Off the Beaten Travel Path: Papua New Guinea

By Lisa Novack, Luxury Travel Advisor

Most of you know that I have been lucky enough to have traveled around the world. A few years ago, I went to Papua New Guinea and was enthralled by the people, culture and one of kind island scenery.

If you’re thinking you’d also like to add something utterly amazing and adventurous to your itinerary, consider adding a visit to Papua New Guinea.

Underwater view of the colorful coral reef with tropical fish swimming through it.

The island of “PNG” has wonderful diversity, with mountains, waterfalls, volcanoes and an abundance of wildlife. There are over 800 different species of birds, including the breathtaking Wilson’s Birds of Paradise (As featured in the BBC’s Planet Earth II). Parts of the island are world renown for scuba diving, attracting some of the best divers in the world.

But the main and foremost reason for me to visit PNG was to see and interact with the resplendently colorful and welcoming natives that reside on the island.

Papua New Guinea faces collage

There are more than 700 tribes, and most kept true to their ways and customs throughout the centuries. Seeing and interacting with some of the tribes was truly extraordinary. Each has their own individual language, dance, music and way of expressing themselves through everyday costumes which employ intricate face and body painting, elaborate wigs and colorfully explosive feather headdresses.

Many times, these tribes fight with each other because they don’t understand the language of the neighboring tribe they are trying to communicate with!

New Guinea tribes in costume performing

A SPECIAL EVENT – The Mt Hagen Culture Show and “Sing Sing”

Every two years, the Mt Hagen Cultural Show and “Sing Sing” takes place in the Highlands of PNG. This is an opportunity to see over 100 different tribes who come from all over New Guinea and Irian Jaya to “compete” in full costume. Many of them walk for days to get there.

It is truly the most remarkable thing I have ever seen. They perform their individual dances and songs in full regalia, and tourists are actually allowed to watch and photograph the spectacle.

It is an incredible riot of color, with every tribe’s costume and decoration being unique to that particular tribe.


Abercrombie and Kent, one of the finest tour companies in the world, has a special departure from Cairns on August 12 to 24, 2021 that is scheduled to visit during the Mt Hagen show.

After a short flight from Cairns to Port Moresby, you would begin in Tari, where you would visit some remarkable Highland tribes. Most notable are the Huli Wigmen who wear enormous wigs made out of human hair. They elaborately paint their faces and bodies daily. My makeup routine pales by comparison.

Karawari Lodge

Karawari Lodge

After two nights in Tari, you would take a short flight to the Karawari tribute of the Sepik River for a one-night stay at Karawari Lodge.

My uncle spent his 70th birthday here and the staff and locals knocked themselves out to celebrate. Villagers showed up at the lodge and held a special Sing Sing for him (songs and dances), and a small feast was prepared in honor of the occasion. He later said that It was the best birthday he had ever had.

What an experience!

Sepik Spirit

Sepik Spirit

You would then spend 3 nights on the “Sepik Spirit” traveling down the river and stopping at traditional villages along the way to observe and experience the local way of life.

The Spirit is a very comfortable vessel with a lounge, dining room, bar and observatory deck.

Collage of 3 photos of New Guinea people

We were always met with warm, welcoming smiles upon every visit. The village chief personally welcomed us and invited us into his village for a Sing Sing and a visit to the local Spirit House.

By the way, many of the multitude of dialects are based on a form of Pidgeon English, and “Sing Sing” is a good example of this. Everybody sings!

Each village has their own artists who create and excel in woodwork, handicrafts and mask making. The masks are a very important part of village life as they are meant to keep evil spirits away. They are extremely proud of their art,  and are most anxious for you to appreciate their work. The artists sell these artifacts to other villagers, and to tourists as well.

Lisa Novack getting face painted in New GuineaLisa Novack getting face painted in New GuineaOne artist actually boarded my boat and painted my face in the pattern of a traditional mask of his village. I refused to wash my face for days. By the end of my cruise, the boat was so loaded down with artwork and masks, we were seriously afraid it would sink.

After three days on the river, you would fly back to the Highlands for two full days at the Mt Hagen show. This is a photographer’s paradise. National Geographic stuff.

Papua New Guinea is truly fascinating, and this show was the absolute highlight of my trip. If you are lucky enough to see it, it is something you will remember for the rest of your life. It is also something that very few people in the world will ever experience.

Been there, done that?  I don’t think so!

Outside of the capital of Port Moresby, this remote island has not changed in centuries, but now is the time to go before McDonalds opens on the Sepik.

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