Traveling broadens the mind and expands our horizons. Travel is a great stress buster for me and I enjoy the whole process right from the planning of my trip, packing, making an itinerary to the actual travel experience.
Papua New Guinea is one of those rare exotic countries that has been on my wishlist for a time.
Before I visit any place it is very important for me to do proper research so I can make maximum use of my time and have a fair knowledge of what to do and where to go.
What is Papua New Guinea famous for? Papua New Guinea is a sovereign state in Oceania that is well known for its natural beauty, cultural diversity, pristine beaches, and mountainous terrain. Papua New Guinea has a strong and diverse indigenous population with the majority of the population living a rural life. It is also one of the least explored countries in the world owing to its unpredictable terrain.
The country has a huge population of exotic animals and birds and it is said to have a lot of undiscovered species of plants and animals in the deep inaccessible interiors.
A major portion of Papua New Guinea has remained relatively untouched by modernization adding to its mystery and allure.
In this blog, I would like to share with you a list of things Papua New Guinea is famous for, some interesting facts and some places that are a must-visit when traveling to the country.
Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinea) has the unique distinction of having one of the highest language diversity in the world. The country has 851 spoken languages within its small population of 7.6 million!
Some of the languages date back to more than 40,000 years ago and fall under the Papuan Languages umbrella category said to have originated from the early human settlers there. Despite being under the same umbrella, these languages do not have a common origin and are mostly unrelated!
In contrast, the Austronesian languages spoken here mostly originate from a single Taiwanese source and date back 3500 years approximately. Colonial influence from the English and Germans also have added to the list of languages!
The geography of Papua New Guinea has played a major role in preserving these languages by isolating communities and villages. The major languages spoken here are Tok Pisin which is a creole based on English with a healthy mix of German, Portuguese and some local languages mixed over time.
English, Hiri Motu, and Papua New Guinea Sign language are the other official languages spoken here.
Kokoda trail is an adventurer’s delight, a trek that is 96 km(60 miles) long in a straight line, done on foot originating from Owen’s corner to the village of Kokoda.
Challenging, grueling yet spectacular and rewarding, this trek has historical significance as it was the site of the World War II battle between the Japanese and Allied (Primarily Australian) forces.
It is considered as a rite of passage for many Australians who consider it the site of their most important battle.
The trek is considered to be one of the most breathtaking experiences with views of mountains, gorges, thick forest covers and pristine blue ocean adorning the track.
The hike usually lasts between four to twelve days and is considered to be an experience not to be missed. The Kokoda Track Authority provides information on tours and guides for tourists interested in the trek.
The marine diversity in the islands is a blessing for divers providing a wide range of rich marine life and exquisite coral reefs. The volcanic islands with barrier reefs, coral atolls, WWII wreck dive sites containing ships, submarines make it a diver’s paradise.
Some famous Dive sites are:
- Kimbe Bay – Known for its beautiful reefs and diverse marine life. Sharks, Barracudas, Corals, Fans, Dolphins, Pilot whales, Sperm Whales are easily spotted here.
- Oro Province– For the solitude lovers, it’s a secluded location surrounded by lush green trees. Known for its mix of critter diving and great reefs.
- Kavieng– Big fish like Reef Sharks, Dog toothed Tuna, etc dominate this site along with soft corals, sponges, and fans. The currents here can be a little vigorous.
- Milne Bay– Known for finding macro critters at even 20 ft depth like ghost pipefish, flatworms, seahorses, frogfish, etc. Milne Bay is also famous for its naturally beautiful scenery of dramatic walls, isolated pinnacles, and sloping coral reefs, many of which you can find in a single dive sometimes!
The deep forests and mountainous terrain of Papua New Guinea have made many areas of the island nation inaccessible amongst each other and also to the modern world thereby making it one of the least explored regions in the world culturally and geographically.
Hence, Papua New Guinea has a large number of uncontacted people. Many of these groups also remain isolated by choice, preferring to continue their way of life without mixing with the modern world.
The presence of such large groups of uncontacted people adds to the mystery and aura of Papua New Guinea. Some of these tribes may have origins dating back many thousands of years.
Port Moresby Nature Park
Located in the capital city, Port Moresby Nature Park is Papua New Guinea’s top attraction. With an estimated number of 145,000 visitors per year, it is also the highest visited attraction in the island nation.
450 native animals like tree kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, hornbills, parrots and thousands of plant species like heliconias, palms, ginger, etc many of which are found only in Papua New Guinea have made Port Moresby Nature Park their home.
The park is located close to the University of Papua New Guinea and is spread over 30 acres.
The park prides itself on its community nature-based education and is an internationally recognized, award-winning wildlife park.
Popular highlights of the park are – The Tree Kangaroo Trail, Rainforest Retreat. WWII Walkthrough Aviary, Bird of paradise precinct and not to forget, their famous Nature’s Cafe.
Mining is a huge industry in Papua New Guinea and contributes majorly to the economy.
In 1999, Mining contributed to 26.3% of the GDP whereas in 2011 the country became the 6th fastest growing economy in the world owing to the growth in the mining sector.
Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources and minerals. The majority of mining is done for Gold, Silver, Copper, Nickel, Cobalt, and Minerals
The largest mines in the country are:
- Porgera Gold Mine
- Ok Tedi Copper and Gold Mine
- Hidden Valley Gold Mine
- Lihir Gold Mine
- Ramu Nickel mine
Indigenous People And Their Customary Communities
Tribal living is still a major culture in Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea has a large indigenous population who still follow the age-old way of life, preserving their culture living in their customary communities.
Customary land ownership is basically land owned by indigenous communities with the administration on the land being according to their customs. In Papua New Guinea 97% of the total land has customary ownership.
The indigenous people are called Papuans. Papuans can trace their lineage back to 2 different categories of people:
- The early settlers from 50,000 years ago when Australia and New Guinea belonged to a single landmass known as Sahul.
- Austronesian people from 3500 years ago who also introduced the Austronesian languages and farm animals like pigs.
The Papuans are very distinct and unique, culturally as well as linguistically depending upon the part of the island they are based in. This makes for exciting interactions with a very diverse population of indigenous people, each group with their own way of life, culture, traditions, beliefs, and rituals.
World’s Third-Largest Island Country
Papua New Guinea is an island nation with close to 600 small islands and an impressive coastline of 5150 km. With a total area of 462,840 sq km, Papua New Guinea is the 3rd largest Island country in the world.
Papua New Guinea is also the eastern half of the second biggest island in the world, New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea shares a land border with Indonesia to the west while Australia and the Solomon Islands are its neighbors in the south and east respectively.
War Cemeteries And Memorials
Papua New Guinea has witnessed WWII from very close quarters being one of the major sites where the Japanese fought the Allied powers consisting mainly of the Australian Army. Though Australia and the allied forces famously won in Papua New Guinea, it came at a heavy cost of the lives of many Australian soldiers.
In remembrance of the soldiers who gave their lives during the war, the commonwealth war graves commission took upon a major task of relocating the war dead buried throughout New guinea into the 3 major war cemeteries and memorials across Papua New Guinea:
- Bomana War Cemetry– Located in Port Moresby, the Bomana War Cemetry honors those who died fighting in Papua and Bouganville. The Cemetry with white marble headstones and a stone of remembrance was established in 1942 and is the resting place of 3,826 servicemen among whom 703 remain unidentified.
- Rabaul War Cemetry– The smallest of the 3 war cemeteries, it contains 1,147 burials with 500 unknown soldiers. It has a Rabaul memorial to the missing which are bronze paneled stone pylons with the names of 1216 Australian soldiers who died fighting here but have no known grave.
- Lae War Cemetry– Established in 1944 it has an entrance built of stone pillars with a flight of steps that lead to the cross of sacrifice. It contains 2819 burials including 426 Indian soldiers with 442 unidentified graves. The Lae memorial to the missing is in remembrance of the 328 soldiers of the Australian Defence services with no known grave.
These War cemeteries and memorials a gentle reminder of WWII and the sacrifices made by many to provide us with the world we currently enjoy.
Having a large number of indigenous people, Papuans have a variety of cultures, traditions, and rituals varying from village to village. One such striking tradition is that of the Asaro tribe from the village of Asaro in Goroka – The Asaro Mudmen.
The Mudmen are basically warriors of the tribe famously known for their costume which comprises of covering themselves in greyish white mud and their huge white/cream colored masks made of mud, stones, clay, and even pig’s teeth. The idea is to create a mask that looks distorted, ghastly and disfigured to scare away enemies.
There are various stories about how the masks came into being. Some believe that a group of Asaro men fleeing from the enemy fell in the whitish mud near the Asaro river and the appearance scared the enemies away, others believe a wise man saw the masks in his dream as a protection from enemies while others believe it was the costume a man created for a wedding since he had no traditional costume which scared the villagers.
Whatever be the legend behind the masks and the costumes, this combination of white body paint and white ghoulish looking masks created a devilish effect warding off enemies and protecting the tribe. This was also the costume they wore for their raids.
Tours are available by local companies where one can visit the villages and see the entire ritual of the Mudmen enacting the scene of raids. It’s known to be a very striking sight and something that gives great insight into the indigenous culture of the Papua New Guinea tribe for the modern traveler.
National Museum And Gallery
Located in the capital Port Moresby, the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea is supposed to be a cultural experience not to be missed. The building was recently remodeled celebrating the 40th year of the country’s independence.
The exhibits are subtly lit and very informative about the rich diverse indigenous culture of Papua New Guinea. It’s considered a great visit to understand the variety that Papua New Guinea has to offer culturally.
Having been built in 1975 the museum also considered a ‘spiritual house’ contains artifacts from the 22 provinces of Papua New Guinea.
It has, wait for it- over 30,000 anthropological, 25,000 archaeological, 18,000 natural science, 20,000 war relics and 7000 contemporary art collections!
Simply put, the National Museum and Art Gallery is a brief tour through the soul of Papua New Guinea.
Around 80% of the Papua New Guinea population live a rural lifestyle with almost no modern living facilities. In fact, many tribes especially in the deep interiors depend on subsistence agriculture and do not need a monetarized economy.
For modern travelers like us, living in local villages can be an eye-opener on how we take so many facilities in our life for granted.
Some villages offer homestays to give a glimpse into their lives and how they function on a daily basis.
Village life is basically subsistence living as far as Papua New Guinea is concerned, that is the villagers eat what they grow in their gardens and farmlands. The colonial influence can be seen as many villages seem to have a church.
NOTE: Staying without electricity, flushing toilets, taps with running water and other basic necessities might not sound very appealing but is definitely an experience that will be insightful.
Diverse Bird Population
Papua New Guinea and diversity go hand in hand. Just like its culture and people, Papua New Guinea has varied habitats and climate which combined with a lack of predatory animals has blessed the country with a diverse and thriving bird population to be proud of.
Very well known as a bird watcher’s paradise one can find rare exotic bird species like the fire maned bower bird or blue-bird-of-paradise. Around 760 bird species can be found in the region, half of which are endemic i.e not found anywhere else in the world.
The landmark species of the island are the birds of paradise and the island boasts of about 40 species of them.
These birds are known for their plumage among the males, sexual dimorphism and their exceptionally beautiful and elongated feather patterns.
Here are few birds that I had never even heard of – Raggiana (Bird of paradise), Victoria crowned pigeon, Ribbon tailed Astrapia, Double Watted cassowaries, lowland Peltops and the blue-bird-of-paradise.
Submarine Base Rabaul
A historic site around Rabaul, the Submarine Base was where Japanese used to provision submarines during World War II. The submarines used to be pulled right up to the reef before they surfaced giving a distinct stealth advantage to the soldiers.
The 75 m steep vertical reef wall is adorned soft corals, gorgonians and barrel sponges. It is a very well known spot for Scuba divers and snorkelers.
NOTE: Some of the tunnels are still intact and guns and relics can be found there.
The historic and scenic nature of this place makes it a great spot to visit.
National Parliament House
A landmark tourist spot, the National Parliament House of Papua New Guinea is a must-visit irrespective of whether the parliament is sitting or not. An Architectural and cultural marvel it is built in the Maprik Haus Tambaran ( East Sepik house of spirits) style.
The National Parliament House is an imposing structure famous for its architectural design which is inspired by the local architecture paying homage to the diverse culture.
The building is a perfect balance of tradition and modernity which is also reflective of the government of the country.
The foyer of the building has the largest collection of insects and butterflies showcased in glass displays and the landscaped gardens are supposed to be a sight for sore eyes. Murals and totem poles with their carvings give a deep insight into the rich cultural heritage of Papua New Guinea.
Tours of the National Parliament House are available on weekdays only.
Papua New Guinea is located in what is known as the “Pacific ring of fire” known for many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. As such the Island Nation has a large number of active, dormant and extinct volcanoes.
Papua New Guinea has the largest number of active volcanoes in the South-West Pacific with some of the famous ones being Manam, Karkar, Lamington, Rabaul, and Bagana Volcano. Due to its geographical location Earthquakes are pretty frequent and sometimes followed by tsunamis.
The eastern corner of the island is actually a volcanic crater and hence a hotbed for volcanic activity. Because of their strong presence, volcanoes are also an essential part of Papuan mythology and culture.
Rugby League is a sport that is loved with extreme passion among the people of Papua New Guinea. It is commonly referred to as the national sport of Papua New Guinea.
Rugby first came into limelight in the 1930’s and 40’s thanks to the Australian miners and soldiers who were stationed in the country. The Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League was founded in 1949.
Initially a spectator sport in the country, Rugby soon had major participation from the citizens. The national team played its first match in 1974 and their first Rugby League World Cup was the 1985-88 competition.
Papua New Guinea has its own Domestic competition known as the Papua New Guinea National Rugby League. Papua New Guinea also co-hosted the 2017 Rugby League World Cup along with Australia and New Zealand.
Papua New Guinea has contributed many well-known players to the sport of Rugby. Some of the famous names are – Adrian Lam, Neville Costigan, Menzie Yere, Marcus Bai, Paul Aiton, and Stanley Geneamong others.
Papua New Guinea is also a tier 3 Rugby Union player but Rugby League outnumbers Rugby union in popularity and passion.
Varirata National Park
An hour’s drive from Port Moresby, Varirata National park is known for its breathtaking views overlooking the coast. The Park is spread over 1000 hectares with more than 800m of altitude.
Early mornings are supposed to be the best time to catch the mountain layered with the morning mist. The park offers many marked walking trails and diverse terrain perfect for hiking.
Bird watching is one of the major attractions of the park, though it is advisable to go with a bird guide to know when and where to look.
Fantastic lookouts give a great view of the flora and fauna and if one is lucky, they may catch a glimpse of Birds of paradise, Cassowaries, Wallabies, Bandicoots, Barking Owls, Kingfishers, etc.
The park is the perfect getaway for the nature lover away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Other sights to see are the views of the Rouna falls nearby and from the slopes of the Laloki river.
Kuk Swamp – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Kuk Swamp is located in Wahgi valley and is an agricultural site that was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008.
Kuk Swamp came into prominence after evidence of early agricultural drainage system were discovered here dating back to more than 9000 years.
Irrigation draining ditches, rivulets, postholes, and pits have been found here which indicate agricultural practices like planting, digging, etc.
Archaeological and Botanical evidence also suggest deliberate cultivation of banana, sugarcane, taro.
What makes Kuk Swamp special is it is considered one of the few places in the world where agriculture was independently developed by people.
National Orchid Garden
The National Orchid Garden in Port Moresby is considered the right recipe for a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere. As the name suggests this beautifully maintained garden is an Orchid Lover’s Paradise.
But its not just about the orchids here, the variety of flowers on display is second to none. The garden has a very serene, cozy atmosphere and a collection of rare flowers that are not to be missed.
The adjoining aviary is a great place to spot birds as well and since we are in Papua New Guinea, the bird collection here is also pretty diverse.
Scandinavia Of The Tropics
Volcanic eruptions on the eastern shores of Papua New Guinea gave birth to the Tufi Fjords. Tufi Fjords are known as the Scandinavia of the Tropics and are a hidden gem that not many people know about.
The huge cliffs with a healthy green cover are a sight to behold. Surrounded by Coral Reefs and mountains on either side the fjords are best enjoyed on a cruise ride.
Diving, Snorkelling are other major activities that can be done to discover the rich marine life on offer. Scandinavia south of the equator? Count me in!
While Papua New Guinea is, without doubt, a Natural and Cultural experience that is not to be missed, it is also important to note that crime rates in Papua New Guinea are not to be ignored.
NOTE: There have been reports of carjacking, assaults (including sexual assaults) and infighting amongst different tribes.
It is best to be cautious, vigilant, avoid traveling alone, opt for guided tours only and if possible have security escorts. It is important to know what places to avoid for a safe trip.
Government websites of most countries provide foreign travel advisories and it is advisable to read them before planning your trip.