Papua: BOP til you drop!

The Magnificent Bird of Paradise

A visit to the Arfak region was a part of our initial plan to Papua, but the more we researched the area, the more it seemed a too expensive and too time-consuming venture to organize and therefore justify the stop. However, we tend to be lucky travellers and good fortune found us once again while on our island paradise of Pulau Piaynemo in Raja Ampat. There, on our first night, we met a small group hailing from Manokwari who just so happened to work for their local tourism department- Anggi, Salo, and Theo. So, after an evening of talk and discussing what we wanted out of a trip to the Arfak mountains, we exchanged contact info and they invited us to come stay with them once we could tear ourselves away from RA. We flew into Manokwari one morning a week later and Anggi and Theo were waiting at the airport to meet us. Anggi works for Manokwari Tourism and Theo owns and operates Abasi Surf Camp based out of Manokwari. They brought us back to their surf camp residence to unload our gear and then took us out to obtain our surat jalans (travel permits) and get some provisions for our next three days in the jungle-clad Arfak mountains. Anggi had everything organized for us by the time we arrived (guide, driver, accommodation, itinerary…), so other than purchasing some last minute supplies, there wasn't much else for us to do. Being the wonderful hosts they were, Anggi and Theo drove us around for the rest of the day to see some local sights around Manokwari including some great beaches and surf breaks. That evening Theo cooked up a feast and we met with our guide and driver that Anggi had arranged for us. The main reason we wanted to pay Pegunungan Arfak a visit was to try and find some of the species of birds endemic to the island of New Guinea, including the amazing Birds of Paradise (BOP).

The next morning we were up bright and early and our driver and guide were ready to take us up into the mountains. Our base at the jungle lodge was only about a two hour drive from Manokwari, but it was an adventurous ride- even with our 4X4. You have to cross a couple of rivers on the way up and the bridges are yet to be completed so the only way across is straight through them. Very cool! The jungle lodge accommodation was quaint and a little neglected to be honest. Anyone planning a visit up into the Arfak mountains heed this advice… bring a sleeping bag! Needless to say, we were the only guests there and probably the only guests who had been there in quite a while. I'm pretty sure the bedding in the lodge has never been properly washed, and so, hence the sleeping bags!

The Vogelkop Bowerbird

After settling in, we hiked into the jungle to a location where our guide Hans knew of an active Vogelkop Bowerbird (click on this link to learn more about the bowerbird which was filmed in the exact area where we were). There, in our jungle “hide” we watched the interesting antics of the bowerbird who spends most of its day perfecting and obsessing over the exterior design of its hopeful love shack. A pretty common looking bird itself, this bird is nothing short of fascinating with the time and energy it puts into the colour detailing and decor of his impressive bower, as well, he is a master of mimicking the sounds and songs of other jungle birds. But by noon, the clouds begin to envelop the mountains and you have just enough time to hike back to your accommodation before the skies open and release torrential rains until the wee hours of the next morning. This happened all three days we were up in the mountains and we planned our days accordingly. It is after all a rainforest! What made the weather that much more intolerable was the fact that the jungle lodge had no working power supply (or so they said) which meant no charging of our devices and camera gear. No electricity coupled with the combination of thick fog, cloud, and canopy cover blocking out most of the available light made for very dark afternoons and evenings at the lodge (you couldn't even read really). Yup, our days and nights were chilly and quite boring to say the least! Second piece of advice: bring a torch, a headlamp, or better yet, a working generator!

The next morning Hans led us out into the jungle once again, this time to a spot frequented by a Western Parotia (another kind of BOP). The only problem was he hadn't frequented this particular spot in quite a long time. But Hans had us wait in another hide for the next three hours nonetheless. After those three hours the daily routine of biblical rains and darkness induced boredom began once more. Not one of our better days in Papua!

Front shot of the Magnificent BOP

The next day was our second last in the Arfak region and we had yet to see a bird of paradise. So that morning we woke at 4:30 and set off deeper into the jungle (a very steep part of the mountain) where our guide knew of an active Magnificient Bird of Paradise. It was around 7 a.m. when we reached the secluded spot where there was another hide constructed. Within only a few minutes of waiting the first Magnificent BOP made an appearance, and not too long after a second male and one female flew into the scene. We spent the next few hours watching and studying the paculiarities of these beautifully ornate birds. The males are very colourful and perform stunning displays of dance complete with song. They puff out their chests and throw their back plumage over their heads. A truly remarkable sight. While a female did show herself in the dance grounds from time to time, neither the males or female seemed too interested in its opposite sex. That interaction with the Magnificent BOPs made the lodge and inclement weather a minor concern… at least for a while. When we finished with the birds, Hans took us to his home up on the mountainside and there we brunched. After our meal he took us to his village another couple of kilometers down the jungle path and we met some of his family. After some time there we started our hike back up to the jungle lodge this time taking a different route which passed through some small and scenic villages. The skies didn't open until about 5 minutes before we reached camp… perfect timing and a fulfilling day of jungle trekking, bird watching, and cultural interactions.

On our last day we hiked up the road in the direction of Manokwari just taking in the jungle scenery and sounds. Our goal was to see the giant birdwing butterflies a few kilometers up the road, but it turned out that a single village had the monopoly in the viewing of them and the chief wasn't around to grant us access to the forest beyond the village. Denied! But the walk was beautiful and as the clouds rolled in on our hike back the jungle scenes got even more mysterious and beautiful. Later in the afternoon our driver picked us up from the lodge and we made the adventure ride back to the city- this time even more adventure-filled with the recently swelled rivers.

Hiking in the Arfak Mountains

So here is where I give my honest two cents about our experience. We did love our time spent with the birds, but that was a total of about 5 hours spread over the three days. There were other good times as well, such as the jungle walks and visits to the nearby villages. But the weather and our accommodation made the majority of our time spent in the Arfak area quite a drag! The experience cost us about $800 all-in (3D/3N package not including airfare) and five days of our month in Papua. Without the help of Anggi, Theo, and Salo, I'm sure we would have spent at least a week doing the same trip- so to them we are very grateful. Papua is expensive by Southeast Asia standards, but a visit to Arfak, unlike a visit to Raja Ampat or the Baliem Valley, is difficult to justify unless you are a die-hard birder hellbent on ticking off a couple species on your list (Raja Ampat also has a couple of species of BOPs for your viewing pleasure). But to those who are die-hard birders and have the time, money, sleeping bags, and a good source of light, then I'm sure the Arfak experience will reward you well.