Luxury Travel to Papua New Guinea: Insider Guide
Papua New Guinea is an undiscovered land that lies just a few thousand kilometres from the northern tip of Australia.
As a destination that has not yet fully made it onto the tourist trail, Papua New Guinea is a magical place.
An incredible history, fascinating culture and dramatic landscapes combine in this country like no other.
This is our insider guide to luxury travel to Papua New Guinea to help you blend in with the locals.
Why travel to Papua New Guinea?
During WWII, Papua New Guinea was witness to Australian and Japanese fighting. Not many people know about this undiscovered nation’s role in the world wars, and there is no better place to get educated than in the country itself. On the island of Rabaul, travellers can explore remnants of the war, such as Admiral Yamamoto’s bunker. Here, the story of the Japanese wartime efforts really comes to life. To protect themselves from constant retaliated bombing from the Allies, the Japanese hid themselves in a network of underground tunnels. Today, these tunnels provide tourists with an insight into how over 100,000 Japanese soldiers built everything from aircraft to hospitals underground.
Festivals and culture
Papua New Guinea is one of the most diverse countries on the planet. In a country of just 8 million people, over 820 different languages are spoken. The most common languages in this mystical land are Tok Pisin, English and Hiri Motu. A land of tribes and traditions, this island nation is home to a wealth of intriguing communities. In the Highlands, Asaro Mudmen paint their bodies white and don clay masks, while the Nogopa tribe swear by sorcery and enjoy the occasional fire-based ceremony.
Fire dancing is popular with the Baining tribe in East New Britain too; fire dancers wear masks representing forest spirits and run through fire to commemorate the dead or celebrate childbirth. Festival season runs from July to October, and if you’re visiting this wonderful country, then meeting some of its friendly tribes is a must do.
Opportunities for adventure
As an island nation, Papua New Guinea is surrounded by extraordinary waters and is a diver’s paradise. Teeming with marine wildlife, the tranquil waters along the northern coast are particularly impressive. In these crystal clear waters, divers can spot tuna, barracuda, white and black tip sharks and hammerheads. If you’re lucky, you may even see turtles, mantas and eagle rays. Other notable experiences include unforgettable underwater exploration in the kaleidoscopic Don’s Reef and swimming with dolphins near Kabakon Island.
For those who prefer to stay on the ground, Papua New Guinea also has plenty of opportunity for hiking. The highland interior of rugged mountain peaks and verdant hillsides offers hikers incredible views. Life has changed little here for centuries, so hikers can also get an incredible insight into local life by stopping off in mountain villages. Experienced hikers can tackle the 4,500 metre (14,000 foot) peak of Mount Wilhelm, which rewards walkers with panoramic views over the stunning landscape. The undulating Bainings Mountains are a haven for trekkers, with overgrown rainforest and impressive volcanoes combining to create a magnificent landscape that is perfect for adventurers.
Where to go in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea’s Highlands are great for hiking, but they are also a must-visit destination for birdwatching enthusiasts. The lush forests here are home to an array of birdlife. Well known birds of paradise take to the skies alongside more elusive varieties here. The Highlands are truly stunning, with coffee plantations blanketing the hillsides and cascading waterfalls flowing into rivers. The Highlands are also the best place in the country to get a taste of local life. Highlanders are fiercely proud people with each clan having its own culture to protect, so they are more than happy to teach visitors all about local traditions and beliefs.
One of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, Papua New Guinea’s islands are one of the most rewarding places across the globe to visit. Some of the country’s most striking landscapes can be found here, with dense rainforest, craggy mountains and impressive volcanoes making for an extremely varied terrain. The island of New Britain is known for its active and dormant volcanoes. The dormant ones can be climbed, while the active ones spewing out smoke and ash are a sharp reminder of the power of mother nature.
If you only see one volcano while you’re here, make it Tavurvur. In 1994, Tavurvur erupted and covered once-capital Rabaul in ash, destroying local businesses and communities. Today, this devastation has left a captivating mark, with steaming hot pools bubbling amongst fiery orange rock. Papua New Guinea’s islands are also a great destination for uncovering the country’s forgotten history or diving amongst wonderful coral formations.
Papua New Guinea’s coastline is flanked by the Bismarck and Solomon Seas. These turquoise waters are teeming with marine life – underwater exploration doesn’t get much better than this. Sheltered bays are home to awe-inspiring coral formations and still waters are ideal for kayaking or snorkelling. The diving in Papua New Guinea is some of the best in the world, with barrier reefs, coral walls and seagrass beds all ripe for exploration. For history lovers, there is even a handful of wreck dive sites, where divers are able to discover ships, aircrafts and submarines from WWII that have been laying underwater for over 70 years.
To wind down after a full day of underwater adventures, travellers can spend time on land discovering ancient beliefs and traditional ceremonies. Taking part in a traditional sing sing and unearthing one of the country’s fascinating cultures is a truly unforgettable experience.
Where to stay in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is also carpeted in rainforest. Located 7,100 feet above sea level on the fringes of the Kubor mountain range, the modern Rondon Ridge is an ideal stopping point for hikers and those wishing to explore The Highlands. This beautiful eco-lodge is just a 40 minute drive from Mt Hagen town and has unrivalled views over the picturesque Wahgi Valley. This lodge’s commitment to protecting the local environment is commendable. Electricity is generated from the property’s own hydroelectric power plant, which harnesses the power of a nearby mountain stream.
With the surrounding rainforest right on your doorstep, this lodge is a haven for nature lovers. The trees here are home to almost 200 species of bird – including ten species of the iconic bird of paradise – making for excellent birdwatching. There are also numerous walking trails to help you navigate your way through the forest, and expert nature guides can help you find beautiful plants and local wildlife along the way. For a spot of relaxation after you’ve discovered the rainforest, guests can dine in the spacious restaurant or unwind in the lounge area.
Papua New Guinea’s incredible coastline lends itself to idyllic beachside resorts, and it is easy to see why. Nestled on Blanche Bay in the town of Kokopo on East New Britain, the Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort is a utopian island retreat. The suites and bungalows here are all air conditioned; suites come with a separate dining area and kitchenette so are great for families or larger groups, while the bungalows in individual buildings suit couples.
Built in the traditional Haus Win style using local timber poles and a sago thatched roof, the rustic restaurant is the perfect place to tuck in to Asian, Western and Melanesian cuisine. Laidback travellers can simply relax in the outdoor swimming pool, while more active types can get stuck into a number of excursions. Fishing, diving, snorkelling, trips to the Duke of York Islands and visiting WWII tunnels are all phenomenal ways of whiling away time here.
Surrounded by fjords and mountains, Tufi Resort is located in the Oro Province along Papua New Guinea’s northern coastline. Tufi is one of the world’s best diving destinations, and can be reached by a 40 minute flight from Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby. Tufi Resort is an idyllic escape, with ten bungalows and fourteen rooms all traditionally designed with timber floors, wicker wall panels and insect screens. Most of the bungalows also come with their own verandahs overlooking the turquoise coastal waters.
A paradise for divers, Tufi Resort has a house reef just five minutes from the resort, and there is also an open water reef just a 15-minute boat ride away. With the waters home to an array of marine life, Tufi Resort is a must-stay for any diving enthusiast. Other activities on offer here include fishing, paddleboarding, nature walks, birdwatching and kayaking.
Jacada’s Papua New Guinea
Discover local culture
Papua New Guinea is a land brimming with culture, and the area surrounding Tufi is peppered with fascinating local villages. After wandering through Tufi and chatting to locals, Jacada travellers can sail down to McLaren Harbour for an organised cultural tour. After heading out into one of the fjords, you’ll be met by locals on their outrigger canoes in traditional dress.
As you journey deeper into the fjords with the locals, you’ll discover areas where spirits and sorcery run wild. You can get involved in a number of traditional activities in the bush here; learn how to make sago and local bush medicines or get involved in fire making, mat making and traditional tattooing. Getting a glimpse into how the locals live in this fascinating country is an experience you’re not likely to forget.
Often described as the ‘Scandinavia of the Tropics,’ Tufi is a magnificent destination for those wanting to explore the Coral Triangle. Spanning the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, this ecologically diverse region houses 500 species of reef-building corals. The fjord channels that Tufi is known for are perfect for diving, with Boulders Waterfall a real highlight.
To reach this hidden natural wonder, Jacada travellers can take a boat ride up a short fjord before following a small goat track through untouched rainforest. Once at the waterfall, travellers can cool off with a swim in the rock pool surrounded by cascading waters. For world-class diving, the boat then journeys on to neighbouring fjord Don’s Reef, which is known for its phenomenal snorkelling and diving.
Papua New Guinea’s Highlands are home to a breathtaking array of birdlife. With varieties here from the ribbon tailed astrapia bird of paradise to colourful parrots, bowerbirds and honeyeaters, Papua New Guinea’s interior is an oasis for birdwatchers. Kumul Lodge, located 3000 metres above sea level, is a must visit for birdwatching enthusiasts. Here, the greatest diversity of birds of paradise can be found, and expert guides are on hand to tell you how these magnificent creatures have become the world’s best dancers and most colourfully plumed birds.
For those who are more comfortable being underwater, the islands surrounding New Britain offer the breathtaking opportunity to swim with dolphins. From Kokopo, travellers cruise through some of the clearest blue waters in the world past the two Pigeon Islands to make their way to the uninhabited Kabakon island. A short journey out into water from this island paradise takes you to Blanche Bay. Here, the local pod of around 200 bottlenose dolphins regularly play with the bow waves of boats passing through, and joining them is an exhilarating experience.