Published on 12th June 2013
The three-day trek to Lake Billy Mitchell is one of several small-scale eco-tourism experiences that are helping to improve the lives of people in Bougainville.
The last 30 minutes of the climb to Lake Billy Mitchell, a spectacular crater lake on a dormant volcano north of Arawa, was the hardest part of the three-day trek.
Some of Nicola Fowlie’s party ended up crawling through the bush on their hands and knees, while local guides cleared the path in front of them using machetes.
“It’s definitely tough in bits, but it’s doable,” says Nicola, who did the trek through dense, bird-filled jungle with a group of fellow VSA volunteers and visiting tourists last July.
The trip to Lake Billy Mitchell was one of several small-scale tourism projects Nicola checked out – and in several cases wrote about in the local paper – during her 10-month assignment as a hospitality and tourism assistant with the Central Bougainville Tourism Association.
Another highlight was the day she spent a day at Manee Resource, an idyllic oasis in the Kongara mountains that has been developed by the Orinu family. It features a traditional fishpond (tavinara), well-developed gardens and a traditional house (saksak haus) where guests can sit and enjoy a picnic.
Manee Resource,“Manee Resource is an Eden-like oasis in a fantastic location,” says Nicola. “It feels secluded and lets you completely forget about the outside world.”
The Central Bougainville Tourism Association is a small organisation based in Arawa. It was set up several years ago, but when Nicola arrived it had largely fallen into abeyance. She worked with a small group of colleagues to re-establish the association and to provide information and advice to local people about how tourism works and what it can do for communities.
When it comes to tourism, Bougainville has a lot to
offer. As well as gorgeous scenery filled with amazing birds – including the rare moustached kingfisher – it also offers opportunities for trekking, diving and, for those with an interest in military history, visits to old World War Two sites.
“Some places in Bougainville really are the stuff that travel brochures are made of,” says Nicola.
However, getting there is expensive and time-consuming, and at present Bougainville’s infrastructure is too basic to provide the services most tourists expect. For that reason, Nicola and her colleagues focused on the possibilities of small-scale ecotourism projects aimed at adventure travellers keen to have an off-the-beaten-track experience.
“People were really keen to learn about tourism and we had lots of people coming to our meetings. But it’s important not to give them unrealistic expectations about what you can do with tourism. We talked about the benefits of tourism, but also about the risks.”
They also stressed the importance of developing Bougainville’s internal tourism market, rather than trying to attract international tourists.
“Local people travel within Bougainville for work, and some people travel there from other parts of PNG such as Port Moresby and Kokopo for business, or on NGO work. Small-scale tourism projects can provide them with the chance to have a great experience while helping to make a real difference to the lives of local people.”
UniVol Tim Brosnan has taken over Nicola Fowlie’s work with the Central Bougainville Tourism Association. He is helping the association develop a plan for tourism in central Bougainville, and is working with staff to develop a database to record tourism opportunities and activities in the area.