Dubbed the “Serengeti of Papua” due to its exceptional faunal and avifauna biodiversity, the Wasur National Park is hands down the best place for wildlife spotting in Papua, arguably anywhere in eastern Indonesia. Located hard up against the border with Papua New Guinea on the islands south coast, the park shares a boundary with Papua New Guinea’s Tonda Wildlife Management Area, creating a combined total protected area of approximately 10,000 km².
Comprising of vast low-lying wetlands with intertidal mudflats, coastal mangroves with seasonally inundated grasslands, reed swamps, grass and woodland savannahs, sago habitats and monsoon forest, the park provides rich and varied permanent and seasonal habitats for a huge array of bird species, marsupials, reptiles and fish.
With some 358 bird species, including around 80 rare or endemic species such as the Fly River Grassbird, the New Guinea Harpy Eagle, several species of birds of paradise and tens of thousands of migratory waterbirds from as far afield as eastern Siberia, Wasur is regarded as one of the world’s leading bird watching locations. Other wildlife includes the agile wallaby, bandicoot, cuscus, sugar gliders, cassowary and freshwater and saltwater crocodiles.
Evidence of ancient human habitation and agricultural activity has been found throughout the park; proof of thousands of years of occupation by the Kamune, Marind, Marori and Yei tribes. Still today there are 14 villages located within the park boundaries, the inhabitants of which rely almost exclusively on the rich resources within the park to meet their food and other basic needs.
Despite the far flung location, Wasur is surprisingly easy to visit. Garuda, Lion Air and Sriwijaya Air operate flights from Jakarta to the gateway city of Merauke via Jayapura (Sentani Airport). Sriwijaya Air also operatives regular flights from Makassar. From Merauke you can hire a vehicle (2.000.000-4.000.000Rp) or ojek (300.000Rp) for the 2-3 hour trip to Wasur National Park. Before heading out of town though, you’ll need to swing by the Wasur National Park Office (Balai Taman Nasional Wasur) in Merauke (Phone: +62 971 324532) to obtain a permit (10.000Rp per person, 15.000Rp per camera).
There are four villages within the park boundaries which provide basic cottage style accommodation; Yanggandur and Rawa Biru (best place to spot the greater Bird-of-Paradise), Onggaya (by the beach) and Soa (on the Maro river). 100.000Rp-150.000Rp buys you a bed and cooking equipment but you’ll need to bring your own food. There’s ample accommodation in Merauke if you’re planning on a night there either side of your flights.
Local guides can be sourced from any of the villages and cost around 150.000Rp per day. Merauke based guides cost roughly double but they’ll help you organise your park permits, transport and accommodation.