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Heavens to Betty: Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands

3 minute read
Ian Lloyd Neubauer

In the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, a woman stands alone at the fringe of one the world’s great wildernesses. Her name is Betty Higgins, a former Air Niugini flight attendant who spent decades jetting around the globe before retiring a few years ago on 40 hectares of woodland near the village of Kegesugl. There she built a home, trout farm and the informal B&B that is Betty’s Lodge.

Set at the base of Mount Wilhelm, which at 4,509 m is one of the country’s highest peaks, Kegesugl offers nature in the raw. “I’ve been there 50 or 60 times, and every time I go there I have found new species of plants,” says Phil Spencer of Orchid Productions, an Australian company that offers 15-day orchid tours in the highlands.

(See pictures of Papua New Guinea’s newly discovered species.)

The area has remained untouched because of the difficulty and danger in getting there. From the capital Port Moresby, a one-hour flight to Mount Hagen Airport is followed by a nail-biting two-hour drive along the Highlands Highway and the dreaded three-hour, 45-km haul up the Kegesugl Road — a warren of boulder fields, landslips and impromptu roadblocks set up by toll-collecting local gangs. For outdoors lovers, however, the risks are worth it. Apart from the three-day hike up the mountain that takes in the twin glacial lakes of Piunde and Aunde, Kegesugl boasts world-class fly-fishing, bird watching, butterfly hunting, mountain biking and white-water rafting.

After a torturous day on the road, Betty’s Lodge can seem like a maharaja’s palace. With only a few visitors a week, every arrival is a celebrated one, with staff from the village showing the way to a welcoming fireplace.

You’ll find Higgins working in the kitchen, baking succulent rainbow trout and preparing an assortment of organic produce grown on-site, from yams to the mouthwatering hybrid banana — passion fruit. Down but not out after the recent passing of her husband — and a landslide that washed away most of her beloved trout farm — Higgins is a maelstrom of energy. “I’m 52 years old now,” she says. “In another 10 years, I might be too old to do this and have to go to live with my daughter so she can look after me. But for now I am here, at the foot of Mount Wilhelm.”

To book, e-mail bhiggins@digicelpacific.blackberry.com. For orchid tour details, see orchidproductions.com.au.

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