Merauke

Merauke

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Merauke is a reasonably prosperous and orderly town of wide, straight streets, renowned as the most southeasterly settlement in Indonesia. The best reason to visit is nearby Wasur National Park, which is like a small slice of Australian bush in Indonesia, wallabies and all.

It’s 6km from the airport at the southeast end of town to the port on Sungai Maro at the northwest end. The main street, running almost the whole way, is Jl Raya Mandala.

Danau Sentani

Danau Sentani

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You get a bird’s-eye view of 96.5-sq-km Danau Sentani, snaking its way between picturesque green hills, as you fly in or out of Sentani. This beautiful lake has 19 islands and numerous Papuan fishing villages of wooden stilt houses along its shores. A visit to any of them is a bit like travelling back in time.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/danau-sentani

Agats

Agats

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Capital of the region is the overgrown village of Agats, on the Aswet estuary. Due to the extraordinary tides and location, its streets are raised boardwalks which now support some (thankfully slow-moving) motorbike traffic as well as pedestrians. It’s a curious place to wander round, with markets, shops, mosque, churches and hideous monuments, just like any other Papuan town. Report to Polres Asmat with your surat jalan when you arrive. Bank BRI has a MasterCard and Cirrus ATM but you can’t guarantee it’ll be working.

Don’t miss the Museum Kebudayaan dan Kemajuan Asmat, which has a fantastic collection of Asmat art and artefacts, from bis poles and skulls to full-body dance outfits. Try to recruit an English-speaking guide as there is little interpretative information.

The government-run Hotel Assedu has clean rooms with comfy beds, almost-tasteful plastic flowers and the best restaurant in town (mains 18,000Rp to 30,000Rp).

Asmat Region

Asmat Region

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The Asmat region is a massive, remote, low-lying area of muddy, snaking rivers, mangrove forests and tidal swamps, where many villages, including their streets, are built entirely on stilts. The Asmat people, formerly feared for their headhunting and cannibalism, are now most celebrated for their woodcarvings – the most spectacular of Papuan art. It’s a fascinating area to explore but it requires time, money and patience. The one time when more than a handful of visitors appears here is during the annual Asmat Cultural Festival (Festival Budaya Asmat), five or six days of woodcarving exhibits, canoe races and traditional dance, song and dress at Agats in October.

Though Christianity has a strong hold among the Asmat today, many older beliefs and practices survive. All Asmat villages still have their jeu (men’s house), a long building adorned with carvings where young men sleep from adolescence till marriage, and married men sleep some nights. These are intriguing places to visit if you can get yourself invited.

Asmat woodcarvings were originally made only for ritual use. The famous bis poles of interlocked human and animal figures are carved from mangrove trees and can be 6m or more tall. Traditionally they were carved as objects where the spirits of slain warriors could reside until they were liberated by the killing and eating of enemies. Decorated shields, used in funeral ceremonies, also represent and avenge dead relatives. Asmat people still revere their dead ancestors and may keep their skulls as sources of spiritual strength.

Around the Asmat Region

Most visitors who make it here spend time boating along the jungle-lined rivers to different villages, seeing and buying Asmat artefacts, and maybe seeing a traditional dance or ceremony or a demo of the uses of the sago palm (the staple lowland food source). For anything more than a day-trip from Agats you’ll need a guide (300,000Rp or more per day) and maybe a porter or cook (100,000Rp or more) in addition to boat hire.

Villages to visit for their carving include Atsy, Ambisu and Jow, all south of Agats. Fos and Awok, east of Agats up Kali Sirets, and Ocenep, south of Agats, are places where traditional Asmat celebrations can be laid on for 2,000,000Rp to 3,000,000Rp. A persistent story has it that Ocenep holds the skull of Michael Rockefeller, art collector and son to a former US vice-president, who disappeared nearby in 1961, when headhunting was still a living tradition. Atsy is about the same size as Agats and has some shops and rumah makan and the clean, decent Hotel Marannu, but other villages have basic guesthouses at best, and you will need to carry some food and mosquito repellent.

Sorong

Sorong

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Papua’s second-biggest city, Sorong sits at the northwestern tip of the Vogelkop. It’s a busy port and base for oil and logging operations in the region. Few travellers stay longer than it takes to get on a boat to the Raja Ampat Islands, but Sorong can be quite fun for a day or two, and there are some interesting destinations in the surrounding region.

The city stretches 12km from east to west. Everything you’ll need is in the western half of town, between the airport (at the approximate midpoint of the sprawl) and the Tembok Berlin (Berlin Wall) seafront at the west end. One main street runs the whole way; it’s called Jl Basuki Rahmat outside the airport, then Jl Yani further west, and then Jl Yos Sudarso after it turns north along Tembok Berlin.

Sentani

Sentani

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Sentani, the growing airport town 36km west of Jayapura, sits between the forested Pegunungan Cyclop and beautiful Danau Sentani. It’s quieter and cooler than Jayapura and can be used as a base for visiting the bigger city and other interesting spots in the area. The older area, near the airport, has wide, tree-lined streets. West along very busy Jl Raya Kemiri is the much busier part of town where most of the inhabitants and local commerce are found.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/sentani

Manokwari

Manokwari

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Capital of Papua Barat province, Manokwari sits on Teluk Cenderawasih near the northeastern corner of the Vogelkop. It merits a visit mainly for the natural attractions in the surrounding area, notably the Pegunungan Arfak. Most travellers’ facilities are in the area called Kota, on the eastern side of the Teluk Sawaisu inlet. Local transport terminals and the airport (7km) are to the west and southwest.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/manokwari

Biak

Biak

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Biak (1898 sq km) is one of Papua’s biggest offshore islands. It’s a relaxed place with – even by Papuan standards – exceptionally friendly people, and has good beaches, snorkelling and diving.

Biak saw fierce fighting in WWII, with about 10,000 Japanese and nearly 500 Americans reported killed in the month-long Battle of Biak (1944).

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/pulau-biak

Wamena

Wamena

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Wamena is a sprawling Indonesian creation with nothing traditional about it, but it’s the obligatory base for any travels around the valley. The population is a mix of Papuans and non-Papuans and the latter run all the businesses. Penis gourds are no longer banned here, as they were during Indonesia’s ‘Operasi Koteka’ (an attempt to force the Dani to wear clothes) in the 1970s, but rarely will you see one being worn.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/jayapura

Baliem Valley

Baliem Valley

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The legendary Baliem Valley is the most popular and most accessible destination in Papua’s interior. The Dani people who live here were still dependent on tools of stone, bone and wood when a natural-history expedition led by American Richard Archbold chanced upon the valley in 1938. The Dani have since adopted various modern ways and new beliefs, but the valley and surrounding highlands remain one of the world’s last fascinatingly traditional areas.

The main valley is about 60km long and 16km wide and bounded by high mountains on all sides. The only sizeable town, Wamena, sits at its centre at an altitude of 1650m. The powerful Kali Baliem (Baliem River), running through the valley, escapes through a narrow gorge at the southern end. Amid this spectacular scenery, the majority of Dani still live close to nature, tending their vegetable plots and pigs around villages composed of circular thatched huts called honai. Roads are few, and the raging mountain rivers are crossed on hanging footbridges that may be held together only by natural twine.

Christian missionaries arrived in 1954 and a Dutch government post was established in Wamena in 1956. Since the 1960s, Indonesia has added its own brand of colonialism, bringing immigrants, government schools, police, soldiers, shops, motor vehicles and becaks (bicycle rickshaws) to the valley. Big changes have been wrought in Dani life, but their identity and culture have proved resilient. Tensions between Dani and the security forces and Indonesian immigrants periodically erupt into violence, most notably during a large-scale uprising in 1977 and again in 2000, when clashes led to a temporary exodus of non-Papuans.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/papua-irian-jaya/baliem-valley