Vanimo-North Western New Guinea

Picture night

The Fokker Friendship touched down and rolled along the gravel airstrip. Tropical seas and palm trees bordered the runway. I walked over to the terminal, a large tin shed, to be whisked away by John and Mary and the kids. It was a Friday night, "Picture night", dinner at the local Club, followed by the outdoor picture show. Loudly talking and laughing soldiers in an army truck were up the back ; an army post not far from the Irian Jaya border.

Irian Jaya

We bounced and rattled in the Datsun the following day, on the seaside road towards the border and a little village called Wuton, and stopped within sight of the river that marked the border. Jayapura was just visible on the other side, a big city in another country, Irian Jaya.

Limestone, Orchids and Moss

Bulbophyllum masdevalleacum Leaving the car under the coconut palms, we made our way over to the huge coral limestone rocks, each the size of half a house. Up the weathered sides of the rock we went, to find a moss and shrubby forest on top. Bulbophyllum masdevaleacum scrambled everywhere, in the moss, over rocks, and up the small trees, its yellow and orange flowers dotted along the rhizomes, singly on 10 cm spikes.

Like a carpet, the small leafed Bulbophyllum membranaceum covered the mossy rocks, its tiny flowers red and yellow. The sea broke its waves on the limestone rock foreshore, only metres away from the rock. In the thick moss, and in crevices holding rich humus, plants of a thin leafed Spathoglottis produced erect spikes of bright purple pink flowers, perhaps a smaller version of the variable Spathaglottis plicata.

Diplocaulobium copelandii On the trunks and branches of small trees, Diplocaulobium copelandii, with small yellow and white flowers, clung to the rough bark. In the tops of the larger trees growing around the huge rocks, were large plants of Dendrobium hollrungii, the green and white form of our native green and pink Dendrobium smilleae.

Where leafmould had collected in forks, a large long leafed Eria grew, huge plants, with small white flowers. In the moss grew plants of a couple of species of Dendrobium belonging to the section Grastidium, grass like, with spidery green and brown spotted flowers.

The huge rocks sat on almost bare limestone, ancient coral reef, the tops of the rocks the only safe haven for the ferns and moss and orchids.

Vanimo, a different place, a different world

On the dusty ancient coral road, with John waving to the indigenous gentleman walking along the road with only his prized possession, an axe, over his shoulder, and his wife three paces behind, an enormous bundle of firewood balanced on her head. Vanimo, north west New Guinea, a different place, a different world.

Text by Ian Walters.
May be reproduced provided source acknowledged.