A week in Papua New Guinea exploring Lae and Port Moresby on the trip Pacifying the Pacific.
I really didn’t know what to expect on visiting the mysterious Papua New Guinea. Media portrays it as a lawless and dangerous country with headlines of murder, rape, and unrest but the media often doesn’t tell the whole story.
With my friend Sean, we arrived in Lae after two connections in Brisbane and Port Moresby. The last leg with the newly rebranded PNG Air was impressive on a new ATR-72 with some stylish tail art and we even found the first issue of their onboard magazine.
We went through immigration in Port Moresby’s airport before our connection. The process was very straight forward and with a European passport I got a visa on arrival.
Interestingly Australians currently need a visa before entering the country but this law is soon to change for Australian tourists.
Country 166 complete!
Lae, the Garden City, is the second largest city of the country and an industrial hub with the largest port of the country. We met Sean’s friend Timmy at the airport who lives in Lae and has experience in the security sector, so we were in good hands.
Whiles sipping on a local SP beer, we headed to the Melanesian Hotel, our home-base for our stay. That evening the generous General Manager introduced us to the Yacht Club, a local hangout popular with the expat community. Sitting there drinking beers next to these beautiful yachts, we chatted about life in Lae. We somehow ended up at a new club, Muse, that just opened. In the VIP section, while shaking to the bass, and watching the multicolored lights swing around the room, I couldn’t believe I was in Papua New Guinea.
The next day we took a tour around the town with Alok. We saw the large stores where people went shopping, many different churches, the busy port and the downtown and uptown areas. We also stopped by the golf course where we later went for dinner at the Chinese restaurant.
For our final day in Lae, Timmy took us to the Lae War Cemetery before going out for a picnic on the river about an hour from town. The relaxed event ended up with us partying at a celebrity’s mansion!
Less than an hour’s drive, we were relaxing in the clear flowing water of the river. I panned the sand in my hand to actually find two small flakes of gold! Then we decided to go for a walk to a waterfall that a local said was ten minutes away. We were in swim trunks and barefoot, but headed into the jungle. Eventually a Land-Cruiser drove by and stopped to tell us that the waterfall was another two hours away…
The occupants of the SUV were some other expats coming out for the weekend. Before we knew it, we were sipping on coconuts and beers when a guy walked by from the jungle with a python around his neck. Then a Jeep rolled up and we were informed that it was Jokema, a pop star from Papua New Guinea!
So there we were chewing beetle-nut and drinking beer with the entourage while neck deep in the refreshingly cool water flowing down from the mountain. As the day wrapped up Jokema invited us to his place for an impromptu party which involved music, dancing, target practice, and a barbecue.
We had a special dinner planned at the hotel, with interesting fusion dishes served in generous proportions.
A last surprise to end an unexpectedly momentous day!
The supposedly dangerous city to avoid at all costs ended up being one filled with interesting characters, friendly and generous locals, and undisturbed natural beauty.
The next day we were on a flight back to the capital. We weren’t as impressed with our PNG Air return trip on an older Dash 8 which happened to be loaded with live chickens. Their soft and frantic squeaks could even be heard from inside the cabin.
Port Moresby is home to over 400,000 and is the country’s largest city.
Immediately after leaving the airport I noticed a different vibe to this city. Cars didn’t have metal grates over their windows and people on the streets seemed to be going somewhere instead of going for a walk.
Getting picked up by the hotel van, we met with Deidre, from our sponsor Coral Seas Hotels, before taking a driving tour of the city and visiting some of their properties.
The city seemed much more orderly and though quite developed was still undergoing massive construction. Apparently the city gets a face lift for large events and international conferences, such as the Pacific Games and APEC.
We then checked into the Grand Papua Hotel and relaxed a bit before our dinner with Kristine and Warren from the hotel. The meal was lovely as well as the company. It is always fascinating to meet well traveled people and adventurers not afraid to take on a new country!
The next day we had a full day tour of the city sights arranged by Kristine and the Grand Papua team.
We started with a quick trip to Waterfront Mall to get some necessary supplies for the day including sunscreen and sunglasses.
Once we were equipped we made our way to the Yacht Club to kayak to the WWII wreck in the middle of the bay. I found out later that the mast from the wreck is currently erect in the club.
The whole excursion took two hours and we basically rowed nonstop. We sped to the wreck and on the way back we were going against the wind and waves making it difficult to stop for pictures.
After a quick shower back at the hotel, we left for the Nature Park. The park use to be the Botanical Gardens, but now is a non-profit and is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the city. Well laid out gardens and animal displays give visitors a chance to see some of the unique wildlife in Papua New Guinea including birds of paradise, wallabies, and three different species of cassowaries. The cage holding several birds is a repurposed American WWII tent!
Next we drove to the National Museum. Unfortunately they were closed because of a power issue, but some war artifacts were on display outside. They were temporarily moved there as the port is being moved and the guardian sadly explained that many relics were stolen in the process.
Next door is the Parliament Haus with an intricate facade representing the country. A colorful pizza chef statue seemed a bit out of place.
From there he took us to the Bomana War Cemetery, where thousands of Australian’s fallen soldiers are buried. The site was very well maintained as it is funded by the Australian government. On the way we passed by the Papua New Guinea War Cemetery where the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels are buried. Unfortunately their resting places was not nearly as well cared for.
With that we rushed back to the hotel to check out and catch our ride to Loloata Island Resort.
Loloata Island Resort
This getaway less than an hour from central Port Moresby is a favorite of the community. Expats and locals all visit this island for the diving or just to get away from the city. Our three day stay involved some extraordinary diving, delicious meals, and the interesting company of the owner and his family. They’ve created a wonderful little paradise for all to enjoy!
Time flew by and the Solomon Islands were calling. I bid farewell to Sean and the staff at the resort and was off to the airport.
Papua New Guinea truly is the “land of the unexpected”. The majority of the country is covered in lush jungle and the cities have a bit of a wild west feel. This is the final frontier and foreigners come seeking adventure. Locals are proud, friendly and genuinely looking forward to a brighter future for their country. With so many distinct cultures, languages, and areas, I can’t wait to discover more.