Papua New Guinea Travel Guide
Welcome to the taste2travel Papua New Guinea Travel Guide!
Date Visited: February 2020
Remote, off-the-beaten track, diverse in every sense, Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a rewarding destination which offers a plethora of experiences for those intrepid travellers who are willing to make the journey.
If you’re planning a trip to PNG, you should allow plenty of time, at least 30 days, to explore the many different regions, and some of the 600 islands which comprise this diverse nation.
A remote, and expensive destination to reach, it’s best to cover everything on one trip if possible, although I am already planning my next trip!
Due to a limited number of air connections, reaching Papua New Guinea is not so straight-forward and, because of a complete lack of competition, flight tickets to PNG are never cheap – refer to the ‘Getting There‘ section below for more details.
Once you have arrived in the capital of Port Moresby, a complete lack of roads makes flying the only reasonable option for getting between places. Domestic flights are not cheap, with two domestic carriers operating services between the different towns and islands – see the ‘Getting Around‘ section for more details.
This country of 7.6 million inhabitants is home to 750 different tribes, who speak nearly 850 different languages. Tribal culture is very much alive in 21st century PNG, with different festivals occurring throughout the year in a number of regional centres.
The Cultural Events page on the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority website lists different cultural events scheduled throughout the country. One of the most popular festivals is the annual ‘Hagen show‘ which is staged in the highland city of Mount Hagen for two days in the middle of August. If you plan to attend any festivals, you should ensure you book your accommodation well in advance.
Apart from the diversity of people, the varied terrain of PNG, which ranges from tidal swamps at sea level to alpine highlands, is home to an incredible variety of fauna, including no less than 650 different bird species. One of the more bizarre species is the Victoria-crowned pigeon, the largest pigeon in the world, whose call is a deep ‘whooping’ sound.
The endemic, Raggiana Bird of Paradise, is the national symbol of PNG and appears on the national flag. In addition to the birds, there are about 222 species of mammals plus an estimated 30,000 different species of plants.
The poor security situation in PNG is something all visitors should be aware of. This is one country where you need to heed the advice of locals and be vigilant and aware of your surroundings – refer to the ‘Security‘ section below for more details.
While always being aware of my security, I never experienced any problems and never felt threatened. The people of PNG are some of the friendliest people I have ever met, and always made me feel welcome.
Travel costs in PNG are more expensive than elsewhere due to the high cost of flights, hotel accommodation and restaurant meals. Such costs would not be a deterrent for those who are determined to visit PNG, but, for budget travellers – Papua New Guinea is a challenge!
One thing which is reasonably priced, however, are the many hand-made souvenirs. From traditional paintings, to woven baskets, wood carvings and ‘bilim‘ bags. Souvenir shopping in PNG is a delight – made even more so by the friendly, engaging artisans who will try, half-heartedly, to extract a higher price for their wares.
The Naming of Papua New Guinea
The first European to set foot on Papua New Guinea was Jorge de Menezes, a Portuguese explorer who landed on the, then, unknown island in 1526. He named the island Ilhas dos Papuas.
In 1545, the Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez, who had been tasked with finding a sea route to connect the Spanish colonies in Asia to Mexico, sailed along the north coast of an island which he named Nueva Guinea (New Guinea). The dark-skinned inhabitants he encountered on the island reminded him of the people he had once seen on the Guinea-coast of Africa, hence the name.
The term ‘Guinea’ is derived from the Portuguese word Guiné which means “land of the blacks”, in reference to the dark skin of the inhabitants they first encountered.
Papua New Guinea is located directly east of Indonesia, on the doorstep of the vast Pacific Ocean region, a marine basin which covers 30% of the world’s surface. With a surface area of 155 million square kilometres (60 million square miles), the Pacific Ocean is larger than the landmass of all continents combined, and is home to all 600 of the islands which comprise PNG.
The mainland of the country is the eastern half of New Guinea island, where the largest towns are located, along with the capital city of Port Moresby. The only land border, which slices New Guinea island into two halves, is shared with Indonesia, with the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua occupying the western half of the island.
PNG lies 150 km north of Australia, across the Torres Strait, while the island of Bougainville lies a short boat ride to the northeast of the Shortland islands, which are part of the nation of the Solomon Islands.
Much of the country is mountainous and covered in tropical rainforests. There are very few roads, and those which do exist are poorly maintained, heavily pot-holed and often impassable. Often, the only sensible way to travel is by flight.
The highest point of Papua New Guinea is Mount Wilhelm which is 4,509 m (14,793 ft) high. The country is located on the Pacific ‘Rim of Fire‘ and is prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis.
With more than 1,000 ethnic groups, PNG is an incredibly diverse nation. Due to its mountainous terrain, many communities have evolved over millennia, unaware, until recently, of the existence of other neighbouring communities.
Of the 8.6 million inhabitants, the Papuans comprise the majority of the population (84%), with the 2nd largest group (15%) being the Melanesians. A tiny (1%) portion of the population are ethnically Polynesian and Micronesian, while foreign residents account for just over 1% of the total population, with more than half of those being Australian ex-pats.
The many different tribes of PNG can be recognised by their distinct facial paintings. PNG is a sparsely populated country, with an average of 17.8 people per square kilometre (46 people per square mile). Today, more than 80% of the island’s people live outside of towns and follow a largely subsistence lifestyle.
Rather confusingly, a distinction is made between the two main ethnic groups of PNG, the Papuans and the Melanesians, although both groups are essentially Melanesian in origin.
Why the distinction? It’s believed there were two major waves of migration into the region. The first wave saw the first settlers arrive from the Malay Archipelago around 50,000 years ago. These people, who today comprise 84% of the population, are known as the Papuans. The word ‘Papua‘ comes from the Malay word for ‘frizzy haired‘.
It’s believed that, along with Australian Aborigines, the Melanesians emigrated from Africa into southern Asia between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. The original Melanesian settlers in Papua New Guinea are today referred to as the ‘Papuans‘.
These settlers arrived via land bridges, which existed due to low sea levels, they eventually migrated east to Australia and Papua New Guinea, arriving there 40,000 years ago.
A second wave of migrants arrived much later, about 3,500 years ago. They were also Melanesians and today comprise 15% of the population of PNG. Over millennia, the two different groups have intermingled!
Using Papua New Guinea as a springboard, the Melanesians branched out into the Pacific and today are the predominant inhabitants of the region known as ‘Melanesia’, which covers a wide area from the Maluku Islands (Eastern Indonesia) and New Guinea to as far east as the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia (click to read my Travel Guides for these countries) and Fiji.
The word ‘Melanesia’ is derived from the Greek words, ‘melas‘, which means black and ‘nesoi‘, which means islands, therefore meaning “islands of black [people]“. What was originally a term of denigration has become one of affirmation, with many Melanesians using the term as a source of identity and empowerment, a term which is used as a sub-regional identity.
Internet speeds in Papua New Guinea have always been notoriously slow, however, this is due to change thanks to the recent completion of the, much anticipated, Coral Sea Cable System. The system connects PNG (and the Solomon Islands) to Australia and the world, using a 4,700 km submarine fibre optic cable. The cable was built courtesy of the Australian government.
Papua New Guinea has 3 mobile operators:
- Digicel PNG
- Telikom PNG
Digicel PNG offers the most comprehensive network coverage in the country. SIM cards can be purchased from the Digicel shop, which is located in the arrival’s hall of Jacksons International Airport, in Port Moresby, or from any Digicel retailer.
Applying for a PNG SIM card involves completing a (slightly) convoluted registration process.
- Step 1: You need to provide your passport which will be photographed.
- Step 2: You must then complete an A4-sized registration form, providing all of your personal details.
- Step 3: You will then have your photo taken.
- Step 4: Your SIM will then be installed into your device.
- Step 5: The packaging of the SIM card will be photographed.
- Step 6: Your new mobile number will be recorded in a separate ledger along with your name.
- Step 7: Finally, your SIM will be activated.
Digicel pre-paid data plans are designed with local youth in mind, rather than tourists, with most plans offering a generous allocation of data for Facebook and YouTube browsing (marketed as ‘Social Plan‘ data) and little allocation for internet browsing. Some of the plans offer short-term data for just 1,3 or 7 days.
The flag of Papua New Guinea is divided diagonally from the top of the hoist side to the bottom of the fly side. Red and black are used as the background colours, with both colours being of significance to many Papua New Guinean tribes.
Appearing on the upper part is a yellow “Raggiana Bird of Paradise” which is the national bird of Papua New Guinea. The bird is shown in flight which symbolises Papua New Guinea’s emergence into nationhood.
Featured on the lower part, against a black background, is the Southern Cross constellation which can be observed in the night sky throughout the Southern Hemisphere. The inclusion of the Southern Cross signifies the country’s historical relationship with other nations of the South Pacific.
The currency of Papua New Guinea is the Kina (K), which trades under the international currency code of PGK. The word ‘Kina’ is derived from the Kuanua language, and refers to a callable pearl shell, which was once used for trading purposes in both the Coastal and Highlands areas of the country.
PNG is one of a growing number of countries which have converted all bank notes from paper to polymer, with the currency being issued by the Bank of Papua New Guinea.
Bank notes are printed in Australia, by Note Printing Australia, a section of the Reserve Bank of Australia, who first issued polymer currency in Australia in 1988. The coins of PNG are minted in Canada by the Royal Canadian Mint.
Notes are issued in denominations of K2, K5, K10, K20, K50 and K100. The kina is divided into 100 toea (t) with coins issued in denominations of 5t, 10t, 20t, 50t and K1.
Hand-made souvenirs, such as these Bilims (bags) at Madang market, are very inexpensive at around US$20 each. Travel costs in PNG are not cheap, with a room in a mid-range hotel costing around US$145 per night and restaurant meals averaging U$20 per person. One thing which is affordable are the many hand-made souvenirs.
If you plan to travel outside of Port Moresby, you’ll most likely travel by air since the road network is non-existent. The two domestic airlines, Air Nuigini and PNG Air charge high prices on their (almost) monopoly routes. As an example, the cheapest one-way ticket, flying with Air Nuigini, from Port Moresby to Lae (a distance of 304 km/ 45 mins) costs around K 436 (US$129).
For those who plan on scuba diving in the amazing waters of PNG, a two-tank dive (including full equipment rental) with Niugini Dive Adventures in Madang, will cost K 600 (US$176).
Suggested daily budgets:
- Backpacker: Approximately K 300 (US$88) per day.
- Mid-range traveller: Approximately K 650 (US$190) per day.
- Top-End: K 1,500+ (US$440+)
- Coca Cola (0.33 litre bottle): K 5 (US$1.47)
- Water (0.33 litre bottle): K 5 (US$1.47)
- South Pacific (SP) Lager (0.33 litre bottle): K 10 – 15 (US$2.93 – $4.40)
- Cappuccino at Duffys Cafe in Port Moresby: K 10 (US$2.93)
- Mini Bus (PMV) ticket in Port Moresby: K1-2 (US$0.30 – 0.60)
- Car Rental with Hertz (compact car): K 215 (US$63.00)
- Litre of fuel: K 3.44 (US$1.01)
- Meal (inexpensive restaurant): K 50 (US$14.60)
- Meal for 2 (mid-range restaurant): K 200 (US$58.65)
- Private room in Port Moresby from Airbnb: K 240 (US$70)
- Room in a mid-range hotel (Holiday Inn Express Port Moresby): K 500 (US$145)
- Room in a top-end hotel (Hilton Port Moresby): K 648 (US$190)
The stamps of Papua New Guinea are popular with philatelists around the world. Stamps can be purchased online or from the PNG Post Philatelic Bureau, which is located at the main post office (GPO) on Lawes road in downtown Port Moresby.
Recent issues from 2019 included local subjects such as sports, fresh produce, marine life and even the Galip nut. While the stamps are printed in New Zealand, they all feature beautiful, locally produced, artwork and make ideal souvenirs.
A special mention needs to be made regarding the security situation in Papua New Guinea. It’s hard to ignore all the security fences and security guards in PNG. The police service is understaffed, poorly trained, and underfunded. As a consequence, private security companies have filled the void, playing a significant role in providing protection services.
Why all the crime? A high rate of unemployment throughout the country has led to many people migrating to the larger towns to find work. When work cannot be found, people become desperate and resort to crime. The problem of crime is mostly confined to the larger towns and not to the rural areas.
I will say, I never encountered any problems while in the country and found almost everyone to be very friendly and welcoming. However, I was continuously warned by locals to be very careful when walking around during daylight hours. You need to exercise caution and be extremely vigilant. I was advised not to walk around any town after dark, which meant eating dinner most evenings in my hotel restaurant. Because of this, it’s important to select a hotel with a good restaurant so you are not forced to venture out to find dinner after dark.
I walked, solo, around all towns I visited during the day and experienced no problems. While in Madang, it was recommended by the staff at the Madang Resort that it would be best to be accompanied by one of their friendly security guards while walking around town. I was accompanied by the very friendly Michael Tom, who provided both protection and guiding services.
One evening, I ventured out in Lae to dine at a recommended restaurant. The streets of the city were completely deserted, which was in stark contrast to the night-time hustle and bustle of the streets of Asia, from which I had just arrived.
Taxis and buses do not operate after dark as they would be targets for robberies – plus no one ventures out anyway, so there are no customers. The only way to travel between places in the evening is either with your own vehicle or by arranging a ride in a security company van, for which you will be charged a small fortune – e.g. K 50 (USD$14.70) for a couple of kilometres.
This video was filmed from inside the Guard Dog Security airport shuttle bus, en-route from Lae airport to my hotel in downtown Lae.
One of the largest companies, Guard Dog Security, even operates the airport shuttle bus (K 85/ USD$25 each way) service which connects Lae airport to the hotels in downtown Lae – a drive of 40 km along the very rough Highlands highway. The windows of the bus are covered in a protective grill with a small square cut-out so the driver can see the road.
With a population of 364,000 people, Port Moresby is the capital, main city and international gateway to Papua New Guinea.
A relaxed, unhurried city, Port Moresby, which is locally referred to as POM (also the IATA airport code for the city), is located on a natural harbour which is backed by a series of small, grassy hills.
The city is named after Rear Admiral John Moresby, a British Naval Officer who was the first European to discover the site of Port Moresby. The area around POM is the ancestral home of the Motuan people – renowned traders, who travelled the seas in their distinctive Lakatoi sailing boats, trading sago and pots for canoe logs and food.
Built to host the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which bought leaders from around the Pacific region to Port Moresby, the very modern APEC Haus is built on a man-made peninsula which extends into Walter Bay.
This modern conference centre, which was designed by Australian architectural firm, Jim Fitzpatrick Architects, is designed in the shape of a Lakatoi sail, from the Motu-Koita’s double-hulled boat, to symbolise international trade negotiations.
At the entrance to the centre, a 12-metre sculpture, made of copper and stainless steel, features two of the distinctive lakatoi sails.
Located alongside APEC Haus, Ela beach is the main public beach in Port Moresby, offering 1-km of fine, white sand. In the local Motu dialect, the beach is known as Era Kone which means ‘Turtle Beach‘, which explains the presence of a large turtle sculpture in the beach-side park.
A boardwalk winds its way along the beachfront, passing recreational facilities such as basketball and beach volleyball courts. The wide, sandy beach is popular with groups of youth who use it as an impromptu rugby ground.
Well-manicured and maintained, Ela beach is lined with modern apartment buildings which reminded me of many Australian beach-side suburbs.
I spent time walking along the beach taking photos of the locals who were very happy to pose for the camera. If you wish to stay on the beach, the Ela Beach hotel, which is one of eight properties owned by the Coral Seas Hotel group, offers comfortable rooms.
Port Moresby Nature Park
Set in 30-acres of landscaped gardens on the northern outskirts of POM, the Port Moresby Nature Park is a combination of botanical garden, rainforest, cultural centre and zoological park.
The park is open seven days a week, from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, with tickets (for foreigners) costing K 20 (US$5.90). A gift shop sells souvenirs whilst a kiosk sells wonderful, local coffee and very delicious meat pies.
The park is home to over 450+ native animals including tree-kangaroos, cassowaries, wallabies, snakes and many different species of birds, including the beautiful, and curious, Dusky Lorikeet.
If you’re interested in learning about the diverse fauna and flora of PNG, the POM Nature Park provides the opportunity to get up close and personal with many different types of birds, who are housed inside giant, walk-through aviaries.
One of the more curious birds, which can be viewed at the POM Nature park, is the Eclectus parrot, which is native to PNG and the Solomon Islands. What makes this parrot unusual is that the male is covered in bright, emerald green plumage while the female is covered in a mostly bright red and purple/blue plumage. When they were first discovered, ornithologists believed they were different species of parrot.
The striking Wompoo Fruit-dove is one of the larger fruit doves native to both PNG and eastern Australia (Queensland).
There are many doves which are native to PNG, including the Amboyna cuckoo-dove which was formerly known as the Slender-billed Cuckoo-dove. A social bird, these doves can be seen in pairs or groups, feeding off berries.
The nature park is home to one of the last remaining tracts of rainforest in Port Moresby. The trees in the rainforest are home to thousands of Spectacled fruit bats who migrate to the park to breed. Spectacled flying foxes are forest dwellers and rainforests are their preferred habitat.
Located in the north of Port Moresby, the National Parliament House has been built to resemble a Sepik-style haus tambaran (house of worship). This is the 2nd parliament house, and was officially opened by Prince Charles, on 8th August 1984.
The front of the building is covered in an elaborate, tile mosaic which features PNG motifs. Inside, a beautiful, single chamber accommodates 89 elected members and 22 Governors, elected from Provincial electorates. The chamber can be visited during week days, however photography is not allowed anywhere inside parliament house.
Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery
Located next door to Parliament house, the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) is a museum and art gallery which showcases the diverse cultures of PNG.
Opened in 1977, the museum houses artefacts from the 22 provinces of Papua New Guinea. The galleries were beautifully remodelled in 2015, for the country’s 40th anniversary of independence, by an Australian design firm who have created fresh, modern displays which highlight the qualities of each of the objects.
Displays include elaborate masks, totem poles, musical instruments, a full-size canoe which is covered in cowrie shells and a huge variety of wooden carvings.
Access: The museum is open every day from 9 am to 3 pm, except Sunday when it’s open from 1 pm to 3 pm.
Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery
I’ve visited many war cemeteries around the world – I would nominate the Bomana War Cemetery as the most beautiful and serene.
Managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery is set in perfectly manicured gardens and is the final resting place of 3,824 Commonwealth soldiers who died during the fighting in WWII. Each of the soldiers is memorialised with a white marble grave marker, including 699 unknown soldiers.
During my visit, I was the only visitor at the cemetery, which is guarded by a couple of security guards, one of which accompanied me during my visit.
The cemetery is located 19-kilometres north of Port Moresby, on a quiet side road on the outskirts of town. The only sensible way to reach the cemetery is on a tour or with a taxi. I paid K 70 (USD$15) from downtown POM for the return trip. There are no taxis in this part of town, so you should ensure the driver waits for you.
St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral
Located up the hill from Ela beach, in downtown Port Moresby, St. Mary’s cathedral is the seat of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Port Moresby.
Its most striking feature is the soaring, hand-painted, entrance portal which is in the style of a Sepik ‘haus tambaran’ (traditional worship house).
Inside, pews are arranged behind large, traditional wooden drums while the ‘stations of the cross‘ are divided along one wall by traditional wooden spears. Worth a peak!
Hanubada Stilt Village
There are several stilt villages around Port Moresby. The closest, and easiest to reach, is Hanubada village which is located 5-kilometres north of downtown POM.
There are very few sights in Lae, but it’s a different story outside the city. The newly formed Lae City Tourism Bureau have published a brochure which is brimming with ideas for visitors. The Bureau, which is housed inside the Lae City Administration centre, is headed by the enthusiastic Maine Winny who can be contacted via email at – firstname.lastname@example.org
The highlight of Lae city sights is the beautifully maintained Lae War Cemetery.
The Lae War Cemetery is another memorial which is managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Established in 1944, the cemetery is located adjacent to the Botanical Gardens in the centre of Lae and holds the remains of holds of over 2,800 soldiers, mostly Australians, who died during WWII.
During my visit, I had the cemetery to myself, although two security guards are always present.
Lae Botanical Garden
Finding the entrance to Lae Botanical Garden is easy – just look for the abandoned RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) C47 plane, which is parked on the lawn inside the main entrance gate.
The sprawling Lae Botanical garden occupies a huge 38 hectares of prime land in downtown Lae. Unfortunately, due to the poor security situation, the park is not safe to walk through. Like the Amelia Earhart memorial, the park is largely forgotten, overgrown and poorly maintained. A high security fence, which is topped with razor wire, surrounds the perimeter of the park.
There is one entrance gate to the garden which is normally locked, however, a security guard, who sits in a booth inside the gate, will happily provide access to visitors. The guard will not allow you to walk beyond the wooden bridge which is just 50 metres from the main entrance. He explained it was for my own safety. Robberies have occurred in the past.
Amelia Earhart Memorial
One claim to fame for Lae is that it was the last departure point for the American aviator, Amelia Earhart who was attempting to circumnavigate the world in her Lockheed Electra 10E.
In July of 1937 with her navigator, Fred Noonan, by her side, the famous aviator departed from Lae aerodrome en route to the distant Howland Island, an uninhabited coral spec of land which is located in the middle of nowhere, 1,700 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu. Earhart’s plane disappeared near Howland Island some 19 hours after departing Lae airport. They have never been seen since.
The memorial to Earhart stands on an overgrown, forgotten patch of land which is close to the old Lae aerodrome which has since disappeared. The empty concrete memorial once sported a shiny bronze plaque which has since been stolen.
My favourite destination in PNG is beautiful Madang. A relaxed, green, laid-back town, Madang is a major commercial centre and education centre, hosting the campus of Divine Word University (DWU), which is one of the leading tertiary institutions in Papua New Guinea.
While there are several accommodation options in Madang, there is really only one place to the stay – the delightful and charming Madang Resort. Set on 15-acres of prime land overlooking the Dallman passage, the resort is owned by Sir Peter Barter who is an octogenarian Australian who has spent 50 busy years in PNG.
During this time, Sir Peter has served as the Minister for Health and Bougainville Affairs. He’s served two separate terms as the Governor of Madang province. He has established the Melanesian Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that invests in remote communities. He is a pioneer of tourism in PNG and is the owner of Melanesian Travel Services which operates river cruises on the Sepik river. He was knighted by the Queen in 2001. Sir Peter is living history and very much a part of the story of PNG and can still be seen cutting the grass at the resort on his ride-on lawn mower.
Coast Watchers Light Memorial
This working lighthouse (entry not allowed) is a memorial dedicated to the mostly Australian and British soldiers and local volunteers who worked behind enemy lines during WWII as spies for the Allies. The Coast Watchers radioed the positions of Japanese ships to Allied bombers who were then able to destroy them. A memorial plaque tells the story of these brave soldiers.
Conceived by Sir Peter and housed in the same building as the Madang Visitors and Cultural centre, the Madang museum displays exhibits, which relate to local history and culture, in a one-room gallery. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the lights weren’t working due to ongoing repairs. Hopefully this is rectified by the time you visit.
Madang market is the centre of commerce and all activity in Madang. A great place to buy fruit and vegetables, as well as souvenirs such as bilums. Each day, fully loaded Banana boats arrive at the dock opposite the market, bringing throngs of villagers who come to buy and sell.
Machine Gun Beach
The Imperial Japanese Army captured Madang without a fight during World War II in 1942. In September 1943, Australian forces launched a campaign to retake the town, which was eventually captured on April 24, 1944.
A reminder of the Japanese occupation can be seen on Machine Gun beach where an old Japanese weapon of war is mounted on a concrete plinth.
With 600 islands sprinkled throughout the Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea is a world-class scuba diving destination, offering exceptional marine diversity, dazzling reefs and lots of WWII wrecks. The website of the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority includes a page of resources dedicated to scuba diving.
Madang offers visitors the opportunity to dive on some of the most remote and pristine reefs in the world. During my stay at the Madang Resort, I did a 2-tank dive with Niugini Dive Adventures (NDA), the resorts’ in-house dive operation. A certified PADI Dive facility, NDA has been in business for more than 40 years.
The pristine, azure waters, which surround the various islands off the coast of Madang, are home to at least 15 dive sites, most of which are a short boat ride from the resort. To whet your appetite, NDA have posted a video which shows the magical underwater world which awaits scuba divers – look out for the highly unusual Walking shark which makes an appearance towards the end of the video.
Rates are published on their website, with the cost of a 2-tank dive, with full equipment rental and Environment Safety fee being K 620 (USD$182.50). While not the cheapest diving in the world, the reefs are spectacular, the friendly staff provide excellent service and the equipment is 1st class. The biggest bonus? There are very few divers in this part of the world. On the day I dived, I had the entire ocean to myself.
My first dive took me to the stunning Magic Passage where I buddied up with Nathan, a friendly, competent, Fijian dive instructor who is part of the NDA team.
Our surface interval was held in the turquoise waters of the incredibly beautiful Pig Island, an uninhabited island which offers good snorkelling.
Our second dive took us to Langsam reef which is bursting with the most amazingly colourful soft and hard corals. Langsam reef offers the opportunity to see the rare White Bonnet Clown-fish.
Having lost my dive camera during a dive in New Caledonia, I was unable to capture any images from the dives. However, Tetsuya Nakamura, who is an instructor at NDA, has kindly allowed me to share his photos from these dive sites.
Dive Site #1 – Magic Passage
Dive Site # 2 – Langsam Reef
The various small islands off the coast of Madang have been formed over millions of years by the movement of tectonic plates, with the Australia plate pushing underneath the Pacific plate, forcing up ancient sea beds in the process.
Our surface interval was conducted at Pig island, an uninhabited, limestone island which is covered with lush vegetation and surrounded by turquoise waters which laps against white-sand beaches. The island is surrounded by a reef which provides ideal snorkelling.
Located across a narrow channel from Pig island is the much smaller, Little Pig Island, which is home to a few families who eke out an existence on what is essentially a narrow sand bank.
I cannot wait to return to Madang resort to do more dives with Niugini Dive Adventures. Highly recommended!
Port Moresby is a magnet for business travellers and government/ NGO workers. While occupancy rates in the capital can be high, elsewhere things tend to be much quieter, except during festivals.
The cost of accommodation in PNG can be expensive, with mid-range hotel rooms charging between US$100 and US$150 per night. Budget accommodation does exist in the form of ‘transit hotels‘, whose main purpose is to accommodate travelling locals.
As previously mentioned in the ‘Security‘ section, most towns in PNG shut down after dark. It’s best to book a hotel which includes a restaurant in which you will be happy to eat dinner most evenings. The restaurants at the Madang Resort (Madang) and the Holiday Inn (Port Moresby) are highly recommended.
In Port Moresby, visitors generally stay at the Hilton Port Moresby (USD$204 per night), Grand Papua Hotel (USD$162 per night), Crowne Plaza Hotel (USD$226), Ela Beach Hotel (USD$152), Holiday Inn (USD$177) or the adjacent Holiday Inn Express Port Moresby (USD$174), Airways Hotel (USD$216) or the new The Stanley Hotel & Suites (USD$205), all of which can be booked on either Hotels.com or Booking.com
Holiday Inn Express
While in Port Moresby, I chose to stay at the very comfortable Holiday Inn Express Port Moresby, which is located 10-km east of the airport in the heart of the government district of Waigani. The hotel operates a complimentary airport shuttle bus every 30 minutes, which should be booked in advance by emailing email@example.com
Comfortable, modern rooms currently cost US$174 per night and include a buffet breakfast. The hotel is located alongside its sister property, the Holiday Inn Port Moresby which includes a swimming pool, fitness centre, restaurant, poolside bar and convenience store.
The poolside restaurant at the Holiday Inn is where most guests dine in the evening. Both hotels are housed within the same secured compound.
Across the road from the main security gate is an affordable, roadside, craft market where friendly artisans peddle their hand-made souvenirs. An informal taxi rank also operates outside the security gate, with most rides around town costing K 30 (after some polite negotiating).
In Lae, there are several popular hotels, such as the Lae International Hotel, Huon Gulf Hotel (USD$112 per night), the Lae City Hotel (USD$145 per night) and the newest kid in town – the Hotel Morobe (USD$117 per night)
Like other towns in PNG, the streets of Lae are deserted after dark and walking anywhere is considered very risky. It’s imperative to select a hotel where you’ll be happy spending your evenings, dining and relaxing. There are no taxis or buses plying the streets of Lae in the evenings. If you wish to travel anywhere after sunset (e.g. the Lae Yacht Club), you will need to arrange transport with your hotels’ security contractor.
Airport transfers between Lae airport and the various Lae hotels are operated by the Guard Dog Security company who charge K 85 (USD$25) each way. To view a video, I filmed while riding on the shuttle bus, please refer to the ‘Security‘ section.
Huon Gulf Hotel
While in Lae, I stayed at the Huon Gulf Hotel which is part of the larger, Coral Seas hotel chain who operate seven hotels in PNG. Not the finest hotel in the portfolio, the Huon Gulf is an old-style motel, located on the outskirts of town, over the fence from the Botanical garden.
The one dining option at the Huon Gulf is the perfectly acceptable Enzo’s Italian restaurant which opens three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is known for its pizza, with a constant stream of locals dropping by to collect takeaway. The coffee served at Enzo’s is some of the best in Lae.
My favourite hotel in PNG is the charming Madang Resort which is reputed to be the oldest hotel in the country. Overlooking Madang harbour and set in lush, well-maintained gardens, this tranquil resort started life as a guest house during the German colonial era.
During WWII, the resort, which was then known as the Hotel Madang, was bombed and burned. Following the war, the hotel was owned by a succession of colourful characters and was known for its seven rowdy bars.
The hotel was acquired in 1976 by the Barter family, who promptly closed the bars, purchased adjacent land and expanded the original 6-room hotel into the 200-room Madang resort. Rooms are arranged in a mix of different buildings with rates ranging from USD$80 – $180 which includes a buffet breakfast.
The resort today is a self-contained village which includes a multitude of facilities such as swimming pools, a tennis court, conference rooms, the best restaurants in Madang, conference rooms and much more. In addition, a large flock of the very distinctive, Victoria-crowned pigeon adds an air of stately charm to the resort grounds.
The onsite dive shop, Niugini Dive Adventures, offer the opportunity to scuba dive on the spectacular reefs which are a short boat ride from the resort (see the ‘Diving‘ section for more details).
While the markets of Papua New Guinea offer a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, most restaurant menus do not offer local cuisine – but instead include international dishes. I lived on grilled fish, served with either salad/ chips or vegetables/ mashed potato. The local seafood is very fresh and tasty.
The staple foods in PNG include root crops such as potato, sweet potato and taro; tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas, papaya; lots of fresh, local fish and other seafood, chicken and other meats.
Due to the security situation, which makes most towns and cities unsafe after dark, many visitors choose to dine in their hotel restaurant.
Papua New Guinea is renowned for its coffee production, with the robust, complex Arabica coffee bean being served in cafés throughout the country.
Coffee seeds were first introduced to PNG in the 1920’s by the British who bought Arabica seeds from the famed Blue Mountains of Jamaica (click to read my report from Jamaica, which includes coffee tasting in the Blue Mountains).
Coffee production is the country’s second largest agricultural export, after palm oil, employing approximately 2.5 million people throughout the main growing regions which are the Chimbu, Jiwaka, Eastern and Western Highland Provinces. Most plants are grown on small, family-run, farms rather than larger plantations, with most of the beans certified as ‘organic’.
If I had to nominate my favourite coffee and favourite café, it would be the velvety smooth ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy‘ coffee which is freshly roasted by Duffy Café and served at its three outlets in Port Moresby. Duffy serve delicious meals and offer a clean, relaxed, upmarket environment which attracts the laptop-totting crowd, expats and office workers.
Whenever I was in need of a caffeine fix, I would travel to the harbour-front branch of Duffy café which is located on the ground floor of the ‘Oil Search’ office tower. The café is open from 7 am to 4 pm every day, except Saturday when it is closed.
Also located in the same complex are three worthwhile restaurants:
Another branch of Duffy Café can be found in the Port Moresby suburb of Gordon, while the third and final branch is thoughtfully located in the departure area of Jacksons International airport, where you can purchase a vacuum-sealed bag of PNG coffee for K 25 (USD$7.35). An ideal souvenir for any caffeine addict!
Restaurants / Cafés
Edge by the Sea
There are several excellent restaurants/ cafés located along the harbour-front in downtown Port Moresby. Located on the ground floor of the Edge apartment building, next to the marina, Edge by the Sea is a popular cafe which attracts a steady stream of expats, visitors, business people and local office workers.
With a large outdoor area, this breezy, cool café is open 7 days a week (some cafés in PNG are closed on Saturday) from 7 am to 6 pm, offering a menu of international cuisine and yet more amazing PNG coffee. The staff are friendly and attentive, the service good and the food delicious.
The same folks who own ‘Edge by the Sea’ also operate the nearby Mojo Social, which is a funky, modern restaurant/ bar specialising in Mediterranean cuisine.
Run by a team of friendly, enthusiastic staff, Mojo Social is open for lunch (11 am – 3 pm) and then dinner (5 pm – midnight) every weekday, while on weekends it’s open for dinner only. The menu features Mediterranean favourites while a fully stocked bar ensures the cocktails never stop flowing.
While in Port Moresby, I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, and ate dinner most evenings at the Kopi Haus restaurant, which is located poolside inside the adjacent Holiday Inn.
The two hotels, which are always busy with visiting government workers, business travellers and the odd tourist, ensure this restaurant is well patronised. Besides offering a nightly buffet, the menu offers a good choice of standard international dishes.
Lae Yacht Club
The one real institution in Lae is the Lae Yacht Club which is a magnet for local expats and the few visitors who make it this far. The club is open seven days a week from 10 am to 9 pm (11 pm on Tuesday), however, due to the security issues in town, I never ventured to the club in the evening. I did visit during the day and enjoyed lunch on their airy deck which overlooks the 60-berth marina and Lae harbour.
The restaurant menu features steaks, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, desserts and more with a Filet Mignon steak costing K 65.00 (USD$19.00).
A typical Australian-style club, large, flat-screen TV’s show the latest rugby matches from ‘down south’ while billiard tables and poker machines keep other patrons entertained.
The signature dish at the City Café are Tony’s Baby Back Ribs, which I can attest are totally divine. Smoky, tender and covered in sticky BBQ sauce, the ribs are the best you’ll taste – this side of Kansas! Other menu items are also very good and, thanks to its Malaysian management, there are many Asian dishes to choose from.
My meal at the City Café was very good and I returned more than once for lunch – however I never returned for dinner. Why? Going out after dark in Lae is problematic! Due to the poor security situation, and past robberies, taxis and PMVs do not operate after sunset and the deserted, dark streets are unsafe for walking.
In order to travel anywhere after dark, you’ll either need your own transport or you’ll need to organise a ride with the security company which is contracted to your hotel. The security company will send a van with a driver and a co-rider, for which you will be charged accordingly. I paid K 45 (USD$13.20) to travel 2 km between my hotel and the City Café with Guard Dog Security
Most visitors to Lae remain in their hotel in the evening, with each hotel offering at least one restaurant option. My hotel, the Huon Gulf, is home to Enzo’s which offers the best Italian cuisine in Lae. Portion sizes are very generous and I was never able to finish any of my meals at Enzo’s.
The restaurant serves the best pizzas in Lae, which are always smothered in lots of gooey cheese, making them a very popular takeaway item with locals.
Enzo’s is open three times a day for breakfast (6.00 am – 10.00 am), lunch (11.00 am – 2.00 pm) and dinner (6.00 pm – 10.00 pm).
There’s only one place to eat in Madang, and that’s at the wonderful Madang resort. I did walk around town and saw nothing remotely appealing, although the Big Rooster fast food chain is popular with locals.
The Madang resort features two restaurants in the same building – the main Haus Win, which is located on the ground floor and the, smaller, Haus Kibung which is directly upstairs. Both serve the same excellent food which is prepared in the kitchen on the ground floor.
Haus Win Restaurant
Featuring large aquariums, a piano, a bar, traditional wood carvings, local artwork, hypnotic swooshing fans and louvre doors which open onto a waterfront terrace, the Haus Win restaurant is full of tropical charm and is a draw-card for any visitor or expat in Madang.
A complimentary buffet breakfast is served for resort guests in the restaurant until 10 am each morning. The restaurant then reopens for lunch, before closing again at 2 pm and then reopens at 6:30 pm for dinner. I ate every meal at the resort and never tired of the menu offerings. The grilled fish with Mornay sauce is highly recommended!
The team of friendly, dedicated, enthusiastic and helpful servers provide excellent service and make a point of remembering your name. They magically anticipate your needs, and, every morning, prepared toast for my breakfast without me ever asking for it.
Nightlife is limited in PNG, with most people choosing to remain in their hotels in the evenings. Most hotel restaurants serve alcohol which allows you to sample the local PNG brews, all of which are produced by the South Pacific brewery which is owned by Heineken.
The South Pacific Brewery produces three main beers; SP lager, SP Export and Nuigini Ice, all of which are quite quaffable but none of which are in the realm of ‘craft beers’.
All nationalities require a visa to enter PNG, with many entitled to a 60-day (30-days for Australians) visa on arrival (VOA) if arriving at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.
To check your requirements, refer to the current Visa Policy of Papua New Guinea.
Online Visa Application
Before departing for PNG, you should first confirm whether the Visa on Arrival (VOA) option is available. When I checked-in for my flight at Singapore’s Changi airport, I was informed by airline staff that the VOA program had been suspended 4 days prior to my flight – due to the outbreak of the Corona-virus. I was told that my boarding pass could only be issued after I had completed the 7-step online visa application process and had received a letter from PNG Immigration advising that my Visitor visa had been approved.
Almost all passengers required a visa, which left everyone scrambling to get online to complete the application process. Using my laptop, I was able to complete the seven steps in 15 minutes. As part of the process, I was required to upload a copy of the photo page of my passport (which I always keep handy on my laptop) plus pay an application fee of USD$50.
My approval letter (pictured above) was emailed to me within minutes of me submitting the application, allowing me to then complete the check-in process. I was then told that the PNG authorities required a printed version of the letter! Argh! Luckily, Changi airport has the best facilities of any airport in the world and I was directed to a nearby ‘service’ counter where I could print the document.
International flights to Papua New Guinea arrive at Jacksons International Airport (IATA: POM), which is located 11-km east of downtown Port Moresby. The airport serves as the base for the national carrier, Air Nuigini and PNG Air who provide services to domestic destinations.
International connections to PNG are very limited, with Air Nuigini providing most services. As can be expected from a carrier which operates in a monopoly environment, free from the constraints of competition, airfares are very expensive.
The following airlines provide scheduled services to / from Port Moresby:
- Air Nuigini – flies to/ from Alotau, Brisbane, Buka, Cairns, Chuuk, Daru, Goroka, Hoskins, Hong Kong, Honiara, Kavieng, Kiunga, Kundiawa, Lae, Lihir Island, Lorengau, Madang, Manila, Mendi, Mount Hagen, Nadi, Pohnpei, Popondetta, Port Vila, Rabaul, Singapore, Sydney, Tabubil, Tari, Vanimo, Wapenamanda, Wewak
- Philippine Airlines – flies to/ from Manila
- PNG Air – flies to/ from Alotau, Cairns, Daru, Goroka, Hoskins, Kiunga, Lae, Lihir Island, Losuia, Madang, Misima Island, Moro, Mount Hagen, Popondetta, Rabaul, Tabubil, Tufi, Wewak
- Qantas – flies to/ from Brisbane
- QantasLink – flies to/ from Cairns
- Virgin Australia – flies to/ from Brisbane
- Most hotels in Port Moresby provide free shuttle bus transport to/ from the airport.
- Taxis to downtown Port Moresby cost K 80 (USD$23.65).
- For the truly adventurous, crowded mini-buses pass by the airport on their way to central Port Moresby.
The only land border crossing between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, which is open to foreigners, is on the north coast between the towns of Jayapura (Indonesia) and Vanimo (PNG). The only way to reach Vanimo is by flight.
The border is open from 8 am to 4 pm (Indonesian time, add one hour for PNG opening hours).
Few cruise liners currently visit Port Moresby with just three arrivals scheduled for 2020. Despite being the main entry point to PNG and the nation’s capital, there is no dedicated facility for cruise ships, with ships currently forced to dock at a commercial wharf, which is not ideal for receiving cruise passengers.
Several cruise ships also call at the much more inviting Madang. Click to view the current schedule.
With a 30-40 ft fibreglass hull and an outboard motor, Banana boats (see the ‘Getting Around‘ section below for more on these) are the standard inter-island taxi boats used in the Solomon Islands and in PNG.
It’s possible to travel by these small, open boats (which have few safety features) from PNG to the Solomon Islands, although such a crossing should never be attempted on rough seas.
I have used these boats in the Solomon Islands and once, the day after a cyclone, found myself in a crowded Banana boat, in the open sea, surrounded by huge rolling seas and with life jackets in short supply. Scary stuff!
If you’re game, you can travel from the town of Buin, which is located on the south coast of Bougainville (PNG) across to the Shortland Islands, which are the most northerly islands in the Solomon Islands.
There are few roads in Papua New Guinea, with, expensive, domestic flights being the main mode of transport. Where roads do exist, they are generally poorly maintained, full of pot-holes and gruelling, with crowded PMVs providing transport links between towns and villages. Depending on the condition of the road, the PMV will either be a mini-bus or a covered truck with bench seating.
Mini-buses, which are known locally as PMVs (Public Motor Vehicle) form the back-bone of public transportation services in PNG. Fares are inexpensive at K 1-2 around town. PMVs also operate between towns, bouncing along pot-holed country roads, in the few places where roads exist.
Due to security concerns, and a complete lack of customers who remain indoors after dark, PMVs do not operate after sunset.
While taxis are plentiful in Port Moresby, there are precious few taxis to be found outside the capital. I never saw any taxis in Lae or Madang. Like buses, taxis do not operate after dark.
Taxis in Port Moresby are fitted with meters but the drivers never use them. Fares should be negotiated in advance but are never too prohibitive. I typically paid K 30 (USD$9.00) to travel from the Holiday Inn Express to the harbour front in Port Moresby.
With a complete lack of roads, flying is the most popular mode of transportation in Papua New Guinea. Domestic air services are offered by Air Nuigini and PNG Air, both of which charge a premium for their short flights.
As an example, I flew from Port Moresby (POM) to Lae (LAE), then Lae to Madang (MAG) then Madang back to Port Moresby. The total cost of this airfare (the airline only offers economy class) was K 1,340 (USD$595).
Port Moresby Airport
Domestic flights to/ from Port Moresby depart from the domestic terminal which is located adjacent to Jacksons International Airport.
Lae (Nadzab) Airport
Flights to Lae arrive at the remote Lae (Nadzab) Airport, which is located in the middle of the countryside, 42 kilometres (26 mi) from Lae. During WWII, after Lae had been liberated from the Japanese, the US Army developed the original aerodrome into a large airbase complex.
The current airport was developed by the Australian government in the 1970’s as part of an independence gift to PNG. Judging from the current, run-down condition, no renovations have taken place since independence.
If you don’t have transport arranged, you can reach Lae by using the Airport Shuttle Bus which is operated by Guard Dog Security (K 85/ USD$25 each way) or by taking a very slow PMV which costs K 5.
Located a short distance from downtown Madang, Madang airport is served by Air Nuigini and PNG Air, who operate from their own, separate, terminals. The terminal used by Air PNG is an old, small, run-down shed. A new, joint, terminal is currently under construction and is due to be completed by August 2020.
Despite its close proximity to town, it’s not safe to walk into town from the airport, as the main road passes through a very rough neighbourhood. All hotels in Madang will arrange airport transfer.
With 600 different islands throughout the country, many PNG islanders rely on Banana boats to connect them to the mainland and elsewhere.
These are very different to those giant, yellow, banana-shaped, inflatable tubes which are towed along behind a speed boat in holiday destinations around the world.
While cheap, Banana boats can often be overcrowded and can lack safety features such as life jackets. The boats sit low in the water and should be avoided during rough weather.
Due to a limited road network, poorly maintained roads and security issues on remote country roads (robberies do occur), driving a rental car in PNG presents certain challenges. An exception is Port Moresby where roads are well maintained, traffic is reasonable and security is good. Within Port Moresby, signage is poor, so a good navigation app such as Google Maps or Waze is essential.
The first letter of PNG license plates denotes the town the vehicle is registered in with ‘M‘ representing Madang, ‘L‘ representing Lae, ‘H‘ for Mt Hagen and ‘B‘ for Port Moresby.
If you’re determined to hire a car, the daily rate for a compact rental from Hertz at Jacksons International airport is K 215 (US$63.00). A litre of fuel costs K 3.44 (US$1.01).
Apart from Hertz – Thrifty, Avis and Travel Cars also operate from Jacksons International airport.
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Other travel reports from the Pacific region:
- American Samoa
- Central Pacific Island Hopping
- French Polynesia
- Galapagos Islands
- Marshall Islands
- New Caledonia
- Solomon Islands
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Author: Darren McLean
A perpetual traveller, photographer, travel writer and owner of taste2travel, a website which aims to inspire wanderlust.