Papua New Guinea: Unity in Diversity
For the ultimate, raw travelling experience, Papua New Guinea is a proverbial, albeit luxurious, time machine back to more instinctive and nature-driven times
For hundreds of years, the concept of Papua New Guinea becoming a tourism hotspot, let alone a hotbed for international business travellers, was unthinkable, but while large parts of the country retain rituals and traditions oft-associated with centuries of old, pockets of the multi-island nation are becoming some of the most exotic and exciting places to visit.
Driven by its motto, ‘unity in diversity’ it is this diversification into the modern day which has helped to kick-start more concerted realms of economic prevalence and tourism prowess; and for the lucky few who have been able to capitalise on the opportunity so far, the stunning scenery and hospitable people that await have made such a trip more than worthwhile.
Epitomised by the growth of its capital, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally enigmatic countries in the world, boasting 852 languages across its more than seven million people. However, it is the country’s mystery and intrigue which have largely put it on the map, with massive parts still untouched by civilisation or even explored fully. ‘Uncontacted peoples’ and innumerable species of animal are still predicted to inhabit one of the most untouched areas of the planet.
Even the name itself - Papua - derives from an old term of uncertain origin or meaning, an indictment of a country that has so much to offer, yet very little of it shouted about.
“Lying just south of the equator, 160 kilometres north of Australia, Papua New Guinea is part of a great arc of mountains stretching from Asia, through Indonesia and into the South Pacific. With a vibrant and colourful Papua New Guinea culture, more than 600 islands and 800 indigenous languages, PNG is made up of four regions with 20 provinces,” explains Papua New Guinea Travel on its website. “Papua New Guinea is full of interesting attractions, magnificent natural scenery, and diverse cultural heritage.
“Spend your Papua New Guinea holiday trekking remote jungle tracks, cruising the mighty Sepik river, surfing the waves of New Ireland, fishing around the fjords of Tufi, birdwatching our world-famous birds of paradise in the Highlands, or diving amongst the coral reef coastline.”
More than 820 different languages inevitably makes any visit you do have to PNG all the more challenging or exciting depending on your taste for the indigenous, but across each of the country’s four regions, business is expanding, and the business travel community is growing.
Facts and figures
Languages: Hiri Motu, Tok Pisin, English, PNG sign language
Area: 462,000 square kilometres
Population (2011): 7.1 million
GDP (2016): 28 billion
Currency: Papua New Guinean kin (PGK)
Time zone: UTC+10, 11
Dialling code: +675
Internet TLD: .pg
The business end
Situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the mainland of the country is the eastern half of the New Guinea island where Port Moresby and the country’s other large towns are located. By and large though, the country is divided into nine convenient travel regions: Southern Papua New Guinea, Southwestern Papua New Guinea, Madang-Morobe, Highlands, Sepik, Milne Bay, New Britain, New Ireland and Manus, and Bougainville.
With the threat of volcanoes and/or tsunamis engulfing most of these regions, and with a scarily low tolerance for homosexuality or female equality, initial impressions aren’t ideal, but with more western customs becoming common place, improvement is evident. And as long as you remember their own customs - embracing friendly handshakes and greetings, but never making eye contact - then visitors can quickly turn their attentions towards enjoying the islands and indeed their business activities.
And from this business perspective, the outlook for PNG is bright. Despite being considered for LEDC status as little as 11 years ago, the International Monetary Fund has since described the country’s economy as “buoyant” and “stable”, with it now being earmarked as a developing entity: the sixth fastest in the world in 2011, in fact.
“Mining remains a major economic factor,” Wikipedia notes. “Local and national governments are discussing the potential of resuming mining operations in Panguna mine in Bougainville Province, which has been closed since the civil war in the 1980s-1990s.”
Endowed with a rich plethora of natural resources and mining opportunities, it comes as no surprise that the majority of business travellers come from this international mining domain. Meanwhile, for the more humble areas of society, agriculture and farming also remain pivotal to the country’s sustainability.
“Local developers are handicapped by years of deficient investment in education, health, ICT and access to finance,” Wikipedia continues. “Agriculture, for subsistence and cash crops, provides a livelihood for 85 percent of the population and continues to provide some 30 percent of GDP.
“Mineral deposits, including gold, oil, and copper, account for 72 percent of export earnings. Oil palm production has grown steadily over recent years (largely from estates and with extensive outgrower output), with palm oil now the main agricultural export.
“In households participating, coffee remains the major export crop (produced largely in the Highlands provinces), followed by cocoa and coconut oil/copra from the coastal areas, each largely produced by smallholders and tea, produced on estates and rubber.”
Underpinning this - once again - diverse array of fiscal contributors is the PNG Government’s long-term Vision 2050 which emphasises the need for further strings to the country’s economic bow. Wanting to avoid the backlash that regions such as West Africa have endured to their own resource-rich booms, the necessity to spread the risk in the future will not only make the country’s economy more sustainable, but it will also lend itself more wholly to the business travel sector too.
Wikipedia adds: “Measures have been taken to mitigate these effects, including through the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund, partly to stabilise revenue and expenditure flows, but much will depend upon the readiness to make real reforms to effective use of revenue, tackling rampant corruption and empowering households and businesses to access markets, services and develop a more buoyant economy, with lower costs, especially for small-to-medium-size enterprises.”
Out and about
More than 1,000 different cultural groups exist in Papua New Guinea, inevitably making for a diverse and culturally encapsulating make-up, however, the cities in which most business is carried out are every bit as accomplished and ‘urban’ as counterparts in the rest of the world.
Port Moresby in particular is now a hub of international repute with some of the most stunning hotels, apartments and lodges in the APAC region awaiting an ever-growing, high-end, international clientele.
Among the best is The Stanley Hotel & Suites which is a clear representation of the city’s urban evolution in recent years. The stunning, luxurious complex not only gives visitors a perfect resting, dining and comforting experience, but facilitates direct links to the city’s commercial centre and its integrated shopping complex.
Bridging business and pleasure is the holy grail for all established four and five-star hotels of course, and is also achieved by the likes of Airways Hotel, Coral Sea Hotel, Citi Serviced Apartments & Motel, and The Shady Rest Hotel in Port Moresby.
Such luxury and hospitality acumen is not just restricted to the capital though, with Kumul Lodge and McRoyal Hotel offering a glimpse into what the rest of the country can offer; these two both among the leading options in Mount Hagen.
For those looking to live among the natural, rather than the nurtured, Nusi Island Retreat and Wellness Lodge will help you forget the business world and boardrooms for the duration of your stay; as will the copious amounts of excursion and tour groups on hand to literally help you escape number crunching in favour of a walk on the wild side.
Egwalau Tours, Villink Tours, PNG Tours and PNG Highlands Adventures are among the pick of the bunch across PNG and cater for everything from nature walks, to bird watching, fishing, surfing, and sailing.
It should be mentioned - for a more tourist audience - that many of these hospitality and tour options can be quite expensive as the country looks to capitalise on the booming visitor numbers, but for the average business traveller with a few spare days, the experience should be worth the outlay.
When looking into day-to-day activities while in the country, it may be more enjoyable to take a ‘when in Rome’ approach in order to achieve the full PNG experience.
Wood carving on the Sepik River is extremely popular for example, while simply looking at the wildlife and plants offers uniqueness compared to anywhere else in the world.
From a food & drink perspective, evidently leveraging the abundance of natural resources surrounding them, the locals adopt Mumu, a typical style of cooking vegetables in an underground oven. Rice and starch is also very common with every meal. Of course, if fine dining is more your thing, then the major cities have looked to embrace the very best of international cuisine, much in the same way as it has done from a hospitality point of view.
A note of caution across the board however, is to strictly avoid drinking tap water.
More time specific pursuits revolve around the country’s numerous festivals such as the Sing-Sing performances at the annual Goroka and Mount Hagen shows. Geared up to demonstrate the local culture to visiting masses in a flamboyant display of colour and beauty, it is not to be missed if the timing is right.
“Papua New Guinea is full of interesting attractions, magnificent natural scenery, and diverse cultural heritage.” - Papua New Guinea Travel
Based in Waigani, Port Moresby, The Stanley Hotel & Suites is one of the more stunning examples of the PNG capital’s evolution into a modern day metropolis, and the kinds of high-end visitors it now attracts. Subsequently set up in the commercial and governmental heart of the city, its appeal stems beyond just its comfort, relaxation and leisure facilities via a link to the city’s only integrated shopping complex; making it a perfect business-meets-pleasure location.
Understated luxury, calm open spaces, spectacular views, business ready facilities, spacious rooms and gourmet food are all attributed as differentiators to one of the capital city’s most popular hospitality options in the form of Airways Hotel Port Moresby. Situated on Jacksons Parade, the hotel is truly an indictment of the city’s growing business traveller appeal, and retains a host of international influences to this end.
Dotted around the majority of major cities in Papua New Guinea, Coral Sea Hotels truly lives up to its vision to bring comfort and convenience to the entire country. Driven by its philosophy of meet, stay and play, the hotel once again bridges the business and pleasure elements of modern day ‘bizcations’ and was a resounding winner at the 2016 World Luxury Hotel Awards as a result of its all-encompassing approach.
‘Book. Stay. Feel at Home.’ is the overriding message conveyed to visitors looking for a less manufactured experience and stay in Port Moresby. Contrasting to the plethora of five-star hotels, this still luxurious apartment offering gives longer-staying visitors the chance to make themselves at home, integrating into the community while still receiving the best in hospitality.
Renowned for its excellent customer service, the 74 rooms offered by The Shady Rest Hotel may be centrally located among Port Moresby’s financial centre and transport links, but provide a relaxing, natural setting that has been described as a “bird watchers heaven”. Subsequently quoted as being “a great place to stay in paradise”, the Hotel has become one of the most popular choices for the business travel community.
Situated in Mount Hagen, Kumul Lodge is one of the leading lodges outside of Port Moresby, famous not just for its impressive hospitality, but also for its natural beauty; doubling up as a reserve and an eco-tourism hotspot.
Again gracing Mount Hagen, the hotel invites people to experience ‘the Royal touch’, which encompasses unrivalled professionalism from one of the country’s leading hotels; setting a benchmark for the industry in the country.
A local term meaning ‘welcome’, Egwalau provides tailor-made packages for both small and large cruise ships catering for either three or five-day tourist itineraries. Specialising in events management and stunning excursions, the team’s local knowledge and enthusiasm makes for a professional and creative experience that has greatly contributed to PNG’s tourism offering over the years.
Sport & Leisure
Offering trek tours, rafting, birding, adventure and culture tours from the Highlands of PNG to the Niugini Islands and peripheral provinces of the country, PNG Highlands Adventures is the ultimate if you’re looking to turn your business trip into a full-blown holiday.
“Adventure is only one step away” thanks to Scuba Adventures and Nusa Island Retreat; who both aim to bring exhilaration and luxury to the Kavieng region. Surfing, diving are fishing are all on the agenda in this idyllic paradise.
As the country’s tourist infrastructure continues to improve, the routes and methods to enter the nation do too. Most foreign nationals who now wish to enter Papua New Guinea are required to obtain a visa, but many can do so, for free, for a six month period.
Most EU countries, South America and Oceania are included within this ruling, while there are of course opportunities to obtain visas at a PNG embassy for many other countries.
Once the logistics have been arranged and the necessary jabs have been completed, transport becomes all the more complex however. That’s not to say complex in a bad way, mind you.
Anyone who truly wants to explore PNG to the full are presumably looking for a little adventure in any case, and with the country’s tricky, undulating, mountainous terrain, adventure is just what you’ll get. Bypassing mountains entirely, air travel is the most popular - and important - mode of transport for both personnel and freight and even the two major cities - Port Moresby and Lae - can only be bridged via the skies.
Located near the former, Jacksons International Airport provides the primary hub for travelling into the country, which you can do so via Air Niugini, Philippine Airlines, Qantas or Virgin Australia.
Once in and settled though, there are choices to be made as to the best way to explore the islands.
Land, air and sea are all viable options, although the former of the three is quite specific to the Highlands Highway which begins in Lae and connects to Mt Hagen, the coast and Madang. From there, the roads do fork and continue, but for all the effort that goes into plotting your route, it may be simpler to either take to the skies, or at least look to public transport to carry the burden for you.
PMVs (public motor vehicles) and busses are the most common way to travel for locals, but to make sure, it is strongly advisable to gain advice from your hotel or lodge staff as to the best strategy.
On the water, numerous ferries are available to interconnect the various port towns and this is still a credible choice, but as has always been the way in PNG, it’s usually advisable to travel as the crow flies. Nearly all major settlements are built around an airstrip and - to be honest - missing out on the views that can be encapsulated from soaring above the country’s terrain would be to not get the full PNG experience.
The Kokoda Track/Kokoda Trail Adventure
“The Kokoda Trail is one of the world's great treks, linking the southern and northern coast of Papua New Guinea, it is a challenge to be enjoyed by the fit bushwalker. The Kokoda Trail and Sogeri area have a history of bitter fighting between Australian and Japanese armies during the early days of the war in the Pacific in World War II. The 96 km Kokoda trail passes through rugged mountainous country of rainforest, jungles of fern, orchids, birds and clean mountain streams which tumble into steep valleys. The unspoilt villages throughout the Kokoda Track will welcome you and the Koiari and Orokaiva people will greet you with smiles and tempt you with seasonal fruit and vegetables.” - Kokoda Trekking
“The Louisiade Archipelago is a string of coral islands that trail off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea out into the Solomon Sea. Most of these islands are populated by Papua New Guinean natives who are typically English-speaking, educated, and friendly. They lead a classic idyllic tropical island lifestyle, living in coconut palm thatched single room houses built on stilts or ground supports. They live at a near subsistence level.” - Asia Pacific Boating
“Mt Wilhelm is the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea and Oceania and has rugged peaks with a well formed trail leading to its summit. The ascent crosses diverse and beautiful terrain with open grassland on the slopes and granite predominant in the higher levels. It is not a technical mountain to climb and takes three-four days to ascend.” - PNG Trekking Adventures
“Madang Province is the most popular location in Papua New Guinea for divers and consists of reef-fringed lowlands, backed by some of the most rugged mountains in Papua New Guinea and offshore volcanic islands. The colourful Madang Township has been called the "prettiest town in the South Pacific". Its peninsula setting is a show-place of parks, waterways, luxuriant sade trees and sparkling tropical islands.” - Papua New Guinea Travel
“New Britain is stunning. PNG’s largest island, it has a bit of everything you’ve come to this country for – think colonial history, remarkable traditional cultures and pristine wilderness (despite areas where there are logging and mining). The pièce de résistance? Volcanoes. The whole region is a rumbling, billowing string of cones and craters cloaked with virgin tropical rainforest.” - Lonely Planet