Papua New Guinea is perhaps not the first destination that comes to mind when you think about going on holidays. However, Papua New Guinea has a lot to offer, not the least of which being the possibility of discovering a new animal/insect species and naming it after yourself! Papua New Guinea offers some of the least developed, most rugged and unspoilt landscapes on the planet, and if you are up for the challenge of travelling through this chain of islands, it can be a most rewarding destination to visit. Get your explorer's hat ready, make sure you have travel insurance for Papua New Guinea, and begin your adventure!
Papua New Guinea consists of over 600 islands with people speaking more than 800 languages. It’s one of the most culturally diverse countries on earth! Additionally, most of the population does not live near urban centers, as it would be in western countries, but rather live in their customary societies. Finally, only 70,000 people visit Papua New Guinea every year. All this means is that this country truly is an undiscovered wonder, a place where the word 'explore' is not just used as a euphemism but where it is a reality.
Arriving in Papua means arriving in the capital city of Port Moresby. To explore Moresby get a cab and drive rather than walk, as the main attractions are quite far from each other. The Port Moresby Nature Park is a very nice place to visit, and if this is your first time on Papua New Guinea, a must! The park contains some great specimen of the local wildlife, including tree kangaroos, various birds of paradise, and cassowaries. If you want to check out the local craft scene, the Ela Beach Craft Market has a nice selection of handmade items. If you happen to be in Moresby around mid-September, do make sure to catch the Hiri Moale Festival, which is a spectacular historical festival involving up to 100 traditional canoes.
Unfortunately, Moresby is not the safest city on the planet and there have been problems with local gangs, so make sure you keep safe. If you came to go trekking, the famous Kokoda Trail starts in the Moresby area. It was famously used first by gold miners and then gained infamy as a WWII site. There are several different routes you can explore with lengths between 80 -100kms and all lead north to the cities of Gona or Buna. This trek is particularly famous with Australians, and you will meet many fellow Australians on the way, who have come to pay homage to their ancestors. The trail is a grueling and intense trek, so make sure you check if your travel insurance will automatically cover you for walking the Kokoda trail, or if you need to pay an additional premium to be covered.
If you travel inland you will find your way to the Highlands of Papua. They are home to distinct tribal regions, each with different cultures and customs, and all of them fascinating. While sometimes not open to foreigners, if you do come across welcoming villages do stay for a few days. It’s truly the best way to learn about the culture, customs and their way of life. Villages are also a lot safer than big cities, and usually there will be one family that 'adopts' you for the duration of your stay.
The Highlands are also where you will find the highest mountain of Oceania - Mount Wilhelm. The views of the south and north coast from the peak are stunning, and even the trek up has its joys. Do plan to spend at least 3-4 days on the walk up and hire a local guide to ensure you do not get lost - this is Papua New Guinea - no one will come looking for you!
The north coast offers a very different experience from the Highlands and again you will find different cultures and different ways of life. You will also find a tourist resort or two, which should come as a welcome surprise by now. The area around Madang offers fun scuba diving, and for wreck divers the chance to see Japanese fighter planes. There is also an active volcano to hike around. Going a bit further west you will find the Sepik River, which is probably one of the best kayaking destinations in the world.
Make sure you check Smartraveller for official travel advice for the cities that you’re planning on travelling to. Your travel insurance may not provide cover should you travel to areas with a ‘Do Not Travel’ or ‘Reconsider Your Need To Travel’ warning on Smartraveller.
Visiting Papua New Guinea can be challenging due to a lack of infrastructure. The tap water is not safe for consumption, so you should make sure only to drink bottled water. It is a malaria and dengue prone area, so it is also recommended that you bring antimalarials as well as a good helping of mosquito repellent. If it’s an adventure you’re looking for, Papua New Guinea should be on your list!
For more information on Papua New Guinea, visit the Papua New Guinea Tourism website.
Photo Credit: Anselmo Lastra via Visual hunt CC BY