Getting there & away
If you buy your flight to PNG with Air Niugini you qualify for discounts on the airline’s domestic services.
There are plenty of boats plying the waters around PNG and the Solomons, but very few are actually scheduled services to other countries.
Unless you are a Torres Strait Islander, it is illegal to island hop between Thursday Island (known as TI to locals) and PNG. You can exit Australia from TI but you must go directly to PNG, usually Daru, where you can pass through immigration if you already have a visa.
PNG and the Solomons are popular stopping points for cruising yachts, either heading through Asia or the Pacific. In PNG you can clear immigration at Alotau, Daru, Kavieng, Kimbe, Lae, Lorengau, Madang, Misima Island, Port Moresby, Rabaul, Samarai and Vanimo. You must get a visa before you arrive. See www.noonsite.com for a full rundown.
There is no shortage of ‘Pacific island paradises’ in PNG and the Solomons, but finding one of the huge trans-Pacific cruising vessels that calls in is nigh impossible. Samarai Island in Milne Bay Province used to see one or two ships a year, but not anymore.
On a slightly smaller scale North Star Cruises (+618 9192 1829; www.northstarcrusies.com.au) offers cruises aboard the True North which is limited to 36 passengers who depart from Cairns in Australia on a Dash 8 aircraft and land in Alotau. The luxury boat plies through the Louisiade islands in Milne Bay Province, Tufi, New Britain, the Duke of Yorks and onto Kavieng from where passengers fly back to Cairns.
The Orion (1300 361 012 in Australia; www.orioncruises.com.au) has a cruise that leaves Auckland in New Zealand, and travels through New Caledonia, Vanuatu before visiting Santa Ana, the Nggelas and Gizo in the Solomons, and Rabaul in PNG.
For something smaller and more boutique try the SV Imajica II (www.theimajicaexperience.com) that does charters, surfaris, diving and exploratory cruises through the waters of PNG.
The only land border crossing in either PNG or the Solomon Islands is between Vanimo in Sandaun Province and Jayapura in Papua Province (West Papua), Indonesia. At the time of research this border (PNG 9am-5pm, Indonesia 8am-4pm) was open and operating pretty smoothly, but it has a history of closing at short notice so check Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree (thorntree.lonelyplanet.com) bulletin board before making plans.
Leaving PNG for Indonesia is relatively straightforward although it can take all day to cross between the two countries. If you haven’t already got an Indonesian visa in Port Moresby you’ll need to get one at the Indonesian Consulate (857 1371; fax 857 1373; 9am-noon & 2-4pm Mon-Fri) in Vanimo. It takes 24 hours to issue a 30-day or 60-day visa and only the 30-day visas can be extended inside Indonesia. You’ll need K70, two photos, a completed application form (which you get there) and a passport valid for at least six months. It’s best to say you’re heading for Bali or Manado as they are less controversial destinations than anywhere in Papua.
Locals travel by PMV to the market on the Indonesian side of the border to stock up on cheaply made goods. Immigration officials turn a blind eye to shopping day trippers although this courtesy is seldom extended to foreigners. PMVs to the border (K10, 1½ to two hours) leave around 8am from the main roundabout every weekday. Failing that, Visser Enterprises Ltd will drive you there for K154.
Formalities on the PNG side are easy, however Indonesian immigration isn’t able to stamp you into their country. Instead, you must go directly to the immigration office once you get to Jayapura (opposite the Dafonsoro Hotel), fill out a form and present your passport and 50,000Rp. The staff here like to keep you waiting but if you don’t get the stamp you will have dramas exiting. If you plan on travelling elsewhere in Papua you will need a Surat Keterangan Jalan (SKJ), or travel permit. This is issued by the provincial police office in Jayapura for a small fee and two photos.
Back at the border you will need to catch a shared taxi (16,700Rp or 350,000Rp for the whole car) into Jayapura or hitch.
Entering PNG you must first get a visa in Jayapura (or any other PNG mission). This is fairly straightforward, but will take at least a couple of days. Remember you must get stamped out of Indonesia at the immigration office in Jayapura, not at the border itself. You’ll need to pay a 50,000Rp fee and you must leave within 24 hours of the date of your stamp. The office is open (or can be opened) most of the time and if the staff tell you that your passport can be stamped at the border hold your ground because the border officials will insist that you return to Jayapura!
The occasional bus (1½ hours) leaves for the border. You might need to change buses a few times. If you’re in a hurry consider hiring an ojek (motorbike), or perhaps two (to help with luggage) to take you straight there.
Most people can enter Papua New Guinea with nothing more than a passport with six months’ validity, an onward ticket and enough money to support themselves. Make sure you have at least some cash on you to pay for your visa. The departure tax is incorporated into your ticket price.
The three main PNG-based inbound tour operators are Melanesian Tourist Services, Trans Niugini Tours and Niugini Holidays. They offer a wide variety of tours but prices are usually disconcertingly high. As with tours anywhere, taking this option should give you a pretty smooth trip, but you can do much the same thing for about half the price if you’re prepared to send a few emails and organise it yourself.
Dick Lang’s Desert Air (08-8264 7200, 1800 004 200, both in Australia; www.dicklang.com.au) Operates all-inclusive air safaris. A unique option, visiting some off-the beaten-track places. Itineraries are usually timed around the Goroka and Mt Hagen shows.
Eco-Tourism Melanesia (323 4518; www.em.com.pg) Locally owned and operated, Eco-Tourism Melanesia focuses on village-based tours and cultural, wildlife, bird-watching and trekking trips. Highly recommended, but not cheap.
Field Guides (www.fieldguides.com/png.htm) Well-organised but expensive bird-watching tours, focusing on birds of paradise. US-based.
Melanesian Tourist Services (675-311 2050; www.mtspng.com) Operates several high-end resorts, which you’ll stay at on its tours. Runs diving and Sepik tours.
Niugini Holidays (1300 850 020, 02-9290 2055, both in Australia; www.nghols.com) Probably the biggest range of tours, from specialised family tours through surfing, fishing, diving, trekking, war-veterans tours and more.
Trans Niugini Tours (675-542 1438; www.pngtours.com) Based in Mt Hagen, these guys operate the Sepik Spirit and several luxury lodges. There are general tours, wildlife tours, treks, cruises and tours of the cultural shows.
The vast majority of visitors to PNG and the Solomon Islands will arrive by air.
The good thing about flying into PNG is that you don’t have to shop around too much looking for a ticket. In the past routes into PNG were almost exclusively controlled by the national airline. Recently there’s been some new competition that, thankfully, has brought down airfares. But, even though prices have come down, airfares into PNG are still expensive.
The national airline of PNG is Air Niugini (1300 361 380 in Australia; www.airniugini.com.pg). It and Airlines PNG (1300 002 764 in Australia; www.apng.com) are the only carriers that operate scheduled services to PNG. Qantas (www.qantas.com) has a code-share agreement with Air Niugini that awards Qantas Frequent Flyer points on international flights. Qantas sells seats on flights between Australia and PNG, but Qantas planes no longer fly to PNG: Air Niugini carries Qantas passengers. Air Niugini flies to Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney in Australia, and Tokyo, Manila, Singapore and Honiara. At the time of research, Cairns and Brisbane were the only cities from which you could fly to PNG with Airlines PNG.
Jackson’s Airport (POM) located in Port Moresby is, for the time being, the only international airport in PNG. For years there has been talk of Mt Hagen and Alotau reopening for international flights – if they do, flights will probably be to/from Cairns only.
There’s an Air Niugini office (327 3396) at Jackson’s Airport where you can buy domestic and international tickets.
There are no flights between PNG and neighbouring Indonesia. Garuda Indonesia and a couple of Indonesia’s new budget airlines do fly to Jayapura, just across the border from PNG; travel agencies in Jakarta and Denpasar can help, otherwise you have to fly via Singapore or Cairns.
Air Niugini has weekly flights between Manila and Port Moresby on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There are also flights from Singapore on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday.
An agency worth considering is STA Travel (Bangkok 02 236 0262; www.statravel.co.th; Singapore 6737 7188; www.statravel.com.sg; Tokyo 03 5391 2922; www.statravel.co.jp). Another resource in Japan is No 1 Travel (03 3205 6073; www.no1-travel.com). Schenker Travel (2545 1033; www.schenker.com.hk), in Hong Kong, is efficient and reliable.
Air Niugini operates code-share services with Qantas between Australia and PNG. There are a range of fares and some complex discount structures (see www.airniugini.com.pg for details) and it pays to book ahead. The following prices are for the full-fare/cheapest discounted return seats including taxes and charges: Sydney (A$2670/810, twice weekly); Brisbane (A$2225/805, daily); and Cairns (A$1463/534, daily). Promotional fares must be paid for within 24 hours of booking. You can book at either Qantas or Air Niugini offices online (the Air Niugini website calculates fares in kina) or through a travel agency.
From New Zealand to PNG, connect with an Air Niugini flight in Australia. Flights to Australia can be very cheap if you plan ahead. STA Travel (0508 782 872; www.statravel.co.nz) has branches throughout the country and www.travel.co.nz is a good online source.
The easiest and probably the cheapest way from Europe to PNG is to put together a ticket to Singapore or Australia and then on to Port Moresby on an Air Niugini flight. There are millions of deals to Australia or Singapore, some of the cheapest with airlines such as Gulf Air (www.gulfairco.com), Emirates (www.emirates.com), Qantas (www.qantas.com) or Eva Air (www.evaair.com), costing from €1100 return including taxes. Most round-the-world tickets take in Singapore and Australia; you could tack on a flight to PNG or the Solomons. The Singapore option is obviously shorter, but coming via Australia gives you far more dates (more than a dozen flights per week versus two from Singapore to Port Moresby).
Alternatively, you could fly return to Fiji with Korean Air (www.koreanair.com) and hook up with a Nadi–Port Moresby or Nadi–Honiara flight with Air Pacific (www.airpacific.com), Air Niugini or Solomon Airlines.
Some reliable agencies:
Anyway (0892-893 892; www.anyway.fr in French)
Nouvelles Frontières (0825-000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr in French)
OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr in French) This agency specialises in student and youth travel.
Just Travel (089-747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Lastminute (01805-284 366; www.lastminute.de in German)
CTS Viaggi (06-462 0431; www.cts.it in Italian) Italian agency, specialising in student and youth travel.
Air Pacific operates from Nadi to Honiara (S$3184 one-way including taxes), from where Air Niugini flies to Port Moresby. Alternatively, Air Niugini flies Nadi to Port Moresby return for K1623 (valid for 14 days). The only other way of getting to PNG from the Pacific is via Australia.
Flying via Australia is the obvious way to get to PNG from the UK and Ireland, and is especially attractive given the plethora of cheap deals on offer. Return tickets from London to Australia can cost as little as UK£680 including taxes; or you could consider a round-the-world ticket taking in Australia and starting at about UK£850. You would then have to tack on flights to the PNG, but if you make your way to Cairns these are relatively cheap.
In the UK, advertisements for many travel agencies appear in the travel pages of the weekend broadsheet newspapers, in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT. Also check out the following:
Bridge the World (0870-444 7474; www.b-t-w.co.uk)
STA Travel (0870-160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travellers under the age of 26.
Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0870-890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
There are a couple of options from North America: fly to Australia, then on to Port Moresby; or fly to Narita (Tokyo), Manila or Singapore, then on to Port Moresby. Deals between a number of US and Canadian cities and Australia’s east coast are common and a good return flight to Australia is about US$1150.
The via-Asia options might prove cheaper, but with only one or two flights to PNG a week they can be inconvenient. Deals to Narita can be particularly good (US$570 from the west coast, US$730 from New York), and if you’re flying from the east coast, might cut out a couple of stops. Some agencies recommended for online bookings: