When you fly into Papua New Guinea, don’t be surprised if the welcoming committee comes out to greet you. In the capital, Port Moresby — a sprawling, sultry collection of neighborhoods — the locals are used to travelers arriving, but when you get up into the highlands, the arrival of an airplane is a big deal. As you circle around the small landing strip, you might see the crowds gathering, and when you step out onto the grassy fields, you’ll see the tables have been turned on you. The traveler is the attraction here. It’s a strange and wonderful feeling, and it’s just one of many unique cultural experiences that Papua New Guinea has to offer.
First off, a few basics. Papua New Guinea is a developing country and travel here can be rough at times. Roads can be unpaved and dusty, and travelers need to be able to maneuver over slippery, muddy, and uneven walking trails and terrain. Accommodations are often basic, but are almost always comfortable and clean. Simply put: traveling in Papua New Guinea is an adventure.
There are three basic areas that are of interest to most travelers: the Tari Gap, Mount Hagen and the Sepik River. Ready to explore?
The Tari Gap
Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level lie the highlands of the Tari Gap. One of the main activities here is paying a visit to the Huli villages nearby. The Huli people have only been known to Westerners since 1935, and they were one of the last groups to come under government control. The men paint their bodies and fashion elaborate wigs out of hair, flowers and bird-of-paradise feathers. You’ll experience the rhythmic song-and-dance of the sing-sing ceremony, witness a display of wig making and learn a bit about the traditional Huli way of life.
Another must-do activity in the Highlands is a morning bird walk through the Tari Gap area, which if home to 13 varieties of the gorgeous bird of paradise. On other hikes, you can cross vine bridges, see high-altitude orchids and feel the spray on your face from some of the many waterfalls.
A great base in this area is the comfortable Ambua Lodge, which offers eco-friendly accommodations with incredible views of the Tari Valley. Each round house features 180-degree picture windows to help you soak up the atmosphere, while the lodge houses a bar, dining area and a cozy fireplace. Make sure to stop by the shop, which displays art and woodcarvings from all over the country.
Nestled in the fertile Wahgi Valley, Mount Hagen is the business heart of the highlands, supporting a number of important industries such as tea, coffee, mining and transportation. The population here consists of the local “Hagen” tribe as well as immigrants from other Highland areas.
While in the area, you can visit the villages of the Melpa people, search for some of the more than 180 species of birds and numerous varieties of orchids in the rainforests, and browse the wares of the Mount Hagen market.
Located at more than 7,000 feet above sea level, the comfortable Rondon Ridge lodge is a great place to rest your head after a long day exploring the highlands. Each room is well appointed and the friendly lounge has big picture windows that look out over the valleys and forest below.
The meandering Sepik River is the longest river in Papua New Guinea and for years has been a major trading artery linking the coast and the interior. The dense vegetation and swampland along the river’s edge is home to many species of birds — watch for egrets, herons, kites, jacanas, darters, cormorants and kingfishers. On visits to remote villages, you’ll visit Spirit Houses, learn how the locals make their staple food (sago), watch artisans working on elaborate woodcarvings, and watch a cultural dance performance.
Your base in the Sepik is a floating lodge commissioned in 1989 to facilitate exploration into some of the most remote areas of the region. Now permanently docked, the M/V Sepik Spirit offers nine spacious cabins with air-conditioning, en-suite bathrooms and river views. After your explorations of local villages are over, relax in the comfortable lounge or on the insect-proof observatory deck.
Wherever you travel in Papua New Guinea, adventure awaits at every turn. From the streak of color of a bird of paradise and the pounding drums of a sacred ceremony to the sweet scent of a rare orchid, the sights, sounds and smells of this island nation will remain with you long after you’ve returned home.
Book your own Papua New Guinea journey with Cox & Kings today!