Travel may not be possible during Papua New Guinea’s state of emergency, however there’s no harm in dreaming. Here are 10 activities to plan for.
1 Go to a PNG festival
The Goroka Show is the oldest and most famous festival in PNG. The three-day event in the Eastern Highlands – a mix of tribal dancing, sing-sings and rituals – attracts more than 100 clans and thousands of visitors each September. The Asaro mudmen, elaborate headdresses, spear waving and live bands make this one of the most colourful shows in the world. Other PNG festivals include the Mount Hagen Show (August, Western Highlands), the Sepik Crocodile Festival (August, Ambunti) and the Frangipani Festival (September, Rabaul). Some festivals will be casualties to the lockdown this year, so check online for updates.
2 Walk the Kokoda Trail
The Kokoda Trail, one of the most challenging trekking experiences in PNG, is all about blood, sweat and tears. The gruelling 96-kilometre trail follows the path on which Australian and Allied soldiers fought against the Japanese army during World War 2. It requires rigorous training, but the rewards are stunning scenery through dense jungle, rushing rivers and deep gorges and the chance to connect with remote villagers.
The eight-day hike offers a glimpse into one of the world’s last great frontiers. The season is from April to November, so even if the trail can’t re-open this year there’s plenty of time to plan and train for 2021.
3 Diving heaven
Many areas of PNG have superb diving and snorkelling. Milne Bay is just one of those areas: a must for divers, with pristine islands, great marine biodiversity, rich coral reefs and historic war wrecks. Divers can choose from scuba, muck and wreck diving. There are a number of places to stay including the remote Tawali resort, which is reached by boat.
4 Explore the Sepik River
One of the great rivers of the world, the mysterious 1126-kilometre Sepik is home to 430,000 people who speak more than 300 languages. Running from the central Highlands to the Bismarck Sea, it contains some of PNG’s rarest plants. Explore spirit houses, meet men with crocodile skin and discover artworks such as wood carving and clay pottery. Tour vessels range from dugout motor canoes to adventure cruises such as Sepik Spirit and the Kalibobo Spirit.
5 Climb Mount Tavurvur volcano
Mount Tavurvur is one of PNG’s most dangerous volcanoes. It erupted as recently as 2014 and in 1994 it destroyed Rabaul. Drive to a certain point and then hike for a couple of hours to the top. The heat and loose stones on the slopes make it difficult but the view from the top makes it worthwhile. Book with a tour group or a hotel.
6 Spot birds of paradise in the wild
One of the best places in the world for bird watching, PNG has 38 of the 43 bird-of-paradise species. A short drive from Port Moresby, Varirata National Park is a good place to spot the spectacular long-tailed raggiana bird of paradise. Specialist tours are available.
7 Stay in a village
There’s no better way to get to know a place than by staying with locals. Maira, on the island of Mioko (a two-hour trip from Kokopo), has no hotels but you can organise a homestay in one of the village’s huts. Watch the women weave, the children play and glimpse a world from another time.
8 Swim with manta rays at Gona Bara Bara
The northern beaches of the small island of Gona Bara Bara are where the giant reef manta rays go for a good clean. Here the gentle giants hang around as tiny fish gather on them to get rid of their parasites. Book on a boat or go with a dive company. Stay at nearby Doini Island, from where the resort owners will take you to the manta rays.
9 See World War 2 wrecks
About 216,000 Japanese, Australian and American soldiers died during the New Guinea campaign in World War 2. Today tourists come to PNG to explore the war zones and dive among the sunken planes and ships.
10 Do a surf camp on New Ireland
New Ireland is one of the friendliest provinces in PNG, noted for its white sandy beaches, coral lagoons and clear rivers. The friendly Nusa Island Retreat is a small eco-tourism resort. It has overwater huts and takes surfers to the best surf breaks daily.
By Mary O’Brien and Robert Upe.
Robert Upe is the editor of Paradise magazine, the in-flight magazine of Air Niugini.
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