Firstly, apologies for the lack of photos, they are near impossible to find, besides this post is all about setting the tone for Part Two, which will be our attempt at hiking to the summit of the highest peak in the Solomons.
Popomanaseu, meaning wooden bowl (Popo) and (mana) coconut (seu) in the local dialect is named so because incidentally it is said to look like a bowl and a coconut (surprise surprise ….) due to its saddle formation. Mount Popomanaseu (MP) is the highest peak in the Solomon Islands and higher than any peak in Australia, standing at a decent 2335m. It is also the highest peak in the South Pacific with the exclusion of New Guinea and its islands.
MP is located on the island of Guadalcanal where the capital city of Honiara is also found, it is located to the east of the next highest peak on the island, Mount Makarakomburu. Up until recently there was regular debate on which peak was the highest on the island but it seems that MP seems to have won out, for the time being anyway. In terms of access it would have been nice for Makarakomburu to have been given the title because there is a lot less history with that mountain than with MP.
MP is said to be cursed by locals and visitors alike, cursed because every time anyone tries to access the summit or any type of business activity is commenced, always, almost without doubt, an event has occurred which has restricted access to the Mountain for years afterwards. In fact, our attempt at the summit is the first such attempt in about two and half years.
It is also a culturally significant and ecological diverse region where, it is believed, many of its local species have not yet been recorded, or even identified by science, or alternatively have not been seen for a long time and are thought to be extinct. One of the most interesting is a giant rat called the emperor rat, these are said to be as large as cats but haven’t been recorded in over 50 years, definitely one creature I would like to get a glimpse of, and would probably turn the table on the current cat-rat dynamic.
Three major river systems of Guadalcanal all have their origins from MP; Mataniko, Lungga and Tenaru. Tenaru is about 20kms east of Honiara and is the area we covered with our week 10 post on the bat cave, it also has a waterfall walk which we will be heading back another week for. The Lungga river is on the eastern outskirts of Honiara and as far as I am aware there aren’t any guided walks in the region, but it does have a healthy reputation for housing several large crocodiles. And finally, Mataniko runs right through the middle of Honiara and is the largest in water volume of the three, there is a popular waterfall walk following the river where you also get to ‘tube’ on the way back down, again, another post for another day. – I’m not too sure how accurate the information on the rivers sources is, or if it has any accuracy at all, but it does seem feasible.
We are not sure what to expect on the walk as there is little available information and, also, considering it has been well over 2.5 years since the last team walked to the Summit. In terms of geography we are expecting a fairly easy walk following the road from the starting town, Goldridge, to the MP base village, Nanala. From Nanala to the summit we are anticipating following a river for the first part and then needing to bash through the bush clearing our way through overgrown bamboo and other shrubbery, before the forest opens up into a somewhat reverse arid looking area where the lack of light from constant cloud coverage, high humidity and rainfall results in only low-lying vegetation growing. Whatever the results, I can’t wait to see it for myself and take a heap of pictures of this fascinating place.
The bush itself isn’t the only challenge, historically the landowners in both of the towns have been ‘difficult’ to agree on terms with. Our primary guide and organiser, Stanley (who I’ll talk about in more length in Part Two next week), has done a mountain of work to try and ensure we have all the access, guide and Kustom fees pre-planned before stepping foot on the Mountain but from the stories this has every opportunity to change when we get to Nanala. Change so much so that plenty of groups have turned back after being told the new fees, but we are hoping that this doesn’t happen with us as the landowners have all but sworn that they want to turn it into an ongoing tourism opportunity and therefore will make sure there are no nasty surprises. But, due to the history, we can just never tell, some of the stories include;
- Groups have been advised of a $2000SBD per person kustom fee but once arriving in Nanala are not let past for less than $10000SBD ($1,700AU) per person – this is a common occurence.
- The last person who made the trek up was a scientist who, depending on which story you hear (but they are all similar), without previous permission caught a rare and culturally significant kingfisher and anesthetized it in readiness to take it back to his home country for further genetic study. The landowners in Nanala and Goldridge became infuriated by the killing of the bird and there was a massive backlash towards the scientist culminating in exorbitant compensation fee requests.
- An Australian based gold mining company was based out of Goldridge in the early 2000s, the chemical that they used to clean the gold, cyanide, was washed away with wastewater into a small sized fresh water lake which, not surprisingly, became cyanide contaminated. When the company finished the contract, they left the Solomons without cleaning the lake, leaving a lake full of cyanide just waiting to become a major environmental disaster when it eventually overflows.
- The UN sent in a team in the later 2000s in an effort to stabilize and clean-up the lake. However, the Goldridge villagers didn’t understand the different roles these ‘white people’ had compared to those who were mining. The local villagers savagely attacked the UN members, destroyed their vehicles and the UN effectively pulled out of the operation. The UN made the area a no-go zone until just recently, but more sadly the near full cyanide contaminated lake is still sitting there and is probably only two to three heavy wet seasons away from overflowing and running into rivers and streams that many animals, people and crops rely on for daily sustenance.
Culturally there are some other interesting stories about the Mountain, one of my favourites is the story about the giants, I have previously linked this article, http://www.thewatcherfiles.com/giants/solomon-giants.htm, but I’ll summarize too;
Local ‘story’ believes that there is an extensive underground system of tunnels which was created by and is used by the Giants of Guadalcanal to move around the island. The Giants are thought to be over 10 feet tall, are descended from aliens, have huge appetites where one giant will regularly eat a whole pig to him/herself, and have such amazing strength that they can do jobs by hand that the common person requires machinery to complete.
Several years ago, on a trip to prospect the area for gold, the driver and three passengers in their twin-cab Toyota Hilux became bogged, so bogged that there was no moving of the vehicle in any direction. They walked back to the village to get help and on returning to the vehicle it was out of the bog, sitting safely on the road, with two huge giants standing on either side of it.
My favourite story though is; in 1998, a gold mining company was bulldozing tracks to make a road to bring in their equipment to the site. During the dozing, the brackets holding the bucket malfunctioned and they had to head back to the workshop to get it fixed. In order to reduce the weight they removed the 10-tonne bucket from the dozer and left it in place in readiness to return the next day. When they returned the bucket was nowhere to be seen, instead where it was previously located they saw massive three to four foot footprints. The group followed the footprints and found the bucket located 100 metres away in the bush!
Local people believe the Giants very much exist, and are regularly seen on and around the regions of Guadalcanal. In fact, we regularly see what could be a descendent of these fascinating peoples. There is a young man, maybe in his early 20s, who we regularly see walking around the town. He is close to eight feet tall, so a bit of a runt in giant terms, and has the biggest feet that I or anyone I know has ever laid eyes on. So big, that until recently he held the world record for the biggest foot, they are huge! His feet are actually sponsored by Nike, I’m pretty sure it is Nike, and they make him custom sized shoes when he needs them. Thankfully too, because those things would cost a fortune!
So that’s part one of our story, report back next week to see how the four-day adventure concluded, whether we made it up or not and if we were fortunate enough, or unfortunate enough to come in contact with this formidable people.
For a bit more reading, and as references to the information provided see;