The nation of Papua New Guinea (PNG) comprises the eastern half of New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, as well as other Pacific islands of considerable size such as New Britain and New Ireland, and many much smaller islands and atolls.
The most linguistically diverse country on earth, PNG has more than 850 mutually unintelligible, indigenous languages reflecting at least as many different traditional tribal societies. This astonishing cultural variety has given rise to many different forms of expression, including art, carving, dance, singing, music and flamboyant costumes and hairstyles. The colourful cultural heritage is celebrated annually at numerous large regional festivals and sing-sings, including Goroka and Mt Hagen and lesser-known Tumbuna and Kundu.
Habitats range from dense tropical rainforest to savannah and wetland plains, volcanic mountains to white sand beaches and coral reefs. The forests are home to many rare species of marsupial such as tree kangaroo, insects including the Queen Alexandra birdwing (the world’s largest butterfly) and birds such as the cassowary. However, PNG is best known for Sir Richard Attenborough’s favourites: the brilliantly coloured birds of paradise, with 38 of the 43 known species found there.
Papua New Guinea is truly one of the world’s last travel frontiers. Nature and humanity unite in a heady mix of sights and sounds, and many parts of the country remain blissfully unaffected by the ever-advancing ways of the western world. However, PNG is definitely up and coming (it received the Most Emergent Destination award from Wanderlust Magazine in 2014) and, now that Reef & Rainforest can put together tours at reasonable cost, there should be many more visitors, so go now while it’s still authentic and unspoilt.