Papua New Guinea
With its sublime landscapes, intriguing indigenous cultures and off-the-beaten track feel, Papua New Guinea truly is a destination for intrepid adventurer
Writer: Dani Redd / Project Manager: Matt Cole-Wilkin
Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s final travel frontiers; a place where you really can go off the beaten track. It’s located on the eastern half of the world’s second largest island, New Guinea. Although it’s only separated from mainland Australia by a narrow strait, it feels like a world apart. The country is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse in the world, with over 800 indigenous languages: a quarter of the world’s spoken tongues. Papua New Guinea has a fascinating tribal culture, renowned for their colourful body painting – a fascinating visual language that differs from region to region.
Another of the destination’s selling points is its biodiversity. Intrepid travellers will love exploring its remote, cloud-shrouded mountains, forested valleys, smouldering volcanoes and untouched beaches.
But it’s not all about tribal culture and remote landscapes. In Papua New Guinea you’ll also discover some amazing dive sites and upmarket eco-lodges. You might even spot one of the colourful birds of paradise that the island is renowned for. Meanwhile, the capital Port Moresby has an abundance of bars, restaurants and hotels to greet you when you return from adventures in the country’s far-flung corners.
In Focus: Port Moresby
Port Moresby, the islands’ capital, is a city of contrasts. You’ll find glitzy districts and shanty towns, high-end restaurants and street markets. It’s worth staying a couple of days to uncover the city’s hidden gems.
The city hugs the coast, facing the cobalt waters of the Gulf of Papua, and is surrounded by forested hills. Charter a boat from Port Moresby harbour and head out across the water to explore. Port Moresby Harbour Cruise & Boat Charters can even arrange for you to have business meetings and corporate away days on board.
Waigani is one of the city’s most upmarket districts, where you’ll find most government buildings and embassies, as well as upmarket hotels and restaurants. The National Museum and Art Gallery is one of the district’s top attractions, providing a fantastic insight into Papua New Guinea’s culture through displays of masks, totems and body adornments. Also worth checking out is Port Moresby National Park, a calm oasis of jungle canopies and exotic plants.
Papua New Guinea’s most colourful festivals
Papua New Guinea is renowned for its ethnic diversity, with around 840 different indigenous groups. Each have their own traditions and rituals. Although they might have fallen out of everyday use, they are often revived in annual festivals; colourful spectacles which tourists are invited to observe respectfully. Here are five of Papua New Guinea’s most fascinating festivals.
If you only have time to attend one festival in Papua New Guinea, then head to the Goroka Show. It’s the country’s oldest and largest cultural festival, held during the annual Independence Day celebrations. More than a hundred tribes participate in the spectacle, performing extraordinary ‘sing-sings’ – a local term encompassing traditional songs and ritual performances.
One of the most well-known groups are the Mudmen of Asaro, who wear grotesque clay masks and are smeared head-to-toe in grey mud as they perform warlike dances. According to legend, the tradition began after they were chased away from their village by a rival tribe and hid in the mud by the river. When their enemies saw their grey bodies, they mistook them for ghosts and ran away.
Where: Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province
When: 19th – 20th September 2020
Another well-known festival is the Hagen Show, which welcomes around 70 different indigenous groups to showcase their unique cultural traditions. You’ll be blown away by the size and scale of the performances, some of which feature up to 1,000 participants. Arrive early and you’ll even be able to watch the dress rehearsals and the groups getting into costume.
Keep an eye out for the famed Huli Wigmen, characterised by their ornate wigs and red and ochre-painted faces. The Huli believe only the hair of unmarried men can be used to make wigs. Adolescent Huli boys are sent to live in isolated communities, to learn more about their role in society. Their hair is taken care of through various rituals – for example, by being wet with holy water – and is slowly formed into an umbrella shape with a bamboo band. After 18 months, it’s woven into a ceremonial wig, adorned with ornaments and birds of paradise feathers.
Where: Mount Hagen, Western Highlands
When: 15th – 16th August 2020
If you’re looking for a quieter festival with more of a community feel, we recommend heading to the Frangipani Festival. It celebrates the rebirth of the coastal town of Rabaul, decimated after several devastating volcanic eruptions in 1994. The festival is named after the fragrant frangipani flower, the town’s signature bloom – said to be the first plant to grow in the ashes.
The festival is a day-long affair featuring sing-sings, concerts, fireworks, a canoe race in the harbour and ceremonial fire dances. It’s worth looking out for the Tolai whip dancers, where decorated young men receive choreographed lashes – a display of male initiation and strength.
Where: Rabual, East New Britain
When: 18th – 20th September 2020
This extravaganza is a cultural tribute to the Tolai, Baining and Pomio peoples of East New Britain. It celebrates Papua New Guinea’s symbolic masks, which have traditionally been used in storytelling and dance performances. Each mask showcases a different story, and those donning them are said to adopt their ancestor’s spiritual powers.
The first day of the festival begins with a dawn performance known as the Kinavai. It showcases the arrival of the Tolai clan, disguised as Tubuan and Duk-Duk spirits in ceremonial masks. Later in the day, the Baining fire-dancers perform mesmerising dances, as they plunge gracefully through bonfires.
Where: Rabual, East New Britain
When: 8th– 10th July 2020
SEPIK CROCODILE FESTIVAL
The Sepik River is home to some of the world’s crocodile populations. The crocodile holds huge cultural significance for the Sepik people – to them, it is a sacred animal symbolising strength, power and manhood. Some communities still hold ceremonial skin-cutting rituals, where male initiates have scars cut into their skin resembling the back of a crocodile.
The festival was started in 2007 to promote tourism and conservation in the region, and to showcase the unique relationship the people of East Sepik have with crocodiles. Sing-sing groups from different villages perform dances about their way of life. You’ll catch sight of people who have participated in the skin-cutting ritual, and even some people dancing with baby crocodiles attached to their chests.
Where: Ambunti, East Sepik Province
When: 6th – 7th August 2020
One of Papua New Guinea’s best-kept secrets, Muschu Island boasts palm-tree fringed beaches and translucent waters perfect for scuba diving
This village is renowned for the Asaro mudmen – warriors who traditionally covered themselves in grey mud and wore oversized ceramic masks to scare enemies in battle. Today’s inhabitants will re-create the scene for tourists.
This 96-kilometre-long track is one of the world’s most challenging and spectacular hiking tracks, a single foot thoroughfare penetrating deep into the Owen Stanley Range. In 1942 it was the site of a bloody World War II battle between Japanese and Allied forces.
Getting There and Around
Papua New Guinea is easily reached by airplane. The main airport, at Port Moresby, is well-connected to three Australian cities – Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney – and Asian destinations such as Manila and Hong Kong. The main flight carriers are Air Niugini, Airlines PNG and Qantas. Air travel is also the best way to get around the islands, as the isolated, scattered village settlements aren’t always well-connected by road. Papua New Guinea has 21 paved runways and 562 airports – needless to say, domestic airlines such as Air Niugini serve many towns across the islands.
Another way to travel is to charter a fishing boat or dinghy and explore the islands by water. Shorter distances by road can be navigated by PMV (Public Motor Vehicles) – normally open trucks or minivans. Women are advised against travelling solo on PMVs.
A lot of tourists book guided tours of Papua New Guinea – either through an international operator or a local guide on arrival – which means that their transport is taken care of by their tour operator. This comes highly recommended if you are unused to wilderness travel or have a short window of time to see the country.
For authentic Indian dishes…
For eco-tourism adventures…
For fantastic views…
For redefining urban luxury…
The Sanctuary Hotel Resort and Spa
, located in one of Port Moresby’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, is the ultimate urban escape. An outdoor pool is nestled amid tropical gardens, where you’ll also find a small bird sanctuary. Add in the luxurious rooms, relaxing spa and Simple & Healthy restaurant, and you’ll never want to leave.
For tours in Papua New Guinea’s highlands…
For luxury wilderness vacations…
Abercombie and Kent
is a well-respected international travel organisation, which offers several tours to Papua New Guinea. You’ll witness intriguing cultural traditions, see dazzling bird life and visit remote villages on a small group tour. And you’ll do so in the utmost luxury, with someone to handle your baggage, and opportunities for breakfast in bed and hand-picked accommodation.
For boutique soft adventure tours…
For river exploration…
For Papua New Guinea’s only theme park…
, located in the capital of Port Moresby, is the place for a fun-filled day out. You’ll find themed fairground rides here, including a Ferris wheel and water slides. The park is renowned for its exotic flora and fauna, which includes rare orchids, the dazzling Ragianna bird-of-paradise and saltwater crocodiles, which are fed every afternoon at 3pm.
For Papua New Guinea’s National Carrier