Difference between revisions of "Papua New Guinea"
Revision as of 15:46, 16 November 2006
Papua New Guinea is an island nation in Australasia.
PNG has 11 regions (7 on the main island and 4 island regions):
What Papua New Guinea lacks in a developed tourist infrastructure, it more than makes up for in, well, pretty much anything else. Typical highlights for the traveler include:
Papua New Guinea (known popularly as 'PNG') - the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (which is the second largest island in the world) - was divided between Germany ('German New Guinea') and Great Britain ('British Papua') in 1884. The Dutch had West Papua, now the Indonesian province Irian Jaya. Papua was owned by England but administered by Australia - and thus a colony of a colony - until Australian independence, when in 1906 it became an Australian colony. In 1914 the Australians did their part in the Allied war effort and took control of German New Guinea, and continued to administer it as a Trust Territory under the League of Nations and (later) the United Nations.
During World War II New Guinea was the site of fierce fighting on land (at Buin and on the Kokoda Track) and sea (at the Battle of the Coral Sea) - it was the first place in the war where the Japanese advance was checked and then reversed. After the war, both New Guinea and Papua were adminstered from the government center of Port Moresby on the south coast, in Papua. In 1975, the country - now united as 'Papua New Guinea' - achieved independence from Australia. Today Papua New Guinea continues to be the foremost country in Melanesia. The country struggles to fulfill the dreams of independence as economic stagnation, corruption, law and order problems, and a nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville.
Papua New Guinea offers the traveler a true paradox. With little to no tourist infrastructure, getting around can be tough. Illness and crime are also obviously a problem in a place without a well-developed healthcare system or a strong police force. But Papua New Guineans themselves are wonderfully welcome people who will go to great lengths to accommodate strangers. Don't be under any illusion - apart from a very few, very expensive package tours, PNG is 120% adventure travel and not for the inexperienced or faint of heart.
But then again, not every traveler is inexperienced or faint of heart, and for people who can make it out to PNG, the experience is unforgettable. PNG's incredible natural beauty is simply undescribable. Its unique flora and fauna includes enormous radiations of marsupials and birds, including the Raggiana bird-of-paradise (PNG's national symbol) and several species of tree kangaroos. Untouched coral reefs compete with spectacular WWII wrecks for the attention of divers, and the hiking is out of control.
The central highlands of Papua New Guinea were not mapped until the 1930s and not effectively brought under government control until the late 1960s. As a result, the people of PNG are even more interesting than the countryside. Papua New Guinea is a place that often markets itself as 'the Last Unknown' or a place where you can still find 'Stone Age People'. Of course, telling a Papua New Guinean that you consider them a stone age savage is incredibly rude. And while you can - if you try hard enough - find old men who remember the first time they or anyone in their society saw metal you'll also have trouble finding anyone who hasn't seem Titanic. Indeed, what makes Papua New Guinea so interesting today is not the fact that it is some sort of living museum, but its incredible dynamism. In the hundred-year shift from stone to steel to silicon, Papua New Guineans have turned the shortest learning curve in human history into one of the most colorful - and often idiosyncratic - experiments in modernity ever produced by human being. Featuring ritual garb made of human hair and rolled up Instant Noodle wrappers, rap in Pidgin English, or tribal warriors named 'Rambo' for their valor in combat, Papua New Guinea's collision with global culture has been intense and fascinating. So don't worry about the fate of 'traditional culture' - in the bar-room brawl between PNG and the global culture industry our biggest worry is keeping PNG from pummeling global culture to a pulp.
Air Niugini flies to and from Cairns, Sydney, and Brisbane, Australia; Honiara, Solomon Islands; Manila, Philippines; Tokyo (Narita), Japan; and Singapore. Airlines of Papua New Guinea flies to and from Cairns.
The only land border is with Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and crossing it involves some preparations but is not that difficult as it might have been. In Jayapura, Indonesia you'll find a PNG consulate to apply for a tourist visa.
Depending on your Indonesian visa there are different options to cross the border. If you have a Visa-on-Arrival, issued to you for example at the Jakarta Airport, you can only cross the border using a boat. Boats can be rented from Hamedi...
Any other type of visa you can rent a car, or an ojek and cross the landborder.
Papua New Guinea is a strange place when it comes to travel. The tropical conditions, fierce geography, and lack of government capacity means there are very few paved roads in the country. With the exception of a brief span of road connecting it to the immediate hinterland, there are no major roads linking Port Moresby to any other city. On the north coast, a tenuous highway theoretically runs from Madang to Wewak.
The big exception to this is the Highlands Highway, which begins in Lae (the country's main port) and runs up into the highlands through Goroka to Mt. Hagen. Shortly outside Mt. Hagen the road branches, with southern line going through the Southern Highlands to Tari while the northern line runs through Enga province and ends in Porgera.
By Public Motor Vehicles (PMV)
It is also possible to travel via bus/PMV, which is the preferred way of travelling by the locals. From Lae Madang, Goroka and Mount Hagen can easily be reached. As a newcomer it is probably adviseable to get help from locals (e.g. hotel-staff). Most towns have several starting points. A trip from Lae to Madang costs between 20 Kina, to Hagen 30 Kina.
Papua New Guinea has historically been one of the world centers for aviation and still features some of the most spectacular flying in the world. 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. In fact, Lae was where Amelia Earhart set off on her last journey.
Air transport is still the most common way to get around between major urban centers - indeed, pretty much every major settlement is built around an airstrip. In fact, the main drag of Mt. Hagen is the old airstrip! Travel from the coast into the highlands is particularly spectacular (don't take your eyes off the window for a second!) and pilots from America, Australia, and other countries work in PNG at reduced salaries just for the great flying. If you don't like small planes (or even smaller helicopters!) however, flying in PNG may not be the best option for you.
People living in PNG's archipelagos get around locally with the ubiquitous banana boat - a thirty or forty foot fiberglass hull with an outboard motor. In addition, two or three shipping lines also sell tickets for passengers who want to leapfrog from one city to another. Sleeping on the open deck of a ship as it crawls slowly through the South Pacific night is about as romantic as it sounds, but beware - it gets cold on the open ocean no matter where you are, so come with some warm clothes or buy a room indoor.
With over 700 languages with names like Asaro, Gahuku, Tairora, and Podopa (or Folopa), it can be pretty difficult to get everyone talking to each other. Two pidgins grew up in this area, Tok Pisin and Hiri Motu, and when the Anglophones married the Hulis and the babies learned the only language they have in common, Tok Pisin became a creole. Tok Pisin sometimes looks like it's English written phonetically ("Yu dring, yu draiv, yu dai"), but it isn't; it has more personal pronouns than English and its own quite different syntax.
Tok Pisin is spoken in most of the country. Hiri Motu is spoken in Port Moresby and other parts of Papua, though since Port Moresby is the capital, you're likely to find Tok Pisin speakers in the airport, banks, or government.
There is not so much shopping in the regular sense to be had in PNG. In the major cities there are a few malls and supermarkets. Otherwise most of the shopping is done in small markets that are held at irregular intervals. A great place to visit is the craft market which is held once per month in Port Moresby down by Ela beach, there it is possible to buy handicrafts from basically every part of the Island. Although it is slightly more expensive than out in the villages, the prices are very reasonable. Haggling is not really an accepted custom, one can haggle a bit but to do it excessively could annoy the locals.
PNG food is largely devoid of spices. A typical way of cooking is a mumu, an underground oven in which meat and vegetables, such as kaukau (sweet potatoes), are cooked.
Papua New Guineans are fond of their local beers - or indeed any beers for that matter. The local brew, SP (short for South Pacific) Lager, is owned by the Philippines-based San Miguel company.
While the water quality varies from place to place (and in some cases from day to day), it is generally best to stick to bottled water, even in the upper-market hotels.
Papua New Guinea offers a wide choice of accommodation for tourists. Port Moresby has international hotels including the Crown Plaza and Airways International, mid range hotels such as Lamana and guest houses. The regional areas offer International and budget hotels depending on the size of the town and some provinces have guest houses. There is a new eco-tourist lodge in Alotau called Ulumani Treetops Lodge, the place is beautiful overlooking the Milne Bay and offers a new bungalow or backpacker options.
Papua New Guinea has two daily newspapers that include up-to-date exchange rates and other important information:
There is also a fortnightly PNG Gossip Electronic Newsletter that provides information about the country for any prospective visitor. Not all the news is factual as it is supposed to be a gossip newsletter, but is well worth a look.
There are many great books about Papua New Guinea, including great fiction as well as non-fiction. The best book for the general reader about Papua New Guinea is Sean Dorney's Papua New Guinea: People, Politics, and History Since 1975. The third edition is the best, but it's pretty hard to find outside of Australia (and is not that easy to find there). The best, and currently only travel guide book to PNG is the Lonely Planet Papua New Guinea.
PNG has a reputation as a risky destination in some circles. This is due predominantly to the activities of criminal gangs (known in Tok Pisin as raskols) in major cities, especially in Port Moresby. Raskolism is generally a result of unemployment stemming from increased domestic migration from subsistence farming in the hills to the nearest urban area. Some towns in the highlands, such as Tari, are in fact effectively lawless as the police presence has been discontinued.
If you are planning a trip to PNG, the most important thing is to stay up to date on the law and order situation in the locations you are planning to visit. Most hotels in Port Moresby are secure and situated inside compounds, generally with armed guards patrolling the perimeter. Don't be alarmed, as actual gunfire in the capital is mercifully rare. If planning on taking a tour of any city, make inquiries with your hotel or accommodation provider, as many will be able to drive you to wherever you are planning to go, or just around the local area if that is what you want to do.
Stay very alert after dark if you are outside a compound, which is somewhere you should only be in the rarest circumstances.
Female travellers should take extra precautions, although reports vary as to whether the capital or regional centres are safer for solo female travellers.
Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus Porosus) are very common in Papua New Guinea and are capable of growing to immense lengths of 8 meters or more (although individuals over 6 meters are very rare). They can and do occasionally devour humans and should be shown respect at all times. They are equally at home in coastal waters as they are in freshwater lakes and rivers. Swimming is generally not advised except at higher elevations and in hotel swimming pools. Papua New Guinea, along with Australia, has the highest and healthiest population of large Saltwater Crocodiles in the world.
Tap water in some regions can be unsafe to drink.
Malaria can be a hazard as well, although many villages - particularly those connected to industry - are regularly treated for mosquitoes. Take the appropriate precautions against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases.
As in many Melanesian cultures, greeting people with a friendly handshake is very important. Be aware, however, that it is a sign of respect not to make eye contact when this is being done. The sight of hotel staff calling you by name, shaking your hand and looking respectfully at the floor is an unusual one at first, but one you will soon get used to.