“Welcome to Monster Island!”
As far as wantoks go, PJ takes the cake. After an intro from a mutual friend on Facebook, the barrel-chested piss-taking Aussie TV executive based in PNG's capital dust-blown Port Moresby not only invited me into his home but loaned me a mate's motorcycle – a gutsy Yamaha WR450f – and spent the best part of a week showing me the city and surrounds in his capacity as President of the Port Moresby Motorcycle Club – “a drinking club with a motorcycle problem,” as PJ used to say. The first thing I notice while riding around Port Moresby is there didn't seem to be any other motorcycles around – a rarity for a developing country. But that doesn't stop the locals from appreciating our rides. Every time we hit a settlement or busy junction, crowds of hundreds, sometimes thousands of men, women, children and even old-timers in zimmer frames run out cheering, waving and jumping up and down in scenes I can only compare to the victory parades of WWII.
Few people know that PNG was one of the main staging grounds for the Battle of the Pacific, or that the country is peppered with important war relics. On my second day in Port Moresby, PJ and I rode to the Bomana War Cemetery about an hour out of town where 3,824 Australian and New Guinean WWII soldiers are buried. We also checked out the massive old gun batteries at Idlers Bay and the twisted remains of an old Japanese fighter plane that crash-landed in the jungle. Every night after riding we hit the town. We drank tequila shots with Ms PNG at the Lamai Nightclub and met the Prime Minister at the swanky Airways Hotel. But mostly we hung out at dodgy old pubs like the Aero Club – a basement bar behind the airport that would make the perfect set for Vietnam War-era movie – and The Weigh Inn, A.K.A. The Crab Shack, where according to PJ, “even the cockroaches have genital warts”.
On Sunday we met with a dozen other club members for a ride along Snake Road, an undulating carriageway that ebbs and flows through the bluffs and ravines east of Port Moresby before spitting us out at the foothills Owen Stanley Ranges – a chain of blue-grey mountains with gigantic razorback ridges that follow each another like dragon's teeth. The road comes to an ends at Owers Corner, the starting point for the Kokoda Track – a 96km-long rough-as-guts machete trail rated as the hardest sea-level trek on Earth. The Imperial Japanese Army learnt that the hard way during a failed attempt to capture the Port Moresby in 1942. Australian soldiers and their New Guinean wantoks halted the Japanese advance, though malaria also played a part. Some 4,500 Japanese soldiers were immobilised by the mosquito-borne disease during the Kokoda Campaign – more than double the number killed in combat.