PNG Article – Abandoned WWII Airstrip

This is an article I have written for submission to a ‘Reader Stories’ contest in Australian Outdoor magazine. They are actively seeking submissions describing your own outdoor adventure – these need to be around 500 words, plus photos if available.

Mooseboy and I were holidaying near Madang, on the north coast of Papua New Guinea.

Apart from scuba diving, game fishing, golf and drinking by the resort pool, there is not a great deal to do to fill in the days. (It’s a hard life!)

Our Lonely Planet guide indicated there was an abandoned WWII Japanese airstrip at nearby Alexishafen, so we decided to drive the 16km out there and take a look.

We had expected the airstrip would be well signposted and easy to find; however the unofficial motto of PNG, expect the unexpected, came quickly into play.

After several unproductive trips up and down the highway in what we assumed to be the vicinity of the air strip, we resorted to interrogating the bemused locals in our very poor Pidgin English, “Mipela lukim ples bilong lapun balus.” (“We’re looking for the place where the old aeroplanes are.”) Finally we were directed towards a small village, where we were met by Moses, a local tribesman who offered to act as our guide.

Brandishing a massive bushknife (machete), Moses headed off confidently into the jungle, with Mooseboy and I following in hot pursuit. We were gradually joined by a dozen or so other villagers, all brandishing bushknives, who had decided to tag along uninvited. The path we were led along was obviously rarely used, and was overgrown and difficult to penetrate.

After marching for about 15 minutes, we were starting to get a little worried that our guides may have had some motives in mind other than the promotion of local tourism. Our hire car was parked off the road, our wallets were bulging prominently in our shorts, and we hadn’t told anyone where we were going. Mooseboy and I shared a few nervous glances as we hacked our way through the thick undergrowth. The humidity was overwhelming, and soon our shirts were soaking wet. The numerous persistent insects only added to our discomfort.

Finally we arrived at a relatively flat piece of land. Moses stopped and proudly announced, “Ples bilong balus.” We were skeptical – it was almost inconceivable that a clearing for an airstrip could ever have been fashioned out of such a setting. Our guides started hacking away at the undergrowth and then suddenly we heard a distinct metallic ‘clunk’ from deep within the foliage. Within minutes the villagers had stripped away the undergrowth and we were left to behold the amazing site of a 60-year old aircraft sitting in plain view.

We were surprised that the villagers would even know that the aircraft was there, given the thickness of the jungle and the distance of the airstrip from the road. Moses explained that a large fire in the area several years before had exposed the aircraft, much to the surprise of the local community.

Our guides joined us for some souvenir photographs with the aircraft, and then we made our way back to the village, with a great story to tell our friends.

PNG Airstrip

To view more photos from our PNG adventure, click here.

Some of my other photos from flying in PNG are here.

For more information on WWII in the Madang area, try Pacific Wrecks or Madang Tourism.

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2 Responses to PNG Article – Abandoned WWII Airstrip

  1. Mooseboy says:

    Nice Pink shorts rules 1 & 6

    Thanks for your feedback Glen

  2. Moe says:

    Our family moved to PNG in the late 60’s from the US. My parents were missionaries in the early 1970’s, we lived for a few years at the Nagada plantation halfway between Madang and Alexishafen. My father was a business manager at KPI, a printing press located on the plantation. Although we spent most of our time at boarding school in Brisbane we would come ‘home’ a couple times a year. These times were quite an adventure for a teenage boy like me. I spent most of my time paddling my kayak around the Nagada harbor and out as far into the ocean as I could go. I often brought fish ( usually mackeral until the Japanese fishing/canning boats came in one year and decimated the fish population ) home that I had speared while out scuba diving.
    I often think about trips up to the Alexishafen airstrip that you visited. that was 35 years ago and the planes were much more accessible. I remember climbing around the planes looking in the cockpits, etc. The thing I remember most was the huge bomb craters left over from allied bombing attacks.
    I would like to get back to Australia and PNG some day. lots of memories of the 6 years I spent there.

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