Papua New Guinea is a place full of wonders. It is a unique region that conserves the best pristine natural treasures and local cultures that will amaze and welcome you. The country is full of adventure and discovery opportunities but requires some preparation and it is not an easy ride even for more experienced travelers.
The trips to PNG are memorable and unique, be open-minded and relaxed enough to expect plenty of changes to planned schedules. Even though this region requires advance preparation and checks for safety procedures of the areas to avoid and what to do, we highly recommend it as an independent travel.
Accommodation, safety and transport are very important practicalities that not always are easy to find information on. There is a separate section with travel advice that includes tips about very diverse practical information, such as safety, local guides, accommodation, travel costs, and more. The trip described in this post is an independent trip by the author traveling through the country on its own with only some phone contacts of local guides checked ahead of the trip.
- Region: Oceania
- Country: Papua New Guinea / Papua Niuguini
- Trip duration: 14 days
- Time of year: May 2014
Port Moresby airport is the main entrance to the country. The capital is not easily connected by land to the rest of the country, so you will have to fly from here to reach the most interesting places. In fact, besides the highlands being easily connected by land to parts of the north coast (Madang and Lae) getting elsewhere usually requires more flights.
Fly into the Highlands
Port Moresby – Goroka
The Highlands (Part 1)
Goroka – Asaro – Goroka
From the Highlands to the coast (Part 1)
Goroka – Madang
Fly over to Wewak
Madang – Wewak
Overland to the Sepik (Part 2)
Wewak – Pagwi
Boat to Wagu (Part 2)
Pagwi – Wagu village
Back to Wewak
Wagyu – Pagwi – Wewak
Wewak – Yuo – Wewak
Highlights – Part 1
Highlights – Part 2
Highlights – Part 3
Photos & Maps
All photos used in this post can be browsed in large size in the post Wild Green Papua – Gallery in the section Galleries.
To explore the places of this route in an interactive map, follow the post Wild Green Papua – Maps in the section Maps.
Wild Green Papua Niugini – Part 1
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has beautiful natural landscapes and the very dense mountainous jungle is visible from the plane from Port Moresby to Goroka. However, the town itself does not have such beauty, as with most other towns in PNG. A really good thing about Goroka is that it is reasonably small and more laid back than the capital of the Highlands, Mt Hagen, but still has all the services that you may need (bank, supermarket, and public PMVs for close-by and further away destinations). This makes it an excellent base for visits to Asaro village (the great attraction of the area).
A friendly and cheap accommodation is found at the RCF (Research and conservation foundation).
The Asaro region the reason why most visitors come to this area. This area is home to the tribe of Asaro mudmen with its intriguing war culture and history. Several groups of young boys of villages of Asaro organize to make a show of mudmen fighting replicating their ancestors war traditions. You need a local guide to enter in contact with one of such groups. For recommendation and prices of guides, read the section Travel advice further below.
The Asaro mudmen show is performed by teenagers on their free time from school. It is a very rewarding experience even if it is a very touristy organized activity. You get to chat with the boys afterwards and feel how proud they are of their ancestors stories and how they want to share with foreigners their culture and way of living.
Besides the mudmen show, the Asaro area villages, home to welcoming people, are also very interesting to visit to learn the way of life of the area. Ask the guide to visit some these neighbor villages (for additional fee, of course). Expect a walk around humble areas and have a true glimpse of village life, which includes everything from picking up coffee, teenagers planting cannabis for later party, small kids interested in you, women washing clothes in rivers, food plantations. You can even decide to stay with one of the families for a night.
From the Highlands to the coast
The land route from Goroka to Madang crosses beautiful landscapes in the Highlands and descends to the northern coast of Papua. This is a lush green region which is often involved in misty clouds.
The trip with a mini van is eventful, there are parts that are difficult to cross when there had been strong rains, and a very nice food stop with fish from a nearby lake. The first road is the Highlands Highway that runs all the way from Mt Hange to Lae. Since we headed to Madang, we turn on Ramu Highway and start the descent to the coast.
Madang is a coastal city that serves several islands well-known for excellent diving. It is also a stop on the way from the Highlands to the Sepik river to the west. This is a good base to re-stock and prepare for your next adventure in Papua, the city centre has ATMs and a supermarket.
For most comfort and a laid-back stay, head to the sea front area and its nice palm-trees road. Check in the section Travel advice for more info about Madang.
Travel Advice – Papua New Guinea
Cost of travel
Papua New Guinea is an incredible country to visit that will show you amazing hospitality and unique natural life. However, this is also a notoriously expensive country to travel around on your own independently. Do not let the prices put you off or you will miss one of the best experiences in your life!
Land transportation and government services are rather weak outside the capital Port Moresby. Hence, most products will be extremely expensive both to locals and tourists. You will often come across outrageous prices for gas and food. Note that locals live mostly of self-sufficient family produce and pay high prices for outside produce like meat or rice. In the most remote areas, gas has to be taken in tanks in small vehicles through very difficult roads or small boats through rivers, this fact greatly increases the prices for everyone.
I have seen many discussions in online forums complaining of the high prices and recommending to go elsewhere. My advice: go to Papua with a considerable budget margin and do not blame Papuans as they are the ones who suffer the most.
Enjoy to the most your trip.
Port Moresby airport
Port Moresby is the capital of PNG but not the main postcard as the reasons to visit the country. You can spend here a few days to get to know the city lifestyle of the country but if you are looking for nature, skip the capital and stay in the airport waiting a couple of hours for your next flight into the remote parts of Papua.
The airport is small and reasonably well organized. There is visa on arrival to most nationals (though at the time June 2014, they had temporarily removed from the list Australian nationals). The visa on arrival is now free, so no need to have Kina cash with you, but in case you need it there is an ATM available. Check the latest news on Visas at the PNG governmental website.
If you are planning to only stop-over here, you will be worried about the queues. On a flight from Cairns with a medium size plane, the queue went very fast (10min), which allowed plenty of time for the next flight (2.5 hour of transit in airport).
You will arrive at the international terminal, at the exit there is a DIGICEL shop where you should buy a local SIM card to survive the rest of your stay in PNG (you’ll use it a lot for hostels, guides, and new friends). For exchange flights, the domestic terminal is less than 100m outside to the right. There are food stalls just in front and in the airport with very basic food. A couple of hours between flights is more than enough if your incoming flight is not very delayed.
Goroka – Transport, Accommodation, Safety
Goroka airport is right in the city centre. Once you leave the airport gates, you will be approached by drivers offering transport. During the day there is extensive public transport, one can take public mini vans (PMVs) from the area of the airport to anywhere in town. Besides drivers, also travel arrangers like Samuel Lulu (recommended in lonely planet) can approach and are usually there waiting for independent travelers to present himself. I did not go with him but he was respectful and offered good advice, his phone is 7375 4414.
Transport within the city is abundant with PMVs during the day. To move on from Goroka to next destinations in PNG there are PMVs leaving in mornings to Mount Hagen, Lae, and Madang. Arrive early (7-9am). To Madang, the trip takes about 6-7 hours.
Recommended cheap accommodation: RCF (Research and conservation foundation) is a pretty nice hostel 5min by PMV from centre, price 80 Kina per night per person. Phone: 7175 2925 (Daniel works at RCF and will help you, the other phones advertised 532 3211 or 732 3211 didn’t work for me). You can also try to contact in advance for booking by email ([email protected]) or contact via RCF facebook.
Beware of safety during evenings and nights at any city in PNG. Be extremely careful of staying outside after 6pm. Once the sun goes down, the public transport stops and the crowds of people vanish from the streets. You will very likely be approached by drunken men on the street that at times can be aggressive. Staying inside during evenings is the best approach and in the day the safety is not a big concern in PNG.
Asaro – Local guides
I highly recommend a local guide to Asaro mudmen: “Tiger man” (phone: 7254 3336. Tiger (his name) leaves in Asaro area (Asaro is more than one village) and he will show you the village life around Asaro. There is always part of the family joining to walk around with you, his cousin and some kids.
Prices are around 250 K for a single person half-day, mudmen (four guys performing) and show villages around. If you are more persons, there will be more performers. He will pick you up at Goroka in the morning and travel to Asaro with PMV (1 K, 20 min) and bring you back after the day tour.
Madang – Accommodation, Food, Transport
Madang has quite reasonable accommodation and restaurant by the sea front area which is a prime location and the best part of the city to find where to sleep. A good value place is a house in this area managed by Fabies (7181 1616). The rooms at Fabies cost starting on 130 K per night for singles.
A very nice and cheap restaurant is Eden (chinese food) which is a 10min walk along the beautiful palm tree coast line road.
Transport in Madang is easy to find, PMVs shuttle to/from the city center and from there it is a short 10-15min PMV ride to the airport.
Next post in this series: Wild Green Papua Niugini – Part 2
Continue reading the second post:
Highlights – Part 2