Lae is Papua New Guinea's second city, after the capital Port Moresby and its main economic hub as most of the production from the country's Highlands area is exported through the city, transported along the Highlands Highway. With no road connections between Port Moresby and much of the rest of the mainland, Lae's port is also the main way by which food from the Highlands (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, etc) reaches the capital. Coastal shipping from Lae also offers a cheaper transport option for those who cannot afford to fly to Port Moresby. Known as the "gateway to the Highlands", this does Lae a disservice as it has much to offer in its own right.
In the 1920s, Lae was the busiest airport in the world - it was there that aviators in the gold mining industry first proved that it was commercially feasible to ship cargo (and not just people) by air. Lae was the last known stop of aviator Amelia Earhart on her attempted around-the-world air journey in 1937. She did not reach Howland Island, her next planned refueling stop. During World War II, Lae was a major base for Japanese troops.
Lae's airport is at Nadzab, about 40km north of the city. This was a major US base towards the end of the war. It is served by:
Lae can be reached by car from most cities in PNG's Highlands, via the Highlands Highway, and also from Madang on the north coast.
PMVs run regularly to all towns in the Highlands, including Goroka (30 kina), Mt Hagen, as well as to Madang.
It is possible to get a berth on a coastal freighter from Port Moresby.
According to the latest information on February 2015, the ship to Rabaul depparts on Saturdays from Lae, costing 280 kina for regular. It is better to confirm details beforehand. Lae office contact: +675 472 5699
It might be possible to travel in banana boats all the way to West New Britain and Popondetta (300+ kina, one day).
Chebu Shipping is a new company (operating since the end of 2014) with passenger ships going to Kimbe, Rabaul and Buka/Bougainville. It usually departs from Lae on Sunday (around 11am), reaching Kimbe on Monday, Rabaul on Tuesday and Buka on Wednesday. The prices to Rabaul are 320 lower deck, 340 upper deck and 480 first class. Prices all the way from Lae to Buka are 420 lower deck, 440 upper deck and 630 first class. First class has a berth and includes meals. Lae office contact: +675 472 0764
Take care when driving around Lae as, although the roads are improving, there are many pot holes.
It is advisible to leave a good space between yourself and the car in front of you so you can make a quick getaway if need be.
If you plan to drive - hire a 4wd. Small cars don't cope with roads. Expensive though at ~$300 kina per day.
It is inadvisable for a tourist to wander the streets of Lae alone at night. The central areas of Lae are safe as any other town in PNG during the day.
For little or no money, a hotel guard may accompany a lone traveler for a short walk to go shopping or to the bank.