Jeremy Watson (New Zealand), Björn Hofmann (Germany) and Florence Trunz (France), during time out on projects with AusAID and UNDP, achieved success on 18 December 2008 completing all of the Timor-Leste land-based confluence points.
From the capital, Dili, the point is only 189kms by road and just 72kms as the crow flies but Timor-Leste’s rugged mountains, poor roads and the wet season meant two and a half days of hard driving in a Landcruiser. Day 1 took us across the mountains through Maubisse to overnight in Same. Day 2 took us to the south coastal town of Betano and then east to Natabora along this excellent road recently upgraded by the Asian Development Bank and past this lovely, just completed Manuhfahi spirit house . We parked in Welaluhu, an aldeia just west of Natabora, at one of Timor-Leste’s 950 schools that don’t have any water or toilets, and set out on foot for the CP only about 2kms away up a gentle hill. Some Google Earth research had suggested that this might be an easy stroll though goat pasture but we were reminded how misleading a nice satellite photo can be about surface conditions compared with the DCP’s first hand, on the ground experience. The first attempt ground to a halt 450m from the point crawling through scratchy tunnels in this impenetrable and seemingly endless nightmare mess.
Vague notions of returning to the vehicle for the machete and chopping half a kilometre through the stuff came to mind and were discarded, it would add another day and another overnight at Same. After trying to find a climbable tree for a view and crawling claustrophobically through the vegetation tunnels in the heat and humidity, ripped by pandanus and not really enjoying ourselves a whole lot, we formally gave up the point as an incomplete, perhaps for all time; the Australian Defence Force could do this one in an APC. Providentially, on the way back we noticed a buffalo track heading through some trees 90° off the CP bearing but suggesting that the buffalo might be using it to circumnavigate the nightmare mess and this soon led us to some land cleared for passion fruit vines taking us almost all the way to an eastern approach.
By the time we actually got to ground zero the heat had addled our brains and Jeremy completely stuffed up the photos; actually he was feeling pretty ill and had really lost interest in this thing despite it being his idea. Fortunately, Björn and Florence being more youthful, in better nick and better organised, between them managed to assemble all the required photos back in Dili. CP and North shows both the north view and the CP, which is about 6m to the right of the palm tree in the centre in a field of wild, flax-like grass. View south shows the country descending to the Timor Sea; home to the country’s much disputed natural gas reserves and its vast fisheries extending halfway to Australia, plundered mercilessly by others but unexploited by this country with no south coast port, no effective fisheries protection and no deep sea fishing fleet anyway. View east shows the trestle bridge carrying the south coast road over the River Sahan to Natabora. View west shows the passion fruit farmer’s day shelter and a corral, probably for goats, beyond which is the impenetrable nightmare mess.
For those who might want to do this trip: the original intent was to drive a 332km circuit: Dili-Same-Natabora-Manatuto-Dili in two long days, this is ambitious but reasonable. On the morning of departure UNPOL advised us that the Natabora-Manatuto section was impassable at Soibada and Sau so we extended the loop to 395kms to include Viqueque-Bacau, this would include better roads and, ‘though still very uncomfortable, we could recover at the very comfy Bacau Pousada late on Day 2. UNPOL considered Natabora-Viqueque to be passable but recommended to stay in 4WD the whole way; they were right about the 4WD because the main road soon degenerated to kilometres of rather dodgy track and UNPOL would have been right about Viqueque if the Dilor crossing had had a little less, or at least slower, water. So, only 37kms from Viqueque we turned around and went all the way back up into the mountains, overnighting very comfortably at the Maubisse Pousada. Accommodation is available at Maubisse, Same, Viqueque, Ossu and Bacau. Both circuits would be reliably achievable in the dry season with at least a Landcruiser or Patrol. Bring all your fuel from Dili and obtain the road condition report from UNMIT. From December to March, get as much local advice as you can then have a long think.