Known as the Land of the Unexpected, Papua New Guinea is indeed shrouded in mystery and packed full of surprises for those curious enough to see beyond the headlines.
As a remote and largely unexplored country, Papua New Guinea is a hodgepodge of impenetrable jungles, ancient mangrove swamps, wide savanna grasslands. In the midst of all these unspoiled nature are unique creatures like the tree kangaroo, cus cus, cassowaries, and the national emblem, birds of paradise. Forming part of the famous Coral Triangle, the waters surrounding PNG are also blanketed with thousands of coral atolls, massive reef systems and pristine waters that abound with a wide variety of marine life and WWII wrecks.
The people of Papua New Guinea are often what draws visitors, myself included, to the country. I’ve long been intrigued by the rich and vibrant tribal culture here, as displayed by their spectacular singsings (festivals or dances). Of the six million people who lives here, there are over 800+ tribes and cultures, each of them speaking their own language.
I spent the past two weeks exploring different aspects of the country, from debunking the myths surrounding PNG’s bad-ass capital Port Moresby, to scuba diving and hiking the fjords of Tufi and meeting the famous Huli tribesmen of Tari in the Highlands. I know it’s cliché but I can’t help saying this — Papua New Guinea truly blew my mind away with its raw, rugged wilderness and tribal living.
As a prelude to the stories I’ll be sharing shortly, here’s a look at some of my best photos from PNG.
This is a view of the fjords of Tufi from the air. These fjords, known as rias, were formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. From above, the ever-green ridges and steep-sided rias that plunge into the spearmint waters of the Solomon Sea resemble claws of a dragon.
At Tufi Dive Resort, I feasted on this panorama of the fjord from the comfort of my thatched bungalow.
Wispy clouds hang low over the temperate forests of the Tari Highlands, as seen from the gorgeous Ambuan Lodge. This area reminds me a lot of Tasmania, yet its tribal culture makes it distinctive and unique.
The Huli is the largest ethnic group in the Highlands, and are best known for their custom of wearing decorative woven wigs worn especially during singsings (celebratory festivals). These wigs are specially made by a unique clan known as the Huli Wigmen, who attend wig schools and live together in isolation from the rest of the community.
A Huli man uses face painting to look good for a sing-sing (festival).
This is the oldest student at the Poroiba Akau wig school. He is growing his last wig, before graduating from school and finding a woman to marry.
Spotting face painting, a wig and a cassowary quill in his nasal septa, this Huli man is dressed to the nines in tribal terms. Smoking is also a common habit among the Hulis — most of them grow their own tobacco.
The Korafe tribe in Tufi are well known for their traditional facial tattoo. It may be a painful process that takes a whole month to complete, but these women would go to all length to look pretty at the age of 18.
A Korafe young man sports a headdress covered in feathers from the bird of paradise.
A sing-sing is a gathering of people from a tribe to celebrate major events like weddings, the ascension of a chief, or the initiation of a young boy or girl through dance and music. The Korafe tribe put up a sing-sing at McLaren Fjord for us, impressing us with their hypnotic singing and vibrant dressing.
Papua New Guinea boasts over 646 species of birds, out of which 86 are endemic species and 83 are threatened or near threatened. One of the best places to see these birds is the Port Moresby Nature Park, where the electus parrot (shown above) and other birds call home.
The Papuan hornbill is a spectacular creature with a gorgeous beak that’s often used by the Hulis to decorate their bodies.
The cus cus is a subspecies of possum and a marscupila. Its large sparkling eyes are so gorgeous they make my heart melt. This particular spotted cus cus is a resident pet at Tufi Dive Resort.