Papua New Guinea is sometimes overlooked as an adventure destination, which is, once you realise how packed full of adventure and outdoor experiences it is, simply crazy.
There is the Kokoda Track, of course but there is also much more, with the Papua New Guinea highlands synonymous with excellent trekking. Rugged hillsides covered in dense rainforest, wild waterways and mountains topping out above 4000 metres in height are – excuse the pun – highlights of this region. The best thing for Aussies is that Papua New Guinea is so close – and its adventures so unique.
Above the clouds
At 4509m, Mt Wilhelm is Papua New Guinea’s tallest mountain, surrounded by glacial valleys, dense forest, steep cliffs and a number of rivers. The trek to the summit takes three days, with PNG Highlands Adventures offering a five-day adventure that includes transfers to and from Port Moresby. Once clear of the city, you reach Simbu province before travelling through mountain valleys to your first night at the village of Kegusuglo and Betty’s Lodge. From here you start trekking, gaining altitude as you head toward your ‘basecamp’ at Pinude Yaundo Lake. A midnight start from here should see you and your guides reach the summit at around 6am. It’s no stroll but your efforts are rewarded with amazing views over a large part of Papua New Guinea. The descent back to Betty’s Lodge at Kegusuglo take most of the day before an early transfer the next morning sees you back at Goroka, and then on to Port Moresby the following morning. For those keen to immerse themselves more deeply in Papua New Guinea’s culture, PNG Highlands Adventures also offers an eight-day variant of the summit trek, adding in cultural tours.
Mount Giluwe is the country’s second highest peak, at 4367m, and loses nothing to its taller sibling in regards to trekking. Both PNG Highlands Adventures and Trans Niugini Tours offer five-day treks to the summit. The peak is part of a volcanic massif that offers high alpine trekking and sees you travel through forests of oak, karuka, pine and beech before entering the higher alpine zone, with its vast grassland dotted with clear tarns and lava boulders.
Birds and culture
Of course, the highlands region is famous for more than trekking; it is rich in birdlife and equally so in culture. This is where the benefits of exploring with an experienced guiding company come to the fore. Trans Niugini Tours offers an eight-day adventure for ‘twitchers’ (birdwatchers), with an initial half day spent at Rondon Ridge and the remainder of the trip at two of Papua New Guinea’s best wilderness lodges: Karawari and Rondon Ridge. You have the chance to spot everything from hornbills, frogmouths and parrots, through to the ‘big one’ – the colourful bird of paradise. Karawari Lodge, in Papua New Guinea’s Sepik region, reached via charter flight, river-boat transfer and four-wheel drive. The lodge sits on a ridge above the Karawari River and is ideal for those looking to spot one or more of the 225 bird species (including bird of paradise variants) recorded in this area.
Anyone exploring Papua New Guinea must experience some of this country’s varied culture. Trans Niugini Tours offers an excellent eight-day village adventure. From a visit to a remote elementary school deep in the highlands, to the differences between women’s and men’s traditions throughout the region, each day provides insight into the highlands’ rich cultures. A highlight is staying overnight in a Karawari village where houses are built on stilts and life is centred the Karawari River; dugout canoes are the only mode of transport here.
So it’s no exaggeration to say that the Papua New Guinea highlands offer not only one of the world’s best treks (the Kokoda Track) but many more exciting foot-borne adventures. Lump in the vibrant culture – and even more vibrant birdlife – and it’s easy to be thankful that this outdoor wonderland is so close to Australia.
For all things Papua New Guinea, see Papua New Guinea Travel
Getting there: Air Niugini offers regular connections from Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns up to Port Moresby, and an extensive domestic route network throughout Papua New Guinea. See Air Niugini.