Highlands (Papua New Guinea)
The Highlands is a region in Papua New Guinea.
Artifacts uncovered in the Ivane Valley indicate that the Highlands were first settled about 50000 years ago. The inhabitants were nomadic foragers but around 10000 years ago began developing a fairly advanced agricultural society. Europeans arrived in the 19th Century and in the beginning of the 20th century, Australian explorers delved into the unexplored interior of Papua New Guinea in search for gold, thus initiating European settlement in the area.
The Highlands has the most people of all of Papua New Guinea. Highlanders are comprised of a number of different tribes scattered across the Highland plateau surrounded by mountains. Traditionally they live in clans which comprises a group of families living in small agrarian communities and protecting each others interests not uncommonly by fighting small skirmishes with neighbouring clans (which usually doesn't result in casualties as the clan in that case has to pay a severance to the family of the deceased). The largest tribe are the Huli wigmen, who are famous for their tradition of growing ornamental wigs from their own hair.
As always in Papua New Guinea there is the problem with language. The staff in hotels and some stores will probably be able to speak a rudimentary english but as soon as you get out of the cities people will probably only speak pidgin, or Tok Ples (Which is a generic term for the tribal languages). Therefore it's highly recommended for any traveller to bring along a guide that comes from the area.
The Highlands Highway connects Lae with Goroka, Kundiawa, capital of Chimbu Province, and Mt. Hagen. It then branches into two, with one road heading into Enga province as far as the Porgera gold mine and the other heading to the towns of the Southern Highlands. After Mt. Hagen, 4WD is advisable.
Apart from the Highlands Highway there are some rudimentary roads but they are a) slow and generally in a very bad shape (think, muddy sludge) and b) dangerous because of the occurrence of holdups. The recommended way to get around is to fly to the closest airport to where you want to go and trek from there. There is an abundance of tiny airstrips and these are often served by Mission Air Fellowship (MAF), which has its headquarters in Mt. Hagen and operates twelve planes throughout PNG both supplying mission stations and supporting local communities. It is sometimes possible for tourists to fly with MAF.
The Highlands is an agricultural society and they do not consume much meat (the pigs are usually saved for weddings and great feasts to show off the wealth of the clan.) The local diet is bland and very starch-intensive. Taro, Kau-Kau (sweet potato), imported rice and other vegetables are the daily staple diet for most people. The villagers generally do not use spices, so it's best to bring some salt and pepper along just in case. In the towns of Goroka and Mt. Hagen there are some restaurants (usually at the hotels) which serve good food, but they are few and far between. The coffee from the Highlands is famous for its high quality: be sure to buy some coffee beans to take home.
One should always be careful in situations where people are drinking alcohol in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the Highlands. The locals tend to become quite rowdy when drinking and have difficulties controlling the amount they consume.
A stones throw down the road from Ambua Lodge is the more rustic Warili Lodge that is run by locals, is only $20/night, and offers birdwatching as good as, or better, than what is offered at Ambua Lodge.
The Ambua lodge One of the most spectacular hotels imaginable. Located close to the village of Tari in Southern Highlands, it is comprised of bungalows built in the traditional Huli way. The scenery is to die for, with beautiful scenic walks in proximity to the hotel, and the sunsets are amazing. There are possibilities to organize bird-watching tours to see many species of birds of paradise, something which several famous film-makers, such as sir David Attenborough, have taken advantage of during the years. There are also tours to the small surrounding villages with the possibility of an overnight stay for the adventurous. This is one of the most famous hotels/lodges in Papua New Guinea and something that should be experienced if one has the opportunity. ($200/night)
It is said that the Highland people go to war over three different things: Land, Pigs, and Women. So as long as you stay away from those three things you should be safe. It is important to consider especially when trekking in the Highlands that every inch of land there is owned by one or other clan who fiercely protect it. It is customary to give money to the people that own the land you are traversing. Therefore it is always best to have someone experienced set up the deal with the locals before setting out. It can also be extremely helpful to have a guide from the area with you to avoid any misunderstandings (sometimes a few are needed since not all of them can safely travel through other clans land.) The payback skirmishes that happen occasionally is nothing for the tourist to be concerned about. There are even instances when tourists have been able to witness ongoing struggles between families without any harm coming to them, but as always, it is better to err on the safe side and stay away from those areas.