Article | THE REMOTE GEM OF LAKE ERUOVI AKA BILLY MITCHELL IN BOUGAINVILLE. The volcanic crater lake of Eruovi as it’s known by the locals and Billy Mitchell as it’s maybe more commonly referred to is not seen by many – hidden from the masses by its remoteness, challenging environment and recent historical events in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. I crawl on hands and knees through thickets of ferns which scratch at my face, arms and legs. Towards the top of a dormant volcano reaching to 1,544 metres, I witness something very unexpected. However, the journey started long before this moment…
LAKE ERUOVI / BILLY MITCHELL HIKE SUMMARY Organised through Rotokas Ecotourism Group. Further information and contact details at: www.rotokasecotourism.com 3 Days / 2 Nights with a guide and porters - supplied own food, water and equipment (with the exception of tarpaulin). Water only available at the camp spot on day 1 and day 3 - a challenging descent to a river. Abundant water sources are available on day 2 - however this could change depending on conditions. Terrain: Moderate. Mostly under cover of the rainforest with undulations. Steep climb to top of volcano. Fitness: Moderate fitness is required due to the terrain, climate and conditions. Hiking Schedule Ruavina – Camp 5.5 hours (Day 1) Camp – Waterfall (near base of volcano) 3.5 hours (Day 2) Waterfall – Top of volcano 1 hour (Day 2) Top of volcano – waterfall 1 hour (Day 2) Waterfall – Camp 3 hours (Day 2) Camp – Ruavina 4 hours (Day 3)
Tree branches flick into the open windows of the truck, as we bounce our way in land towards the small village of Ruavina, our starting point. I watch the narrow track from back of the truck, trying to pre-empt the bumps and brace accordingly against a stack of heavily laden backpacks at my feet. We delve deeper into the rainforest, which appears to effortlessly engulf us, offering no indication of where our motorised journey will end.
After a couple of river crossings, a clearing in the rainforest reveals a number of traditional village houses and a pack of dogs announce our arrival with a chorus of barking. Children run to see what all the commotion is about and they shyly watch us as our bags are unloaded, giggling and running off to hide before slowly creeping back. A local guy wearing a New York Yankee’s baseball cap backwards and his friends eye up our bags as we unload, our porters for the trip, which it is recommended we use to help the local community.
I chat with our guide using my limited Tok Pisin, whilst he uses his best English, as we discuss our first day of walking to try and fill the gaps of knowledge which numerous internet searches couldn’t answer. I expect to walk about 6 hours, however our conversation does little to confirm it. Instead, we decide it’s best we set off and keep walking until we arrive at camp. As we set off, a couple of people headed in the opposite direction towards a nearby village to collect a tarpaulin – an indication of what to expect from our camp for the night.
Everyone is in high spirits as we pass through well-maintained plantations of kaukau, peanut and cocoa. The gardens on the outskirts of the village quickly give away to the cooler, canopy covered rainforest, where we would remain for most of the day. A muscular middle aged man wielding an axe on one shoulder and a bush knife in hand efficiently clears the track of vines, branches and fallen trees as we follow. Occasionally, we arrive at a particularly stubborn section of rainforest, where the track has disappeared and we wait patiently – taking the opportunity for a sip of water and a handful of salted peanuts before continuing onwards.
The rainforest is alive with manic squawks and flapping in the trees distracting my gaze from the forest bed to try and catch a glimpse of the culprits – albeit with very little success. As I do so, vines appear to leap into action and wrap around my boots, pulling me and others to the ground with a thud. The sound of running water can very occasionally be heard as I hope to arrive at a creek to cool off, however I am always left disappointed. I spot the river hundreds of feet below us, winding its way through a valley.
After five and a half hours, we arrive at a small clearing and come to a stop. We drop our bags to the ground and admire the green covered landscape with a smoking Bagana in the distance, a welcome distraction from our aching muscles and discomfort. It quickly becomes apparent this is our camp for the night. The tarpaulin arrives shortly after and is slowly erected. We change into dry, clean clothes and settle down for the evening. However, the relaxed atmosphere is short lived. Everyone is running low on water and there doesn’t appear to be a water sources nearby. After a number of discussions in Tok Pisin and English with our guide, it turns out a small creek is available at lower ground. Myself and one of my fellow hikers John, agree to go with our guide and set about collecting the empty water bottles from the group. However, little did we know how challenging the quest for water would be…
I watch as my John clings to a fallen tree, which appears to have come down in a recent landslide. His arms are wrapped around the trunk as he slides down it like it’s a smooth pole with a grimace on his face. As he reaches the bottom of the drop, I see his arms are red raw and scratched. He peers up at me and motions for me to descend. I edge closer to the steep drop off and throw the bag of empty water bottles over, freeing up both hands to lower myself steadily down. Thoughts of ‘don’t fall now’ pop into my head and I stretch for an exposed rock with my foot, expecting the bank to give way at any point. I repeat this manoeuvre of clinging on and stretching time and time again, until I reach the bottom of the slip and wipe the beading sweat from my brow. I look back up and wonder how on earth I am going to climb back up with 10 kg’s of water.
As we walk deeper into the valley we eventually arrive at the creek and it’s dry. We have little choice but to continue, edging across fallen boulders, dislodged trees and huge mounds of loose dirt and stones. 30 minutes later we hear the sweet sound of running water. One last climb takes us down to the river – a blissful sight.
We waste no time with the sun setting and fill up the bottles. After a quick wash, knowing it’s futile with the climb we have ahead of us to get back to camp, we head off. Guided by our headlights and weighed down by water, the steep journey back is a strenuous one – fuelled by pure adrenaline. Two steps up, one step back. We scramble up and cling to anything within reach whilst heaving our heavy loads. I shift the bag from one shoulder to the other, as my arm and shoulder ache with the weight. Arriving back at the sheer bank, I clamber up with determination driving me up and over, dragging the bag with me. Moving onto the final steep, slippery section I hear chitter chatter in the distance and spot the glow of the fire through the trees. I clamber into camp dripping in sweat, exhausted and covered in mud, yet feeling extremely satisfied after an unexpected adventure.
Shortly after, I am cocooned within my mosquito net under the cover of the tarpaulin. I watch the silhouetted peaks of the surrounding mountains reaching into the moonlit sky. Frogs and crickets provide a hectic backing track. I shift positions often, navigating the network of roots, trying to flex my body with the contours. Sleep comes sporadically – which might also be due to Nickelback blaring out from the porters tent…
In the morning, fire wood is chopped and stacked for the next visitors as our camp is dismantled. After breakfast, we set off at a steady pace towards a small series of waterfalls, approximately 4 hours away. At this point, we expected the gradient to drastically increase to the top of the dormant volcano. However, before reaching that point we head to navigate the undulating dense rainforest. We continued to follow our leader who chopped and cleared with apparent ease. Eventually we drop into a dry river bed of large boulders, fallen trees and a green moss coating all the visible surfaces – giving the place of somewhat magical feel. We follow the twists and turns of the dry river bed. After a while, a trickle of water can be heard and shortly after we leave the dry river bed and pass into a shallow creek. The water is extremely cool and everyone cleanses themselves and refills their water bottles.
After a short break, we leave our non-essentials at the base of the waterfall and continue ‘light-weight’ up and over the waterfalls via slippery rocks. After 5 minutes we arrive at a fresh landslide – a common occurrence in this region – which has collapsed a huge mass of dirt, trees and foliage into our pathway. We find a detour around the slip and drop into a river, as masses of tadpoles dart away from the bank. After a time of wadding in the river, we clamber out and arrive at the base of the volcano. The gradient suddenly increases ten-fold and we start the climb, pulling ourselves onto large boulders, over fallen trees and battling thick mud clinging to our boots. The humidity and heat saps at our energy levels. We push onwards and upwards, driven on by now being so close to our destination – the top of a volcano where we hope to see Lake Eruovi / Billy Mitchell set within the crater. I crawl on hands and knees through thickets of ferns which scratch at my face, arms and legs. Towards the top of a dormant volcano reaching to 1,544 metres, I witness something very unexpected… A thick blanket of fog hiding the very thing I had hoped to see!
Suddenly the fog lifted to reveal a glorious sight – Lake Eruovi aka Billy Mitchell shimmering 100 metres below, encompassed by the steep crater walls. A screech of excitement went up from the group, the porters and our guide, as we stood in dumb-found amazement at what was being swiftly revealed before us. Plunging crater walls, dense carpets of vivid green ferns, streaks of landslides disappearing into the water and the placid lake itself. A landscape of perfection.
Several minutes later, the fog swiftly lowered to hide this hidden gem from peering eyes once again. We were on top of the world and the group just stood gazing at nothing in particular for a while longer – hoping for another fleeting glimpse of this rarely seen natural landmark. It wasn’t to be. Now, we just needed to make it back…
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