According to legend, the lake was formed when a fig tree was cut down by a woman looking for water. The story goes that whatever the tree touched turned to water – hence the lake. Today it’s oil that’s causing a ripple in this previously remote area. The establishment of oilfields near Lake Kutubu has recently caused social and economic upheaval, including an influx of itinerants in search of work.
Prior to the oil boom, locals maintained a largely traditional way of life, and in some villages people still live in sex-segregated buildings. It is possible to visit the skull caves of Bebere and Kosame, where traditional burial rites are still observed. Custom dictates that the bodies of dead relatives are placed into the hull of a canoe and interred in a cave until the flesh has rotted from the bones. The skeletons are then removed, cleaned and displayed on the walls of the caves.
It is also possible to trek to Wasi Falls from Lake Kutubu via an overnight stop in the Foimeana village of Kantobo. Treks can be arranged through Tubo Lodge. Wasi Falls is the local name for a series of waterfalls that includes the Bisi Falls, the largest in PNG, which plummet over 100m into a limestone basin.
Perched on a peninsula that forms a fork in the lake, Tubo Lodge has commanding views of the surrounding forest-clad hills and the lake itself. Village visits, birdwatching trips, treks and cultural excursions can be arranged here. It is also possible to swim in the lake, although women should wear a laplap (sarong) to respect local customs.
The closest airstrip is at Moro and PNG Air (www.apng.com) flies from Port Moresby via Tari (K750) three times a week. Staff from Tubo Lodge meet arriving planes with advance notice and will even meet travellers in Mendi and accompany them back to the lodge by PMV (ask to be dropped at Tubaka; four hours, K30). Access to the peninsula is by canoe from Tugiri and a 300-step climb.