Papua New Guinea

Physical geography

Papua New Guinea (PNG) lies just below the equator in the eastern South Pacific and shares its main island with Indonesia. Its nearest neighbours are the Solomon Islands, Australia and Vanuatu to the south, with Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines to the north. It comprises more than 600 islands, covering a total area of over 474,000 square kilometres, and has a population of around 3.7 million.

One of the most striking features of PNG is the immense variety of landscape: highlands, plateaux, valleys, savanna, rain forest, mangrove swamps, plantations and island archipelagoes. There are at least 100 volcanoes, some of them still active, and a large number of geothermal springs. South of the central cordillera on the main island stretch luxuriant lowlands, interlaced with one of the largest river systems in the world.

The geography of the mainland ranges from open beaches to coastal swamps, from rough ford-like areas (Oro Province), to dry savannah country and the steep precipitous mountains of the highlands region.


PNG is situated in the tropics and a wide range of tropical and sub-tropical climates exist in the country. Coastal and island regions tend to be hot and humid with temperature ranges averaging between 20 and 32 degrees C. However, the highland regions can be quite chilly, particularly at night. Certain areas, such as Port Moresby, have definite rainy and dry seasons. Other coastal areas have a wet season (Madang and Morobe), but these are not always so clearly defined as one might expect.

Economic geography

PNG is richly endowed with natural resources, but the costs of developing an infrastructure have been high. Agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for 85 per cent of the population. Mining of numerous deposits, including copper and gold, accounts for about 60 per cent of export earnings.


PNG was first settled more than 30,000 years ago, but interactions between language groups were restricted due to the topography of the land. The indigenous people are predominantly Melanesian with some Micronesian and Polynesian. In the 19th contury, the country was divided between the Germans and the British. In 1905 Australia took over the British sector naming it 'Territory of Papua' and then became responsible for German New Guinea after World War I.

On 16 September 1975, PNG, a member of the United Nations, became a fully independent country and a member of the Commonwealth. The system of government is based on the Westminster model. Governments are democratically elected every five years.


The disassociated nature of the people was a contributing factor to their being no formal religion in PNG before the arrival of the Christian missionaries. Christianity had a profound effect with over 80 per cent claiming to be Christian. However, the average Papua New Guinean encompasses many different religious beliefs, thus enabling a belief in God as well as drawing on their traditional beliefs.

Languages spoken by nationals

There are over 700 languages in PNG, mainly divided into two groups: the Austronesian and the Papuan.


PNG is 10 hours ahead of GMT and in the same time zone as Eastern Australia. However, there is no day light saving in PNG.


PNG's unit of currency is the kina which is divided into 100 toea. There are K50, K20, K10 and K2 coins. Dollars, sterling, yen and most other international currencies may be exchanged at Jackson's airport or in banks, which are open from 9am to 3pm, Monday to Thursday and until 5pm on Friday.

What one should not fail to see

Port Moresby is a bustling city with around 196,000 inhabitants. The centre of the city is on a peninsula at the entrance to Fairfax harbour. Nearby Paga Hill provides a wonderful panoramic view of the city with the well known Kokoda trail nearby. From the popular Ela beach in the city, the shoreline runs up to Koki Bay, a traditional meeting place for Papua New Guineans. Koki market attracts traders and bargain hunters every day, but on the weekends it is crowded with stalls offering fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood.

The Eastern Highland Province ranges from steep, rugged mountains to extensive areas of rolling kunaigrass covered hills. Although Eastern Highlanders still live in traditional villages, traditional dress is seldom worn. This area has an abundance of walking tracks, lookouts, tours of coffee plantations and processing plants with occassional cultural activities.

The banks of the Sepik River are dotted with large, traditional villages, each with its own spirit house decorated with ancestral figures, carvings, drums and secret ritual flutes. The Sepik is a gallery of tribal art, each village boasting a unique style.

How to dress

For most occasions, dress is informal and casual. Thongs, sneakers and sand shoes are not allowed in some bars and restaurants. In the highlands, sturdy walking shoes are recommended, as is a sweater or jacket for cool evenings.

What to eat and drink

You won't go hungry in PNG. Western cuisine is available in hotels and restaurants. For something different, try a traditional 'mumu' of roast pork, chicken or fish, sweet potato, taro, banana and greens.

Sporting Facilities

Play golf, tennis and squash or go fishing, diving, snorkelling, hunting and trekking. Check with Air Niugini and the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority for venues.

What to buy

One of the many pleasant surprises you will have in PNG is the wide, diverse range of art forms. Among the many tempting souvenirs you will encounter are:
Bilums - String bags made from natural fibres
Masks - woven from cane or rattan; made of wood and clay with shells, hair and pigs' teeth or incised with brown and white patterns, and finished in glossy black.
Wooden Bowls - Fashioned from local timber.
Baskets and trays - Many different patterns and styles can be found. Those from Bougainville are regarded as some of the finest in the Pacific.
Drums - The most common musical instrument in PNG.
Spirit boards - Act as guardians of the village, with those from the Gulf Province believed to possess the spirits of powerful warriors.

Many artifacts and other historical and cultural objects are prohibited exports. Others require an export permit - contact the National Museum for details.


Water quality is within World Health Organisation standards in most towns, and bottled water is available. However, in rural areas, it is advisable to boil water at all times.

Malaria continues to be a health risk in some parts of the country. However, prevention of malaria is effective and easy. Travellers to PNG should start taking anti-malaria tablets two weeks before arrival, continue taking them during their stay and also for four weeks after departure. In addition to taking the tablets, insect repellent should be used and long-sleeved shirts, long trousers and shoes should be worn in the evening when mosquitoes are most active.

Frontier formalities

Visas are required for all who visit, with a maximum stay for tourist/visiting purposes of 60 days. Visas cannot be issued on arrival at the airport.

You will need a valid travel document, sufficient funds for your entire stay and an airline ticket with a confirmed outbound flight before the expiry date of your visa. Some restrictions apply to travellers from several Asian, East European and African countries. We recommend that travellers check visa requirements with the PNG Embassy before travelling.