Colours of the Pacific: Papua New Guinea

Located 160km away from Australia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a rich culture that is almost untouched by the modern world, lush tropical jungles and pristine beaches. It’s one of the earth’s megadiverse regions, with a topography that includes isolated mountain ranges and forests that are home to wildlife more familiar to Australia.

The lowland jungles are home to unique arboreal marsupials like the cuscus and tree kangaroos. In the mountains 1,500m above sea level, you’ll find colourful birds of paradise and bowerbirds, as well as some unique prehistoric species like the giant long-beaked echidna. At 3,000m, where snow can fall, you may find wallabies.

In addition, the country is known to have some of the best dive sites in the world. The crystal clear waters provide great views of the colourful coral reefs, diverse marine life and hulking wrecks that dot the ocean floor, making it an ideal place for a scuba diving break.

Unique Culture

Remote and shrouded in mystery, the population of around 5 million is split into over 1,000 different tribes that speak more than 700 languages, with some only having recently come into contact with the outside world. Once practising head-hunters and cannibals, the islanders are now peaceful people, more than happy to invite travellers into their homes and villages to show off their rich heritage.

With one of the most diverse populations on the planet, almost every tribe in Papua New Guinea has different cultures and customs. However, most lead a subsistence lifestyle, farming, hunting and gathering to survive. Although modern clothes are worn, most villages are in isolated portions of the jungle, cut off from modern civilisation.

The Highlands of PNG are home to many of the country’s fascinating tribes – the town of Tari, for instance, is where you can see traditional Huli wigmen who are known for their yellow-painted faces and elaborate wigs.

There are many festivals in PNG that celebrate the people that inhabit the country, with the largest and most famous being the
Goroka Show. Held annually in September in the Eastern Highlands, more than 100 local tribes participate in a two-day event where each one shows off their unique cultures.

Trekking the Kokoda Track

Papua New Guinea is also famous for its wartime history. Known as one of the world’s most spectacular and challenging treks, the 96km-long Kokoda Track (or Kokoda Trail, as it’s officially known) winds through the rugged mountainous terrain of the Owen Stanley Range and delves deep into the dark history of the area.

This single-file thoroughfare was the location of the 1942 WWII battle between the Japanese and primarily Australian Allied forces. Along the track, trenches and rusted weapons can still be seen. The track connects Owers Corner in the Central Province and the village of Kokoda in the mountainous Oro Province, passing the peak of Mt Bellamy (2,190m) along the way.

The trek can be done in either direction. This rugged and isolated terrain is only passable on foot and runs through the land of the Mountain Koiari people. It wanders along narrow crests that afford spectacular views and falls into deep dark gorges where thick vegetation blocks out the daylight.

Taking between 4-12 days, trekkers face hot, humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and risk of tropical diseases.

Following in the steps of the Australian soldiers, this physically demanding trek has no facilities like electricity, shops or proper bridges to cross fast-flowing streams, although there are a number of guesthouses along the way – some at villages and others at rest spots. The best time to trek Kokoda is during the ‘dry’ season from April to September.

Diving in Milne Bay

There are several great dive sites in PNG, but one of the best is Milne Bay. Located on the eastern edge of the country, the province is famous for its beautiful coral reefs, diving and culture.

Milne Bay is also celebrated among divers as the birthplace of muck diving; the ocean floor is home to all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures such as the pygmy lionfish, cockatoo wasp fish, and the whimsical mantis shrimp. You can spend
large amounts of time sifting through the and, hoping to catch a glimpse of this elusive marine life. The bay also houses some of the best sites for muck diving.

These include sites like Observation Point, a curved beach near a village. It is enclosed on both ends by small reefs and plays host to stuff like snake eels, stargazers and cuttlefish. Another great place is Lauadi, where you can find amazing creatures such as octopus, cuttlefish, mantis shrimp, mandarin fish, and seahorses. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some sharks or rays swimming about.

It’s not just a great sport for muck diving, as there are also lots of options for those that don’t want to get dirty. Tania’s Reef for example, is a colourful reef playing host to a huge variety of life that’s just 8ft below the surface. You can circumvent the entire thing on one air, meaning that you can see a lot in a short space of time.

If you want to get up close with one of the ocean’s most fearsome predators, there’s Wahoo Point, located on the north side of the mainland. With a sheer cliff that drops down over 200ft, it makes for an incredible place to dive. It is also one of the best places to see hammerhead sharks and even the occasional whale shark, although this is a rare occurrence. Manta rays and schools of barracuda also call this beautiful spot their home.

Milne Bay has some of the best muck diving in the world and a diverse range of sites, all in close proximity to one another, offering the chance to see everything from tiny shrimps to huge sharks. Even non-divers will find something to do, whether it be relaxing on the beach or experiencing an ancient culture.

Getting There

There are direct flights from Singapore to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea via Air Niugini, taking 6.5 hours. Visa on arrival, valid for 60 days, is available to nationals of 70 countries, including Singapore, Australia, the US, as well as EU citizens.

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