Papua New Guinea is divided into two halves: the eastern half is the independent state of Papua New Guinea, whilst the western half forms the Indonesian states of Papua and West Papua. This area has an incredible cultural diversity with a staggering 852 recorded spoken languages and a population of over 7 million, primarily spread across widely varying indigenous rural communities. In fact only 18 percent of the population live in urban centres.
However, this area is generally quite isolated, and often only the most intrepid explorers make it this far along the Indonesian archipelago or this far north of the eastern coast of Australia. Although it is recommended to check before you travel to ensure that you stay safe and secure, do not be put off by the remoteness; those who do go this far come back absolutely enchanted with the area, and it is easy to see why.
Papua and Papua New Guinea have so much to offer visitors: verdant natural beauty, a rich cultural tapestry and unique and varied environments to be explored, all without the hordes of tourists that often plague such beautiful spots. Not sure where to start? To get your travel-juices flowing, below we’ve compiled a few of the top spots and attractions that this island has to offer.
Papua – Jayapura
Jayapura, the country’s capital, is a city steeped in military history, although its natural beauty and cultural attractions are certainly set to rival its historical import. This area was largely unknown to the outside world until, in 1944, it was turned into an allied military base. During the Second World War, it was home to the largest water-based military operation and was the site from which the Americans descended in order to push back the Japanese. At Gunung Ifar, roughly 4 miles outside of Sentani, you can visit the remnants of General MacArthur’s military base. The area is still under military control and visitors must give in their passports whilst visiting.
Set along the Yos Sudarso Bay the city has stunning coastal coves and surrounding scenery: head to the top of the hill that lies at the back of the harbour for what is widely acknowledged as the best view of the city. Just outside of Jayapura sits the third largest lake in Papua, Danau Sentani, covering more than 100 square kilometres, With green rolling hills encompassing all sides, it makes for a beautiful afternoon excursion, and an ideal spot for a bit of lunch. Here you can also make visits to the lake’s islands, including Apayo Island, notable for its production of traditional bark paintings, and Doyo Lama whose biggest attractions are its ornate woodcarvings and ancient rock paintings.
Papua – National Parks
Lorentz National Park covers a whopping 2.5 million hectares of land, making it the largest piece of protected land in Southeast Asia, but what makes this national park truly unique is the variety of natural sceneries that it encompasses. Within its depths one can find Gunung Puncak Jaya – a snow-capped mountain that stands over 5,000 metres tall and is one of only three equatorial glaciers in the world. And yet, within its depths, one can also find tropical marine life and lowland wetlands. It really is quite staggering the range of flora, fauna and climates that can be explored here.
Wasur National Park is perhaps less diverse than Lorentz, but still remains a treasure trove of natural wonders. Within its 400,000 hectares the park is home to dry savannah grasslands, lowland forests, mudflats, swamplands and eucalyptus woodlands, with a range of indigenous creatures to be spotted, mostly those of Australian descent, such as wallabies and bandicoots, and birdlife such as parrots and cassowaries. Amazingly, Wasur is also home to 14 villages whose inhabitants are hunter-gathers. This park can be explored with English speaking tour guides, by canoe, by jeep and by foot (depending on the season).
Papua New Guinea – Port Moresby
Port Moresby is both the capital of Papua New Guinea and its largest city, although its population is only roughly 400,000. It sits nestled on the south-eastern coast of the Papuan Peninsula, on the shores of the Gulf of Papua. Admittedly on first glance this city is not perhaps the most enchanting in the world, but it is an important stop on a tour of Papua New Guinea, and if you dig a little deeper you will find a certain undiscovered charm here. From its friendly locals to its top quality cuisine, its cultural attractions to its green spaces, you will certainly find a few days of entertainment here, and who knows, you may even grow to love it.
The National Museum and Art Gallery is a really rather splendid establishment, offering its visitors a comprehensive introduction into Papua New Guinean culture. The exhibits are a rich tapestry of artefacts that are divided into various areas of study, including musical instruments, marine equipment, clothing and body accessories and adornments, ceremonial pieces, totem poles and masks, as well as geographical displays. If you’ve just arrived in the country, this is a great first stop and a chance to whet your appetite for the adventures that await you.
The Port Moresby Nature Park is a little island of relaxation and wonder within the city; with over 2 kilometres of walkways contained within it, it allow you to explore a rich variety of native flora and fauna. A combination of well-maintained gardens and jungle canopy it is home to, amongst others, astonishing species of orchid, tree kangaroos, parrots, cassowaries and many varieties of birds of paradise. The park is open from 8am – 4pm daily, although it can be hard to drag yourself away at closing time!
Papua New Guinea – Mountains, hiking, walking, trekking
Arguably Papua New Guinea’s top attraction is its mountains, and the opportunities afforded visitors for hiking, walking, trekking and following nature trails are pretty much endless, with trails and tracks to suit people of varying abilities and time scales.
The Kokoda Track, or Kokoda Trail, runs through Owen Stanley Range of mountains: a single file pathway that runs for almost 100 kilometres from the Central Province east of Port Moresby through to Kokoda in the Ora Province. You can trek this track with various companies; generally the hike lasts between 4 and 12 days, although you will need to be physically fit even for the slower walks. On the way you can expect to be wowed and inspired: reaching heights of over 2000 meters the mountainous views are unbeatable, and you will see various rare species of flora and fauna too.
Mount Tavurvur is an active volcano on Papua New Guinea’s island of New Britain. The volcano can be reached in one day, so is not as challenging as the Kokoda Track, although it is a fairly tough walk to the summit. The views more than compensate for this exertion: stunning vistas await you at the top, with a view that stretches for miles and miles out over the surrounding sea and sands, with hot springs bubbling up below within the volcano.
Some extra suggestions
We hope that the above article has given you a little insight into what can be expected when visiting Papua New Guinea: from its cultural excursions to its abundance of natural wonders, its rolling hills, towering mountains, exotic wildlife, Papua New Guinea has it all. So what are you waiting for? Below are a few extra suggestions of things that any trip to this, the most easternmost tip of Indonesia and beyond, would be incomplete without.
- Bit of a museum buff? In Abepura, between Jayapura and Sentani, there are two museums that you really must check out. The Museum Loka Budaya, is home to an array of pieces that chart the local human cultural progression, as well as an impressive collection of artworks. Meanwhile, the Museum Negeri, on the same road as Loka Budaya, mainly charts the area’s natural history, although it too houses some interesting ethnographic pieces.
- If you are in Port Moresby you must not miss a visit to the Ela Beach Craft Market, not only will you find all manner of gifts and souvenirs from all over the country, such as woven goods, baskets, stone tools, gourds and much more, but the traditional dance performances and barbecued street food make a visit to this market a day of entertainment too.
- In Port Moresby, a top spot for some food is the restaurant Rapala: modern cuisine served in an elegant, old-fashioned, Crowne Plaza, makes for a pleasant juxtaposition. Try their tasting platters, for nibbles of seared scallops, lobster tempura and beef kibbeh – seriously delicious! Make sure to dress up somewhat for the occasion.