Paradise found in Papua New Guinea

Paradise found in Papua New Guinea

Bestowed with stunning natural creations and rich cultural traditions, Papua New Guinea entices visitors like no other

An aerial view of the islands in Papua New Guinea

Two reasons can take you to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the Oceania — diving or Kokoda Track. My reason was the latter — a 96-km-long killer track with a reputation of being attempted only by the ‘brave’. Fully aware of the dangers, I plunged into the tropical rainforests of Papua New Guinea, and for 11 days, pushed myself beyond every imaginable limit, and emerged on the other side intact, but determined never to attempt anything like that again.

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So once back in the capital Port Moresby, fondly called Pom Town, I set about understanding why Papua New Guinea was the new tourist hotspot. PNG has over 7,000 different tribes, each with their own language, and Port Moresby is the entry point to the country, ideally located on the coast and perfect for exploration of the rest of the country.

A word of caution. Papua New Guinea is still considered a dangerous place to visit, but the good news is that the tourism industry is slowly growing. Beautiful nature hikes, scuba diving and kayaking are the top attractions in this island nation. Although tourism infrastructure is lacking, you cannot ignore the fact that the country offers incredible sights and activities for those wishing to explore.

My first destination was Bomana War Cemetery (BWC), the resting place of about 3,200 servicemen from World War II, killed in action in Papua and Bougainville. BWC, about 20 km from Port Moresby, is a well-maintained and the only cemetery in the country to contain white marble headstones. Memorial services for Anzac Day are held here on April 25 every year. I knew very little about the importance of Anzac Day, till I walked on the Kokoda Track, which still bears the scars of the fighting between the Japanese and the Allies. 

Next on the cards was a visit to Port Moresby Nature Park, a botanical garden and zoological park that is home to hundreds of animals, including kangaroos and reptiles, and it’s the only rainforest track in the city. Particularly fascinating was walking through rows of native plants and orchids. To truly understand the orchid variety, a visit here is a must. There are over 10,000 orchids in the park!

Towards evening, I headed to a local market in Pom Town. It was like walking back in history — there was nothing ‘modern’ about the market — just picturesque stalls selling food, local crafts, paintings, traditional carvings. I returned with wooden masks and meri blouse (traditional dress): loose-fitting, and comfortable but a fashion disaster, and stuffed to my gills on taro and cassava, which my hotel receptionist told me was “the thing to do anyway.” It was she who put the idea of visiting the Parliament House into my head. “You can see the birds later,” she said. With a phone call, she arranged a tour of the Parliament House and the next morning, I found myself with a guide and permission to enter the building.

It is said a passionate guide can make or break your impressions — my guide influenced my opinions favourably. The gardens and orchids are fabulous and so are the flags that represent many different tribes in the country. Fortunately, the Parliament was not in session, so we could easily look into the floor of the Parliament. The grandeur of the building was hard to ignore, but pictures are forbidden, not even discreetly!

The city of Port Moresby is charming in a rather quaint way. Nightlife is decent and a few good restaurants have cropped up in the recent past, a sign that PNG is gearing up to welcoming more tourists in the near future.

It is amazing how much of the country is still unexplored and you often get the feeling that it is a civilisation yet to be discovered. From tropical birds to vibrant colours, cultures and tribal traditions — everything conspires to make you fall in love with the place.