Relatively new to the cruise scene, Papua New Guinea is an amazing addition to the itineraries of many ships departing Australia and heading north into Southeast Asia. This jungle-covered country offers more than its somewhat enigmatic reputation would suggest: amazing ancient and recent history, diverse flora and fauna, stunning coastlines and a fascinating collision of traditional and modern culture.
Most people are a little in the dark when it comes to Papua New Guinea as a cruise destination, so we have put together a quick guide to the basics of this amazing Melanesian nation. Read on and prepare to hit the ground running!
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (this being considered the country’s mainland), as well as numerous offshore islands of various sizes. The landscapes are very diverse and in some areas of the nation it is very rugged with steep mountains and dense rainforests. The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm which stands at 4,509 metres tall and is part of the Bismarck Range.
The coasts of Papua New Guinea are where many towns and much of the infrastructure lie, as the central highlands of the mainland are difficult to access and the residents enjoy a much more traditional way of life. Visitors who arrive by ship or other form of transport are often surprised by the sheer natural beauty of the country - including the gorgeous coastlines with white sandy beaches that exude tropical paradise vibes. All within easy cruising distance from Australia!
Cruise ships visit a range of ports around the mainland and islands of Papua New Guinea, accessing the country’s vast variety of attractions both natural and cultural. Alotau in the Milne Bay Province is a popular place to call in, and it is often used as a gateway to access some remote communities and discover the way they live - most cruise lines will offer tours in this vein. The nearby Kawanasausau Strait and its many tiny islets offer scenic cruising, so make sure you head to your balcony or the deck railings when you pass through.
More cultural encounters are to be found on Kiriwina Island, where visitors are often entertained by the spectacle that is Trobriand Cricket - a game that may look like the familiar sport on the surface but runs very deep with different rules, lengthy matches and complicated tribal rivalries.
For some historical interest, search out Rabaul on your cruise itinerary. This hardy town has been rebuilt after volcanic eruptions in 1937 and 1994, and after bombardments in WWII. There are kilometres of underground tunnels built by the occupying Japanese, and a “bubbling beach” with an active hot spring (it’s literally boiling - do not attempt to swim here!) in the shadow of the volcano known as Mount Tavurvur.
Papua New Guinea is not exactly known for its cuisine, but the fresh local fish, meat and produce will keep most taste buds happy. The majority of the country’s specialty dishes are based on root vegetable crops like taro, kaukau and yams. Pork is commonly used as the meat portion of meals, along with chicken. Alotau has some good restaurants, including By the Bay and Jeff’s Bar and Grill.
If you would like to try a traditional Papua New Guinean dish, we recommend searching out some mumu. It is prepared in a ground oven lined with hot stones (like the Maori hangi) and consists of layers of leafy greens, root veggies and meat or poultry wrapped in banana leaves. For dessert, taste some dia: sago and bananas cooked with coconut cream.
There is always the food onboard the ship to keep cruisers satisfied, too - but we recommend trying something a little different when you step ashore!
The kina is the currency of Papua New Guinea, and it is subdivided into 100 toea. Alotau and other sizeable towns will likely have currency exchange facilities available on weekdays, and often you can purchase kina on the ship as they bring bankers onboard before arriving in port. It’s a good idea to check this with your cruise line.
The tropical climate means Papua New Guinea remains warm or hot year-round, and much of the seasonal variation is in the amount of rainfall. The dry season is June through to September, and this is a great time to visit the country. Pack for warm weather but include a few long layers in case they are required - as well as a rain jacket!
Tok Pisin is a pidgin language based on the native tongues and colonising European languages, and it is now the preferred common tongue and symbol of national identity for most inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, which has astounding linguistic diversity - over a thousand individual languages and dialects. English, however, is taught in schools and is the official language of business and government, so cruisers should not have many troubles communicating.
Hospitality is the driving factor in traditional etiquette and customs - handshakes are a polite way to greet new people. Respectful friendliness will get you a long way! Comfortable, casual but reasonably conservative clothes are the ideal choice for both the weather and the local sensibilities.
Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most heterogenous nations - that means that the country has many different native ethnic groups. It is also one of the most rural nations, with only around 18% of people living in urban centres. It is a destination that remains under the radar and undiscovered for most travelers, so take the opportunity to head out on a shore excursion, enter the villages if that interests you, and truly explore.
Papua New Guinea and its treasures await - so start looking at our cruise deals from Australia and find one that will take you somewhere new!