Top Ten Papua New Guinea Adventures - Page 3

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A diver follows a sea turtle by a coral reef near Rabaul, New Britain, Papua New Guinea
A sea turtle makes its way along a reef near the island of New Britain. There are 13 different turtle species in Papua New Guinea, including the endangered leatherback turtle.  (courtesy, Papua New Guinea Tourism)

5. Hike the Historic Kokoda Track
World War II buffs shouldn't miss an opportunity to hike the infamous Kokoda Track. The full length of the track stretches nearly 60 miles across the rugged mountains of the Owen Stanley Range, following the path of a bloody WWII campaign between Australia and Japan from Owen's Corner to the village of Kokoda. While it's the most popular trek in PNG, and a veritable rite of passage for many Australians, Kokoda is not for the casual hiker, as it passes through sweltering jungles, up and down impossibly steep ridges, and across fast-flowing rivers. However, along the way it offers the opportunity to explore historic battlefields, hand-dug trenches, and war artifacts, as well as to make overnight stops in local villages to learn the culture from natives and each village's history along the track. Hiking end-to-end can take anywhere from four to 12 days depending on the pace and fitness of the hikers. Numerous trekking companies like Kokoda Trekking [link to www.kokodatrail.com.au] offer expeditions along the track, arranging logistics like track permits, village visits, and porters to carry gear and supplies.

4. Scale Mt. Wilhelm, PNG's Tallest Peak
At 14,790 feet, Mt. Wilhelm is the tallest mountain in PNG, and while the climb is relatively challenging, it's not technical and doesn't require extensive mountaineering gear or experience. The hike to the summit passes through tropical, temperate, and alpine forests—there's even the possibility of snow at the peak—and from the top it's possible to see both the north and south coasts of the country. Excursions to the summit with PNG Trekking Adventures start with transport from either Goroka or Mt. Hagen to Betty's Lodge at Keglsugl on the side of the mountain. The following day involves a leisurely 3-hour hike to the base camp, where climbers can stay for a night or two, taking short walks and acclimatizing to the altitude. For the summit hike, climbers leave the base camp around 1 a.m. in order to reach the peak by sunrise and then make a full descent back to the lodge at Keglsugl before catching a ride to town the following day.

3. Dance with Highland Tribes at the Country's Largest Sing-Sing
Every August, more than 50 different native tribes converge on the Kagamuga Showgrounds in the Highland city of Mt. Hagen to perform traditional "sing-sing" dance celebrations in full tribal dress for the Mt. Hagen Cultural Show, the largest of its kind in the country. The Highlands of PNG are home to some of the country's most colorful and impressive displays of native culture—like the ornately plumed Huli Wigmen of Tari who emulate the bird of paradise, and the elaborately sculpted masks of the Asaro Mudmen, which depict malevolent forest spirits—and this cultural show is a can't-miss for visitors who want to join the festivities. Trans Niugini Tours has been offering Mt. Hagen Show itineraries for nearly three decades with accommodations at the Highlander Hotel in Mt. Hagen.

2. Spot the Elusive Bird of Paradise
All around PNG, bird watching is big business. There are around 700 species of exotic birds to be found across the country's many ecosystems, but one bird in particular—the bird of paradise—seems to top everybody's "must-spot" list. The Huli Wigmen have prized the lavish feathers of these birds for hundreds of years, as evidenced by the Huli's elaborate headdresses featuring bird of paradise feathers and their traditional dances, which mimic those of the birds in their natural habitats. The Tari Gap region is the place to see as many as 13 different species of bird of paradise, as well as visit the Huli in their own villages. The Ambua Lodge offers bird watching and Huli village daytrips from its Tari location, beneath a canopy of mountain rainforest.

1. See the Skull Caves of Milne Bay
It is believed that many years ago, in the pre-missionary days of Milne Bay Province, an important person who died was buried upright in the ground with his head poking out, covered by a clay pot, and over time, once the skull disconnected from the body, it was taken to a special cave to be stored along with the skulls of other important tribespeople. Jump forward to today: These caves are no longer in use, but a number of them have been opened up in the vicinity of Alotau. The Tawali Resort offers day hikes through the jungle to visit these skull caves—some literally loaded with ancient craniums. The day starts with a boat ride to the trailhead, ends with a refreshing dip under a tropical waterfall, and includes bird watching and orchid hunting along the way.

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