Even though its south coast lies only 150 kilometres north of the Australian mainland, Papua New Guinea is well off the established tourist trail, it’s not as hard to reach as many would like to think, and connections to the outside world are improving all the while. However, despite its proximity to Australia (and to Indonesia), PNG remains utterly unique.
Birds are a major draw, as with permanent residents and migrants PNG is home to just over 700 different species, and you certainly don’t have to be a fervent birder to enjoy all its avian wonders. Any visitor can spot a variety of birdlife that ranges from the Victoria crown pigeon to the flame bowerbird, however the birds that everyone wants to see are the birds-of-paradise, famed for their vibrant colours, lovely feathers and intricate mating rituals. The country is home to 38 of the 43 identified bird-of-paradise species, some of which are seen only in the country’s remotest corners. Yet, contrary to popular belief, there are also a number of accessible sites where they can be seen with ease. Just outside Mount Hagen, you see up to ten species in the grounds of Rondon Ridge Lodge alone. And arguably the best place of all to see the iconic Count Raggiana’s bird-of-paradise is Varirata National Park, only 40-minutes drive from Port Moresby, the capital.
Birdlife isn’t the only thing with a high level of diversity. Although English is PNG’s official language, another 800 local dialects are spoken, which gives you some idea of the cultural diversity that exists here. It is thought that there are as many as around 1,000 tribes in PNG, but no-one quite knows! And traditions, rituals and beliefs - as well as language - vary considerably between different regions, just like the birds! From the Asaro Mud Men in the highlands to the shell-wearing Korafe close to Tufi on the eastern coast, culture is always a significant ingredient of any trip. Few other countries have been able to maintain this level of cultural diversity.
PNG will undoubtedly continue to captivate visitors with its birding and cultural diversity, which offer such an authentic experience. However, it should no longer been seen as a distant land that is too far away. In fact, it has never been more straightforward to visit. It may still be an adventure once you get there, but you may be surprised how much you can see and do in this bewitching destination.