The Ultimate Papua New Guinea Travel Guide

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The Independent State of Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin: Papua Niugini; Hiri Motu: Papua Niu Gini) comprises the eastern part of the world’s largest and highest tropical island, New Guinea, together with many smaller offshore islands.

There is evidence of human settlement as long ago as 35,000 years in what is now Papua New Guinea. This comes from an archaeological site at Matenkupkum, just south of Namatanai in New Ireland province. Other archaeological digs at several locations in New Ireland have discovered tools and food residue dating back 20,000 years.

In more modern times, Papua New Guinea (known popularly as ‘PNG’), the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (which is the second largest island in the world), was divided between Germany (‘German New Guinea’) and Great Britain (‘British Papua’) in 1884. The Dutch had West Papua, now the Indonesian territory of Papua. The southeast part of the island, also known as Papua, was owned by the UK but administered by Australia, and thus a colony of a colony, until Australian independence in 1901, when it became an Australian colony. In 1914, the Australians did their part in the Allied war effort and took control of German New Guinea, and continued to administer it as a Trust Territory under the League of Nations and (later) the United Nations. However, it was not just disinterested colonialism. Gold had been discovered in several places and was rapidly exploited. Remnants of vast gold dredges can still be seen in the Bulolo and Wau area.

During World War II, New Guinea was the site of fierce fighting on land (at Buin and on the Kokoda Track) and sea (at the Battle of the Coral Sea). It was the first place in the war where the Japanese advance was checked and then reversed. After the war, both New Guinea and Papua were administered from the government centre of Port Moresby on the south coast, in Papua. In 1975, the country, now united as ‘Papua New Guinea’, achieved independence from Australia. Today Papua New Guinea continues to be the foremost country in Melanesia.

The Terrain of Papua New Guinea

The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates. There are a number of active volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common, sometimes accompanied by tsunamis.

The country’s geography is diverse and, in places, extremely rugged. A spine of mountains, the New Guinea Highlands, runs the length of the island of New Guinea, forming a populous highlands region mostly covered with tropical rainforest. Dense rainforests can be found in the lowland and coastal areas as well as very large wetland areas surrounding the Sepik and Fly rivers. This terrain has made it difficult for the country to develop transport infrastructure. In some areas, airplanes are the only mode of transport. The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 4,509m (14,793 ft). Papua New Guinea is surrounded by coral reefs which are under close watch to preserve them.

How to reach Papua New Guinea?

Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby is the nation’s main international airport. The ports include Madang, Lae, and Port Moresby on the mainland, Kieta on Bougainville, and Rabaul and Kimbe on New Britain.

The only land border crossing between Papua and Papua New Guinea open to foreigners is on the north coast between Jayapura and Vanimo (PNG), called the Skouw – Wutung border crossing. It is open from 8AM to 4PM (Indonesian time, add one hour for PNG opening hours). There is no visa on arrival issued for PNG at the crossing, you need a valid visa which can be either obtained before leaving in your home country or for free at the PNG consulate general in Entrop, close to Jayapura.

Top Attractions in Papua New Guinea

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 its 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.

To Things to do

  1. Scuba Diving: 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.
  2. Birdwatching: 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! Heritage Expeditions run voyages through PNG on an expedition ship also carry a Birding Expert/Lecturer onboard who acts as a guide and to unpack birding opportunities.
  3. Trekking: 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.
  4. Visit Local Festivals: The most popular activities for tourists here are festivals such as the The Sing-Sing performances at the annual Goroka and Mt. Hagen shows. During these shows, there are usually more than fifty ensembles that turn up. The festivals are competitive and the winning ensemble is rewarded by being invited to give concerts at many restaurants and hotels during the following year. This beauty and colourfulness of New Guinea’s festivals is both pleasing to watch for tourists and helps the locals financially.
  5. Fishing: Fishing is becoming increasingly popular. Species include Black Marlin, Blue Marlin, Sailfish, Yellow Fin, Skipjack and Dogtooth Tuna and the Giant Trevally. Mahi Mahi (Dolphin Fish), Mackerel and Wahoo. A particularly challenging fish is the black bass, which, pound for pound, is considered to be the toughest fighting fish in the world.

What to eat and Drink?

The food is largely devoid of spices. A typical way of cooking is a Mumu, an underground oven in which meat and vegetables, such as Kaukau (sweet potatoes), are cooked. In just about every meal, there is rice and another form of starch.

In the lodges that tourists stay, in there is usually a blend between this type of food and a more Westernised menu.

The legal drinking/purchasing age for alcohol is 21. However, because of the high age restriction, underage drinking has become a major problem.

There are brands of local beer. The local brew, SP (short for South Pacific) Lager, is owned by Heineken. Excessive alcohol consumption, primarily of beer, is a major social problem. Beers and wines are often served fairly warm due to a lack of refrigeration in certain areas. Also, while the water quality varies from place to place (and in some cases from day to day), it is generally best to stick to bottled water, even in the upper-market hotels. Alcohol is widely available everywhere on licensed alcohol-selling premises. However, alcohol may be difficult to obtain in some isolated areas, due to transportation issues.

Local home brew (known as stim) is very strong, not safe and the drink of choice of the raskols.

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