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History & Culture

Papua New Guinea: The Pacific’s Ultimate Adventure

3 min read
Published on Apr 01, 2024
Christian Baines
By Christian BainesContributing Writer

If the phrase “frontier destination” gets your attention, it’s time to take a closer look at Papua New Guinea. This little-visited country neighbours Australia and Indonesia, yet it feels a world away from either country…or anywhere else on Earth.

Lush jungles and jagged mountains define the geography of Papua New Guinea. In this beautiful landscape, unique bird and animal species thrive alongside a human culture going back an estimated 40,000 years. Yet as recently as the 1970s, some tribes in Papua New Guinea were only meeting westerners for the first time. Despite years under German and British colonial rule, Papua New Guinea’s native cultures thrived all but untouched by the outside world.

For adventurous travellers, it’s an irresistible trip.

forest covered islands from aerial view
New Britain or “Niu Briten” is a popular dive site for foreign travellers in Papua New Guinea.

Port Moresby is most visitors’ first stop, being Papua New Guinea’s capital, largest city, and biggest international airport. Another popular spot on the coast is Madang. One of the prettiest towns in the South Pacific, Madang is also an ideal base for exploring offshore coral gardens and volcanoes. It’s in the Sepik River and Mount Hagen regions, however, where PNG’s uniqueness and diversity really shine through.

In full traditional dress, locals showcase their ornate and intensely coloured outfits. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at a sing-sing, where tribes and villages come together in a festival of song, dance, and colourful costumes that showcases their distinct cultures. The costumes, masks, and body paint may not look very friendly, but the sing-sing is a key diplomatic event, historically keeping between communities. For visitors lucky enough to see one, it’s an unforgettable spectacle unlike any other.

Fearsome as the sing-sing can look, you won’t find many destinations friendlier than Papua New Guinea. In line with a tradition called the wantok system, Papuans place great value on helping others, and that extends to visitors too. Did we mention diversity? 826 languages are spoken in various parts of PNG, with very little crossover. As a result, interacting with locals in one part of the country is very different to meeting those in another, and lifestyles in the mountains are vastly different to those near the sea.

Few outsiders understand that diversity better than Bob Bates. A tour operator since 1976, he’s one of the pioneers of Papua New Guinea tourism, who now owns and operates seven wilderness lodges in the Western Province, along the Sepik and on the coast. Though he doesn’t consider himself a risk taker, Bob’s travels have taken him to destinations as diverse as Zimbabwe and North Korea, so it’s no surprise he remains passionate about sharing all that’s unique about PNG with guests.

As exciting as Papua New Guinea is, remember: you’re really out there! Adequate travel insurance is a must. Follow the advice of your guide or trusted locals to stay safe and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime, exploring the Pacific’s last true frontier.

This article was originally published in No. 32 of Globetrotting Magazine.

Related Topics
History & Culture
Papua New Guinea
South Pacific
Christian Baines
Christian Baines
Goway - Contributing Writer

Christian’s first globetrotting adventure saw him get lost exploring the streets of Saigon. Following his nose to Asia’s best coffee, two lifelong addictions were born. A freelance writer and novelist, Christian’s travels have since taken him around his native Australia, Asia, Europe, and much of North America. His favourite trips have been through Japan, Spain, and Brazil, though with a love of off-beat, artsy cities, he’ll seize any opportunity to return to Paris, New York, or Berlin.

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