The Heart of Adventure: The World's Top Jungles

Irian Jaya: Trekking Into the Stone Age

Irian Jaya, the western half of the island of New Guinea, is truly one of the last frontiers, a rugged, isolated land whose native inhabitants are only just now emerging from Stone-Age living patterns. This section of the world's highest and second-largest island remained largely unexplored until recent decades due to the difficult terrain and dense jungles. Passages through the interior must be made on foot, over ancient trading routes between small villages. The trekking trails are rugged but beautiful, with many waterfalls and high passes overlooking blankets of clouds.

In recent years, Papua New Guinea has enjoyed a boom in tourism, but few Westerners have ventured to Irian Jaya. Many say Irian Jaya is what Papua New Guinea was ten years ago.

Most trips begin with an exploration of the Baliem River Valley. Visit the Dani tribes people, known for their elaborate headgear and exotic ceremonies. On short expeditions, you can fly by charter aircraft to visit the Yali people of the east. From the Yali village, the group begins a ten-day overland trek along highland trade routes. The trail is scenic but rugged.

From Baliem, longer exploratory expeditions depart by air to the Korrupun region to visit the Kim-Yal tribe. With the aid of Kim-Yal porters, the group descends to the Brazza River, a remote region first explored by outsiders within the last decade. Upon reaching the Brazza, contact will be made with the Momina tribes, and likely the Obina tribes, a group which receives virtually no other contact with Westerners. The tour concludes with a dugout canoe trip along the Asmat River.

Or, should your interests lie in getting to know the cultures that make the jungles their home, consider an expedition led by an Irian-born, western-trained anthropologist. Participate in tribal rituals with feasting and singing, walk ancient trade paths, and enjoy swimming and hiking in pristine wilderness areas.

Practically Speaking
A trek through this region remains one of the world's great adventures, an opportunity to go back in time. However, an Irian Jaya trek is also serious business—some of the most primitive tribes are only 15 years removed from cannibalism, and unplanned encounters can mean trouble. No trip to the interior should be attempted without a knowledgeable and experienced guide.
In Irian Jaya and much of New Guinea, you will be traveling to extremely remote areas and visiting very primitive peoples. On some tours, you will be beyond the reach of western medicine for a number of days, and if you suffer a broken limb or other serious injury, you might have to wait days for evacuation. We strongly advise that you purchase comprehensive travelers' insurance before undertaking any wilderness trip in this area.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 30 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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