Owen and I caught the 08:00 Air Nuigini flight to Popondetta, provincial capital of Oro (formerly Northern) Province. This meant a short 25 minute hop over the Owen Stanley Range, high above the famous Kokoda Track where the Australians had finally halted the advance of the Japanese Imperial Army in 1943.
We flew down over the Mambare River and then came in to land at Girua Airport, flying over the vast expanses of oil palm plantations that now dominate the coastal lowlands. These plantation had been run by Higatura Oil Palm when I was last here in 2006 but they were now owned by NBPOL, New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. At Girua we were met by Brian Cazalet, a S.African manager of NBPOL. His wife Elizabeth is a doctor in the Higatura clinic and it was she who had made all the arrangements for our visit.
Flying over the Owen Stanley Mountain Range. Below is the famous Kokoda Track where the Australian soldiers held back the might of the Imperial Japanese Empire. Imagine fighting a war in those steep rainforest covered mountains.
On the Oro Province side, the Mambare River , more of which later.
Rows and rows of oil palms as we approach Popondetta.
Girua Airport, Popondetta
We would share our fieldtime between the plantation to east and west of Popondetta. Those to the west, Higatura and Sangara, were our best locations of New Guinea small-eyed snake (Micropechis ikahaka), while those to the east, Heropa and Parahe on the opposite side of the Girua River, were the best chance for New Guinea brownsnake (Pseudonaja textilis).
Map of Popondetta and oil palm plantation collection localities to east and west mouse-over to view Google Earth satellite map and click for enlarged topographic map
We would also make a trip to Kokoda and the Mamba Estates which were also reputedly very good locations for New Guinea small-eyed snakes.