— Papua New Guinea —
While the infrastructure for travel throughout PNG is firmly in place, travel as an industry is still in its infancy. As such, every visitor to PNG has the opportunity to be part of the endless discovery.
PNG occupies the eastern portion of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world. Precariously situated on the Pacific Rim of fire, it is the cumulative result of two of the world’s largest geological upheavals. The ensuing terrain is a rich, rugged collage of towering mountain peaks, dense rainforests, mangrove jungles, fertile valleys, white sands and glistening coral islands. The underwater topography is a reflection of the dramatic landscape. Hills and valleys translate into majestic pinnacles, fishfilled passes, lush colourful gardens and coral-draped walls.
Capital and major centres
Port Moresby, PNG’s capital and gateway is situated on the western coast of the mainland peninsula. Other popular coastal regions on the mainland include Alotau, Lae, Wewak, Vanimo and Madang. Alotau, at the eastern tip of the Owen Stanley Range, is an upcoming seaside resort town with rich culture and gorgeous scenery. Lae is the second largest city, situated on the eastern coast, at the mouth of the Markham River. Wewak and Vanimo are in the Sepik Basin famous for their art, customs and culture. The Sepik River runs 1126 kilometres from source to sea and is one of the world’s largest waterways.
Further north is Madang, which has one of the South Pacific’s most beautiful harbours with lush tropical vegetation. It was the centre of heavy fighting during World War II and has 34 sunken ships and coral gardens to explore with superb visibility. Many of the most rewarding cultural opportunities can be found in the Highlands. Goroka is the capital of the Eastern Highlands; Mt. Hagen is the capital of the Western Highlands.
Papua New Guinea’s outer islands cover an enormous area, offering access to both the Solomon and Bismarck Seas. In this region opportunities for exploration and adventure are enormous. New Britain, the largest island, has two tourism centres: Rabaul on the eastern tip, and Kimbe in the west. Other popular spots include Kavieng on New Ireland and Manus Island further north.
Nationals are predominantly Melanesian, though in appearance they are varied. More than 800 indigenous languages are spoken throughout PNG.
Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin) and Police Motu are the two most widely used, but English is the official language in education, business and government circles.
Papua New Guinea’s enormously rich diversity of animal and plant life has earned the esteemed designation of being a ‘mega diversity’ country. Scientists believe that PNG, along with the 16 other countries bearing this unique distinction, account for more than two-thirds of the earth’s total biodiversity. The fact that so many of PNG’s natural ecosystems and human cultures are intact makes it fascinating and scientifically important. On land it is estimated that there are 242 species of mammals including shy forest wallabies, slow-moving cuscuses and tree kangaroos. Birds are one of PNG’s biggest natural attractions. There are 762 different species, 85 endemic, including 38 of the world’s 48 species of the spectacular Bird of Paradise. The world’s only known poisonous bird called Hooded Pito-Hui is found in Papua New Guinea.
The most popular activities in Papua New Guinea are trekking, canoeing, bird watching, fishing, surfing and diving, all of which get travellers ‘up close and personal’ with nature and the people, the essence of PNG’s special attraction. Throughout the country there are tours organised for all ages, skill levels and budgets. You can canoe down the Sepik and sleep in local villages, or visit exotic cultures during the day and at night sleep on a luxury cruise ship, or an eco lodge in a tributary.
Port Moresby is home to several popular trekking spots, the infamous Kokoda trail, a favourite with war historians, and Variarata National Park, a spectacular mountain region renowned for its striking scenery and panoramic views of Port Moresby and the coastline. In the Oro province, Mt Lamington, an active volcano, is a favourite climb for visiting bushwalkers. Scuba diving has become one of PNG’s most sought-after attractions and there are facilities, both land based and live-aboard, all around the country. Fishing charters, bird watching walks and whitewater rafting tours are also available.
Surfing is also growing in popularity. PNG is a relatively new surfing destination on the international surfing scene that guarantees clean and uncrowded beaches, point breaks and challenging waves for all levels of surfers.
Rugged mountainous terrain covers much of the country, so the easiest and fastest way to get around Papua New Guinea is by air. There is a good network of roads connecting the northern zone and the highlands region. However, there is no road link between the northern zone and the capital, Port Moresby. Hire cars are usually available and local boats, ferries, buses and taxis can be found in the larger towns.
Food and entertainment
Western cuisine is available in hotels, restaurants, guesthouses, lodges and resorts. Port Moresby has many Asian and European restaurants. For something different try a traditional ‘mumu’ of pork, sweet potatoes, rice and greens. Major hotels usually provide their own entertainment.
Modern department complexes rub shoulders with quaint little stores and artefact shops where you may try your hand at gentle bargaining. Arts and crafts are as diverse as they are distinctive, produced by different artisans according to their individual skills and unique talents.
Pottery, weapons, carvings, musical instruments and basketwork are just a few of the handicrafts sold throughout PNG, the world’s largest producer of tribal arts and crafts.
There is a fascinating selection of masks, including ancestral and spirit masks. Decorated boards and boat prows are popular objects in Papuan Gulf culture and are thought to be protective spirits to ward off sickness and evil. Shields come in all shapes and sizes and are made of hide stretched over a framework.
Stools, tables and headrests are ornate and carry intricate carvings, while fishing hooks were suspended in the men’s house and represented spirits which helped in fighting, hunting and warding off disease.
Jewellery, body ornaments and accessories are made from pigs teeth, shell, orchid stems, dogs teeth, seed, snake spine, and pigs tusks.
The village of Aibom, near the Chambri Lakes, specialises in a unique form of pottery. The two greatest regions for art are the Sepik River Basin and the Papuan Gulf while the two major craft producing areas are the Huon Peninsula and Milne Bay.
23℃–32℃ in coastal areas and 14℃–28℃ in the highlands.
Casual, but more formal than other Pacific countries. Females should dress modestly. A sweater or jacket is necessary in the highlands.
The kina is divided into 100 toea. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels. Tips are generally not expected, but encouraged if you are happy with the service provided.
Papua New Guinea is an anthropologist’s dream come true. The country is home to hundreds of tribes. Between them, they speak upwards of 700 languages and dialects. The most popular languages in Papua New Guinea are English, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu. English is widely spoken but the country’s lingua franca is Tok Pisin.
Most of the country’s seven million people still live in the rural areas. Just 18% of Papua New Guineans live in cities. Even then, the Papua New Guineans are very hospitable and friendly and ready to help strangers. Do dress conservatively when in Papua New Guinea because it will help you fit in with the culture better.
Papua New Guinea is one of the last unspoiled natural spaces in the world. The country is largely untouched by western civilization and is teeming with natural vegetation, plants and animals. Towering volcanic peaks, beautiful beaches, pristine rainforests, mountains and valleys. The world famous Kokoda trail, stretching for more than 60 km, is also located here. The trail snakes it way from the south (from Port Moresby) to Owens Corner in the North.
Mount Wilmelm is the highest mountain in Port Moresby, standing at 14,000 ft above sea level. There are two trails leading to the top and it can take you up to 3 days to reach there. If you visit Lae, don’t forget to visit the rainforest surrounding the city.
The staple diet of Papua New Guinea consists of tubers, yams and taro; basically a number of starchy vegetables. The major livestock in Papua New Guinea is the pig, so pork is the most common meat. Still, meat makes a miniscule portion of the average Papua New Guinean’s diet and it is cooked only on special occasions. People living near the coast have a preference for seafood.
Papua New Guineans are have something called ‘Melanesian time’, which means things will be done in their preferred timing therefore if you go to a restaurant, expect to be served late. If local food does not agree with you, there are other western options available in the capital. Food is relatively cheap in Papua New Guinea and should you get to know some locals, they might even invite you home for a home cooked meal.
Papua New Guineans are known for their wood carvings. The carvings are usually of animals and plants because the Papua New Guineans believe that the creatures were their ancestors at one time. The country also has a very old tradition of visual arts.
Christianity is the major religion (96% of the people identify with one or the other branch of Christianity) on the islands but it is very animistic. Papua New Guineans have created their own special brand of Christianity, infused with tribal elements therfore ritual dances and local festivals are very popular.
Most of Papua New Guinea is mountainous terrain. There are very few private cars and the most popular way to travel around is by public motor vehicle. Traveling is very cheap but the only drawback is these vehicles are very crowded.
Finding these public vehicles are relatively simply. You just have to turn up at the spot. The vehicle will usually wait till it is full and they won’t move for you or anyone. Some places are covered only once a day especially the rural areas. So make sure that you know when the transport is arriving (or leaving). Otherwise, you will be stuck for another day.
Papua New Guinea is known for being an affordable tourist destination, with tourists from Japan, Australia and South East Asia thronging its shores. Visa is a must for every foreign national who wishes to enter Papua New Guinea. Some foreign tourists are eligible for visa on arrival.
You can enter Papua New Guinea by plane, boat or by road. If you are coming by road, you will have to cross over at Papua (Irian Jaya, Indonesia). This may involve a bit of preparation. But if you are entering from here, the tourist visa is free of charge.