Lake Surunki – The Water On top of Papua New Guinea
There was a duck, a beautiful black duck with yellow spots watching us as we approached the edge of the lake. I took up the camera to take a picture, but the bird wasn’t interested. It calmly fluttered its wings and flew further into the lake, stirring up the waters as it went.
A breeze blew across the lake creating waves that rippled towards the edge.
It was beautiful day in Enga Province – a part of the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The sun shone brightly, its light glistening off the waters. But it wasn’t a hot day. It was nice and cold here.
We were visiting the highest freshwater lake in Papua New Guinea, a body of water on the ceiling of this beautiful country. Known as Lake Surunki, it is the source of one of Enga’s great rivers, the Lai, which flows on to form the mighty Sepik.
We weren’t alone. There were some children with nets in the shallows and reeds of the lake, looking for fish.
Several large white birds, cranes, would glide majestically from one side of the lake to the other as ducks could be seen in large groups drifting across the surface.
The lake was huge. It had an elongated shape. Long and fat, maybe 1000 metres in length and 400 or 500 meters across, it was a big body of water. You don’t appreciate its size until you are standing down here on its shores.
It is cold here. The lake is surrounded by marshland filled with reeds, grasses and wildflowers. Dragonflies are plenty.
The catchment system that created this lake is scenic, the slopes rise gently out of the lake in all directions, climbing higher and higher to disappear into forest covered mountains that surround you every where you turn.
In one direction are the mountains that lead to Southern Highlands, in another are the mountains before the great Sepik plains. This is the centre of Papua New Guinea. You could start travelling to anywhere in this country from here.
I was told that in the days long gone that the lake was much larger, that where we were standing was completely underwater.
They believe that the construction of the nearby highlands highway to connect to Porgera, the site of the giant gold mine has increased sediment runoff into the lake, thus making its shallower and increasing the size of the marshlands that surround the water.
But it is still a larger body of water and will remain so for many years. There are a few legends attached to the lake. The locals believe that there are people who live under the mysterious water in its deepest parts. Along time they came the surface but decided to go back under, tired of the tricks of the people on the surface.
In the early years of the colonising of this area, Lutheran Church missionaries and colonial administrators would take their families to the lake to go boating and swimming in cold, fresh waters.
These days, though there are no boats anymore, but people still come here to swim.
My Journey Here
I heard that there was a lake up in the Surunki area, several kilometres out of Wabag, Enga Province.
People at Wabag told me that it was close to the Highlands Highway leading up to the giant Porgera Gold Mine and that there was a small guest house up here as well.
So I jumped on a PMV Bus early one morning and headed up here.
The awesome thing about this transport was that the first two passenger ‘couches’ were filled with a mountain of plastics bags full of fresh scones.
The bus smelt like warm, freshly baked bread. The scones were all heading up to Liagam, a Government station further up past Surunki.
Apart from the scones, there were 6 other passengers on the 15 seater bus, all of them heading towards Liagam. I was the only passenger for Surunki.
Except for the bus driver, none of the other passengers could speak English or Pidgin. But theydid know a few words and were eager to practise with me, mixing the words with their language which I didn’t understand.
Their kindness was immense. The old lady sitting next to me offered me cigarettes, bettlenut and peanuts. The guy behind me gave half of his sweet red sugarcane. The bus crew bought me a can of coke. They wouldn’t stop smiling at me each time. I was an outsider visiting their place. They were happy I was here.
Now I have never been up to the Surunki area so was a bit anxious, the driver assured me that he would drop me off next to the guest house where the workers would be able to get me down to the lake.
About 45 minutes later, we arrived at Surunki. This area has a government and missionary station with schools, health centres and police houses. It used to be the centre of the Pyrethrumindustry in Enga; you can see fields of the white flower near the roads edges.
The PMV dropped me off along a strip of highway lined with small stores, next to a large sign that said Yaskom Resort & Hotel. The driver spoke some language to some men standing near the signboard, maybe telling them that I wanted to stay at the guesthouse. They took my bags and said ‘come, come,’ so I followed them down to the lodge.
I was stunned when I got to the lodge. I was expecting a small guesthouse with a few tiny houses, instead found a potentially 3 star hotel with spacious rooms that had fireplaces, heaters, large beds, televisions and more. It was fabulous. More about it later.
After checking into a room, I left my bags and armed with the still and video cameras, I sought out a way to the lake.I had a brief conversation with the ladies who worked there. I said I wanted to visit the lake I keep hearing about it.
‘There it is,’ they said, pointing down the slopes. The lake is about half a kilometre from the hotel.
One of the ladies, Henny James, called one of the locals, Jack, to escort us and together we headed down to the lake. Jack owned land that ran all the way down to the lake’s edge so having him along was protocol. He was an interesting character, a local leader, in tribal sense he is a ‘fight leader,’ someone known for his aggression in tribal fights. But I wasn’t his enemy and he was a great guy, telling me stories as we followed tracks and jumped over large drains and slipped on muddy patches to get to the lake.
We passed through a small forest of pine trees whose fallen ‘needles’ created a soft forest floor bed that you could lie back in and have the sweetest sleep.
As the slopes flattened we crossed a road that ringed the lake and entered the marsh, cold water and mud quickly seeping through my running shoes.
Soon we were standing by the waters edge, looking out at a beautiful lake that reflected the highlands sky back to the universe.
The air was cold, fresh and super crisp, like a tonic, itworked on my lungs, cleaning out all the city exhaust that accumulated here.
Jack explained that the lake had its own atmosphere. Many times large clouds would sit ontop of the lake while the surrounding areas would be clear, blue skies.
Surunki was famous for its cold and Jack said the cold would ‘start’ at the lake many days and spread up the slopes, sending people into their homes to start fires and keep warm. Today was a good day. It was cold, but not as cold as it would get a few hours later.
There were a lot of wildflowers and more in the marshlands. They showed me a sweet smelling grass that was used to concoct love potions and others that had traditional medicinal uses.
Beautiful black ducks, white cranes and other birds called the lake home along with dragonflies and small multi-coloured butterflies.
A group of small children were swimming and fishing along the lake’s edge. They used a device consisting of a net strung between two sticks to create a scoop, which they used to sift through the water for small silver and brown fish that lived here.
We spent sometime wandering along the beautiful lakeshore as Jack told some fantastic stories about Surunki.
But as the sun went down, it quickly got colder and clouds were gathering over the lake, so we hiked back to Jack’s men’s house and lit a fire.
Surunki Lake was an awesome experience. If I weren’t wearing jeans that day, I would have gone for a swim, something that I regret not doing. I can imagine that with some work, people could come boating and swimming up here. The water is fresh and cold.
In fact the owner of Yaskom Hotel, Yaso Komo would days later show me his large 250 horsepower boat that he has taken for trips on the lake.
If you are in Enga, I recommend that you head up to see the lake yourself. To learn more about Enga, please visit www.papuanewguinea.travel/Enga for more information.
Enjoy the pictures.