A Visit To The "Garden Of Eden"

Bob Simon Travels To A Pristine Paradise In Indonesia

This story was originally broadcast on Dec. 16, 2007.

It's hard to imagine there are still new frontiers on earth -- places untouched by man. So when a group of scientists found such a spot two years ago and made news around the world with the discovery of dozens of new species, 60 Minutes took notice. And when the scientists described the mountain rain forest on the Indonesian side of New Guinea as a sort of "Garden of Eden," it sounded like a good story for us.

It's about as far as you can get from civilization, or, for that matter, from anywhere. But as correspondent Bob Simon found out, getting there was half the fun.

After a 20-hour flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, followed by a seven-hour plane ride to New Guinea, Simon and the team had concluded the easy part of the trip. They then boarded a single-engine plane with Bruce Beehler, the lead scientist from "Conservation International," which stirred the world with its discoveries in 2005. After an hour in the air, they were looking for a grass runway.

Their small plane skirted the treetops and touched down, landing right in the middle of a party of sorts. The guests of honor: Simon, the 60 Minutes team, and Beehler, all surrounded by dancing and singing Papasena people.

When the Papasena people like you, they dab you with clay, as Simon and Beehler got to experience firsthand. The village of Papasena was our jumping-off point for the final leg up to the rain forest the next day. Since the villagers own the land we wanted to visit, we needed their blessing.

Beehler was looking for one villager in particular, Pak Timothy, the Papasena chief, the man we hoped would serve as the host for our expedition.

The next morning, we loaded up a helicopter for the 45-minute journey up to the mountain. It's at least a two-week hike from the village and there are no trails.

We were going to a rain forest in what's known as the Foja Mountains, to the very place where Beehler and other scientists had discovered new species two years ago. The only place where we could set the helicopter down was a bog, if we could find it amidst the clouds. Suddenly, at 6,000 feet, the landing site appeared.

We hopped out, said goodbye to the helicopter, and hoped it would come back in 10 days as promised. We were now closed off from the outside world.

"We're about as far away from home as you can get," Beehler explained. "We're basically at the edge of the Earth, as we would know it."

There's no sign of human activity, there are no footprints, no trails, and no Coke cans. There are no sounds except for the sounds of birds.

Only a handful of humans are known to have walked this ground. Beehler had been there once before. He had always wondered what might be hidden in this forest. But it took him 24 years of begging before the Indonesian government would let him set foot there. To help us set up a camp, we brought a few villagers from Papasena.

Beehler was already wearing his binoculars. "I'm looking for new birds. Or old birds that I saw the last time but that only live here," he said. "No place on Earth except the Foja Mountains."

In 2005, Beehler and his fellow scientists needed only 10 minutes to find their first new species, an odd looking bird. It didn't take Simon and the group much longer to spot it as well.

A new species of bird needs a new name, and Beehler had a quirky solution. "Well, I've got a wife," he explained, laughing. "And I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to name it after her?' So I named it after Carol. Melipotes carolae. It actually has an English name, too. That's the Wattled Smoky Honey Eater."

"Now that's a mouthful isn't it?" Beehler said. "Most birds make a sound. As far as I know, this bird either never makes a sound or very rarely makes a sound. So we've encountered it now perhaps 40, 50 times. And it's always quiet."