Just 150 kilometres from Cape York, Australia’s closest neighbour is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Here are 13 reasons to visit Papua New Guinea in 2021.
1. Remote New Britain
New Britain island in the Bismarck Sea is popular among divers, surfers, history buffs and adventure seekers alike. In West New Britain Province, hike to the top of the active Gabuna Volcano crater, relax in a natural spa-like thermal hot river or visit the local firefly trees at night. In East New Britain Province (accessible by flight to Rabaul), a world of history awaits; from hidden Japanese WWII tunnels and Admiral Yamamoto’s bunker to the ash-covered remains of old Rabaul town (destroyed by the nearby Mount Tavurvur volcanic eruption of 1937).
2. Private island escapes
The Conflict Islands are made up of 21 privately owned, and incredibly pristine, islets. Check in to the Conflict Islands Resort on Panasesa and you’ll find six beachfront bungalows, with access to the main house where oceanfresh meals are served while you’re surrounded by some of the most marine-biodiverse waters in the world. Dive in – the snorkelling is fine!
3. Soaring volcanoes
PNG’s second-highest mountain, Mount Giluwe (4,367 metres), is part of a record-breaking volcanic massif (it’s the highest of its kind in Oceania). One of the Volcanic Seven Summits of the world, it’s accessed on a five-day trek passing through vast grassland and alpine landscapes. No Roads Expeditions, Paiya Tours, PNG Holidays and Trans Niugini Tours all offer guided hikes.
4. Surfing pilgrimages
Thanks to Papua New Guinea’s Surf Management Plan, the number of surfers on any one break is capped, so you’ll never be stuck waiting to catch the perfect wave. Check out Tupira Surf Club and Vanimo Surf Lodge, or go on a scheduled guided tour with World Surfaris or No Limit Adventures.
5. The mighty Sepik river
At 1,126 kilometres in length, the remote Sepik is the longest river in Papua New Guinea. Its banks are also home to one of the world’s most infamous cultural ceremonies, the crocodile initiation ceremony and the Ambunti Crocodile Festival among them. Sepik Adventures specialises in touring the Sepik; also check out Crooked Compass, PNG Holidays and True North.
6. Seven summits
At 4,509 metres, Mount Wilhelm is not only the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea, but is also the highest point in all of Oceania. Despite this, it’s actually the country’s most accessible mountain to climb. Usually a three- to four-day hike (from Mount Hagen) including overnight stays in villages, the expedition will find you crossing rivers, and climbing through moss forests, alpine grasslands and glacial valleys.
7. Kokoda Trail
Trekking world-famous Kokoda is not only a 96-kilometre physical endurance challenge, but it’s also a spiritual journey retracing the footsteps of the Aussie Diggers killed or injured here defending Australia. Tours range from six to 12 days based on speed and fitness levels, and you can also choose to trek from Poppendetta to Owers Corner. See Kokoda Track Authority for a full listing of trek operators running guided tours.
8. Colourful coastal culture
Alotau, capital of the Milne Bay region, hosts the annual Kenu and Kundu Festival each November – a lively and colourful cultural display of war-canoe racing and singsings (traditional dances). Discover harrowing skull caves, and enjoy a mumu feast (a traditional meal of local produce cooked in the earth).
9. Highland tribes
Mount Hagen and Goroka are the main hubs within the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. From here, a colourful world awaits, brimming with tribes that remain mostly hidden from the rest of the world. Visit Goroka’s coffee and cocoa plantations then meet the haunting Asaro Mudmen, famed for their mud masks, and the Korekore Tribe who are best known for their Moko Moko (or ‘sex’ dance). Over in Mount Hagen you’ll also discover the Diugl Village and the spooky Mindima Skeleton Dancers, as well as the nearby colourful Huli Wigmen.
10. Cruise control
Papua New Guinea is set to become one of Australia and New Zealand’s fastest-growing cruise destinations in the coming years, featuring on the schedules of large-ship brands like Carnival, Cunard, P&O, Princess and Silversea, as well as small expedition-ship brands like Coral Expeditions, Heritage Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions and True North.
11. A new luxury island resort
No expense has been spared at Papua New Guinea’s newest luxury tropical retreat, Loloata Island Resort. Featuring 68 suites and villas, some set over the water, the lodgings allow guests to spend days beside the pool (cocktail in hand), being pampered at the Sea Salt Spa or exploring 29 neighbouring dive sites.
12. Seek out elusive black bass or dogtooth tuna
Papua New Guinea’s untouched rivers and lakes, and isolated coastal waters, offer some of the best lures in the world. From the challenge of catching a ‘lure shy’ black bass in remote rainforest-lined rivers to showing off a prized dogtooth tuna or marlin catch out at sea, PNG is a mecca for fishing enthusiasts. Plus stocks are at an all-time high.
13. Rondon Ridge wilderness lodge
Set at 2,160 metres above sea level, Rondon Ridge wilderness lodge is the pinnacle of luxury – this is the type of resort that even the most discerning of travellers won’t believe exists in Papua New Guinea. From here, on the outer fringes of the Kubor Range, guests enjoy panoramic views of the jungle-clad Wahgi Valley below, with this dramatic outlook also offered from most of the 24 beautifully modern rooms, all with ensuite bathrooms and warmed king beds for those fresh highlands nights. Guests can then spend their days visiting the nearby highlands tribes (including the Melpa people) and chocolate and cocoa plantations, which Trans Niugini Tours can organise for you.
Did you know Papua New Guinea is home to eight million people who speak more than 800 languages?
This article was first published in the Vacations & Travel 21 Inspiring Journeys For 2021 ebook. Download your copy here.