Australian High Commission
Solomon Islands

Climbing Mt Popomanaseu

18 October 2012

Climbing Mt Popomanaseu

In early October, Matt, Ben and Dave from the Australian High Commission in Honiara set out to climb the highest mountain in the Solomon Islands, Mt Popamanaseu.

At 2335m, the dome shaped summit of Mt Popamanaseu rarely pokes its head out of the clouds that seem almost omnipresent in the ranges of Guadalcanal. For hikers, it offers a challenging climb through untouched rainforest and unique cloud forest that grows only at these dizzying heights.

We begin our trek from the Gold Ridge Mine; roughly 25 kilometers drive from Honiara. The first four hours of hiking, from Gold Ridge to Nanala village, are along the well-worn ‘cross island foot highway’ that connects the Weathercoast communities to Honiara.

At around 1.30pm, dripping with sweat from hiking in the midday heat, boots soaked from crossing countless streams, we arrive at Nanala village for a light lunch. In Nanala village, we present the Chief with a custom gift to grant us luck and ward off bad spirits on our attempt at the summit. We thank the Chief for welcoming us to their land before veering off the well-beaten track and beginning our scramble through the dense jungle ahead.

Just minutes out of Nanala, the trail becomes epically challenging. Our rubber soled shoes slide precariously on mossy rocks hidden in the undergrowth, and we scramble one by one across the face of a landslide as stones tumble into the valley beneath us.

By quarter to five, we arrive at a hunting camp used by Nanala villagers. Little more than an old tarp held up by some bamboo stakes, it is a welcome site for us weary white fellas. We sleep soundly that night and at first light the next morning, we’re back up and hiking again. We scramble up the Sutakiki River for three hours. Skipping from boulder to boulder, scrambling up waterfalls and precariously climbing along the near vertical walls of the valley, before resting at a stream that is known as the bottom of the mountain.

We spend the next four hours on all fours, pulling ourselves up the slippery mud and roots with our hands. With no more streams to drink from, we cut bamboo cleared from the trail to drink the fresh water inside.

Nearing the top, a large landslide cleared the canopy giving us a brilliant view of the island beneath us. From around 2000m high, we could look down over the city of Honiara, and off into the island chains in the distance. The deep blue tropical ocean contrasted with the green of the jungle.

As we approached the summit, the vegetation dramatically changed. The trees became noticeably stunted, thick moss in shades of brown and red grew feet deep all around us. Everything was dripping wet as it sucked the moisture out of the clouds that passed through the forest. The plants and animals up here are totally unique, having evolved for a difficult life on the highest peaks completely independently from the jungles below. With every step we probably passed another species unknown to science.

Just as we reached the summit, the clouds rolled in and obscured the view. At 2,335 meters (7,661 ft.), it is the highest peak in the insular South Pacific, excluding New Guinea and its satellite islands. Apparently, on a clear day, from the summit you can see almost the entirety of the Guadalcanal Island, and look out over the network of islands that make up the Solomon Islands. As we rested, the temperature dropped from about 25°C to what felt like 10°C as a storm cloud rolled in, forcing our retreat from the mountaintop.

At 6pm we stumbled back into camp, having been walking since 6am. Completely beat, we collapsed into bed and ate a mountain of rice. Our legs tired and sore from such a big day on the trail, we were pleased to be relaxing in camp again.

Early the next morning, we packed up camp and climbed back up to Nanala village, before walking along the main trail back to Gold Ridge. It was encouraging to see the local communities getting involved in eco-tourism. It is a challenging and stunning hike that will test the endurance and skill of those who give it a go.

We would like to thank the Mani tribe for welcoming us on their land. Also, a big thanks to our guide, Pastor Selwin Saro, and the trek coordinator Apolos Koria. The trek can be arranged through Apolos on 776 7719. There is ongoing work to improve the trail and build rest houses for tourists along the way thanks to assistance from the Solomon Islands Government. Trekkers should allow four to five days to comfortably complete the return trek, and be prepared for the difficult terrain.

Blog by Second Secretary, Dave Inabinet.