PNG Pictures Guide, Papua New Guinea

Huli warriors doing a traditional war dance at the annual Sing Sing festival in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea

PNG Pictures: Huli warriors doing a traditional war dance (Sing-Sing) at the annual Mount Hagen Culture Show, PNG Highlands.

PNG Pictures: Visiting Papua New Guinea

Port Moresby, PNG Pictures

We began our  trip around PNG  in the unattractive and decidedly non-exotic capital of Port Morseby where concrete and razor-barb rule the roost, though comfortable hotels are available at a price. We left as quickly as possible and headed for the hills!

PNG (Papua New Guinea) is a fascinating, brilliantly colourful countrythat is home to thick green landscapes, birds of paradise and a fistful of bizarre and unique cultures such as the Huli wigmen in the Highlands, Sepik River Crocodile cultists and sensual Trobriand islanders offshore.

These tribal people dress to kill (sometimes literally) and welcome PNG travellers taking photos – after all if you had spent several years in wig school or hours getting made up with war paint you’d want someone to capture your style too!

The Highlands is home to the most people in Papua New Guinea which still doesn’t make it crowded. Highlanders are live in different tribal clans across PNG’s Highland plateau and frequently engage in combat with neighbours but rarely causes fatalities. The largest tribe are the Huli wigmen.

Mt. Hagen is the capital of the Western Highlands; Goroka capital of the Eastern Highlands; Mendi capital of Southern Highlands. Both Hagen and Goroka arrange spectacular sing-sings (elaborate clan festivals with costumes and dance) every year.

The Southern Highlands are not very safe but rich in culture and wildlife/birds and well worth visiting with professional guides.
The Eastern Highlands stretches between the Highlands and the coastal provinces of Morobe and Madang with several mountain ranges. Local people there are regarded as the friendliest in the Highlands and participate in less tribal fights than in other provinces. The Asaro Mudmen – who wear masks made of mud for battle or ceremonial purposes – are the main attraction.

Main attractions in PNG

Huli wigman, PNG Pictures

A Huli wigman security guard in Ambua Lodge, near Tari in the Southern Highlands.

• attending the Goroka or Mt Hagen Cuture Shows (Sing-Sings).

• hiking in the Western Highlands, with modest treks in the Wahgi Valley, a lovely lush region of roaring rivers, rainforest and fields of local crops. More serious hikers might want to tackle either the 4500 metre summit of Mt Wilhelm or the famously tough 96 km Kokoda Trail, a kind of pilgrimage route for Australians as their army fought the Japanese here in WWII. Kokoda is not to be taken lightly as people do die on it regularly from exhaustion or accidents. Rain may be torrential and mosquitoes unrelenting. April to September is the best season for hiking.

• bird watching: various small mammals and 185 species of birds including birds of paradise in the Baiyer River Sanctuary, Western Highlands 55kms (34 miles) north of Mt Hagen.

• orchid hunting.

cruising the Sepik River and visiting unusual tribal groups other than the Hulis.

travelling offshore to the Trobriand Islands for another cultural eye-opener.

PNG Highlands

A Huli 'warpath' between plots of land, plus warriors on the march, Papua New Guinea

A Huli ‘warpath’ between plots of land, with warriors on the march, Papua New Guinea Highlands.

The Papua New Guinea Highlands is tribal territory along a ridge of low mountains running more-or-less the length of the country east to west. This is where most of PNG’s population and the most colourful tribes/clans, live, such as the Huli wigmen.

The key areas are Western (capital: Mt. Hagen), Eastern (capital: Goroka) and Southern Highlands (capital: Mendi).

Local people live in extended family clans as part of a tribe and there is considerable low-tech warfare between clans as well as tribes, with bow, arrows and little axes as primary weapons and trench systems dug around ‘gardens’ (plots of land where vegetables, mainly sweet potatoes, are grown).

Fighting is almost always about land, women or pigs (enormously valuable beasts). If hiking across farmed land you will be expected to pay a toll.

It is strongly advised that foreigners travel with a guide, whether hiking, bird-watching, diving or visiting a clan or festival as language will almost certainly be an issue as there are estimated to be in the region of 700 different languages spoken in Papua New Guinea. For this reason Pidgin English (Tok Pidgin) was introduced to enable cross-clan communication.

Highland roads tend to be rough, muddy and tiresome, not to mention attempted hold-ups by groups of men with little axes (we experienced that excitement as the driver floored the accelerator and the axe men dispersed quite rapidly). As a consequence flying to a small airstrip – of which there is an abundance – near the destination of your choice and driving from there is normal travel sense.

A sign outside a hotel in Papua New Guinea in English and Pidgin.

A sign outside a hotel in Papua New Guinea in English and Tok Pidgin.

The bottom section of the sign can be more or less translated as: all men and women must respect rules belonging to the hotel. You must dress well if you come inside the hotel lobby.

Papua New Guinea has a population of less than four million, yet there are over 700 different languages in use. With this kind of mutual incomprehension it’s no surprise that a lingua franca has developed. Called Tok Pidgin, it’s mostly based on simplified English, and is interesting and occasionally hilarious.

yumi = we

ples bilong yu we? = where are you from?

wantok = friend (one talk)

mi no klia gut = I don’t understand

bugarup = doesn’t work/broken

haus monie = bank

numba wan pikinini bilong missas Kwin = Prince Charles

bigpela mixmasta bilong Jisas Krais = Helicopter

bigpela yu paitim tit e crai owt = Piano (fight/pat his teeth)

lukim yu bihain = see you later

Sepik River boat, PNG Pictures

PNG’s Sepik River is a very different experience to the Huli Highlands, with no fearsomely decorated warriors, just plenty of lazy river cruising, Crocodile Cults and very artistic but disturbing masks.

PNG Pictures, Trobriands toilet

Another very different but still exotic culture lives on in the Trobriand Islands, just offshore.

Safety: Rascals and Razorbarb

Security, or lack of it, is one reason why there are relatively few tourists in Papua New Guinea, whereas across the border in Indonesia they are overrun by big spenders (well, not exactly. . . over the border in West Papua is the Baliem Valley that is extremely primitive and relatively untouristed). Mental images of large, muscular men wielding little axes can be discouraging.

Some think the problem has arisen from a combination of over-education and inebriation. Young men are educated to have high expectations, become dissatisfied with the simple rustic life and leave their villages – and tribal law – for towns. But there in place of a pot of gold they find gangs of lost souls in the same jobless boat, and cans of golden brew for consolation. Thus a rascal is born.

The problem is acute in two or three large towns, with the scattered capital of Port Moresby as number one on the hit list, leading to the popularity of security guards, dogs and razorbarb, an endless, coiled razor blade that looks sensational when entwined with and perfumed by the omnipresent hibiscus or frangipani blossoms.

Budget travellers are a rare sight in PNG because locals rarely out out so inexpensive hotels and restaurants are few and far between and not particularly safe. The only really secure way to travel PNG is tourist class. Excellent, secure hotels can be found in all locations of interest, and more importantly excellent, knowledgeable guides.
So go lukluk, yu klia gut wantok?

Best Season

The best time to travel in Papua New Guinea is May-October.
Worst: December-April (the wet season).