains, the highest peaks between the Himalayas and the Andes.
The very varied local ecology and the isolating effect of the rugged terrain has resulted in a cultural and linguistic diversity unparalleled on earth. Here 0.1% of the world’s population speak 15% of the known languages. Early Dutch colonial influence barely extended beyond the immediate vicinity of the coast, vast areas remaining terra incognita until the mid 20th century. Most of the tribes, particularly those in the highlands, were first contacted by outsiders as recently as in the 1930s or even later, and some are still unknown to westerners. Despite the efforts of missionaries and ‘Indonesianization’ programmes, many tribes are much as they were before outside influences arrived. Stories of tribal warfare and even cannibalism are still frequent in some places, although fortunately not in the areas we will visit!
Diversity and timelessness are as characteristic of the fauna and flora as of the people. West Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) is still covered by the some of the largest tracts of undisturbed forest on earth, second only to Amazonia. Very few birdwatchers have as yet visited West Papua, before mass tourism, logging and mining have had a serious impact on the environment. Whether sampling the birds of New Guinea for the first time or returning for those exotic and rarely seen endemics, West Papua provides the adventurous birder with some of the most exciting birding and travel experiences the modern world can offer.
It is most important, however, to realize that a visit to this very remote region is much more of an adventure than a normal birding tour, with some quite primitive living conditions at times. Tourism is still very much in its infancy in West Papua. Although reasonably comfortable hotels exist in all the main centres, once we are away from such places our accommodation will be in remote, basic villages or in small tents or simple ‘bush shelters’ deep in the forest and well away from habitation. West Papua’s very rugged terrain makes road building extremely difficult and they usually stop not far from each town. In addition, local agent charges for arranging adventurous ecotourism in West Papua have become very high, reflecting rapidly climbing costs in this unique part of Indonesia.
Our adventure starts on the isolated island of Biak in Geelvink Bay, where the old Dutch colonial capital, Bosnik, was located. Much of the original forest which once covered this limestone island has been logged, but almost all of the nine endemic species can still be found in disturbed forest, including Biak Red Lory, Geelvink Pygmy-Parrot, Biak Coucal, Biak Scops Owl, the beautiful Biak Paradise Kingfisher, Biak Black Flycatcher and Long-tailed Starling.
We then continue to the central highlands of West Papua where we explore the Grand Baliem Valley with its stunning scenery and variety of habitats ranging from primary forest to alpine grasslands. Here, within sight of the 15,421ft (4700m) Peak Trikora, part of the Snow Mountains range, we will search for Macgregor’s Bird of Paradise, one of the strangest and most astonishing members of its family (or perhaps, according to recent studies, an aberrant honeyeater). Many more montane specialities can be seen here, most notably Snow Mountain Quail, Alpine Pipit, Lorentz’s Whistler, Short-bearded Melidectes, Orange-cheeked Honeyeater, Western Alpine Mannikin and the aptly-named Splendid Astrapia. There is even a chance for the rare Archbold’s Bowerbird.
Next we explore the lowland rainforest at the base of the Cyclops Mountains where we will look for extraordinary species like Pale-billed Sicklebill, Twelve-wired, King and Lesser Bird of Paradise, the rarely seen Blue-black Kingfisher, Salvadori’s Fig-Parrot and Rufous-collared Monarch.
After this we will travel far to the west to the small town of Manokwari from where we will travel by a fairly recently-constructed road up to the village of Mokwam amongst the spectacular ridges and deep valleys of the Arfak Mountains in search of their three endemic birds of paradise: Western Parotia, Arfak Astrapia and Long-tailed Paradigalla (only rediscovered in 1989). Here we may well also see Black-billed (or Buff-tailed) and Black Sicklebills, Magnificent Bird of Paradise, Flame and Vogelkop Bowerbirds, and much more besides.
Finally we come to Sorong, at the western tip of the oddly shaped Vogelkop (Bird’s Head) Peninsula, from where we will take a boat across to Waigeo in the Raja Ampat (or Raja Empat) Islands to search for the endemic Wilson’s and Red Birds of Paradise at their display grounds in the forests. We also have a good chance of seeing the amazing Western Crowned Pigeon flush noisily up into the trees, as well as the endemic Raja Ampat Pitohui and many other more widespread New Guinea birds.
Around Sorong itself we will look for Black Lory and the superb Red-breasted Paradise Kingfisher.
Birdquest pioneered birding tours to West Papua (then known as Irian Jaya) as far back as 1992.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good or medium standard. On Numfor we stay one night in a very simple guesthouse with two or more people per room and basic washing and toilet facilities. At Lake Habbema for four nights and in the Cyclops lowland rainforest for four nights we will camp in small tents (for twin or single occupancy), with ‘bush’ washing and toilet facilities. At Mokwam in the Arfak Mountains for three nights we will sleep in simple buildings (with one or two rooms) with primitive washing and toilet facilities. For three nights in the Arfak Mountains we will sleep under primitive ‘bush shelters’. On Waigeo we will either sleep in a simple building with one or two rooms, or we will camp in small tents (for twin or single occupancy), with ‘bush’ washing and toilet facilities. Participants will need to bring their own sleeping bags and ‘thermarest’ type camping mattresses. Road transport is by small coach or minibus. Roads are rather poor and few and far between, but then we do not have to travel long distances on them.
Walking etc: The walking effort is mostly moderate (easy in only a few areas). Access to the Arfak Mountains used to involve much strenuous trekking, but conditions have now been greatly alleviated by the construction of a road up to the village of Mokwam. Even so, hiking the trails in this area will still be quite demanding at times as they are steep in parts. For the Arfak in particular, you need to be fit and agile, with a good sense of balance.
Climate: Unpredictable and dependent on local topography but at this season it should be mostly dry and often sunny. It is generally hot and humid in the lowlands and foothills. At high altitudes daytime temperatures are pleasant but it can get cold at night or when it rains.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.
West Papua Tour Prices: We are sometimes asked why West Papua tour prices are so expensive, especially when there are basic accommodations for much of the tour. The answer is straightforward, but not entirely obvious to an outside observer. While Ultimate West Papua is a very long tour, of much more significance are the very high price levels that are charged by the local agents. There are very few competent local ecotourism agents in West Papua and the best of them have to have an unusual level of expertise in order to function well in this remote and very undeveloped part of the world. They assure us that their operating costs in West Papua are very high.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £9590, €11320, $12560 Biak/Sorong.
Price includes all transportation (including all flights inside West Papua), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £360, €425, $472 (Biak, Wamena, Sentani, Manokwari and Sorong only).
Deposit: £1200, €1440, $1560.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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