Papua New Guinea offers poor value in terms of accommodation. When compared with the cheap-as-chips places of nearby Indonesia, or even with the developed-world prices of neighbouring Australia, hotel rates make for grim reading.
Booking well ahead is imperative during festival times when tour groups descend en masse. Apart from festival weekends and national holidays, tourists make up such a small percentage of hotel guests that there is no clearly defined high or low season.
- Camping is not a traditional part of Melanesian culture. Travellers are usually welcomed into whatever dwelling is available.
- All land has a traditional owner somewhere and you need to seek permission to camp – finding the landowner could take a while.
- Unless you’re planning on doing some seriously off-the-beaten-track trekking, don’t bother bringing a tent.
Hotels & Resorts
- The vast majority of hotels fall into the midrange and top-end categories in terms of price if not quality. They principally cater to the large mining consortiums and their notoriously deep pockets.
- In major towns, hotels are equipped with a bathroom, cable TV, phone and air-con, and might include a fridge, tea- and coffee-making facilities, breakfast, and free transport to and from the airport. Despite their hefty five-star price tags, don’t expect much beyond three-star quality.
- Truly top-end resorts are few and far between. Tariffs may include some activities as most tourist-orientated resorts revolve around diving, birdwatching, trekking, fishing or cultural visits. Trans Niugini Tours is the largest such operator with seven luxury lodges scattered throughout the mainland.
- Wherever you head, don’t forget to ask about specials, and corporate and weekend rates.
Missions, Hostels & Guesthouses
- The cheapest accommodation options are usually the region’s many mission guesthouses, community-run hostels and private guesthouses. Mission guesthouses are mainly for church types, but the lodgings are generally clean, homey and open to travellers.
- Quality varies and the cheaper ones have no air-con and shared bathrooms.
- You’ll have to put up with a few rules – drinking and smoking are discouraged (or banned) and you can expect to hear grace before meals.
- The managers are usually interesting people and great sources of information – best described as Bible-handlers rather than bashers.
- Among the missions, the Lutheran guesthouses are consistently good.
Large numbers of expats come and go and there is no shortage of long-term rental accommodation. Much of it is attached to midrange and top-end hotels, but there are some less expensive alternatives. Check www.pngbd.com/forum/f74s.html on the Papua New Guinea Business Directory.
One of the great experiences of travelling in PNG is taking the opportunity to stay in a village. Village accommodation comes in all manner of guises. It might be a basic hut in a highland village; a tiny thatched stilt house in the Trobriand Islands; or one of the simple village guesthouses on the Huon Gulf coast, or around Tufi, Milne Bay, the Sepik or New Ireland. It might not be a village house at all, but a spare room in a school, space in a police station, in a church house or just about any building you see. Just ask.
Payment Village accommodation can be pretty rough but it’s the cheapest way to see the country, and in most villages you’ll find a local who’ll put you up. You must pay; K30 to K50 is a fair amount to offer a family providing you a roof and kai (food). Ask locals, before you head out of town, what might be appropriate compensation – a live kakaruk (chicken) could be the go. But a live kakaruk can be a hassle to lug around, so maybe a sack of rice, or some canned beef, salt, tea or sugar might be better.
Men and women In some villages couples might be asked to sleep in separate buildings to observe local custom. Most rural villages have a men’s house and these spaces often function as domiciles for elderly or widowed men and young male initiates, as resthouses for male guests and as places where men practise ‘the arts’. Men’s houses are tambu (forbidden) to women – female travellers will be enthusiastically ‘adopted’ by the village women and quickly engaged with the womanly affairs of the community.
Haus kiaps In some villages there’s a haus kiap – a village house set aside for travellers to stay in. These were originally erected for accommodating visiting kiaps (government patrol officers) and some remain today.