Morobe & Madang Provinces
Geographically speaking, Morobe and Madang are similar – both rise from azure seas off Papua New Guinea’s northern coast into a series of thickly forested hills towards imposing mountain ranges. Both also offer plenty of scope to grab a snorkel and banana boat your way to palm-lined bays and coral islands. Lae grew up hard through a notorious 1920s gold rush.
Central, Oro & Milne Bay Provinces
In these eastern provinces, the legendary Kokoda Track zigzags relentlessly through the jungle-clad mountains, throwing down the gauntlet to those who wish to walk in the footsteps of WWII's fallen. Further east, amid the fjords of the rugged coastline, some of the world’s most biologically diverse reefs have divers gasping at their mouthpieces.
East New Britain Province
A basic network of coastal roads and two towns make this the most developed province in the New Guinea islands. With the once-beautiful city of Rabaul levelled by the volcanic eruptions of 1994, Kokopo is now the main centre. Between the two, a strip of villages hug the shore of Blanche Bay.
Milne Bay Province
At the eastern end of mainland PNG, the Owen Stanley Range plunges into the sea, and islands are scattered across the ocean for hundreds of kilometres further out. This is the start of the Pacific proper – tiny atolls, coral reefs, volcanic islands, swaying palms, white beaches and friendly locals.
When European explorers made it into Papua New Guinea’s rugged interior in the 1930s, they didn’t find the unbroken tangle of mountains they had expected. Instead they stumbled into broad, heavily cultivated valleys bordered with sawtooth mountains and home to a million-plus people.
Madang Province is PNG in miniature. It has islander, coastal and mountain cultures plus modern resorts and timeless villages. The fertile coastal strip looks out onto smoking volcanic islands and is backed by some of the most rugged mountains in PNG – the Adelbert and Schrader Ranges to the north, and the Finisterre Range to the south.
Lae is PNG’s second-largest city and, despite having a sizeable industrial base, is more attractive than Port Moresby. Like other PNG cities, the streets are filled with people and it can be hard to imagine what the crowds are doing. No one seems to be in a rush; happy to chat with friends and amble around town.
Madang was once dubbed the ‘Prettiest town in the Pacific’ – not least from its position on a peninsula, surrounded by azure waters sprinkled with picturesque islands – and while it did suffer war-time ruination it retains much of its natural charm. Madang’s warm, wet climate and fertile soil produce luxuriant growth.
Alotau is a spread-out little town built on the hillsides and the northern shore of Milne Bay, its market is a hive of activity, numerous boats depart from colourful Sanderson Harbour and locals lounge under the mighty rain trees. The town became the provincial capital in 1968 when administrators were moved from overcrowded Samarai Island.
Outside Kavieng, the plunge into a more traditional world is immediate. Though the east coast feels more ‘developed’ than the west, with the Boluminski Hwy running most of its length, it retains its aesthetic appeal, shown in its numerous beaches, limestone pinnacles jutting out of the ocean and lagoons of surpassing beauty.