It is hard not to be mystified by Papua New Guinea. It is a land that is untamed and wild in beauty, while diverse in a unique culture. While it is remote, it is accessible, and you would be surprised to know that it has a vast array of tourism offerings.
The country comprises about 600 small islands with only 13 per cent of people living in urban areas. Papua New Guinea has more than 800 indigenous languages and approximately 312 different tribes, including some uncontacted peoples.
Papua New Guinea is like no place you’ve ever been. Wherever you are in the world, it’s easy to get here with a little planning. Choose your one in million adventure in trekking, diving, surfing and more. Explore the amazing ceremonial ensembles at one of the many cultural festivals held throughout the year.
It offers something for every type of traveller. Culture and history for those looking to delve a little deeper into a destination. Adventure awaits both on and under the water for thrill-seekers looking to hike or dive. It is even a family-friendly destination where children of all ages can enjoy friendships with friendly locals. Couples can be romanced by the tropical beaches that beckon lazy afternoons in the sun.
Travelling to and around the country
Travelling around Papua New Guinea is best done by plane, making it more accessible with 21 paved runways and 562 airports scattered across the island nation. It is also the quickest way to get around. The country has several domestic airlines – including Air Niugini, PNG Air, MAF and TropicAir, which serve the provincial capitals and many regional towns and villages.
Once on the ground, travelling via a private car is an inexpensive way to get around the region and normally come in the way of privately owned minivans and 25-seater buses or open tray trucks. Do note, however, due to Papua New Guinea’s mountainous terrain, not all of the major cities are connected by road and many roads are unsealed, making travel by car or 4WD a long adventure.
The Highlands Highway, linking Lae and Madang to Goroka and the Highlands region, is the longest road in the country. The Bulominski Highway linking Kavieng to Namatanai in New Ireland attracts many a cyclist with its flat and well-maintained surface. A highway also links Wewak to Vanimo on the Indonesian border. Always stay informed with the local news, ask your hotel about any landslips around your destination, and bring a first-aid kit and guide when travelling by road.
Being an island nation, the next most popular mode of transport is a boat. Liveaboard dive boats and fishing charters are spectacularly scenic ways to explore coastal areas in Papua New Guinea. Your operator will provide extensive information and insight into boating around our country.
Travelling by banana boat (dinghy) is an affordable way to island-hop independently. Bring your own life jackets and safety equipment and avoid overloaded boats and travelling in bad weather. Ferries offer overnight trips between coastal towns. You can negotiate a fare with your operator before leaving and bring your own food.
Pirates are a known risk in open water, so always ask your hotel or host about the latest happenings around your destination and bring a guide with you.
The regions of Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is divided into four regions and while there is no official administrative divisions for most purposes, regions are quite significant in daily life. People generally identify strongly with their region.
To the north lies the Highlands Region, an east-west zone of mountains with elevations in excess of 13,000 feet (4,000 metres). This region has seven provinces – Southern Highlands, Enga Province, Western Highlands, Simbu, Eastern Highlands – including Hela and Jiwaka.
Located in the northeast, the New Guinea Islands Region comprises the five following Provinces: East New Britain, West New Britain, New Ireland, Manus and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
Visit the Momase Region. Made up of four provinces in the northeast of the mainland – Madang, Morobe, East Sepik and West Sepik – there are many journeys to experience in this region that take you through incredible rivers and coastal plains meeting extraordinary people and their cultures.
The Papuan Journeys region is made up of Central Province, Gulf Province, Milne Bay Province, National Capital District, Northern Province and Western Province. A hot humid climate exists for most of the year, except in the mountains, and with some variation in the northeast monsoon season.
Top 10 things to do in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea boasts the tagline ‘the land of a million experiences’, and rightly so. There is so much to do in the country that it will have you returning time and time again to even just scratch the surface. Here are just some of the ways to reach for the remote in Papua New Guinea.
ESCAPE FROM IT ALL ON A REMOTE PRIVATE ISLAND
The Conflict Islands are made up of 21 privately owned, pristine and completely uninhabited islands covering a total landmass of 375 hectares (or 3.75km square). At the Conflict Islands Resort, you’ll find just six private beachfront ensuite bungalows, situated on the main island of Panasesa. There’s also the main house where guests can enjoy peace and tranquillity whilst enjoying delicious fresh-caught local food, refreshing drinks, free wi-fi (if you want it), a stunning beachfront deck and a balcony overlooking the stunning archipelago and lagoon waters, with colours like no other place on earth. There aren’t many places in the world where you can truly escape in paradise quite like this.
DISCOVER PNG’S COLOURFUL COASTAL CULTURE
Divers and snorkellers have been coming to Milne Bay and the Tufi Fjords (yes Papua New Guinea has its own fjords!) for decades, but culture-seekers have only recently cottoned on to this unique part of the world. Alotau is the capital of the Milne Bay region and plays host to the annual Kenu and Kundu Festival each November – a lively and colourful cultural display of war canoe racing and ‘singsings’ (traditional dances). Year-round you can discover harrowing skull caves, and can also learn to cook (and enjoy) a Mumu feast (a traditional meal of local produce cooked in the earth). Up the coast in Oro Province are the Tufi Fjords, home to the world’s largest butterfly (the Queen Alexandra Bird Wing; with wingspans of up to 28cm). Visitor participation in traditional daily life is welcomed by the local villagers, who will happily show travellers how to build traditional homes and canoes from sago palms, and how to hunt and gather for food.
GO ON A SURFING PILGRIMAGE
Forget Bali with its overcrowded beaches; thanks to Papua New Guinea’s world-renowned Surf Management Plan, the number of surfers on anyone break is capped, so you’ll never be stuck waiting to catch the perfect wave – plus locals are still able to surf their own breaks. Surfing is idolised in Papua New Guinea, as are visiting pro surfers. You’ll be just as likely to see locals surfing on hand-carved planks of timber, as you will Taylor Jensen (who won the 2017 Men’s Kumul PNG World Longboard Championships). Or even no one at all! And when you’re done surfing, there’s plenty of islands, waterfalls, caves and volcanoes to explore. The north coast of Papua New Guinea is our pick for keen surfers (it’s also a fishing and diving/snorkelling paradise too). Stretching for over 500km, the northern coastline of Papua New Guinea’s mainland is as chilled-out as it comes. Here you’ll find sleepy port towns and seaside villages (like Vanimo, Wewak and Madang) that offer the perfect respite for those who’ve just adventured to the nearby highlands or Sepik River. Spend the day paddling across aqua-clear waters to nearby deserted islands, explore local caves and waterfalls, or tuck into some fresh locally-caught seafood.
Check out Tupira Surf Club and Vanimo Surf Lodge, or go on a scheduled guided tour with South Sea Horizons. Other notable mentions for keen surfers include Nusa Island Retreat and Rubio Retreat, both in New Ireland province.
ADVENTURE ACROSS REMOTE ISLANDS
New Britain and New Ireland islands in the Bismarck Sea are popular with divers, surfers, history buffs and adventure seekers alike. These two easy-to-get-to islands are perfect for first-time visitors to Papua New Guinea. In West New Britain Province (accessible by flight to Kimbe) you can hike to the top of the active Gabuna Volcano crater, relax in a natural spa-like thermal hot river or visit the local firefly trees at night and see the rainforest light up. At the other end of the island in East New Britain Province (accessible by flight to Rabaul), a world of history awaits; from hidden Japanese WWII war tunnels and Admiral Yamamoto’s famed buker, to the ash-covered remains of old Rabaul town (destroyed by the nearby Mount Tavurvur volcanic eruption of 1937). And over on New Ireland (accessible by flight to Kavieng) you can go on a 5-day cycling adventure, travelling down the length of the 260km mostly-flat Bulominski Highway, stopping to rest at traditional village homestays along the way.
Check out Walindi Plantation Resort near Kimbe, Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort and Rapopo Plantation Resort near Rabaul, and Lissenung Island Resort and Nusa Island Retreat near Kavieng for accommodation and tours. If you’re looking for a tailor-made diving adventure, South Sea Horizons have you covered! Or experience the Fire Dance Festival whilst you’re in Rabaul with Intrepid.
DISCOVER HIDDEN HIGHLAND TRIBES
Mount Hagen and Goroka are the main tourism hubs within the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. From here, a colourful world awaits, brimming with elusive tribes that still to today remain mostly hidden from the rest of the world. Visit Goroka and you’ll be met with an array of coffee and cocoa (chocolate) plantations; the rich aroma filling the air. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll discover unique local tribes where traditional customs remain alive and well; like the haunting Asaro Mudmen famed for their spooky mud masks, and the Korekore Tribe who are best known for their Moko Moko (or ‘sex’ dance). Over in Mount Hagen, which plays host to one of the oldest and most spectacular cultural shows, the annual Mount Hagen Cultural Show, you’ll also discover the Diugl Village and the spooky Mindima Skeleton Dancers, as well as the nearby colourful Huli Wigmen.
PARTAKE IN AN AUSSIE RITE OF PASSAGE
Trekking world-famous Kokoda is not only a 96km physical endurance challenge, it’s also a spiritual journey retracing the footsteps of the thousands of Aussie Diggers who were killed or injured defending Australia. Tours range from 6-12 days based on speed and fitness levels, and trekkers can also choose to trek from Poppendetta to Owers Corner or trek the reverse route. It is worth noting that Australia’s wartime history with Papua New Guinea extends beyond just the battle of Kokoda; the battle of Milne Bay was another key feat in Australia’s efforts to protect its sovereignty from the invading Japanese during WWII. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific, and the allied forces win. While international travel has prevented many Australians from commemorating the anniversary this year, many remain committed to ensuring this important part of history is still remembered (albeit a year later).
See Kokoda Track Authority for a full listing of trek operators running guided tours. For those who aren’t keen on trekking Kokoda, but still wish to pay their respects, then a visit to the Bita Paka War Cemetery near in Rabaul, and the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby is a must.
TREK OCEANIA`S HIGHEST VOLCANO
Papua New Guinea’s second highest mountain, Mount Giluwe (4,367m), is part of a volcanic massif. The original volcano on the site of Mount Giluwe formed roughly 650,000–800,000 years ago, probably as a stratovolcano of similar height to the current peak. One of the Volcanic Seven Summits of the world, the usually five-day trek passes through vast grassland and alpine landscapes.
EXPLORE THE MIGHTY SEPIK
The Sepik is one of the most intriguing adventure destinations on Earth, and the longest river in Papua New Guinea, at 1,126km in length. The Sepik is extremely remote and can only be accessed by boat; be it traditional canoe or luxury vessel. The banks of the Sepik are also home to one of the world’s most infamous cultural ceremonies, the crocodile initiation ceremony and the Ambunti Crocodile Festival.
CATCH AN ILLUSIVE BLACK BASS OR DOGTOOTH TUNA
Papua New Guinea’s untouched rivers and lakes, and isolated coastal waters, offer some of the best lures in the world. From the challenge of catching a ‘lure shy’ Papua New Guinea Black Bass in remote rainforest-lined rivers, to showing off a prized Dogtooth Tuna or Marlin catch out at sea, Papua New Guinea has got to be on the bucket list of all fishing enthusiasts. And with 2020 being a write-off, the fishing stocks have had a year to fully replenish – 2021 is set to be the biggest and best year for fishing.
CHECK OUT PNG’S NEWEST LUXURY ISLAND RESORT
No expense has been spared at Papua New Guinea’s newest luxury tropical retreat – Loloata Island Resort. Featuring 68 suites and villas, some set overwater, guests can choose to while their day away at the pool (with cocktail in hand), get pampered at the Sea Salt Spa or explore 29 neighbouring dive sites.
And that’s just a few of the million different journeys available within Papua New Guinea. Find your own adventure at www.southseahorizons.com.
Download a copy of the Papua New Guinea Travel Guide HERE.
Disclosure: The writer explored Papua New Guinea with assistance from South Sea Horizons
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