Introducing Papua New Guinea
Travelling in PNG can be challenging. With almost no tourism infrastructure and limited information available in books and on websites, it can feel like you’re stepping into the great unknown. But this is exactly why travellers find this country so compelling. Nothing is contrived for tourists and every experience is authentic - even the main island of Bougainville is a largely DIY travel experience. The striking natural beauty and myriad complex cultures offer some riveting and truly life-affirming experiences. The island of New Guinea, of which Papua New Guinea is the eastern part, is only one-ninth as big as Australia, yet it has just as many mammal species, and more kinds of birds and frogs. PNG is Australia’s biological mirror-world. Both places share a common history going back tens of millions of years, but Australia is flat and has dried out, while PNG is wet and has become mountainous. As a result, Australian kangaroos bound across the plains, while in PNG they climb in the rainforest canopy.
For a glimpse into PNG's fascinating tribal cultures, the Highlands is where you should head (the town of Tari is a good place to see traditional Huli wigmen), while the Central, Oro & Milne Bay Provinces are home to gorgeous reefs and historic wartime sites - including the country's foremost attraction, the Kokoda Track. Also part of these eastern provinces, and about as far off the beaten track as you can get, the D’Entrecasteaux Islands are like the land that time forgot, mountainous, jungly and totally undeveloped. The gritty capital Port Moresby, on the other hand, is big and sprawling and even a bit intimidating until you get under its skin and see past the bad press.
PNG is one of earth’s megadiverse regions, and it owes much of its diversity to its topography. The mountainous terrain has spawned diversity in two ways: isolated mountain ranges are often home to unique fauna and flora found nowhere else, while within any one mountain range you will find different species as you go higher. In the lowlands are jungles whose trees are not that different from those of Southeast Asia. Yet the animals are often startlingly different – cassowaries instead of tapirs, and marsupial cuscus instead of monkeys.
The greatest diversity of animal life occurs at around 1500m above sea level. The ancestors of many of the marsupials found in these forests were derived from Australia some five million years ago. As Australia dried out they vanished from that continent, but they continued to thrive and evolve in New Guinea, producing a highly distinctive fauna. Birds of paradise and bowerbirds also abound there, and the forest has many trees typical of the forests of ancient Gondwana. As you go higher the forests get mossier and the air colder. By the time you have reached 3000m above sea level the forests are stunted and wreathed in epiphytes. It’s a formation known as elfin woodland, and in it one finds many bright honeyeaters, native rodents and some unique relics of prehistory, such as the giant long-beaked echidna. Above the elfin woodland the trees drop out, and a wonderland of alpine grassland and herbfield dominates, where wallabies and tiny birds, like the alpine robin, can often be seen. It is a place where snow can fall and where early morning ice coats the puddles.
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Best places to stay in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands travel guide
Coral-ringed beaches, tropical islands, smouldering volcanoes and rainforest-covered mountains set the stage for unforgettable adventures in PNG and the Solomon Islands, while traditional villages and Highlands’ festivals provide magnificent settings to experience what are still powerful tradition cultures.
Most action-packed jungles
Make like Tarzan and take on one of these truly original rainforest adventures. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Battlefield crossing, Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea Hiker on the Kokoda Track. Image by Andrew Peacock / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
This phrasebook is a guide to the pidgins and creoles of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, north Australia and the Torres Strait. Covers Bislama, Solomon Islands Pijin, Tok Pisin and more.
Papua New Guinea destination guides
Travel literature review: Looking for Adventure
Looking for Adventure by Steve Backshall Rating: 4 out of 5 Reviewed by Lorna Parkes In essence, Looking for Adventure is about a man’s obsession with an idea that fixates all travel junkies: getting off the beaten track.
Tasmania Multi Activity Adventure
Walk in Cradle Mountain and the Walls of Jerusalem then cycle and kayak your way from Launceston to Hobart
The Kokoda Track
Surrounded by dense greenery, glistening rivers and incredible views, it is hard to believe that just over 70 years ago the 96 km Kokoda Trail was the site of one of the bloodiest battles for Australian troops in World War II. Even nowadays, to conquer the trail requires dedication, courage and mateship, just like it did back in the 1940s.
Great waterways of the world
Traditionally, along with the sea, rivers and canals were the main means of transporting goods, so history and culture is ripe along the banks of the world's rivers. Using these ancient highways to explore a destination is a quieter and more relaxing affair than the usual transport of planes, trains and automobiles.