Rich in biodiversity and cultural diversity alike, the island nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) delivers epic beauty at every turn. It’s also a place of vital history, unforgettable adventure, and enviable simplicity. For those looking to escape from these crazy times, we can think of few better destinations in the world.
Aussies will be delighted to know that Papua New Guinea is even closer than they might think. Located in the southwestern region of the Pacific Ocean, it’s just a four-hour flight away from Sydney. With long-haul travel off the cards for some time, Papua New Guinea is a close-to-home destination that is likely to be one of the first countries opened up for Aussies to visit. Don’t even put it on your bucket list. Just go.
From new adventure treks, recently opened luxury accommodations, colourful tribal festivals, and some of the world’s best diving and surfing, Papua New Guinea is an accessible cultural and adventure travel wonderland.
Whether you want to sit back and relax, go out and explore, or do a little bit of both within the same 24-hour time span, Papua New Guinea has you covered. Here are 12 reasons to add Papua New Guinea to your 2021 bucket list…
1. Escape From it All on a Remote Private Island
Let’s be honest: who couldn’t use their own private island experience right about now? If only the truest of getaways will suffice, visit the Conflict Islands. Picture thriving coral reefs, private oceanside decks, remote beaches, pristine water, epic views, sea turtles, and soaring eagles. You’ll never want to leave and no one could blame you.
2. Discover Papua New Guinea’s Colourful Coastal Culture
Between the friendly native tribes, vast wildlife, and unique plant kingdoms, coastal areas like Milne Bay and Tufi are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or experienced. They’re also about an hour away by plane from Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby.
Tufi is located on the mainland and it is home to the world’s largest butterfly, spectacular fjords and untouched coral reefs. Further down the coastline, Milne Bay exists at a crossroads between two seas and draws divers and snorkelers from all over the world. It also plays host to the annual Kenu and Kundu Festival – a lively and colour cultural display of war canoe racing and ‘singsings’ (traditional dances), held each November. This is all but a mere glimpse of the coastal culture lying in wait across the country’s coastal regions.
3. Go On a Surfing Pilgrimage
Tired of Australia’s overcrowded beaches and surf breaks? Then grab your board and head to coastal areas such as Vanimo or Madang. Not only are these places remote (as in you might see 6 other surfers at most), but they’re flanked by exotic beauty on all sides. This is the mecca you’ve been waiting for and your pilgrimage awaits.
4. Adventure Across Remote Islands
Who’s ready to go island hopping, Papua New Guinea style? Off the coast are hundreds of remote islands, each one offering its own unique experience. Discover fiery active volcanoes, thermal hot springs, waterfalls, WWII plane and shipwrecks, pods of dolphins, and crystal clear waters teeming with colourful coral and fish. For first-timers we recommend New Britain and New Ireland islands – check out Walindi Plantation Resort, Kokopo Beach Bungalow Resort and Nusa Island Retreat.
5. Discover Hidden Highland Tribes
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries on the planet and also one of the least explored. For the most part, the country’s tribes remain hidden away from the rest of the world, but Oceania Expeditions can take you deep into the highlands jungles to get you fully immersed. You might even be the first Westerner these tribes have ever seen.
If that sounds a little too intimidating, travel to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands and hang out with the local Asaro Mudmen tribe. Your horizons will be expanded in unforgettable ways.
6. Partake in an Aussie Rite of Passage
Formerly the location of an epic WWII battle between Japanese and Aussie forces, the Kokoda Trail is now one of the world’s most arduous treks. It’s also the most popular tourist attraction in all of Papua New Guinea and an Aussie rite of passage. Your mental and physical boundaries will be pushed to their furthest extremes as you traverse a muddy and rugged terrain over the course of 8 days. Decades later, you’ll still be thinking about this one adventure. The Kokoda Track Authority has all the lowdown for those wanting to get planning now.
7. Climb One of the Seven Summits
Looking for another incredible challenge? Try looking up. You might very well spot Mt. Wilhelm, one of the world’s seven summits and the tallest peak in all of Oceania. The distance from the foot of the mountain to Base Camp and back is 23.4 kilometers so you definitely have your work cut out for you.
Plan your trek well in advance and expect to complete the journey in 2-3 days, staying overnight at Base Camp. The muddy paths, big boulders, frigid temperatures, and high altitudes will be tough to surmount, but surmount them you will. As a result, you’ll have yet another story to share for ages to come.
8. Trek Oceania’s Highest Volcano
The second-highest mountain in Oceania is Mt. Giluwe and its two summits are formed by ancient volcano plugs. Being home to various biomes, Mt. Giluwe features rainforests, moss forests, subalpine grassland, streams, and numerous types of flora and fauna. As you can probably guess, hiking the volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with epic views to match.
9. Explore the Mighty Sepik
As Papua New Guinea’s longest river, the Sepik gives way to an endless sense of wonder, intrigue, and adventure. It’s only accessible by boat so hop aboard your canoe or luxury vessel and float through its winding body. Along the way, you could very well pass by famous tribal ceremonies, including the crocodile initiation ceremony or the Ambunti Crocodile Festival. It’s like entering an entirely different world.
10. Catch an Elusive Black Bass or Dogtooth Tuna
Papua New Guinea is about to have one of its biggest and best fishing years in a long time and you’re invited to partake. The sport is offered year-round, as is plenty of lodging. Choose between a variety of untouched rivers, lakes, or coastal waters, and prepare to get downright spoiled.
Should you demonstrate a little patience, you could end up pulling a ‘lure shy’ Black Bass out of a rainforest river. Head out to sea for some sportfishing and you might hook a Dogtooth Tuna or a Marlin. This is a plentiful paradise and one that deserves to be on every fisherman’s bucket list.
11. Explore Australia’s Closest Neighbour by Ship
Papua New Guinea is rapidly becoming a must-stop destination on the itineraries of major cruise lines, including Carnival, Princess, and Silversea. Direct trips exploring the country’s coastline are more popular than ever, with ships departing from places like Brisbane and Sydney.
Of course, not everyone is a “big cruise ship” type of traveller. Thankfully, there are a number of small expedition ships visiting Papua New Guinea each year, with many of them offering specialised tours. Hop aboard with the likes of Coral Expeditions, Heritage Expeditions, Linblad Expeditions and True North, and gain access to some of the country’s more remote and exotic areas as well.
12. Check Out Papua New Guinea’s Newest Luxury Island Resort
Opened in 2019, Loloata Island Resort is located just 40 minutes from Papua New Guinea’s capital, making it a viable overseas long weekend destination. Perched on an island of its own, the luxury resort features 68 suites and villas (22 of which are overwater), a spa, private beach, dive shop and sensational views out across the Coral Sea.
Explore one of the 22 nearby dive sites by day and relax by night, taking in the endless beauty that surrounds you. This is everything a vacation should be and more. It’s also the perfect way to escape from the modern world, something that sounds pretty sweet right about now. You can put it on your bucket list, but why wait?