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The Sublime Karsts of Papua New Guinea

Date of Submission: 06/06/2006
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Department of Environment and Conservation
State, Province or Region:

East New Britain Province: Nakanai Range

Southern Highlands Province: Muller Range

Western Province: Hinderburg Range

Ref.: 5064

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Nakanai.  The Nakanai Mountains is an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Island of New Britain, Papua New Guinea. To the north the mountain range is dominated by a group of spectacular volcanoes. It is bounded on the east by the Kol Mountains and to the west the Kapiura - Ania Divide which divides the Nakanai Mountains from the Whiteman Range.

Muller Plateau. The surface terrain of the Muller Plateau is extremely inhospitable and difficult to traverse. The area being proposed for inclusion here is in fact virtually uninhabited.

The Hindenburg Wall. The geological and geomorphic history is probably even more complex than that of the Muller Range. The Darai limestones are extremely variable and interbedded with shales and siltstones. Chert nodules and distinctive "fossil" forms of uncertain origin are common. Then there are a number of faults and anticlines from tectonic change. The giant scarps of the Hindenberg wall and the Bahrman Range give rise to unique patterns of air movement that in turn have sculpted the rock surface. Various phases of tectonic change and of valley glaciation caused major changes in hydrological patterns and cave morphology. Meanwhile the surface was shaped by erosion into towerkarst, then collapse of successive phases of towerkarst. In broad terms, the region is characterised by the mountain scarps on north and south.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Nakanai. The ranges and plateau have only a very sparse human population, with only small villages generally on the lower lands. Various areas of flat or near-flat land are used for cultivation, but then once harvested are left to lie fallow until secondary forest is re-established. Some natural disturbance results from such causes as earthquakes or landslides. Thus, one can say that the natural forest has remained very much in its original but nevertheless, is in a dynamic and constantly changing state.

Muller Plateau. The Plateau remains uninhabited and is undergoing little change other than that which is natural and endemic to the geological instability of the country. 

The Hindenburg Wall. Much of the area is uninhabited; most of the caves have only been entered by a single expedition. It is in a less disturbed state than virtually any other part of the country.

Comparison with other similar properties

Nakanai. As already emphasized, the Papua New Guinea environments must be recognised as distinctive. None of the other major underground rivers share the continuous volume and turbulence of the Nakanai Rivers. The giant Baliem River system in the Lorentz WHA of West Papua (and several other underground rivers) is of similar volume only during short periods of massive flooding which may not even occur every year.  Aerial reconnaissance only suggests that a more comparable example may lie in a totally unexplored region of Halmahera in Indonesia.

Muller Plateau. It is difficult to identify a World Heritage property that is genuinely comparable with this. Probably that which most closely approximates is Gunung Mulu (Malaysia), but the geological structure and hence morphology of the karst is totally different, and hence, so is the biodiversity.  

The Hindenburg Wall. It is difficult to identify a World Heritage property that is genuinely comparable with this. Probably that which most closely approximates is the Lorentz WHA, situated in West Papua at the other extremity of the Star Mountains. However, there are many differences in the nature of the terrain and certainly in the biodiversity.