Eco-destination: Papua New Guinea

THE Independent State of Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, part of the region of Melanasia in the southwest Pacific Ocean. The remainder of the island belongs to the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. PNG is located just north of the Australian State of Queensland.

Extremely poor and undeveloped, Papua New Guinea is home to a unique and varied ecology, including 8 species of tree kangaroo, 800 kinds of coral, 600 kinds of fish and 300 orchid species. There is also an extremely diverse range of human cultures, with literally hundreds of ethnic groups and more than 800 languages spoken – more than any other country in the world.

“Off the beaten path” takes on new meaning in Papua New Guinea. In much of the country, there is in fact no beaten path to speak of.  There are some luxury options near the capital of Port Morseby, but generally speaking tourist infrastructure ranges from rudimentary to non-existent.

We don’t want to be seen and perceived and look like the other South Pacific island countries. We are not about the resorts, we are not about sun, sand and sea. We are a lot more than what the other countries offer within the Pacific region. We are a lot more an adventure destination and that’s where we want to be.

–Peter Vincent, Head of Papua New Guinea’s Tourism Promotion Authority (source: Radio New Zealand International)

Eco-tourism activities in Papua New Guinea:

Trekking

Explore PNG’s diverse ecology through some seriously rugged trekking. The island is home to low land rainforest, alpine, coastal mangrove and montane forests, teeming with diverse plant and animal species. There are even equatorial glaciers (though that might be a bit ambitious for even the most experienced trekkers). One recommendation is Kokoda track, a 60-mile (100 km), 5-day hike leading from Port Moresby to the Owen Stanley Range. It features spectacular scenery of forests, mountains and streams, villages and even some WWII relics.

Diving

With all those hundreds of species of fish and coral you can count on some spectacular dives in PNG. The town of Kavieng has several notable spots due to its many WWII era plane and shipwrecks and current-swept passages.

Tomato clowns. Pic: Barry Peters (Flickr CC)

Surfing

Locals have used wooden body boards for generations, but modern surfing is a relatively new phenomenon in PNG. There’s even a new documentary film about surfing PNG’s waves called “Isolated”.

From Al Jazeera:

The surf movement rose up in Papua New Guinea – in the southern reaches of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Australia – in the 1980s. An Australian pilot landed his plane at Vanimo, a remote village on the northern coast of the country, and spent the weekend riding perfect, endless waves.

Cultural Festivals

From June to November, Papua New Guinea comes alive with its annual festival season. Canoes, crocodiles, masks, music and dance, and tribal gatherings are just a few of the festival themes. Read more about them on Travel Blackboard.

Other options include fishing, white water rafting and visiting some of the more remote parts of the highlands and other islands.

Though hotels are expensive in PNG, village guesthouses are cheap, fun and a good way to get to know the real people of this fascinating country. There are also a few eco-lodges, ranging from budget to extravagant.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many developing nations, Papua New Guinea is experiencing a resource grab, which is having devastating effects on its natural state. Between 1972 and 2002, around 25% of the country’s rainforests were destroyed. If present rates of deforestation persist, half could be gone by 2021.

Eora Creek Village, Kokoda Track. Pic: Arthur Chapman (Flickr CC)