Why Papua New Guinea
One of the last true frontiers for intrepid and adventurous travellers, with over 750 tribes speaking at least 848 different known languages, and almost 90% of the total population still living a rural subsistence lifestyle. Welcome to Papua New Guinea; the most culturally diverse country in the world.
One of the Earth’s least explored countries culturally and geographically, centuries-old customs and tribal practices are alive and well here. Situated in the Coral Triangle and with amazing WWII history, PNG is a diver’s paradise as untouched reefs and amazing wrecks abound. An astonishingly high percentage of endemic plants and animals, Papua New Guinea is heaven for nature lovers.
Hike pristine rainforests, journey deep into wild rivers in dugout canoes, come face to face with ancient tribes, choose your own adventure and let us take you there!
Have incredible encounters meeting some of the tribal icons for which Papua New Guinea is famous.
In the Highlands region, the extravagant Huli Wigmen are as synonymous with PNG as the Birds of Paradise they mimic, while the ghoulish Asaro Mudmen are perhaps the most distinctive tribe in Papua New Guinea. With their macabre masks, skin painted white and elongated bamboo fingers the Asaro Mudmen truly appear as though from another world. In the Wahgi Valley, learn about sorcery and witchcraft from real Sangarum (witch doctors). The spirit realm, sorcery and witchcraft are deeply interwoven into the fabric of these ancient societies and black magic is still widely practiced today. Enga, Tari, Simbu and Jiwaka all have their own unique practices. Centuries-old dances and regalia paying homage to ancestral spirits and those of the natural world.
Nowhere in PNG is the feeling of stepping back into an ancient world as strong as a journey deep into the bows of the mystical Sepik. The crocodile is revered above all here, and its iconography adorns houses, canoes and even the backs of young men. The Crocodile Men of the Iatmul Tribe in Middle Sepik undergo extensive ritual scarification as their rite of passage to becoming men. These marks can have various meanings, whether it is to intone the ancestral crocodile and its valued qualities of strength, power and spirit or for security, protection and connection with the totems and ancestors of their clan, each scarification is unique to that individual. Carving is highly respected in the Sepik. Most of the distinctly Papua New Guinean art exhibited around the world originates here. You’ll marvel at the intricacies of highly detailed masks, ‘storyboards’ and ‘Haus Tambarans’.
The single most breathtaking cultural spectacle on offer in PNG is to be found in the mountainous interior of East New Britain. The Baining Fire Dancing is a performance like no other on Earth. Driven to a trance-like state by the hypnotising rhythm of chants and drums from their tribesman, initiated young men pay homage to their ancestors whose spirits reside in the regions numerous active volcanoes. In ornate oversized masks, they flit in and out of the shadows, dancing in, on and through the fire kicking sparks high into the night sky. Onlookers are encouraged to stand well back!
*The experiences above provide a glimpse of the limitless cultural experiences on offer in Papua New Guinea, rather than detail an exhaustive list (which would be almost impossible). Oceania Expeditions are highly specialised in arranging unique, authentic and private cultural immersion for our guests and draw upon our local knowledge and extensive network to infuse transformational encounters into our itineraries.
Papua New Guinea is home to the world’s third-largest tropical rainforest. 11,000 known species of vascular plants, 200 species of ferns and over 1,200 species of trees reside here, with over half of these endemic to PNG.
The island of New Guinea which comprises 1% of the world’s landmass is home to at least 5% of the world’s known species. There are as many species of flora and fauna in PNG as there are in Australia, in just 10% of the size. This incredible diversity is due to no less than five distinct eco regions ranging from lowland mangrove to savannah style grasslands, dense, almost impenetrable rainforest and soaring mountain peaks. Oceania Expeditions is your ticket to explore any or all of these magnificent environs, whether its traversing the Mighty Sepik River in dugout canoes, traipsing thick jungles in search of rare species and giant waterfalls or trekking little known tracks in the mountainous interior. Through extensive research, meticulous planning and relationships with traditional landowners Oceania Expeditions can create a tailored itinerary to take you way off the beaten track in this wild frontier.
Pioneering Naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace once described Birds of Paradise as “the world’s most beautiful feathered inhabitants”. 38 of the 42 species of Bird of Paradise inhabit the jungles of Papua New Guinea. These miracles of nature could only evolve in a land where food is abundant and they face no natural predators. For many ardent bird watchers from around the world, catching a glimpse of a Bird of Paradise in the wild is the greatest prize of all, and this is just the beginning of the fun for twitchers. They will also find the world’s largest pigeon, the world’s smallest parrot, cassowaries and bowerbirds, hawks, kites and eagles to name a few! Add to this the extensive list of endemic mammals including tree kangaroos, kuskus, a number of rare echidna and you begin to get an idea of how special Papua New Guinea is for nature lovers.
…and this is just above the water.
To Dive For
Papua New Guinea offers divers some of the most diverse underwater ecosystems anywhere in the world. Situated in the Coral Triangle, a common theory in scientific circles is that the origins of all coral may have been the Bismarck Sea! An absolute nirvana for underwater photographers of all skill levels, many of the world’s award-winning photographers have scooped their prizes with shots taken in Papua New Guinea. PNG has twice the number of distinct species found in the Red Sea and five times the amount found in the Caribbean. The scene of numerous land, air and sea battles, the north coast of Papua New Guinea is littered with WWII wrecks for divers who love rust as much as reef. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to challenge your skills or a novice looking to experience the wonders of the underwater world for the first time, diving in PNG will blow your mind. Talk to the team at Oceania Expeditions about your diving aspirations. From taking in a handful of dives as part of a more rounded itinerary, to chartering your own private liveaboard for you and a group of friends or even exclusive use of your own eco-resort with a team of dedicated dive specialists, we will create the trip to suit your needs.
Here are a few of our favourite PNG dive adventures:
Widely considered to have the best diving in Papua New Guinea. Marine life thrives here because of a unique recipe of factors. The currents of the Bismarck Sea carry nutrients from the Solomon Basin into the bay sheltered by the Willaumez Peninsula leading to spectacular biodiversity. The abundant and pristine reefs hark back to a time before the oceans knew of pollution, climate change and over harvesting. An amazing 860 species of fish, 400 species of stony corals and 10 species of whales and dolphins have been identified here. Ranges of shark species are regularly sighted, including hammerheads and silvertips, particularly on the offshore reefs. A resident pod of friendly dolphins often enjoys interacting with and entertaining visiting divers. Occasional Orcas, Pilot Whales and Whale Sharks on migratory routes have provided those lucky enough with once in a lifetime encounters.
Located on the rim of a huge caldera that forms the superb natural anchorage of Simpson Harbour. Rabaul was the second area captured by the Japanese in 1942 when they invaded, becoming the main army and navy base for the Imperial forces in PNG. The tide of war turned when the Allied Forces counter-attacked. For fortunate divers, Simpson Harbour became the last resting place of approximately 54 Japanese ships. It is now considered the wreck capital of diving in Papua New Guinea! This combined with the gorgeous Duke of York Islands and sprawling reefs some 30km to the east makes East New Britain prime diving real estate.
The waters of New Ireland buzz with sea life. Water temperature is about 29°C/85F all year round and the underwater visibility is between 30 and 40 meters/90-120 feet on most dives. Dive Albatross Passage at an incoming tide for vast numbers of fish and sea life. Eagle Rays, white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks, big tuna, jacks, barracudas and even mobula rays can be seen here as well as little creatures such as nudibranchs, leaf scorpionfish and pygmy seahorse.
From the sweet little resort perched high on the banks of the Tropical Fjords, diving in Tufi offers over 40 dive sites with everything from world class muck diving right off the end of the pier, to amazing night dives and atolls which are home to Hammer Heads, eels and huge schools of pelagics.
Milne Bay, the Province
Takes its name from the large deep-water bay at the eastern tip of mainland New Guinea. The Battle of Milne Bay was one of the most important battles in WWII, the first time the Japanese were defeated and driven back and remnants of this still litter the ocean floor. The province sprawls for over 270,000 square kilometres and is made up of over 600 islands.
This enormous seascape is a genuine frontier for adventurous divers with real opportunity to be among the first to dive on pristine, unexplored sites.
Trekking and Hiking
A land of beautiful rugged landscapes and mesmerizing cultures with very little road and transport infrastructure, PNG has the potential to be a trekking mecca. For the vast majority of the population walking for days on little bush tracks is a way of life and the primary mode of transport. For those of you who were born to move, here are a couple of our favourites.
Climb Mount Hagen and camp overnight in a cave at the top. This hike up the mountain from which the town takes its name passes through dense, pristine rainforest on your way to the summit. Help your guides collect wood, build a fire and prepare the evening meal before rolling out your sleeping mat and bags in your room for the night, a cave high above the Wahgi Valley. Share stories with your local guides around the fire of local myths and legends. A night to remember. Your morning descent as the mist clears in the valleys below is life affirming as the clean air from the jungle below fills your lungs and you arrive back at base camp around lunchtime. This is a challenging hike through thick rainforest. Allow eight hours up and six hours back.
Summit Mount Wilhelm, the highest peak in Oceania at 4509m. Travel by road from either Goroka or Mount Hagen to Kegesugl, overnight then hike up to base camp. Spend an afternoon exploring around the lakes, stunningly beautiful. Have an early night, then depart at 1am for a challenging climb up the summit. On a clear morning there are views all the way down to both North and South Coasts. An amazing experience.
Mount Wilhelm is accessible but not to be taken lightly as altitude becomes a factor. As well as the main climb and there are a number of excellent hikes to be taken from base camp along craggy ridges taking in a number of high-altitude lakes. Two nights at base camp give you the opportunity to hike, explore and enjoy these stunning surroundings.
Lark Force Track in East New Britain is the route the Australian Soldiers took to retreat when they were overwhelmed by the Japanese in WWII. This is a challenging 7-8 day trek through spectacular, mountainous country. In January 1942 this escape route was taken by exhausted Australian Militia units with little food and equipment who had received the instruction ‘every man for himself’, when it was realised the size of the force was too small to mount any real resistance to the enormous Japanese invasion. Stories of friendship, heroisms and tragedy were forged along the gruelling track.
Adventure; Choose your own.
Few places on earth can match the raw, unbridled adventure on offer in PNG. The mountains, jungles, rivers and swamps, open expanses of ocean and picture-perfect tropical islands provide those with a penchant for exploration the opportunity to step well and truly off the path of mainstream tourism and into a world limited only by their imagination. Here are a couple of ideas to get the creative juices flowing
Take an adventure on the high seas as we charter a rustic, charming and much-loved converted Prawn Trawler to explore the islands of Milne Bay Province. Expect the call of “fish on” to ring out from the deck with frequency as you pull in tuna, snapper, groper and barramundi for your BBQs on remote uninhabited islands at night. In addition to world-class fishing and diving, we will be on the trail of South Sea Pearls, barter for vegetables on single-family islands, cook enormous, freshly caught crayfish under the stars, and spend time with different remote communities partaking of their culture and laid back, self-sufficient lifestyle. This area is magic in more ways than one. Witchcraft is still a prominent feature of daily life, and the skulls of both ancestors and enemies adorn caves near many villages. Rumours persist that the skeletal remains of a clan of giants can be found on an island in the north who were invaded and cannibalised by an enemy tribe.
Take a chartered helicopter flight into the Nakanai Ranges, home to the Mysterious Rivers of New Britain. The Nakanai Mountains are up to 2,185 metres high in the central-eastern part of the island. They span over 550,000 hectares which is known as ‘cock pit karst’ is covered in dense tropical forest. Great river effluxes and cave entrances are still being found. These caves are made of soft limestone which is between 22.5 – 10.5 million year’s old. The upper reaches of these canyons and their side ravines contain some of the most powerful springs in the world—their sources are located in giant caves deep within the limestone layer. Churning rapids jet through enormous passages, some of the largest, most remote river caves on the planet. From the air they appear like impact craters, as if a volley of meteorites had long ago pummelled the forest. Very few people have witnessed this first hand! Chopper into this awe-inspiring landscape, swim in the pure spring waters of the rivers and sink holes and meet the remote local tribes who call this place home who are seldom visited by the outside world.
Travel via dugout canoe, deep into the Sepik the quintessential experience. Stay with local villagers in their wood stilted houses and experience a world that has changed little through the millennia. Dine on fresh fish and locally grown ‘sago’ (a major carbohydrate of the area). These remote villages vibrate with life, culture and tradition. Thousands of people who speak any one of 250 different languages rely on the river for their livelihood, which is abundant with marine life including crocodiles, sharks, sawfish and barramundi. For those seeking to take it to the next level, ask us about organising a traditional hunting trip along the foot of the ranges dividing the low-lying Sepik Basin from the rugged highlands interior. Cap your experience by hunting crocodiles the traditional way, trying to capture them alive. Not for the faint of heart!
Of all the tribes to capture the world’s collective imagination, none are more synonymous with PNG than the Wigmen of Huli Province, from deep in the remote mountainous jungles of the Southern Highlands. Yet for all their recognition, the Huli Wigmen remain resolutely traditional in their customs, practices and lifestyle. The Huli Wigmen live and breath their kastom. Grass skirts and the famous wigs are a 24-hour fixture. On this once in a lifetime adventure, you will join the Huli to live as they do, sleeping, eating and hunting with the Wigmen.