It’s so often the case where the pacific nation of Papua New Guinea is associated with lush rainforest inhabited by lost tribes practicing cannibalism, and while it might be true to some extent, its capital city, Port Moresby, overwhelmingly contrasts this preconceived image with modern shopping malls, luxurious restaurants and even a golf club. Port Moresby has a notoriously bad reputation due to its rampant crime figures, yet if you avoid certain places whilst taking few precautions, this exceptional city can serve as a fascinating appetizer for the country itself.
Gaining its independence from Australia in 1975, Papua New Guinea is the most ethnically diverse country in the world, home to over 800 distinct tribes, each having its own unique language and cultural practices. Giving its multi-cultural nature, governing and politically representing the Papuan society is a challenging task, perpetually requiring a balance between the different interests of the country’s ethnic components.
There’s probably no better place to witness the ongoing effort of consolidating a national coherence than in Papua New-Guinea Parliament House. Located in the suburb of Waigani, the national parliament is a mere reflection of the country’s multi-ethnic identity, architecturally embodied in the modern legislative building, inspired by the traditional Haus Tambaran from Maprik Province, a vernacular building featuring elongated ridge-pole and artistically painted gable, serving as a place for religious rituals, feasts and gatherings in almost every village across the island.
Interestingly, almost each and every part of this monumental building is designed to reflect a different region, ultimately creating a microcosm of the Papuan nation itself. The parliament complex is open for visitors on weekdays, making it possible to enjoy strolling through its artifact abundant space and even watch parliamentary sessions from the public gallery.
Furthermore, the nearby Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery have an interesting collection of local tribal art, complemented by a pleasant garden with sculptures and Papuan style architectural structures.
photography by: Brian ireland
With over 74 percent of its land area covered by rainforest, Papua New Guinea is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, in fact, while this island nation accounts for merely 0.5% of the world’s land mass, it’s home to staggering 8% of all vertebrate species.
The rich fauna and flora are not only a source of national pride, but also a magnet for overseas visitors eager to explore Papua’s exceptional natural troves. For the ones among you who seek an introduction to the island’s remarkable wildlife before venturing out into the countryside, Port Moresby Nature Part nearby the city’s main university, is the perfect place to watch native species of mammals and birds while pleasantly strolling on the park’s extensive network of well-maintained trails. Among the animals showcased here are cassowaries, birds of paradise, hornbills, tree-kangaroos and an aviary dwelled by the Victoria crowned pigeon, the world’s largest pigeon. It’s important to take notice that some of the animals in the park are very difficult to spot while walking through the rainforest, making it perhaps your sole opportunity to witness those critters.
Besides the zoological garden, the park also has a large plethora of native plants, culminating in an adorable collection of native orchids.
Originally founded in 1975 as botanical gardens, it was later upgraded into a nature park, designated also as a conservation center for the country’s endangered endemic species, partly financed by revenues from tourists, thereby, if you opt visiting the park, you directly contribute to the indispensable conservation efforts.
photography by: Nina
Any experienced traveler knowns that there is probably no better place to learn about the local culture than a vibrant market, particularly in a non-touristy city such as Port Moresby, having numerous authentic markets found in almost every neighborhood, one of which is Boroko Market at the central business district of Boroko, a suburb of Port Moresby.
This open-air market mostly features makeshift stalls offering a medley of fruits and vegetables sold on banana leaves, ranging from papayas, pineapples and coconuts to more indigenous ones like Pandanus conoideus (red fruit), Malay apple and Burckella, making it an intriguing opportunity to explore completely unfamiliar flavors and odors.
Just few blocks away is Boroko Handicrafts Market, spanning over a triangular plot of land, this outdoor bazaar is the place to look for souvenirs, as Papua New Guinea is famous for its remarkable artisanal wooden carvings of masks, figurines and even furniture, usually depicting traditional motifs from the rural parts of the country.
Additionally, the market has a surprisingly large garment section, offering a hodgepodge of local handmade items, most notably kina shell necklaces and Bilums, a Papuan style bag made of woven plant fibers and ubiquitous throughout the country. Interestingly, those bags are practically multipurpose, while some are even used by mothers as a method to carry their babies, a custom well mirrored in the word itself, as Bilum is translated as “womb” in the local Tok Pisin language.
photography by: ILO Asia-Pacific
You’ve probably concluded by now that Port Moresby has a somewhat unflattering reputation, moreover, the city was ranked as one of the least livable cities in the world by the Economist, thereby, it might come as a surprise that the city is blessed with its own version of Copa-Cabana. Ela Beach in Port Moresby downtown is a 1 Km wide strip of soft white sands and where the city dwellers flock in mass to enjoyably swim in the waters of Walter Bay, thus it’s not only a great place to enjoy the tropical Papuan sun while gazing into the ocean, but also one of only few worthy public spaces to actually witness how locals spend their free time.
The beachfront underwent a thorough upgrading recently, resulting in a brand new promenade alongside couple of sport facilities such as volleyball and basketball courts, though I would argue that its most iconic part is the “Amazing Port Moresby” statue, starring as a backdrop in thousands of Instagram photos.
Each year on September 16th Ela Beach serves as the venue for the Hiri Moale Festival, a large-scale celebration coinciding with Papua’s independence-day, where members of the Motu tribe conduct a maritime contest with traditional Lakatoi watercrafts, interestingly, the nearby monumental APEC Haus, which hosts international meetings and conferences, is architecturally inspired by those double-hulled boats.
photography by: Brian ireland
Just roughly three kilometers from Port Moresby modern business district lies a parallel universe, where people still keep a simple lifestyle by having a close relationship with the ocean, defining every facet of their identity.
The stilted villages of Koki and Poreporena are coastal fishermen communities in the suburbs of Koki, east of the downtown and Poreporena, west of Port Moresby harbor respectively. Known for their inhabitants exceptional fishing skills and makeshift housing, both villages are truly intriguing places to explore. The villages themselves consist of several wings, each bisected by a large wooden pedestrian bridge, de-facto functioning as a main street, linking every single home. This grid-like walkway system is constantly vibrant and hectic, as this densely packed community tends to engage in social activities outside at the open air, so be mentally prepared for a lot of curious staring and calls.
The village of Koki is also home to two interesting markets, the Koki market, dominated mostly by fruits and vegetables vendors, selling locally grown fresh products whereas Koki fish market, a stilted structure by its own right, focuses solely on fish and seafood, showcasing the villagers catch, including crabs, lobsters, shellfish, barracudas and a magnificent plethora of native fish.
The villages are one of Port Moresby’s most fascinating sites, but not without its risks. Unfortunately, like many parts of the capital city, mugging is still prevalent, thereby make sure you go with a local or professional guide, otherwise it’s too risky.
photography by: gailhampshire
Like many other nations across south east Asia and the Pacific, Papua New Guinea was a bloody battleground between the Allies and Japanese forces during WW2, resulting in thousands of casualties.
As part of the Japanese military campaign, a bold attempt to take hold of Port Moresby was made in 1942, as the city was strategically indispensable for both belligerent sides. Despite the successful efforts by the Australian and American armies to hold back the invading forces, the Allies suffered great losses in what known as the battle of the coral sea.
Serving as the last resting place for the fallen soldiers killed in the epic battle over Papua’s capital, Bomana war cemetery in the outskirts of Port Moresby is where the bulk of Allies soldiers who died during WW2 in the Papuan islands of New Guinea, New Britain and Bougainville are buried, including hundreds of unidentified victims belonging to the British troops who died in captivity.
The graveyard itself is well-maintained and pleasant to walk at, like most typical WW2 cemeteries, it covered by a generous patch of lawn, where the white headstones are neatly aligned to each other, a sight to awe at, particularly from the uphill gazebo overlooking the premises.
photography by: Stefan Krasowski
Staying in Port Moresby for longer than two days can be a challenging experience for some, after all, there’s a constant need to watch your back and carefully select where to go, therefore, a day-trip to the city’s surrounding natural wonders can perfectly balance that.
At a one hour drive from the downtown, Varirata National Park is the ideal getaway from the roughness of Port Moresby, providing a glimpse to Papua New Guinea’s immense biodiversity, most notably kingfishers, cassowaries and Raggiana birds of paradise, so the birdwatchers among you will find this place especially appealing.
Nestled at the Sogeri Plateau, the country’s first national park varies from pine woodland to a lush rainforest, efficiently traversed by six official hiking trails, the longest of which takes around 3 hours to complete. With an average elevation of 600-800 meters, the park has several lookouts offering stunning panoramic views of Port Moresby and its vicinity.
Few kilometers west of Varirata, the Sirinumu Dam and the nearby artificially made lake are attracting a growing number of travelers, drawn to the area’s booming ecotourism, which among its highlights are a lakeside picnic, a plethora of aquatic sports and a visit to a local village including intriguing interaction with the indigenous people who live there. For more details please check the Sirinumu Dam eco-tourism Facebook page.
photography by: markaharper1
As you’ve already figured it out by yourself, Port Moresby is not considered a particularly safe place by any standards, especially if you happen to be a woman. Mugging, car-jacking and rapes are the norm in some areas, all perpetrated by local criminal gangs known as Rascals.
Before you get cold-feet and rethink your trip, let me just tell you that handful of simple precautions can drastically reduce most risks while visiting there:
1. Refrain from traveling or walking outside of your hotel during night-time, as the rascals are mostly active when it’s dark outside.
2. Always ask the receptionist at your hotel or even just a well-informed local about an area you’re planning to go whether it’s safe or not.
3. If you wish to travel beyond the safe-zones, do it solely during daylight and while accompanied by a local guide.
4. If you’ve somehow found yourself encountering a gang member who demand your valuables, do not try opposing him in any way as those criminals can become extremely violent if met with resistance.