PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2013

Central Province
Hiritano Highway to Vanapa River
(aka Brown River Road)

The Hiritano Highway: Port Moresby to Vanapa River
click to enlarge map

 

The Hiritano Highway, the lower section of which is often referred to as the Brown River Road, runs from Port Moresby to the Mekeo region of northwestern Central Province. It crosses numerous river, the Laloki River just below its confluence with the Goldie River which also forms the boundary between NCD and Central Province, the Brown River at 40 km, the Vanapa River at 54 km, and the Veimauri River as the highway curves around the top of the crocodile-infested Galley Reach swamplands. Much of the highway is now in very poor condition with numerous potholes and other damage due to continual flooding, the hundreds of heavy logging trucks that use it, and a general lack of maintenance.

The road between Brown and Vanapa Rivers is a remarkably straight stretch of 14 km run with a dog's hindleg turn at the Veikabu Creek at the 7 km marker. This road and its hinterland are home to most of PNG's medically important snakes (listed below) and several species of pythons and nonvenomous treesnakes and keelbacks.

The entire Hiritano Highway is snakebite country, with Papuan taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus canni), Smooth-scaled death adder (Acanthophis laevis), and Lesser black whipsnake (Demansia vestigiata) common along its length. Both Papuan blacksnake (Pseudechis papuanus) and New Guinea small-eyed snakes (Micropechis ihakeka) occur in the damper areas, and there is reason to believe that the New Guinea brownsnake (Pseudonaja textilis) also occurs at locations along the highway.

Driving the road with Dave is an education, he points out virtually every village and settlement of huts and recalls what snakebite came from there. The Mekeo region actually experiences one of the highest incidences of snakebite per capita in the world. Yet despite the abundance of snakes in the surrounding bush, road cruising for snakes is far less successful than it was 10-20 years ago with few species occuring actually on the road other than the Brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis), Slatey-grey snake (Stegonotus cucullatus) and the New Guinea carpet python (Morelia spilota). Large Amethystine pythons (Morelia amethistina) and Southern white-lipped pythons (Leiopython hoserae) are found dead on the road but examination of the cadavers usually indicates they have been killed elsewhere and thrown onto the road.