Peering into Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea, a unique country by the Pacific ocean who managed to remain relatively unspoilt thanks to its low urban development (only 18% of the population live in urban centers). As well as having a rather ‘unique’ name, Papua New Guinea is also home to over 850 indigenous languages, and (it is believed) a number of species of plant and animals yet to be discovered!
The country has remained relatively unexplored even since the nation’s independent from Australia in 1975. However, the few tourists who do make it to these sunny shores will find the effort well worth it.
A great Papua New Guinea experience is to wander the stalls at a market. Many of the goods on display are authentic and homemade. You’ll find indigenous souvenirs such as: a bilum – a string fiber bag, a Bouganville baskets – considered some of the finest baskets and trays made in the Pacific, or a mask – not as practical perhaps, but fun! Be mindful of anyone trying to sell you “ancient artefacts” – anything made prior to 1960 is restricted export to protect the nation’s heritage.
Scuba diving is huge in Papua New guinea and places to dive seem full of limitless potential. This is partially due to geography – the ocean floor drops dramatically just a few feet away from the shoreline – but the abundance of WWII wrecks also adds to the experience. For wreck dives, head for Kavieng, Loloata, or Madang. If you want to see some spectacular coral reefs, head for the Eastern Fields, nearly 200km from Port Moresby towards the Australia coast.
The rugged terrain of the island makes Papua New Guinea the perfect spot for the serious hiker. For a bit of history and some fantastic sights, check out the Kokoda trail, a 60 mile route through the peaks of the Owen Stanley Range. History buffs will know this site as a WWII battlefield where Japan and Australia crossed paths.
If it’s height you’re after, head for the top: Mount Wilhelm is the highest point in the island, a picturesque spot on the island and relatively accessible depending on your fitness level. Make an early start to arrive around dawn for the best chance for good views.
Regardless of where you go, be mindful of the conditions: the nights are chilly and bitter, the days are muggy and hot. There is also malaria risk and low lying areas easily flood during periodic rains. Head out well equipped and informed.
If You Go…
The only practical way to travel to Papua New Guinea is by air; service is available from both Air Niugini (codeshare with Quantas) and Airlines of Papua New Guinea.
Tourist Visas are required for most visitors; 60-day permits are available at the airport, Port Moresby, upon arrival. Similar to other Oceania countries, make sure you bring all your travel documents confirming your planned departure date. A number of festivals are open to tourists, like the Coffee Festival in May, the National Mask Festival in July and the Hiri Morale Festival in September.
There are reports of violence and crime in various parts of Papua New Guinea. HIV/AIDS infection rates are some of the highest in the region. Travel safely – I urge you to seek advice from an experienced travel agency before booking any trip. Single female travellers are strongly encouraged to not travel unaccompanied.
For more information, check out the official Papua New Guinea Tourism Website.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.