Before departing for PNG I wondered if it would be possible to have any adventures at all. With all the talk of violence towards women and major safety concerns I thought that I wouldn’t be straying far from my place of work and where I was living, but how wrong was I! Adventures may take a bit more organisation and thought in regard to safety but they are more than possible and sometimes you can even have them as a woman on your own, seriously.
An important point to note when traveling in PNG is that things have a fixed price, if someone tells you that it is K50 it usually is. Unlike other parts of Asia there is very little bartering, which I personally find refreshing.
Here are just a few places that you might consider heading to…
New Ireland (NI) is the North Eastern province of Papua New Guinea and is famed for its cycling along the Boluminski highway and under water activities in the piercing cyan water. People are super laid back and the scenery is simply stunning.
How I did it…
I travelled to NI from East New Britain by dinghy. It is a pretty safe way to travel although you need to ensure that you get on to a Sol Wara Meri boat and that the seas don’t look too rough. It can be a very choppy boat ride at the best of times but when the sea is rough it is really dangerous to travel. It is also advisable to have a life jacket, even if it is just to sit on! The boat journey takes 2-3 hours, can involve a lot of waiting at Kokopo port (which like most boat ports feels a bit sketchy) and costs K50. I just tend to sit with some local ladies and tell stories.
The boat will drop you off and you will have to take a short PMV ride into Namatanai town where you will need to find a PMV to take you to Kavieng, pretty much where all roads lead to if you are a traveller. The PMV ride is long and can be cramped! It took me about 8 hours and I arrived into Kavieng after a few local drop offs. The PMV crews are really accommodating and will drop you wherever you ask so I got dropped off at one of the boat docks where I had my pick up waiting ready to go to Lissenung Island.
By the time I made it to my boat it was dark but I had the most spectacular boat ride to Lissenung with a lightening storm raging in front and phosphorescence shooting out from behind the boat. Although feeling slightly nervous at being the only passenger on the boat heading into the pitch black, after 15 minutes we arrived at the island.
Lissenung is a stunning resort with an abundant house reef. I saw sharks every day just snorkeling and then chose to while my time away in the sea, reading and relaxing. It is also exceptional here for diving. Double/twin room with private bathroom costs K300 per person per night (this is the discounted volunteer rate) and all meals are included in this price. The round trip airport transfer costs K85 per person. I would highly recommend a trip here and travelling as a single female is perfectly safe.
There is also a famed cycling route along the Boluminski highway – I didn’t have long enough to make it happen but if you can find a week or more to travel to NI you won’t be disappointed by the freedom of whizzing down the highway being high fived by local children and wowed by the picturesque scenery.
This was the province that EVERYONE told me that I had to visit. Clean, safe and beautiful and they weren’t wrong. I only scratched the surface, staying for a few days in the island paradise of Milne Bay and I would certainly return to venture out into the unspoiled, blissful wonderland.
How I did it…
I flew into the lovely Alotau and caught a taxi from the rank just outside the airport into town, which costs K50-60. I headed straight to Sanderson Bay where I looked for a dinghy to take me out to Logeia island. The place where I was staying do organise a private transfer but it is quite costly, a public boat will cost you K50. Just be warned that there is nowhere to sit at Sanderson, flights from Port Morseby tend to arrive in the morning and boats head off in the afternoon at around 1-2pm, so either stay a night in Alotau or make your arrangements with the boat driver and then head to the very nice international hotel which is a 10 minute walk away to wait.
Again the boat journey can be pretty choppy, on the way out I was in a lovely safe, family boat with a roof but on the way back it was pretty bumpy and I got completely soaked. My advice, don’t travel on a Friday afternoon and make sure the driver isn’t drinking/chewing as boats do capsise.
The boat ride to Logeia calls at Samurai island the opposite island and then drops you at Nuli Sapi. Nuli Sapi is a small resort consisting of four small, simple, bush material bungalows on stilts above the water. It is a stunning place to stay with a large window that opens to the sea. Sitting in bed in the morning watching the fishermen pass by peacefully is a pleasure in itself. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included and for volunteers it costs K150 per night for a double room. It is owned by an eccentric American guy who is better keeping at arms length but despite his slightly overbearing story telling it is a beautiful retreat. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
One of the main reasons to head out to these beautiful islands is to take a short boat ride to a very special manta ray cleaning spot where you can snorkel and see the mantas cruise by. It is a very rare sight to see so many of these graceful pelagic rays glide by you effortlessly in such shallow water. There is also an abundance of completely deserted white sand beaches to pitch up at for the day to use as a base for snorkeling or just catching a few rays.
Karkar island is an oval-shaped volcanic island located in the Bismarck Sea, about 30km off the north coast of Madang. The island is about 25km in length and 19km in width. In the centre is an active volcano with two nested calderas. The last biggest eruptions of the volcano occurred in the 70s. If you can handle heading out across open ocean to get to Karkar it is well worth it as the small island provides a beautiful escape from Madang.
How I did it…
I took a speedboat from the Goodyear’s dock (next to the VSO compound in Binnen Road) for K50. It took about an hour and a half and this dropped me at Biabi store where I then got a lift from the Goodyear’s to their guesthouse at Marangis. The drive is beautiful and will take you through the coconut and cacao plantations. You can also get the PMV up the North Coast road to Kubugam which takes around an hour and costs K6 (it’s best to travel up early in the morning and it’s advisable to go as a group, no single women for this one) and then you can get a boat across from there which costs K20-50 depending on where you get dropped off. Going as a group by speedboat if you can arrange it with the Goodyear’s is definitely a worthwhile option and the family is very accommodating.
The guesthouse is situated at the top of a cliff and is simple and self-catering. A short walk down some steep steps there is a little black sand beach where you can enter the sea to swim and snorkel. It is around K100 per person per night (there may be a discount if you are a group or a volunteer). The guesthouse has three rooms, two with double beds but additional mattresses can be added and it has a fully kitted out kitchen with all that you need to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you fancy an adventure, climbing the volcano is well worth the energy expenditure and can be arranged by the family. You will need a couple of guides and this will cost around K100. After filling up with breakfast an early rise is in order and a short drive up to Mom on the back of a pick up is a stunning wake up. You will travel through magnificent jungle to the small village where you will begin your climb. It’s a diverse walk through bush and across solidified lava but we managed to make the climb in nine hours. If you don’t fancy clambering up volcanoes then it is a perfect spot to relax and unwind for a few days in the peace and quiet.
For more information contact Barbara: email@example.com or Paul: 7272 3289.
If you are feeling intrepid…
Crossing the border to West Papua
How I did it…
You can fly direct from Madang to Vanimo with Air Nuigini for as little as K750 return which is about as cheap as you can escape in PNG. You can also fly with Travel Air. About an hour and a half later you find yourself in the small surf hub of Vanimo.
Getting a visa requires some thought…the embassy in Vanimo is open Monday-Friday. If you arrive on a Friday you need to lodge your application between 9-11 or 2-4 as staff go to pray in the afternoon and then you collect it at 10am the next day. You need 2 passport photos and K120. Most flights arrive in the afternoon so think carefully about when you arrive and steer clear of weekend arrivals unless you are happy to wait until Monday.
Accommodation wise the best two places in town are Vanimo Surf Lodge but it’s only open seasonally and CBC guesthouse which is a small, self catering budget option. For me, the first was closed and the second full so I stayed at Vanimo Beach Hotel. It’s not the lap of luxury and the hologram tiger that watches you wherever you are in the room from above the bed is a novelty, but I just needed a roof for the night while waiting to collect my visa. Sandaun Guest House just around the corner is a little cheaper and a bit more open. The room cost K400 and food around K50.
Vanimo is a really small place but it’s clear that you are much closer to another world, motorbikes zip around and kechap is on all restaurant tables as standard. It’s got a long stretch of white sand beach with people sat telling stories, catching fish and watching the solwara drift in. The overall feel was very laid back and safe to walk around but this was just the starting point for me…
To get to the border you can rent a car for K150 or find a seat on a PMV (K10-25 depending on the driver). The drive takes around 30 minutes along windy, pot hole free roads with the sea passing you by on the right hand side. As you leave town you see the impact of logging on the landscape which is a sad sight. As you approach the border you will have a passport check where your details are logged in a book. Then you drive a further five minutes to the border. The white fenced area looks quite alien in the surrounding mountainous bush. Here you have another passport check and then you cross the border. You are greeted by heavily armed Indonesian guards who again check your passport and your bags. You then walk a short distance along a pavement (!) where you come to some clearly Indonesian buildings and have your passport and visa details logged for a second time. Finally you have your bags checked for a second time. Four checks later you’re across the border.
From here you need to arrange your transport to the city. Private cars can be hired for around Rp400,000 (K100). I had my transport arranged in advance but if you know where you are staying I’d contact the hotel and see if they can arrange a car to meet you there. I wouldn’t chance transport on the Indonesian side, as much as it is clean and safe you wouldn’t want to be waiting there any longer than necessary.
In just a few kilometres it feels like you are a world away, the buildings are no longer bush material with tin roof but a mixture of concrete and timber; street sellers sit under wooden constructions with their neat piles of fruit displayed in front of them; and the landscape is carved away unlike the pristine hillsides just a stones throw behind you.
Jayapura is an old but captivating city. As you twist and turn down the roads leading to the centre, the roof of a huge, beautifully tiled mosque punctuates the cityscape, tin houses perch on the edge of the cliff face precariously and red tiled roofs sing out among the grey, concrete buildings. As you continue to decline into the bowl where the city is sunk you are surrounded by mountains. There are plenty of nice quality hotels that you can stay in for around Rp500,000 (K120) in the city. The airport is located in Sentani which is around an hour from the city so you need to bare that in mind if you’re not just visiting to make the best of the cheap shopping. If you’re planning adventures in West Papua and need to be close to the airport, the Grand Allison is a great base with comfy, clean rooms.
Sorong is the gateway to Raja Ampat (RA) coined as the last paradise on earth! You can get boats to RA at 10am and 2pm each day from the small port. They take around 2 hours and cost Rp130,000 standard Rp220,000 VIP. The difference between the two is that standard seats are at the bottom of the boat so if you’re prone to seasickness its a lot more claustrophobic. The toilets are also gurgling whirlpools compared to normal seated ones on the top deck. The boat stop is crowded and chaotic with a lot of people vying for your attention so grab your ticket from the small office on your left as you arrive and head straight to the boat.
Waisai is where the boat will drop you off and is the entry to RA, like most port towns it’s quite run down and accommodation is pretty uninspiring. If you can get out to one of the island home stays as soon as you arrive and avoid having a night here. I headed to Mangkurkodong home stay on Mansuar island and was looked after by Luki Sauyai (+62 0852 5427 5968). The home stay is perched on a stunning soft, white, sandy beach lapped by pristine turquoise water. The traditional bungalows are simple but the location is everything!
RA is magical. You can fill your days with snorkelling in the most clear, unbelievably turquoise water. Because it is a protected area there is no fishing aloud so the water is abundant with a myriad of different fishes. In shallow snorkelling spots the multi-coloured coral gardens sprawl for miles with boulders, ferns, soft and hard coral glowing all around you like an underwater wonderland. From exploring under rickety, wooden piers to around the edge of an island, the fish are diverse, often extraordinarily big and I saw some of the largest shoals I have ever seen while snorkeling. Every day I saw turtles close enough to touch and small reef sharks cruising along, completely unfazed by the snorkelling invaders. RA really does feel off the beaten track, home stay life is simple with tasty Indonesian food for breakfast, lunch and dinner but sunset does feel a little disappointing without a bintang.
Biak was my next stop and again it felt very off the beaten track – I don’t think people are that used to seeing tourists, particularly whizzing around on the back of a motorbike. Located on the northern coast of West Papua, Biak is the perfect place to explore by ojek, with some directions there are waterfalls hidden away in the bush and beautiful coves and beaches to explore. Sadly Biak isn’t renowned for it’s untouched, natural beauty but for a massacre of indigenous people in 1998, it’s hard not to forget history when you are in this uncertain country.
Getting back to PNG is a little easier than coming from Vanimo. The border opens at 9am and the feeling is much more relaxed after you’ve made it past the first Indonesian check point. You can get cars from the city to drop you right at the border. It was really nice reaching the PNG passport check and being reminded of the warm PNG welcome. When travelling back don’t forget the time difference between WP and PNG, it’s an hour ahead in WP!
Travelling across the border is definitely possible with a bit of forward planning and as soon as you step foot on the other side, the price drops and you can’t avoid the contrast. It really feels like a lesser travelled part of Indonesia and you feel a long way from the tourist trail. With very little English spoken you feel immersed in a diverse and intriguing country that is longing to be explored.
West New Britain
How I did it…
Sometimes you just need to escape and explore. From Madang, West New Britain (WNB) can be hopped to quite easily via Lae on Airlines PNG. The connection isn’t currently that great with a bit of a long wait in the Nadzab cattle shed of a hausbalus but if you find a quiet place to pitch up you can people watch and it is safe to listen to music or watch something on your laptop.
For me, my WNB escape was purely for R&R so it was straight from the airport to Walindi Resort, around an hours drive. Airport transfer can be arranged through the resort and costs K260 return. The drive itself is quite interesting; Kimbe Bay town itself has a distinctly wild west, frontier, feel about it, with awnings hanging at the front of shops that are set back from the road. From there you begin through the never ending, formulaic palm oil plantations, the landscape is quite a contrast to the enchanting, natural beauty of East New Britain. These uniform crops do leave quite an impression but as you reach Walindi, the PNG bush begins to appear again.
Walindi is a lovely peaceful resort set among tall trees with the sea right on your doorstep. The skyline is punctuated with mysterious volcanoes that appear to be overlooking you wherever you are. For a single bungalow it is around K500 per person, per night and all meals are included in this cost (if you are a volunteer there is an excellent 50% discount). The self contained, wood built huts are beautifully situated, cool and comfortable with a lovely balcony to sit and relax. There is also Plantation House accommodation at a slightly cheaper rate.
The resort is an excellent base for diving and snorkeling. Trips are quite costly but taking a boat trip with one of the local guides towards the volcanoes and spending a day snorkeling, relaxing on deserted Rest Off island and enjoying lunch is well worth it. Each day food is served at set times in the open restaurant area, buffet style.
Another great way to see the magic of WNB is to head off on a half-day trip to the hot river. It again shows the contrast between the PNG bush and the dry, dusty, all consuming palm plantations but after about an hour drive the natural jungle reappears and you emerge to find naturally heated, volcanic, swirling hot pools. As you submerge in the mineral enriched water the jungle canopy sits overhead with birds and insects flying between the trees. This is also an opportunity to make your appearance a few years younger as you can cover yourself with mineral infused, rich, red, sticky mud! Not certain of the exact youth defying properties but it is fun all the same. The half-day escape costs around K160-250 depending on how many people are heading out on the trip.
Walindi certainly feels a million miles away from every day PNG life. It is a resort with a slightly colonial feel but has the ability to help you unwind and relax.
For more details on staying at Walindi contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: +675 7234 8460
This is probably the highlight of the PNG singsing calendar. The Goroka show has been running for over 50 years and is the biggest of the highlands cultural shows. With a showground surrounded by mountains, over 100 singsing groups mobilise for three days of performance. With an abundance of groups with an astonishing array from the highlands, you will be transfixed by the colours, costumes and diversity.
Usually held the weekend before PNG independence day, you can by advance, VIP tickets from the Bird of Paradise hotel for K150 for one day, K200 for two and K250 for three. You can also buy standard tickets on the gate for K10. If you buy the VIP tickets you can enter the showground throughout the whole day, whereas if you buy a standard ticket you won’t be able to enter the cordoned off arena until the afternoon when the barriers are lowered. Do be warned that entering and exiting the showground can be quite intimidating. There are lots of people waiting until they can enter for free and you may need to push your way in and out. It is best to arrive and leave as a group rather than on your own and by about 2pm.
For a smaller, more intimate singsing the DWU Cultural Show at the start of August is really worthwhile spending a couple of hours at. With a small singsing arena, all the students dress in their bilas, prepare in small huts around the showground and then head out to practice their songs and dances. You can get right amongst the beautifully adorned and painted bodies and be swept away to a very magical place.
Although the show is advertised as beginning at 9am it’s not worth heading there until 11am at the earliest as it takes a while to get started. Don’t forget to take an umbrella with you as there is no shelter.