The Islands of Papua New Guinea are divided into four groups. East and West New Britain, the largest of PNG’s outer islands, has two main centres: Rabaul in the east and Kimbe in the west.
Rabaul is the site of some of PNG’s most active volcanoes, Tavurvur and Vulcan. The last big eruption in 1994 completely covered the peaceful town and harbour in ash and forced the residents who remained to move the town to nearby Kokopo. The town has recovered and visitors are assured of a range of quality accommodations and services.
Diving is still a big attraction here, even though the eruption hit many dive sites in the harbour quite hard. Ironically, the source of the town’s demise has now become one of its biggest attractions. Trips to the volcanic observatory and helicopter tours of the crater are not to be missed.
There are a number of hotels operational in Rabaul Township and at Kokopo, a number of lodges, guesthouses and hotels are now open and provide excellent accommodation. A highlight of a visit to Rabaul is a visit to Palmalmal in the Pomio District, the Duke of York Islands and the Bainings.
Like its neighbour in the east, West New Britain is surrounded by a turquoise sea, dotted with reef-fringed atolls and adorned with magnificent rainforests, which plunge into white sandy beaches. The fertile volcanic soil in this region is suitable for growing just about anything and lush plantations stretch from the mountains to the sea. The major attraction here is the diving in Kimbe Bay, accessible from land or via liveaboards. A chain of dormant volcanoes shields the bay from open ocean conditions, creating a pocket of calm on the north coast of the island. The landscape of extinct volcanoes creates a dramatic backdrop and steaming thermal springs, waterfalls, boiling volcanic pools and mud holes can be found within.
New Ireland is an island paradise of sandy white beaches, towering mountains and clear springs and rivers that run the entire length of the island. A road made from crushed coral links north to south, but travel is easier by sea.
The Malangan culture in the northern and central part of the island is unique within the Pacific and its people are particularly well known for their sorcery and shark calling. Diving in this region is fantastic and there are several resorts offering accommodation and diving services.
The abundance of local seafood translates into gourmet feasts for visitors featuring coconut crabs, crayfish and a variety of reef fish. There are a number of hotels and guesthouses in Kavieng and small guest lodges are located on the islands in the harbour.
Manus Island is a distant island group to the northwest of the mainland which can be reached by air or by coastal cargo ship and there are two main hotel lodges in Lorengau. Manus Island has vast tracts of forests in the central range and a magical coastline. The dancing by the locals is erotic and majestic, depicting a life of openness and joy. This island group is hailed as having exceptional diving and is occasionally visited by some of PNG’s live-aboards.
The North Solomons as a province includes Buka and Bouganville Island, as well as hundreds of smaller islets, cays and atolls. Boating enthusiasts find this a marine wonderland with untouched reefs to explore with an everlasting supply of reef fish and shellfish. Buka Island is accessible by boat and plane from Rabaul and has a variety of accommodation varying in price and quality. Walking through village tracks and plantation roads is the best way to discover the magnificent flora and fauna.
Whilst there are few hotels on mainland Bougainville, there are numerous guesthouses in Buka.
Papua New Guinea is a popular tourist destination in the South Pacific. The Islands region comprises of North Soloman Islands and Bismark Archipelago. The population density of these islands is very low (14% of the population of Papua New Guinea), compared to the rest of the country.
The Islands are divided into five provinces – East Britain, New Ireland, Manus, West New Britain and Bougainville. These Islands are rich in natural beauty; many tourists have said the trip is positively unforgettable. They also have a vibrant tourist industry and will appeal to backpackers and adventure travelers. Popular tourist activities on these islands are swimming, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling and arts and crafts.
Bismark Archipelago consists of volcanic islands. There are more than 200 islands in this region, most of them sparsely inhabited. It is best to limit your travel to New Ireland and New Britain islands because those are the most developed. These islands are known for their crystal clear water and coral reefs. There are also a number of ship wrecks in the waters nearby, which can be accessed by scuba diving.
The Islanders don’t put much spice into their food. This might suit westerners whose stomachs don’t agree well with spicy food. The Islanders cook their food in an underground oven called Mumu, with the typical islander meal consists of rice, meat and vegetables. They also use many types of tubers in their food such as taro, sweet potato, cassava and yams.
Alcohol is available on the islands though it is quite expensive. Many types of alcohol are available but we recommend that you stick to beer. The most popular brands are local ones such as like SP beer (South Pacific beer), it is quite decent in taste. If you want something international, don’t worry. Many New Zealand and Australian brands are available. There is a local moonshine called stim but don’t drink it even if someone gives it to you for free.
If you are looking for a ‘formal’ shopping experience (supermarkets and shopping malls) on these islands you are going to be disappointed. Your best chances of shopping are in the town centers like Rabaul, the capital of West New Britain and Kavieng, the capital of New Ireland. Kavieng is an idellyic sea port, the kind you might read about in a Somerset Maughum novel. The island contains a nine hole golf course, so if there is a golfer in you, you can try a hand or two here.
Other fun activities on the islands are scuba diving, bird watching, surfing, trekking, kayaking and more. The Islands are acclaimed worldwide for their diving spots. These are said to be some of the best in the world. Papua New Guinea is also home to more than 700 species of birds. You will find a large number of them on these islands. For bird watchers, the islands will be akin to a bird watcher’s paradise.
If you like fishing, there is good news for you. The waters around the islands are teeming with blue marlin, black marlin, yellon fin tuna, sailfish, skip jack and many other types of fishes. Consider chartering a boat to go fishing.