Papua New Guinea is part of the largest island in the South Pacific. It is blanketed with tropical forests and savannahs that are home to vast array of wildlife, including many species that are found nowhere else in the world. The island’s biodiversity is rivaled only by its cultural diversity; over 700 languages are spoken on New Guinea, and it is estimated that there are 1,000 distinct cultural groups. Only a South Pacific culture cruise can do justice to the beautiful mosaic that is New Guinean culture. Enjoy deserted beaches, pig roasts, emerald mountains, and native islander dancing in this tropical paradise.
The first inhabitants of the island that is now known as Papua New Guinea arrived as long 50,000 years ago. They were most likely from the Indonesian archipelago, and navigated the South Pacific waters in wooden canoes. They were from the Negrito, Papua, and Melanesian tribes, and between them, these early immigrants spoke nearly 700 different languages.
The island’s mountainous terrain allowed each group to develop in relative isolation from any others, which means that Papua New Guinea has a quite a diverse culture today. Agriculture developed in the highlands almost 9,000 years ago, and so the island is one of the only sites of original plant domestication on the planet. The popular sweet potato actually evolved on New Guinea. These early civilizations also relied heavily on fishing and the taro root for dietary staples.
Incredible Cultural Diversity
Papua New Guinea’s incredible cultural diversity is best experienced on a South Pacific culture cruise. There are an estimated 1,000 different cultural groups on the island, with over 700 languages spoken. This cultural mosaic is expressed in several different forms of dance, music, art, and costumes. These costumes are beautifully colorful, and often accompanied by face or body paint. “Sing Sings” are an significant ritual in many of the highland sub-cultures, where tribes people dress in pearls, feathers, and paint their faces to re-enact an important historical moment.
Although shells and pigs are no longer forms of currency (they were eliminated as such in 1933), these elements still play an important role in local cultures and national symbolism. In fact, the islanders are famous for ceremonial feasts in which hundreds of pigs are given away to guests.
It is difficult to make blanket statements regarding Papua New Guinea’s culture are a whole, due to the presence and practices of so many ethnic groups. Travelers must experience the island for themselves to understand its beautiful complexity.
From High Mountains to Coral Reefs
Papua New Guinea lies on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, which it shares with the Indonesian territory Irian Jaya. It also encompasses some small islands off of its coast.
Papua New Guinea is a renowned scuba diving location, as its coastline is lined with spectacular stretches of coral reef. The island’s beaches are also beautiful, many of them isolated and completely deserted, for those travelers looking for a secluded vacation spot.
The interior of the island is a dramatic network of mountainous areas and high plateaus. These are covered in rainforest, making Papua New Guinea appear to be an emerald rising from the sea from the deck of South Pacific cruise ship. There are also numerous wetland areas surrounding the island’s clear rivers and streams that empty into the Pacific.
The island sits right on the Ring of Fire, and so a number of those spectacular mountains rising from the island are active volcanoes. Earthquakes are relatively common.
The biggest towns on the island are Lae and the cosmopolitan capital city, Port Moresby
New Guinean Politics
Papua New Guinea, like Australia, is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which Queen Elizabeth is the head of state. The Governor-General of Papua New Guinea represents the Queen, and is selected by the legislature. The unicameral legislature is made up of 109 seats; elections generally attract several candidates. In the last elections, few candidates received more than 15% of the vote!
The only upheaval in Papua New Guinea politics since independence was the secessionist revolt mounted by the island of Bougianville off the coast of PNG. It began in 1988 and lasted until 1997; the conflict claimed 20,000 lives. The island was granted their autonomy and elected its first president.
Weather in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is located just south of the equator, and so enjoys a beautiful tropical climate. It is always a good time to take a cruise to the island. It is warm year-around, although it can cool off in the highlands near the center of the island. In fact, Papua New Guinea is one of the only places so close to the equator to experience snowfall in its mountains. Travelers may want to take into account that rainy season occurs from December to March, and coastal areas can be very hot in the dry season.
Cuisine of Papua New Guinea
A cruise to Papua New Guinea will probably feature the dietary staples of the island. Starchy vegetable such as taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, and yams are very common, and are prepared in a variety of delicious ways.
Coconuts, bananas, wild greens, passion fruit and mangoes will often accompany main dishes on the island. A South Pacific cruise should not miss the traditional roast pig, which is buried on top of hot coals and cooked for several hours in mouth-watering spices. Pork is also used in mumu, which combines that meat with wild greens, sweet potatoes, and rice. In most village areas, food is wrapped and leaves and placed in or on top of an open fire.
Western and international food can be found in most resorts and hotels, for those travelers looking for a little comfort from home.
Working to Preserve Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is home to the largest remaining area of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the island’s biodiversity is rivaled only by its impressive cultural diversity. Forests carpet about 65% of the land, and houses many species found nowhere else in the world. The island’s coasts are lined with some of the only pristine mangrove tracts left on the planet. A cruise to Papua New Guinea is a great way to visit some of these spectacular forests.
Savannahs and grasslands are also an important part of the island’s ecosystem. Acacia woodlands and swamps extend along the southern coast.
Unfortunately, many of these vulnerable areas are under threat from commercial logging, which clears entire forests and decimates the ecosystem. Other large extractive industries, such as mining, are also becoming a looming threat. NGOs and non-profits, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have been highly active in the region in recent years, working to conserve and protect the vast biodiversity that is Papua New Guinea.
The islanders experienced their first known contact with Europeans when the Portuguese explorer Jorge de Meneses named the island Ilhas dos Papuas, or Land of the Fuzzy-Haired People. That was in the 15th century, and little more was known about the island until European settlers and missionaries came to settle there.
Papua New Guinea changed hands between the German, Dutch, and British for the next century. Finally, it was occupied by Australia during World War I, who had been administering the southern portion (Territory of Papua) of the island since 1915. Australia was given a mandate to administer the northern portion (New Guinea) as well. The two regions had different legal statuses, and both had different administrations.
The two territories were combined into one following World War II to become Papua New Guinea, although they remained constitutionally distinct. The island gained complete independence from Australia in 1975 in a peaceful negotiation.
Tropical Birds and Kangaroos
Papua New Guinea hosts an incredible array of wildlife, thanks to the richness of its tropical forests and lowlands. In fact, the largest butterfly in the world is found in Papua New Guinea; the Queen Alexandra Birdwing has a wingspan of 10 inches. This beautiful specimen lives nowhere else in the world, and is dependent on a certain rainforest vine for food.
Other magnificent fliers that may appear on a cruise to Papua New Guinea are the 32 species of birds-of-paradise that inhabit the island. These distinctive birds are astonishingly colorful, from yellow and orange plumes, green and blue throats, and bright red heads. Their color combinations are endless, and are iconic in the mythology of the island.
Travelers to the island may also be lucky enough to see the famous wallaby. This kangaroo-like animal is the largest mammal on Papua New Guinea, and may be seen carrying its young in its front pouch. The other well-known marsupial of the island is the quoll; it only weighs about a pound but is a famously fierce carnivore known to eat prey as large or larger than itself. New Guinea also has several species of tree kangaroos.
Travelers to New Guinea may also catch a glimpse of several kinds of snakes, eagles, bat species, and some of the island’s spectacular flightless birds.