Brisbane, QLD

Thursday, January 23, 2014


 In 1963 we had been in Lae, PNG for only a few days doing practice teaching when our lecturers took us for a picnic. One I'll never forget. We were told that we were going to Butaweng swimming holes and waterfalls near Finchhafen, a small settlement on the north coast only a 30 minute flight from Lae. "FLIGHT! We are going to fly to a picnic?" I couldn't believe it but I was soon to learn that the main form of transport in TPNG was by small planes. The lecturers had chartered a plane to take us for a picnic and to experience a beautiful part of PNG.

We were taken to Lae airport and there was a small DC3 sitting on the strip with the doors wide open. We had to wait for the paper work to be sorted and the picnic food and drinks to be loaded then we climbed aboard. WOW! The heat inside that tin cylinder was unbearable no wonder the door was open. The plane had been sitting in the sun for a while. The next surprise was the seating arrangement. There were no seats in rows with an aisle but there was a bank of metal, garden type chairs along the walls of the fuselage. There were seat belts attached to the walls.

To keep the drinks cool in this searing heat, there was a 44 gallon drum cut in half longways full of ice.  It sat on the floor behind the cockpit. While everyone got buckled up and the pilot waited for clearance the heat was melting the ice and cooking us. A crew member kept the door open for a little relief. Even when the plane started taxying the door stayed open until just before the wheels left the ground. As the plane steeply climbed into the blue sky the melted ice water slopped over the edge of the drum and came washing down the centre of the plane cooling off our feet and shoes. This was going to be a fun day and an experience to remember.

We flew over swamps and virgin jungle but after only 30 minutes we started our descent into Finchhafen. 

It had been cooler up in the air but as soon as we climbed out of the plane on a little ladder, it was very hot in the sun. So we all crowded under the wing for some respite in the shade while we waited for a "taxi" to take us to Butaweng. There was no such thing as a terminal building.

Finally the 'taxi" turned up. The picnic gear was loaded into the truck and then we had to climb in the back. No little ladder this time. You may wonder why we wore dresses. It was a rule that women should not wear shorts or slacks to show off our curves and skin.

It was a half hour drive on dirt roads to the water holes and I was interested in the tropical trees and the people. It was an uninterrupted view from the back of the truck taxi. I was fascinating to see the native women (called meris) carrying huge loads in a large bag (called a billum) which was hand woven from twine made from plants. The billum's handles were put onto their forehead and then they were hands free. They also carried their babies like this.

We arrived at the picnic spot and then walked through the jungle to the swimming holes. It was a little cooler in the forest.

The jungle opened up to reveal the most beautful little creek and waterholes.

Other expatriates were already there having fun.

The water looked so blue and inviting. New Guinea is awash with crocodiles but we were assured that there were none in this creek.  

Further upstream we found a pool just for us. It was idilic. I had only seen this type of exotic tropical  scenery on movies or in books. To be actually here being part of it was exhilarating.

 In this private place we stripped off and jumped into the water to cool off.  "Brrrrrrr" it was freezing cold water that had tumbled down from the high mountains in the hinterland . It sure did cool us down. It was from one extreme temperature to the other.

Before leaving the pools some of us climbed to the top of the waterfall it was  a pretty scene from up there but I didn't taken my camera.

Then we walked back to the picnic spot where the boys had cooked a barbecue for us with salads and rolls and drinks, which had all come on the plane with us.

After lunch and a little more exploring of this fabulous place we gathered our belongings and our memories and heaved ourselves up into our splendid taxi and returned to the airstrip. There we once again climbed into the overheated plane cabin, found a chair and buckled up ready for the flight back to Lae.

Almost every afternoon in New Guinea, heavy storm clouds come rolling over the mountains and drop torrential rain together with flashing lightening and rumbling thunder. It is not good flying weather. Luckily we were fairly early and hoped to miss the storm.The DC3's fly quite low and it was a bumpy ride back to Lae but we did arrive before the storm.


  1. OH wow, what a picnic. I could see how you would say you would never forget ti his picnic. It was an adventure starting with the plane ride, taxi and the beautiful waterfalls. Wonderful story and photos, Diane!

  2. What an experience for all of you.
    Must have really been a blessing to get cool in the water. The plane inside sounds neat. Good on you for sticking to teaching there in PNG.

  3. These are such nice stories to read. You can feel the excitement of all the new experiences. It is really something you never forget. So nice you made all the photos at that time and can show us.

  4. Well, that is...hands down...the most wonderful picnic that I've ever heard of. I only wish I had been on it myself. Maybe except for the HOT plane ride, but that pool would make it all better. Love it!

  5. " Great report Diane. For the history buffs, the pool was blasted out
    by the US army during WW2. - a favourite place for the soldiers to
    have fun (R & R ?). It was next to the Mape River, the creek and
    waterfall, just after a few more small falls ended up near old wharves
    (US army built - now when I left the Finschhafen area and TPNG for
    good in 1969 - were nothing but rotten stumps), where if you wanted to
    be eaten, crocodiles would have been only too eager to oblige. It was
    from this area that MacArthur started his "return to the Phillipines
    campaign" with one of his major naval campaigns. On the other side of
    the Mape River was a major Japanese headquarters, Helensberg
    Plantation manor house from the days of the German rule, the battle of
    Scarlett Beach up from Siki. Scarlett beach was so-called as the sands
    were red with blood of the Allied troops, but it was an Allied victory
    at terrible cost. Finschhafen or really Dregerhafen -about 4 miles
    east was a large US/Allies military hospital in 1964 was a boarding
    school - quite primitive with questionable accommodation for the boys
    and for classrooms. My father flew in from the Solomon Islands for a
    staff conference at Dregerhafen - crash landed at Finsch, no injuries,
    plane a write off. Dad enjoyed the "R & R" and BBQs at this pool. Bob
    Hope entertained troops at the Dregerhafen Hospital, even left his
    initials on one of the schools tables -"BH was here!"
    Some may notice a stump near the pool which was a diving board, that
    was there one week and gone the next - firewood for the Locals maybe?
    And as Diane reports, the water from the mountains in the hinterlands
    was freezing, but with the humidity of this area, was MOST welcome.
    Great pool and fantastic memories. Thanks Diane.

  6. i can't decide which story i like best, the plane ride or the taxi ride... that pool is stunning and would be worth the trip... to funny on those chairs and seat belts. would you ride like that now?

  7. What an amazing adventure, and no wonder you remember it so well. love your story here and how wonderful to have these photos. That plane would never pass inspection now for safety...

  8. Oh Diane you have had so many wonderful adventures in your life what a great way for us to experience the with you through this blog. Crocodiles well that is a little scary not to mention the plane ride but so worth it. Beautiful. HugB

  9. just amazing to be flown to such a beautiful and remote area. :) love your tales!

  10. What a unique and memorable experience! I'm sure you would never agree to ride on such a rickety plane now, but I bet yiu'd love to revisit this little piece of paradise!

  11. This was a picnic of a life time! You went to a beautiful and exotic area, and the modes of transportation gave you even more to remember.

  12. Oh My Heart... LOVE that waterfall --and swimming area. Bet that water felt good in that heat...

    Unbelievable about having to wear a dress... Guess it was hard to get on and off that 'taxi'... ha


  13. I'm amazed how much detail you recall from your early years. I guess having photo prints helps. A lot of our family photos were on transparencies/slides and got damaged and lost over the years. But even so i doubt if I could remember so much.

  14. What a picnic. Loved the details about the plane, the heat, freezing cold water and having to wear a dress.

  15. I laughed at the taxi. There would not be too many people in this world who have been on such a picnic.

  16. I had to smile at your dressy little frocks on board the sweltering plane and truck! Thank goodness you were allowed swim suits! (Yes - that was the 60's at my college, too - very proper for those of us in teacher training!)

  17. What an adventure Diane .... I love that old Taxi Truck and can imagine the bumpy ride ahead.

  18. You have had some amazing and memorable experiences. I would have thought they would have been small planes up there.

  19. Fantastic! What memories AND photos you have Diane... Its hard to imagine anyone getting on a plane to go to a picnic destination these days, it would be too complicated !

  20. I had to laugh at the taxi but then I really did not expect a yellow cab either. What a fantastic place for a picnic and what a nice break for all of you. I have flown in one of those old DC3's up in AK, it is quite an experience.

  21. No wonder that you never will forget this adventure ! That was indeed a very special picnic !

  22. What an amazing experience. Somehow the dresses in the photos just add to the antidote of it all!

    So happy you're sharing this with "Oh, the PLACES I've been!".

    - The Tablescaper

  23. What an adventure! Love the picnic dresses. I remember going to a family gathering of Bill's big family (before we were married) wearing pedal pushers... and having all his aunts and grandmas etc be a little horrified! Ladies wore dresses in their world.

  24. Wow, you have had some adventures in your life, and I love the fact that you share them with us out here. I loved reading this :)

  25. Makes me wish I had been a photographer when I was young.

    I had no adventure as good as this. I remember heading off for a drive to a swimming hole somewhere outside Moresby but after several miles bumping along a corrugated road decided my little car was not up to it and turned back.

  26. What a beautiful picnic area, that taxi looked like it would give you a rough

  27. Your stories and photos make for top-notch armchair travel - not just to another place but another time :)

  28. I loved the story and it brought back every vivid memory of the picnic I went on as an 8 year old in 1962. I have almost identical photos - however, somehow we missed out on a photo of the truck. I think because we had lived in PNG for some time that it was just considered normal.

  29. I did this myself in the early sixties. I was born in PNG and left when eighteen. Would not swap my childhood for anyone's. This is just one of the marvellous places in that garden of eden called PNG