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In inspirationOn Wednesday 7th Feb, 2018

10 things to see and do in Papua New Guinea

Written by

Travel at 60

It’s a fascinating and hugely diverse country, home to world-class scuba sites, some of the most important and beautiful - tropical rainforests on the planet, extensive World War II heritage and even the world's largest butterfly. Here are 10 essential PNG experiences to put on your to-do list:

1. Port Moresby

Most trips to Papua New Guinea will start in the capital. “Pom,” as the locals call it, is a fairly small city (population: 310,000), but still the largest one in the South Pacific. Popular spots for tourists include the National Museum and Gallery, Parliament Haus and Ela Beach - don't miss the Ela Beach Craft Market, held here on the last Saturday of every month. Travel about 19 kilometres north of Port Moresby to pay your respects at the moving Bomana War Cemetery, where white marble headstones mark the burial sites of more than 3,800 Commonwealth soldiers including 700 unidentified servicemen killed in action in Papua and Bougainville during World War II.

2. Port Moresby Nature Park

Flora and fauna fans should head to the Port Moresby Nature Park, the country’s only botanical and zoological gardens, where more than 2km of walkways meander through the only tract of rainforest within the capital city district. It’s home to thousands of exotic tropical plants including native and hybrid orchids, wildlife including tree-kangaroos, snakes and crocodiles, plus hornbills, parrots, birds of paradise and all three species of cassowaries.

3. Varirata National Park

About 24km east of Port Moresby is the country's first national park, Varirata. It’s small (around 1,000 hectares), but reaches a height of around 800 metres, resulting in brilliant views overlooking the Loloki River Valley out to Port Moresby and the coast. There are six well-marked walking trails to explore – along the way, keep an eye out for kingfishers, bower birds, Western Black-Capped Lorys and occasionally even Raggiana birds of paradise.

4. Rouna Falls

The country's most famous attraction is, of course, the Kokoda Trail (also known as the Kokoda Track), a single-file foot track that runs for 96 rugged and isolated kilometres. The track was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, where hundreds of Australians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded by Japanese forces in 1942. Thanks to challenging mountainous terrain, dense rainforests and harsh weather conditions it’s one of the toughest hikes in the world, taking up to 12 days to complete (although the record is 16 hours and 34 minutes). But thanks to its wartime history and the opportunity to commemorate the Australian servicemen who fought and died on the track, it’s also one of the most rewarding. The best time to hike the Kokoda Trail is in the dry season, between April/May and October.

5. Kokoda Trail

The country's most famous attraction is, of course, the Kokoda Trail (also known as the Kokoda Track), a single-file foot track that runs for 96 rugged and isolated kilometres. The track was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of World War II, where hundreds of Australians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded by Japanese forces in 1942. Thanks to challenging mountainous terrain, dense rainforests and harsh weather conditions it’s one of the toughest hikes in the world, taking up to 12 days to complete (although the record is 16 hours and 34 minutes). But thanks to its wartime history and the opportunity to commemorate the Australian servicemen who fought and died on the track, it’s also one of the most rewarding. The best time to hike the Kokoda Trail is in the dry season, between April/May and October.

6. Rabaul

Papua New Guinea has some of the finest scuba diving in the world and one of the best places to hit the ocean is Rabaul. Located on the island of New Britain, off the northeastern coast of PNG, it has a spectacular, large natural harbour that was the main naval base of the Japanese during World War II, and sits between three active volcanoes. Go here for access to 30 year-round scuba sites featuring spectacular reefs, coral atolls and sunken World War II ship and plane wrecks and where – according to some figures – you’ll see up to five times as much marine life as on Caribbean dives.

7. Tufi

There are only four tropical fjords in the world and Tufi, in the Oro Province on the eastern shores of PNG, is home to one of them. No wonder it’s called the “Scandinavia of the Tropics”. But instead of being carved out by a glacier, these fjords were created by the eruption of ancient volcanoes. Surrounded by mountains and 40km of coral reefs, this is one of the most remote, isolated and beautiful areas of PNG.

8. Asaro

Don’t miss a trip to Asaro village in the eastern highlands to see PNG’s legendary mudmen. You’ll find copycats elsewhere, but these are the real mudmen warriors who cover themselves in mud and wear ghoulish clay masks adorned with pigs' teeth and shells. As legend has it, this garb once helped their ancestors to vanquish an enemy tribe, who fled without firing a single arrow because they thought the mudmen were ghosts.

9. Kanganaman

This traditional community village on the Sepik river features one of the finest examples of a spirit house (haus tambaran) in the country, as well as many talented wood carvers. Tribal artworks and their makers are found in remote villages all along the 1,125km-long Sepik River art collectors and adventurers can explore the region on a chartered motorised canoe, but be sure to hire a guide. The Sepik is home to many different cultural practices - and crocodiles!

10. Mt Giluwe and Mt Wilhelm

Climbers and hikers can traverse jungles, rivers, valleys and grassland on their way to climb Papua New Guinea’s second-highest mountain, Mt Giluwe (4,368m) – which is also the highest volcano in Australasia – before taking on the tallest peak in Oceania, Mt Wilhelm (4,509m).

Is Papua New Guinea on your hit-list of destinations? Let us know in the comments section below.

Travel at 60
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