The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Papua New Guinea: Lynette Wilson of Destination World.
Lynette has been traveling to Fiji for more than 35 years; six years ago, she moved there for good (which means she’ll cheerfully answer your phone calls at 3 a.m. her time). As a resident, she knows how to add all sorts of local color to your trip, as well as which resorts, small-ship cruises, or private villas will best suit your wishes—and she loves to pair old-fashioned beachside R&R with scuba diving and snorkeling, river rafting, mountain biking, surfing, and other adventures. She also arranges trips to her native Australia, plus New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga. Lynette was also included in Perrin’s People, Wendy’s award-winning list of top travel specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2000 to 2013.
Where to Stay and Eat
Restaurants the locals love
I always recommend the Cellar Restaurant at the Shady Rest Hotel in Port Moresby. It has a variety of continental and Asian dishes at very good prices. On Tuesdays and Fridays there’s an all-you-can-eat Curry Club Buffet; the quality is second to none. Finish off your night with fresh cakes and pastries and a latte made with fresh PNG coffee. Mr. Mike’s Pizza Company, at the same hotel, delivers surprisingly good pies.
Sago worm. The sago palm is the host of a worm that feeds on downed wood. They are roasted like sausages on a spit. It is regarded as a delicacy in PNG villages. (Vegetarians—and the weak-stomached—might instead try marita, a sticky, greasy red sauce made from the pandanus plant; it’s often used as a dip for kaukau, or sweet potato, that has been cooked underground.)
Meal worth the splurge
The Friday seafood buffet at the Grand Papua Hotel is worth the price tag. The restaurant has a couple of chefs standing by to cook the fresh marine life you have selected with a choice of sauces and spices. Try the lobster tail.
The poolside restaurant at the Airways Hotel is nice for everyday meals, but for a splurge, you must go to the property’s Bacchus restaurant—undoubtedly the best in Port Moresby. Starched linen, Villeroy & Boch tableware, a grand piano, and crystal goblets complement the fine produce, superbly cooked and served with style. Just hand over your credit card and don’t look at the bill.
Best wilderness lodge
Ambua Lodge. Built at 7,000 feet in the Southern Highlands, Ambua Lodge has 40 rustically luxurious huts, snuggled against the hillside and surrounded by exotic flora and fauna (the area is famous among birders). Just below is the Tari Valley, home to the Huli Wigmen, who remain committed to their tribal and ancestral traditions. Guests at the lodge can go visit one of the nearby Huli villages and learn all about their fascinating traditions (including the reasons behind the tribesmen’s elaborate, feathery headdresses).
Best dive resort
Tufi Resort. Visitors can dive among World War II wreckages while sharing the tropical fjords with a vibrant mix of marine life, including reef sharks and manta rays. The rain forests surrounding the reefs—the resort is only accessible by air or sea—ensure divers explore uncharted waters in peace.
What to See and Do
Most underrated destination
The whole country! It’s one of the least explored areas worldwide—only about 160,000 people travel to Papua New Guinea every year. PNG really is the final frontier of travel. Few regions are connected by roads, and you can still find people using stone axes to chop down trees.
Quite a few people know of Tufi as a top diving location, but there’s more to see and do than explore the underwater technicolor. You can paddle around majestic fiords in large, traditional outriggers. See amazing waterfalls and flocks of hornbills flying up the fjords. The villagers have built traditional guesthouses; some are situated right on the beach, under the palm trees and only a few feet from beautiful blue lagoons that you can snorkel and swim in. The villagers will catch fresh fish and lobster for your evening meals, served with homegrown vegetables and fruit. You will get to interact with the locals and see firsthand how they live. Experience village “sing sings” (cultural dance). They will demonstrate rope-making, fishnet-making, and much more. This is an opportunity that you will not get to experience anywhere else in PNG.
Head to the Port Moresby Nature Park. It is the only place in the world to showcase all three species of cassowaries, and there is a world-class boardwalk and display facility. There are also literally thousands of plants to see, including palms, gingers, and heliconias. Orchid lovers will appreciate the more than 11,000 types of orchid, many of them native to PNG. Besides flightless birds and plants, the park is home to many native animals, including birds of paradise, tree kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles, hornbills, and multiple parrot species. Have your hotel provide a lunch basket for you, as there are pleasant places to picnic in the grounds.
April or November, when it’s the least rainy and the trade winds blow. These are actually the only two months that do not fall within the country’s two monsoon seasons.
If you are superfit and want to do the 60-mile Kokoda Trek, the best time is during the middle of the “dry” season, from August to October. Trekkers can still hike comfortably during the wetter periods, provided they are equipped with proper gear.
There are different wet seasons around Papua New Guinea, most notably in the Sepik region between November and March. It can be difficult to distinguish between seasons elsewhere, as weather tends to be very localized. Lowland and coastal areas are generally hot and humid, while the highlands are less humid and cooler, ranging from 54 to 82 degrees. In both areas the days are usually fine, but often there is late-afternoon and evening rain.
Taking only credit cards. The fun of buying handicrafts direct from the villages loses its joy if you expect them to whip out a machine to swipe the card. The same applies to visitors carrying only large bills, as villagers will not be able to provide change. The wilderness lodges have some cash, but this is greatly limited, and exchange rates are not as good as at the banks. For purchasing art in the villages, you’ll need smaller denominations of kina (the local currency): K2, K5, and K10 are best.
Overpacking. Aircraft used for transfers between the lodges are small (five to eight seats), with limited weight and space for luggage. You must restrict your luggage to 22 pounds, plus a small carry-on handbag or camera bag. The airlines are strict and will off-load excess weight. With only three flights per week between some of the lodges, this can mean you may have to wait several days for your belongings to arrive, and there’s no shopping mall in the bush!
While it is not customary to tip in Papua New Guinea, if you would particularly like to show your appreciation, the lodges do have a staff fund that acknowledges the behind-the-scenes efforts of all who contribute to the success of your visit. Please do not give gifts to individuals in villages. If you wish to do so, ask your driver/guide to help you contact the leader of the village (known as the “headman”) and leave your gifts with him or alternatively with the lodge managers, who will distribute the gift evenly among the people.
If you are planning to purchase art and carry it home as luggage, bring suitable packaging materials such as bubble wrap, tape, string, cardboard, or wrapping paper. No packaging material will be available at the lodges.
Anything black. Dark colors attract mosquitoes (this is malaria country), so stick to white, khaki, olive, and beige.
Held in August every year, the Mount Hagen Cultural Show brings together sing-sing groups from all over the country in an amazing conglomeration of color, beauty, and culture. Seriously, it’s like a humongous balloon of giant Skittles burst over the arena.
A traditional bilum bag made by hand from plant fibers, not imported yarn. These are the bags that PNG women use to carry everything from groceries to babies, with the strap across their forehead. A good-quality one at a market in Mount Hagen or Goroka typically costs $50 to $75.
Some of the world’s best coffee and tea is grown in the highlands of PNG, so pick up a bag at the airport on your way home.