There is nothing to recommend Popondetta. Even the battlefields have been allowed to disappear. If you are going to Kokoda stay as little time as possible at Popondetta and pray that the Koiari landowners don't close the track demanding compensation and that Air Niugini doesn't dump you off the return aircraft - like they did me.
Walk to the site of the former Government Station at Higaturu which was destroyed in 1951 resulting in the death of over 3000 Papuans and Europeans. A local guide would be needed to make the walk and transport required to reach the start of the treck which is off the Kokoda Road some 20 klm from Popondetta.
In 1951 Higaturu situated some 12 klm from Mt Lamington was capital of the Northern Province with many small plantations and small villages in the vicinity. Mt Lamington was not recognised as a volcano until it began erupting mid January that year and on the 21st January there was a massive eruption which destroyed everything within 12 klm of its path.
Some 3500 in that that path of destruction died immediately and hundreds on the perimeter suffered horrific burns.
21st January 2011 is the 60th Anniversary of the eruption and will be marked by a memorial services in the nearby villages.
The area around Popondetta and up into the Owen Stanley Range separating the town from Port Moresby saw some of the most vicious fighting of the Second World War. The Japanese had siezed all the outlying islands to the north and also made a landing here on the main island of New Guinea. Rather than trying to capture POM by sea, they decided, in 1942, to attack from the north over the mountain range. Australian and local forces fought pitched battles here and in the mountains and were able to stop the advance. In fact, a few months later they had completely defeated the invading force, in the first land defeat of the Japanese army during WW2. A lot of American airpower was involved in the struggle, with many of the relics still very much visible when I was there. These ones were just sitting there beside the local airport. Even up to recent years, old aircraft remains have continued to be stumbled upon in the thick forests of the mountain slopes.
Whether I was flying to Popondetta or anywhere else north or east of Port Moresby, you first had to clear the 13,400 ft. (4,070-m) Owen Stanley Mountain range. Luckily, this was no problem for Air Niugini and it's fleet of aircraft. On this trip, we were at 28,000 ft. as we cleared the cloud shrouded mountains, plenty of room to spare!
Popondetta was not a very big town, even though it was just about the only one of significance in Northern Province. As a result, the diesel power station was also not very big, consisting of three 150 kW British-made Lister-Blackstone engines driving ECC generators. Isolated stations like this were located throughout the country to provide some measure of modern comforts to the local industries. However, because of the cost of running these scattered facilities and the limited amount of power that they could produce, air-conditioning (very demanding of electricity) was not allowed in homes and in only a few businesses.
Here, a bunch of the local Electricity Commission employees (in their company-issued garb) are looking at the large control and protection panels on the ends of the generators to make sure that they were not being overloaded. It was the bits and pieces in these boxes that I mostly had to fix or check-out in my job. The round-thing at the bottom right is one of the 150-kW generators and, just above it, the long thing with the black stripe is one of the diesel engines.
Even though Popondetta is just a short flight away from Port Moresby, over the Owen Stanley Mountain range, I only made two visits here during my stay in the country. Too many other 'fires' to fight!
Favorite thing: Just over the Owen Stanley Mountain range from Port Moresby. This 300-mile long range divides the southeastern tip of PNG into northern and southern areas and it is heavily forested. Although the highest mountains in PNG are located in the central part of the country (Mt. Wilhelm is the highest at 4500-m or 14,800-ft), the Owen Stanley Range is quite impressive in it's own right. Mount Victoria is it's highest peak, at 4070-m or 13,400-ft. It is not possible to drive across this range, but a combination of roads and the Kokoda Trail walk will allow passage if you are fit and the weather is not too wet!