Many birdwatchers consider birds of paradise to be the most exotic, fantastic birds on earth. And most birding experts agree that there’s no better place to observe the bird of paradise species than the Tari Valley, in the Southern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. The preferred base of operations for birders and other naturalists visiting the Tari Valley is Ambua Lodge.
Ambua rests high on the slopes of Tari Valley and can be reached only by small plane from Mount Hagen. The thrill of a trip here begins with the flight in; the plane wings over the peaks of Mount Giluwe and high-altitude grasslands before descending to the lodge’s private airstrip.
Thanks to its 7,000-foot elevation, Ambua spares its guests the intense heat that is not uncommon in Papua New Guinea’s lower valleys. Since its inception in 1990, the lodge has been celebrated for both its ecologically responsible design and its understated luxury. From your perch at Ambua, you can peer out over a valley that’s changed little in thousands of years.
New Guinea is the second-largest island in the world, and thanks to its size, cultural diversity, and biodiversity, many think of New Guinea as a continent itself. Papua New Guinea has an area slightly larger than California and more than 850 indigenous languages, with most of its citizens living close to the land. Its varied landscape, ranging from lowland tropical rain forests to highland cloud forests, is home to 5 to 10 percent of the total species on the planet, many of which are found nowhere else. These include many species of birds of paradise.
Birds of paradise’s natural habitat ranges from elevations of almost 10,000 feet to the jungle floor; their size ranges from 6 inches to 44 inches long. One characteristic shared almost universally across the species is the splendid plumage of the males. Once the feathers of birds of paradise were discovered by the outside world, a thriving trade in the plumes evolved. Legal trade in skins and feathers was banned in Europe and the United States in the early twentieth century.