Although you would not think so from looking at this photo, the District of Namatanai is one of the most beautiful places in Papua New Guinea, especially if you just want to get away from it all. The local environment was relatively untouched when I was there many years ago and is still in quite a good state. In addition to enjoying some of the off-shore islands, such as Tanga, Tabar and Lihir, a local guide can also take you on a bush walk. For those who appreciate a green environment, you will fall in love with the simple and abundant plants in the area. The Sohun hydro power station is situated on a beautiful river with thick forest surrounding it where you get a feeling of satisfaction and relaxation that comes with the sounds and sights of a natural atmosphere. With the construction of the Sohun dam finished two decades ago, the river setting at this location has returned to its natural quiet and pristine state.
Here, you can get a glimpse of the tropical forests of the island behind some of the labourers who are putting the finishing touches on the 'tailrace' at the dam. This is the channel where water leaving the turbine/generator returns back to the river, downstream of the dam.
The reason that I visited Namatanai, was to carry out some electrical checks on the new 200 Kilowatt mini-hydro project that was being built at Sohun, just a few kilometres from the village. This was one of a few such hydro projects in the country that was being funded by world development agencies in an attempt to make use of the local natural resources and to lessen dependence on diesel-powered generation.
The water turbine used at Sohun was of the not so common 'cross-flow' type made by the German company Ossberger. The main application of this type of machine is at locations where the 'head' is not very high, that is, there is not much difference in height between the water above the dam and the water that is delivered to the turbine itself. Here, one of the local Elcom staff from New Ireland is showing me around the site as wires from some of our test equipment are connected to the small generator. The latest news from Namatanai, 25 years after I was there, is that this turbine/generator combo has been out of service for several years due to technical difficulties of some sort.
Located on the outer fringes of Papua New Guinea, the island of New Ireland was over two hours by air from the capital city of Port Moresby. For my short visit to Namatanai, I flew into nearby Rabaul on New Britain Island and then took a smaller charter airplane from there to my final destination.
I had a couple of other trips to New Ireland as well, to the provinical capital of Kavieng located at the northern tip of the island. Those visits were to get two new Caterpillar diesel generating sets up and running.
Fondest memory: This part of Papua New Guinea was first colonized by the German New Guinea Company in the late 1880s, with the German government taking control of the Company's territory in 1899. In the period (1908-1914) leading up to the First World War the Germans had developed both extensive coconut palm plantations and an efficient local government apparatus of district offices. New Ireland benefited from this period with the construction of many kilometers of roads running up the east side of the Island, roads that were still in use when I was there. Following the upheavel of WWI, the League of Nations in 1920 awarded Australia the mandate to run this territory.