DEATH BY FJORD
31 October 2006
Fergusson Island, Tuesday – Two days, two methods of suicide. Yesterday Orion made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to anchor in narrow, reef fraught Tufi fjord. With a big swell running, the harbour bottom offering no purchase for a dragging pick and, at one point, our stern hovering just eight metres from the reef, Captain Peter Greenhow ultimately opted for prudence and anchored well offshore.
We surfed back into the fjord on a Zodiac and, after disembarking at Tufi jetty [left], began the uphill walk to Suicide Point, two kilometres away. The Tufi area is beset by drought and the coffee trees are dying but it wasn’t lack of rain that bothered William, our guide. He said he felt ashamed of the decrepit state of the buildings at the old Tufi government station. “There’s no money, no maintenance. Sometimes we wish the kiaps were back,” he said.
Suicide Point lies on a prominent bluff overlooking two fjords; perhaps 300 metres above sea level. Infamous as a place where spurned lovers swallow dive into oblivion, it offers a panoramic view stretching as far as the Owen Stanley Range, silhouetted like a cardboard cut-out against the bright morning sky. Far beneath us a clutch of outriggers lazily tracked a school of fish.
Overnight we made passage to Fergusson Island in the D’Entrecasteaux group where Maria (‘Sound of Music’) von Trapp was resident 50 years ago. Until arriving at this blissful spot, I had no idea that Fergusson is known for its geysers, hot springs, mud pools and insect-eating plants. The locals use Dei Dei’s sulphuric water boiling up from unknown depths for cooking, washing and as a source of salt.
Here, in bygone years, the islanders would also boil captives alive before eating them on the spot, bones and offal tossed into another scalding pool nearby where they would be quickly reduced to consommé. There was an incident a couple of years back where a young village woman, upset after an argument, threw herself into the biggest geyser. Death by fjord; death by geyser. Add these to the list of bizarre ways of ending it all.
[Photo: Ingrid poses before one of the more diminutive Dei Dei geysers]