Papua New Guinea, in the southwestern Pacific, encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands. A country of immense cultural and biological diversity, it’s known for its beaches, coral reefs and scuba diving. Inland are active volcanoes, granite Mt. Wilhelm and dense rainforest, which hikers traverse via the Kokoda Trail. There are also agricultural villages, many with their own languages.
HOW TO GET THERE
Jackson International Airport in Port Moresby is the nation’s international airport.Air Niugini flies to and from Cairns, Sydney, and Brisbane, Australia; Honiara, Solomon Islands; Manila, Philippines; Tokyo (Narita), Japan; Singapore,Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.Airlines of Papua New Guinea flies to and from Cairns, and Brisbane.View over Port Moresby Virgin Australia connects Port Moresby to Brisbane four times a week.QANTASLINK flies to and from Cairns daily.
The ports include Madang, Lae, and Port Moresby on the mainland, Kieta on Bougainville, and Rabaul and Kimbe on New Britain. However, they are only internal ferries. International ferries are unavailable.
There are also cruises such as the Coral Princess and ones from Aurora Expeditions
Few travellers travel between Buin in Bougainville and Shortland Island in the Solomon Islands by a banana boat. There are flights between Shortland Island and Gizo or Chiusel in the Solomon Islands (alternatively banana boats on very rough seas). This route has been described on a few blogs and older editions of the Lonely Planet.
Papua New Guinea is a strange place when it comes to travel. The tropical conditions, fierce geography, and lack of government capacity means there are very few paved roads in the country.
With the exception of a brief span of road connecting it to the immediate hinterland and a road that will enable you to follow the coast southeast for a few hours, there are no major roads linking Port Moresby to anywhere else.
On the north coast, a tenuous highway runs from Madang to Wewak only in theory.
The big exception to this is the Highlands Highway, which begins in Lae (the country’s main port) and runs up into the highlands through Goroka to Mt. Hagen with a fork going back to the coast and Madang. Shortly outside Mt. Hagen the road branches, with southern line going through the Southern Highlands to Tari while the northern line runs through Enga province and ends in Porgera.
WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO SEE THERE
The Kokoda Trail is a 60-mile trail, beginning in the Port Moresby area and leading up into the Owen Stanley Range. This trail was first used by gold miners in the 1890s and is most known as a historical World War II site as the Japanese tried to reach Port Moresby along it. It takes about five days to hike this track, which includes plenty of ups and downs between mountain ridges and streams.
The Highland region is made of long string of fertile valleys, each separated by mountains, that mean the Highlands are composed of many distinct tribal regions.
In the Chimbu (Simbu) Province is Mount Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea’s highest mountain (14,880 feet). Climbing Wilhelm is relatively easy; but three or four days are recommended to allow for sightseeing. Do not try it by yourself. Local guides are ready to help you with a reasonable cost. There are views of both the north and south coasts of New Guinea from the peak. The Wahgi River in this area is considered one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world.
Madang is good for scuba diving of all levels,and the coral reefs are home to a variety of rare species of colorful fish. There are also underwater wrecks of Japanese fighter planes, with weapons and cargo intact. There are still-active volcanoes for trekkers to hike up not far from Madang. Madang is a thriving community renowned for its traditional artists, world class diving opportunities and richness of its surrounding forests.
Further west you come to Wewak. It is the gateway to the Sepik River region with a fascinating culture distinct from that of the Highlands. Take long canoe rides up the river and it’s tributaries to visit the impressive Haus Tambaran’s The Crocodile Festival (Pukpuk Show) in early August in Ambunti on the Sepik river is a good and less crowded alternative to the Goroka and Hagen shows.
New Britain. This island offers excellent swimming and snorkelling. Trails in the area are perfect for day hikes and treks through the rainforest. There are also hot thermal springs and bubbling mud holes in this region of the island. The Baining people who inhabit the northeastern area of New Britain are famous for creating ephemeral art-forms, perhaps no better demonstrated than by their fire dance. A dramatic and beautifully made mask is constructed from bark for this ceremony and thrown away as worthless immediately afterwards.
Bougainville. Well off-the-beaten-path in the far east of the country, with great untapped tourism potential. World-class diving, dramatic treks and World War II Japanese relics are the key attractions. Bougainville has been long isolated due to the conflict which swirled around its shores. This pristine island paradise has some of the greatest biodiversity in the region, including above and in the water.
Trobriand Islands. The so called Islands of Love are well known for their unique culture.
Go scuba diving, using one of more than a dozen local scuba diving operators. The national Scuba Diving industry body is a good starting point. Papua New Guinea has some of the very best tropical reef diving anywhere in the word.
This a birdwatching mecca with over 700 species of birds including many birds of paradise. Definitely bring a pair of decent binoculars and ask in the villages for a volunteer to help you find the birds. An amazing experience!
Another popular attraction here is trekking through the mountains, coastal lowlands and rolling foothills of the Kokoda and other trails. The Kokoda Track attracts many hundreds of walkers a year.
Papua New Guinea offers a wide choice of accommodation for tourists with very little of it budget.
Hotels are very expensive (about USD100/night). Guesthouses are the best budget option in the towns but even then still expensive (about USD40/night.) The least expensive option is to stay in village guesthouses (about USD15/night), and that is where the fun is anyhow.
Out of the many churches in PNG, some have guesthouses that can be very expensive and nice. Others operate cheap and really basic accommodation, usually for their visiting “brothers” but they’ll be delighted to host a backpacker too. The Evangelical Brotherhood Church (EBC) for example operates rustic accommodation for as low as 25 kina per person and they have centers in or around the capitals of 18 PNG provinces. Churches or missions that do not operate accommodation will probably not turn you back either and will host you for free or against a small donation. In villages without any formal accommodation you will be offered a roof for free or little money. Even in towns you might be offered to be hosted by some of the many incredibly friendly and curious Papua New Guineans you will meet and talk to on PMVs or in the previous town. Often they will also give you the contact of their relatives or wantoks in your next destination. Besides PNG’s image as an unsafe destination, it is very easy to tell the troublemakers from the good people (the absolute majority). It is a good idea to bring a small tent, mat and a sleeping bag/sarong if you are planning on roughing it. If hosted by someone, you will most often be provided with some kind of roof but it’s going to be a lot easier for your hosts if you have a tent and mat or at least a mosquito net. If you are hosted by a family for free it is a very good idea to go to the market and bring some rice and food for everyone’s dinner. If you eat their food, offer to pay. Wild camping near people’s homes without asking permission first is not a good idea – it is neither safe nor polite.
There are some rogue travel operators in Papua New Guinea who have taken people’s money and then failed to provide the itinerary agreed or even in some cases have not bought the flights that were paid for, leaving travellers stranded or having to buy new tickets themselves. It is wise to use a search engine and travel forums to investigate the operator you are considering before paying any deposits. Be aware that these operators will often change their names from time to time.
Although PNG is definitely not a place where bargaining is expected or tolerated (many things might have a “second price” though, especially souvenirs and art), there are some dishonest people who might try to make a buck from the white man. Inform yourself beforehand or ask other passengers about bus fares.