Home to more than 800 different languages, Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally-rich countries on Earth. Its encompasses soaring mountain peaks and remote offshore islands that are surrounded by coral reefs and World War II wrecks that are literally teeming with marine life.

But with few roads penetrating its interior and flights or canoes the main means of getting around, PNG has remained relatively off-the-beaten-track to all but the most adventurous travellers. Those who do venture to this fascinating Melanesian archipelago will be rewarded with vibrant tribal festivals, uncrowded waves and challenging treks along war-trodden trails.

“Locals travelling by traditional canoe along the stunning coastline of PNG”

1. Trek to the peak of Mount Wilhelm

Papua’s highest peak, Mount Wilhelm, towers at more than 4,500 metres within the Bismarck Range and holds the title of being the highest peak in Oceania. It’s a popular trekking destination for mountaineering enthusiasts, with the summit accessible in anywhere from 1-4 days. The views across the island from the summit are undeniably incredible, with many timing their trek to arrive for sunrise.

2. Dive the reefs and wrecks off the coast of Madang

Madang is an attractive city on the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea that serves as the gateway to the coral reefs and World War II wrecks that litter the bottom of the Bismarck Sea. The nutrient-rich waters surge through the barrier reef’s passages and channels to support an abundant marine life. Get up close to schools of bluefin trevally and white tipped reef sharks, together with schooling hammerheads and elusive tiger sharks. 

3. Go birdwatching in the Chambri region

Comprising a series of swamps and canals, the Chambri Lakes are seasonally flooded by the Sepik River and renowned for their exceptional birdlife. It’s the ideal place to experience a river cruise in a traditional dugout canoe, slowly being propelled past remote villages and untouched tracts of jungle. Keep your eyes peeled for kingfishers and brahminy kites soaring overhead or just enjoy watching the comings and goings of local life.

4. Experience the cultural heritage of the Eastern Highlands

The Eastern Highlands offer not only magnificent hiking but they’re home to a rich cultural heritage that’s displayed every year during the Goroka Show. This celebratory “sing sing” brings together around 100 different tribes from across the highlands to showcase their unique culture through intoxicating displays of music, song and dance.

“A group of tribal dancers gather during the annual Goroka Show”

5. Join the yam harvest in the Trobriand Islands

The low-lying Trobriand Islands are situated within the beautiful Milne Bay Province and are famed for their annual yam festival. It celebrates the yam as a sign of prestige in Trobriand society, with the yams first dug up to be admired before being carried back to the village where they’re packed into a highly decorated “yam houses”. It is the responsibility of the wife (or wives) to fill a man’s “yam house”, with the chief’s always the biggest and most elaborate.

6. Surf the uncrowded waves of Vanimo

The small town of Vanimo in Papua New Guinea’s Sandaun Province offers some of the country’s most consistent waves but still remains relatively unknown as a surf destination compared to its neighbour, Indonesia. It’s mostly experienced and “in-the-know” surfers who end up here, lured by the prospect of having the lineup largely to themselves. While you can surf year round here, the best season extends from October to early-May.

7. Tackle the legendary Kokoda Trail

The world-renowned Kokoda Trail stretches 96 kilometres from Port Moresby to Owens Corner, following in the footsteps of Australian soldiers as they battled against the Japanese Imperial Forces during World War II. It’s now a pilgrimage hike for many Australians looking to gain an insight into their history, although it’s not for the faint-hearted, with notoriously muddy slopes and sometimes treacherous conditions at elevations that reach over 2,000 metres.

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