This dusty view of Main Street, with our red-and-white Electricity Commission Landcruisers in the distance, just about sums it up! Kundiawa was a raw town with a few basic stores and a hotel but not much else to offer up for entertainment to a visitor. However, it makes a great base if you want to set off on some hiking or flying visits into the mountains. There is a well-marked trail that leads to the top of Mt. Wilhelm and it can be handled by anyone who is reasonably fit, as long as the weather conditions are suitable, i.e. no pouring rain or wintery conditions higher up. Other nearby attractions include the Chimbu gorge with it's extensive cave formations (some of which serve as burial sites for warriors) or a road trip to the Wahgi valley, in this most heavily populated of PNG's provinces.
The main access to this part of the country is via the Highlands Highway, which leaves the coastal city of Lae and winds its way up to Kainantu at 1555-m (5100-ft), then even higher to Mt. Hagen and beyond. The road is sealed as far as Goroka, but then changed to hard-pack from there onward. It was always a pleasant drive travelling though these scenic parts of Papua New Guinea with a different view around every turn or hill. Here, we made an early morning stop by some cloud capped peaks as we drove back to Goroka following successful completion of the transformer repair work. Driving is England-style, so me and my Australian buddy were parked on the left as required!
The electric supply for this whole part of the country was delivered via a 66,000 volt transmission line bringing hydro-power in from a dam located to the east of Goroka (see my 'Kainantu' page for the details). Transformer substations at Goroka, Kundiawa and Mount Hagen 'stepped down' the voltage from 66,000 volts to 11,000 volts so it could be more easily and safely delivered around the streets and roads to customers. The emergency that brought me to the mountains on this trip was the failure of an automatic 'tap-changer' in the transformer at Kundiawa. This is a device that automatically moves to maintain the supply voltage at 11,000 volts as customer electrical loads change throughout the course of a typical day (it works a bit like 'cruise control' on a car - except you just pick your desired 'voltage level' instead of 'speed'). The photo shows the repair crew, who had travelled up from the coastal city of Lae, getting ready to lift the replacement cylindrical and brownish coloured tap-changer so they can lower it down into the grey transformer located behind. Once everything was in-place and connected up, my job was to perform final testing to confirm that everything was OK to be re-energized at full voltage to restore power to the area.
Although the main Highlands Highway was usually kept in quite good repair, once you got off onto secondary roads in PNG you could be on your own! Depending on how much rain had fallen in recent days, they could be in bad shape, such as this one leading up out of the Kundiawa substation located in the valley below. We had no problems in our Landcruiser, but the local Elcom staff had to manhandle this truck back up the hill after it had delivered the crucial piece of equipment from the airport.
When the power is out to a large area, maximum efforts are made by utilities to restore supply as soon as possible. In this case, while I was flying into Goroka from Port Moresby to meet up with the repair crew driving up from Lae, the delicate replacement tap-changer for the transformer was given special treatment as it was strapped to this helicopter for a smoother ride than the Highlands Highway could deliver. This photo also shows the typical mountainous landscape in the background of the airport.
Kundiawa is located in the central mountain ranges which run the length of New Guinea from east to west. Mt. Wilhelm, the highest in Papua New Guinea at 4509-m (14,800-ft), is located in the Bismarck Range not far to the northeast of the town. These mountain ranges are broken in various places by broad upland valleys and plains, resulting in a relatively heavy concentration of tribes in the mountains as opposed to the swampy and flat areas near both the north and south coasts . The main access to this part of the country is via the Highlands Highway, shown in red here as it leaves the coastal city of Lae and winds its way up through Goroka and Kundiawa, before proceeding to Mt. Hagen and beyond. The areas beyond Mt. Hagen are now quite 'lawless' with highway robberies being common.
This whole interior Highlands area of PNG was not really 'discovered' by white men until the 1930s when prospectors looking for gold were amazed to find large populations of natives in the fertile valleys. However, not much change took place until 1947, following the Second World War, when Australia began to properly develop these lands which had been placed under it's control.
Fondest memory: The fresh mountain airs were always a treat during any visit to these high elevation areas of PNG. Down on the south coast in Port Moresby, the temperature was about 34-36 C every day, with high humidity but practically no rain for the 3 years we were there. Night temperatures rarely dropped below 20 C with no change in humidity.