Article | HIKING TO KOHARU WATERFALLS IN BOUGAINVILLE. The Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea offers opportunities a plenty to disappear into the wilderness. Through a friend I found out about a potential hike near the township of Arawa and with all the logistics sorted by a colleague of his who was from the area, we set off in search of the Koharu Waterfalls in the dense rainforest and hills of central Bougainville.
SUMMARY – Koharu Waterfalls, Arawa
Time: 3-5 hours return
Terrain: Well trodden track at the start, steep bush in the middle with some climbing over rocks, boulders and plenty of wadding through the river.
Fitness: Moderate levels of fitness required.
Additional Information: You’ll need a local or guide to accompany you on this track. It’s best to ask around whilst in Arawa to find someone from the local community who can guide you. Water available at the river and waterfalls, however sufficient supplies should be taken. Take plenty of bug spray and suncream.
One of the most challenging things with hiking and exploring in Bougainville? It’s the ability to find out about the potential hikes and organizing them. Just Google them right? Unfortunately, this results in half a dozen of the more popular walks and not much else. Often, I discover potential hikes through word of mouth. That’s the advantage of staying long-term in Bougainville. As you meet more people and make connections, new opportunities arise.
After 8 months in Bougainville I recently heard about a promising sounding hike right on my doorstep. A friend suggested it might be a possibility to hike to Koharu waterfalls and worked with someone who could organize it. This is where planning a hike in Bougainville is a little bit different to say in New Zealand. In Bougainville, you often need a guide, local community permission, land permission, transportation and someone who can do of all these things for you. With my friends colleague sorting all of these elements, it sounded like too good an opportunity to miss. I was told where and when to meet up and knew very little else. I packed a backpack of plum jam sandwiches, 3 litres of water, sun cream, bug spray and set off into the unknown.
We walked out of town, following the coastline south towards Kieta. After 20 minutes we turned into an old industrial area set back from the ocean with the hills of Arawa as a backdrop. I immediately noticed the remains of many factories and warehouses, partially hidden by vines and long grasses – an indication of what used to be in this area.
We followed a pot hole ridden track for a short distance before turning off onto a narrow pathway. A family came out to greet us, shaking our hands and introducing themselves, our local guides – 2 ladies, 1 man and our guide from Arawa. We now had the necessary people to begin our hike to the Koharu waterfalls. We set off across an iron girder spanning a narrow ditch, leaving the clucking of village chickens behind.
We passed through cocoa trees with large yellow, orange and deep purple pods hanging from branches in the shade of larger trees. A well-trodden track of dirt, rocks and tree roots lead the way, creeping slowly up in altitude. Before too long we had our first glimpse of the township of Arawa and the ocean through several openings in the rainforest. The beach lined curvy bays disappearing out of sight but looking very appealing in the humidity of the day.
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A long weekend comes to an end with a solid hike up into the hills of Arawa in Bougainville to see a spectacular waterfall. En route we were treated to some stunning glimpses of the bays far below. There's nothing quite like hiking in Bougainville for a truly wild and remote experience.
We pushed onward with several more viewpoints of small islands dotted on the horizon to our left and craggy mountain ranges and plenty more rainforest as far as the eye could see on our right. Occasionally, the sound of white cockatoos would distract me from the track ahead. I tried to spot them high above perched on branches. After 30-45 minutes of climbing our group came to an abrupt stop. The trail clearly kept going straight ahead, however our guide pointed to a smaller, narrower track on the left.
It was obvious this section was not walked as frequently. Ferns and other foliage stretched across the ‘pathway’ hiding our feet from view. Each step was a leap of faith that you would land on solid ground rather than disappearing into the undergrowth. Progress was a little slower, hindered further by being on the side of a steep hill, sloping from right to left at a steep angle. People slipped and tumbled often, usually with a smile before pulling themselves up and pushing on. The occasional viewpoint of the bays and the blue ocean boosted our spirits – nothing short of spectacular. From our vantage point we pointed out landmarks we recognized. These included Loloho Beach, Tautsina Island and various uninhabited islands which we had visited a couple of days previous.
Eventually, the sound of running water could be heard through the trees and shortly after a glimpse of the first waterfall could be seen. The track led us down to a river with huge boulders and fallen trees prominent throughout. Looking upstream, a series of cascades flowing over rocks could be seen. I navigated the waterfall, clambering up rocks, over boulders and shuffling along tree trunks until I reached most of the way up. At this point, the water split off to my left and right disappearing into dark crevasses before re-emerging someplace below me. The rest of the group were 30 feet below at the river edge. After a short time exploring the cascades we continued on a pathway to the left of the falls, which disappeared into the rainforest and headed up.
A matter of minutes later, we re-joined the river, now above the waterfall and followed the twisting, turning and somewhat shallower water upstream. We hopped from rock to rock until there were no suitable rocks, at which point we wadded through the cool water. After climbing a number of small, slippery cascades we stood at the base of the Koharu waterfalls. To get closer to the action we had several options. One of which was direct, steep and slippery. The other was less direct and through dense bush. I took the second route, which bought me out to the right and about half way up the fall.
These impressive falls sent the water off in various directions including a main torrent of about a foot wide, set within the face of the rock. This fed a pool of 3ft wide by 6 ft long. I could not touch the bottom of the pool, so who knows how deep it was. Another cascade off to the left spanned a wide, smooth section of the rock face,and flowed no deeper than a cm, but glistened in the sunlight giving off a somewhat magical ora. Looking at the falls from the pool, the waterfall rose to over 50 feet above with blue skies, craggy rocks and trees as the backdrop. Turning my back to the falls, I watched the various shallow, narrow streams of water drop off before combining into one and twisting and turning out of sight.
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We made it to the falls but how do we get to the top? Well, you can just walk straight up and try not to slip. Alternatively, bush whack a slighter less steep section to the right of the falls. I took the second option. I didn't back myself to not slip scaling the wet rock. At the top though, there was a sweet small pool of about 3 ft by 6 ft to chill in. I have no idea how deep it was but I couldn't touch the bottom! . . . . . #waterfall #waterfalls #hills #mountains #outside_project #outdoortones #bbctravel #natgeoadventure #natgeotravel #outdooradventuremode #theoutdooradventurer #hikerslist #wildernessnation #wildernessculture #naturelove_world #worldsbestwalks #kathmandugear #hike #hikers #hiking #walking #exploremore #liveoutdoors #lifeofadventure #papuanewguinea #simplyadventure #rainforest #natureaddict #todsl #optoutside
After a time cooling off in the water, we followed the river downstream – walking within the river itself. Dense trees provided cover to the left, right and above, the only available view looking forward and back upstream. We continued hop rocking where possible and occasionally lowered ourselves into pools of water anywhere from 1 to 3 feet deep. We repeated this cycle for an hour or so whilst simultaneously batting away mosquitoes, ants and everything else which wanted to bite us.
Our itchy-ness was reaching maximum levels, as we exited the river at a village and strolled along a pathway. Children could be heard playing and dogs barked as we approached. Well maintained vegetable gardens and cocoa trees began to appear where rainforest would have once grown. Before too long, we were greeting local villagers with a wave as we passed through their village. Children swam and laughed in pools with beaming smiles.
Finally, after approximately 4.5 hours of walking for the day, we arrived back at the industrial area on the outskirts of Arawa. It was a 20-30 minute walk along the main road back into town. As we prepared ourselves for the last leg, a flatbed truck appeared which our guide had organized. A pleasant surprise! We exchanged goodbyes and thanked our local guides and climbed aboard the truck. Looking around the group, we all had common traits… we were hot, dripping in sweat, itchy but most importantly… we were all still smiling. 5 minutes later, we arrived back in town and headed off for a much needed cold shower.
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I had only seen this waterfall near Arawa in Bougainville from distance before yesterday – high up in the hills surrounded by bush. However, I've now walked to it and it was incredible. There were plenty of hills, boulders and dense rainforest to tackle as well as bugs, so many bugs… All kinds of bitting things like mosquitoes, ants and things in the water which apparently love a good sweaty, smelly person! But it was all worth it as I climbed to the top of these magnificent falls.
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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