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Magical islands of Papua New Guinea

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Shamlal Puri | November 1st 2015
Papua New Guinea is known for its tribal dancers. Here they perform at a park in Port Moresby

The South Pacific island of Papua New Guinea is an extra-ordinary destination with a lot to offer.

This is a place where a visitor viewing the stunning scenery across the vast tracts of this wild and underdeveloped country can easily imagine that he is the only person on earth!

From the volcanic mountains to the flooded delta regions, gleaming white sand beaches and pristine coastal atolls, the landscape of Papua New Guinea is as diverse as the friendly people who live there.

The island lies just south of the equator, 99 miles north of Australia. It is part of a great arc of mountains that stretch from Asia through Indonesia and into the South Pacific.

This island country is surrounded by Bismarck Sea in the north, Arafura Sea in the south and Solomon Sea in the east.

This fascinating country, the second largest island in the world, has a record 600 islands of varying sizes and more than 800 indigenous languages not to mention the largest area of intact rainforest outside the Amazon.

Each of its 22 provinces in the four regions and the National capital District boast their own character and cultures of the seven million people who live in the country.

With a wealth of magnificent tropical scenery, mountains, sandy beaches, coastal atolls, Papua New Guinea will not disappoint visitors seeking an adventure-filled holiday.

The warm coastal waters offer some of the world’s best diving spots and plenty of opportunities for hikers, cavers and climbers.

Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, is a modern cosmopolitan city and the largest metropole with a population of over 400,000. It was named after the man who “discovered” it —  Royal Navy’s Rear Admiral John Moresby.

He was attracted to the beauty of the site of the Papua New Guinea’s new capital on the shores of the Gulf of Papua. He expressed his feelings in these famous words in 1873, “Port Moresby is girt with mountains and is beautiful with its lake-like harbour.”

The city, which is 93 square miles, is affectionately called Pom Town or simply Moresby. It offers a variety of attractions for a memorable holiday.

Visit the vibrant local markets and stilt villages, take in the tropical harbour views from Paga and Touguba Hills and admire the distinctive architecture of Parliament House.

The National Museum houses one of the finest and most impressive collections of primitive art in the world, including towering house poles from Sepik Haus Tambarans, fearsome tribal masks, intricate carvings, string bags and woven baskets.

There is also an excellent natural history collection that should not be missed.

The Port Moresby Nature Park is among the top attractions where you will find native animal species such as the amazing but bizarre-looking tree kangaroo and regal Papuan horn bill which is also the country’s national icon.

The Malauro Market is worth wandering in for a tantalising choice of local fruit and vegetables. The National Parliament building, which was opened in 1984 by Prince Charles, is an impressive building with a stunning mosaic and traditional local design.

Visitors are welcomed here even when the parliament is in session. The National Museum and Art Gallery offers great displays of Papua New Guinea’s culture. Though the museum is small, its exhibits make visiting it worthwhile.

Port Moresby offers a variety of modern luxurious hotels such as the Crowne Plaza or the Holiday Inn. The Bomana War Cemetery, with its endless rows of graves, is a poignant place to visit and pay homage to the Australian, British, Dutch and New Zealander war dead in the Second World War.

Thirty minutes’ drive from Port Moresby is Idlers Beach. It is an enjoyable place for picnics or for surfing and swimming. The locals however, recommend that you should go in groups with guides to ensure security. The locals in the nearby Roku Village will offer help with security.

The picturesque Rouna Falls offers beautiful views of the skyline of Port Moresby. It is worth a 45-minute drive to the top of the savanna grassland on the mountain.

Despite its stunning beauty, sadly, the place needs to be properly secured and fenced off with barricades to prevent visitors falling into the water. Also do not leave your valuables in the car!

Port Moresby is an ordinary mid-sized city you will find anywhere else but in recent years, it has earned the ill-reputation as the crime capital of Papua New Guinea.

If newspaper reports are anything to go by, it is known for being a gritty and dangerous city with stories involving “raskols” or bandits involved in carjacking and other petty crimes, but many tourists say they never felt intimidated and were, on the contrary, greeted by the locals on the streets and in the markets.

However, the safest way to travel in the city is to use your common sense and hire a local guide or driver who will steer you away from no-go areas.

You can travel to Papua New Guinea via Australia or New Zealand, and connect to Port Moresby’s Jackson Airport.

It is a 41-hour flight from London to Port Moresby with several stopovers including one in Brisbane, Australia.

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