Heavens to Betty: Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands

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Ian Lloyd Neubauer

Chicken or fish? Ex-flight attendant Betty Higgins makes guests feel welcome

In the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, a woman stands alone at the fringe of one the world's great wildernesses. Her name is Betty Higgins, a former Air Niugini flight attendant who spent decades jetting around the globe before retiring a few years ago on 40 hectares of woodland near the village of Kegesugl. There she built a home, trout farm and the informal B&B that is Betty's Lodge.

Set at the base of Mount Wilhelm, which at 4,509 m is one of the country's highest peaks, Kegesugl offers nature in the raw. "I've been there 50 or 60 times, and every time I go there I have found new species of plants," says Phil Spencer of Orchid Productions, an Australian company that offers 15-day orchid tours in the highlands.

The area has remained untouched because of the difficulty and danger in getting there. From the capital Port Moresby, a one-hour flight to Mount Hagen Airport is followed by a nail-biting two-hour drive along the Highlands Highway and the dreaded three-hour, 45-km haul up the Kegesugl Road — a warren of boulder fields, landslips and impromptu roadblocks set up by toll-collecting local gangs. For outdoors lovers, however, the risks are worth it. Apart from the three-day hike up the mountain that takes in the twin glacial lakes of Piunde and Aunde, Kegesugl boasts world-class fly-fishing, bird watching, butterfly hunting, mountain biking and white-water rafting.

After a torturous day on the road, Betty's Lodge can seem like a maharaja's palace. With only a few visitors a week, every arrival is a celebrated one, with staff from the village showing the way to a welcoming fireplace.

You'll find Higgins working in the kitchen, baking succulent rainbow trout and preparing an assortment of organic produce grown on-site, from yams to the mouthwatering hybrid banana — passion fruit. Down but not out after the recent passing of her husband — and a landslide that washed away most of her beloved trout farm — Higgins is a maelstrom of energy. "I'm 52 years old now," she says. "In another 10 years, I might be too old to do this and have to go to live with my daughter so she can look after me. But for now I am here, at the foot of Mount Wilhelm."

To book, e-mail bhiggins@digicelpacific.blackberry.com. For orchid tour details, see orchidproductions.com.au.