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Touring Tribal Trails in Papua New Guinea

Travel to a land that modern times have skipped over and experience tribal cultures, eco-tourism, and ancient customs in a brand-new way.

Travel to a land that time has largely forgotten and be immersed in ancient tribal cultures that still flourish today. Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the last bastions of traditional lifestyles left in the world. Traveling here goes beyond eco-tourism and allows you to truly experience this unique destination in an authentic way, but as is often the case with remote and largely inaccessible locations, a vacation here may be quite costly.

As Australia is the nearest country (and sometimes even referred to as "the mainland"), most flights to PNG originate from cities on the Australian east coast. Airlines PNG ( operates daily flights between Port Moresby, PNG's capital city and Cairns, and three times weekly flights to Brisbane. It also flies domestic flights and charters to over 30 domestic destinations within PNG. One way fares from Brisbane start from $266 or $221 from Cairns.

Air Niugini (tel. 949/752-5440; and Qantas ( operate regular code share flights into Port Moresby from Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns almost every day. Round-trip fares are approximately $850, $750 and $650 respectively, including taxes. Air Niugini also has weekly or twice-weekly flights to and from Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong, Narita (Japan), Nadi (Fiji), and Honiara (Solomon Islands), so depending on your budget and time constraints, it may to easier and cheaper to fly from one of these cities. The "See PNG Pass" offers visitors a four coupon pass allowing them to travel to other domestic destinations for $375 plus taxes. The Pass needs to be purchased overseas prior to arrival in the country.

I am always the first person to recommend traveling independently in most destinations but in PNG, it is generally wiser to be part of an organized tour or have a set itinerary before you arrive, purely due to the remoteness of various regions and the need to have local expertise when planning your trip. Often tour companies can arrange specific trips and customized experiences for one or two people, with prices coming down as the number of people traveling together rises. It is also important to keep in mind that most travel in PNG is by boat or by air (domestic flights or charters) so sometimes schedules can be a little erratic with delays due to weather or other factors. On charter flights, the maximum baggage allowance is 22 pounds per person and a maximum of 10 pounds hand luggage. Large, hard sided suitcases are not permitted on charter aircraft so pack accordingly. And don't forget your Malaria medication.

Trans Niugini Tours (tel. +675/542-1438; is an inboard tour operator that also owns and operates a number of wilderness lodges, boats and aircraft in New Guinea. Ambua Lodge ( is located at 7,000 feet in the Tari Gap where the rainforest meets the valley grasslands. The forest canopy provides a perfect setting for exploring the wilderness, crossing traditional vine bridges, discovering secluded waterfalls, uncovering exotic flora and fauna and interacting with local tribes. The flamboyant Huli Wigmen of the Tari Valley have formed a strong bond with birds of paradise, imitating them in daily and ceremonial life, decorating their human hair wigs with the plumage of only the most beautiful birds. Tari is one of the few places left where men and women can be seen wearing traditional dress as part of daily living and men's wealth is still counted by the number of pigs and wives they possess. The Lodge features Highlands architecture with a main building and thirty individual units each featuring 180-degree picture windows. Accommodation here is $402 per person twin share or $499 for a single including all meals, scheduled cultural tours and airport transfers. Access to the lodge is either by air transfer from Mount Hagen or by scheduled Air Niugini service from Port Moresby to Tari. To or from Mt Hagen is $312 one-way by charter flight or approximately $397 round-trip on Air Niugini.

Located in the Tonda Wildlife Management Area, Bensbach Wildlife Lodge ( lies near the border with West Papua in the remote south-west corner of the country. Wildlife is the main attraction here, including wallabies, monitor lizards, deer, crocodiles, cassowaries, migratory birds and an abundance of fish, especially barramundi. Rates in 2008 will be $600 per person per night twin share or single occupancy with all meals, fishing and airport transfers. The lodge is accessible by chartered aircraft from Mt Hagen, Port Moresby or via Daru from Cairns.

Trans Niugini Tours' 2008 Tumbuna Tour is an eleven day unescorted program from May 14 to 24, 2008. The trip's highlight is attending the Tumbuna (Ancestors) singsing, a spectacular celebration involving local tribes celebrating their culture in a colorful extravaganza of traditional dress, dancing and singing. Attendees are invited to interact with the performers and listen to stories told by tribal elders. Prior to the Tumbuna singsing you will get a chance to discover other parts of Papua New Guinea including rarely visited villages in the Sepik region with a four day cruise aboard the MV Sepik Spirit. The trip is priced at $3,350 per person based on twin share and includes two nights each at Gateway Hotel, Port Moresby and Rondon Ridge, Western Highlands and three nights each at Ambua Lodge, Southern Highlands and aboard the MV Sepik Spirit; airport transfers; bus tours; all meals; local guides; and singsing entry. Apart from the festival, other features include exploring the high mountain forests with roaring waterfalls surrounding Ambua; cultural and ecological touring in the Tari area; learning how the Huli people live; two full days exploring the waterways of the Sepik with visits to traditional Sepik Villages; Mount Hagen Town in the upper Wahgi Valley; and Mount Kuta. Additional air charter costs (Mont Hagen to Ambua, Mabua to Sepik and Sepik to Mount Hagan is $1043.

Ecotourism Melanesia (tel. + 675/323-4518; provides a number of regular tours that can be taken throughout the year but it also has several seasonal specialty tours that coincide with specific cultural events and festivals. The Goroka Show and Kalan Culture Festival Tour starts on September 12, 2008. The 14 day trip visits Port Moresby, Goroka, Mt Hagen, Simbai, Ramu River, and Madang with a minimum of eight people and a maximum of 16. Take a charter flight into the remote Madang Highlands to witness the annual culture festival of the Kalam tribe and witness coming of age nose piercing rituals, killing of pigs, feasting and dancing as part of a week-long festival rarely seen by tourists. Kalam men parade with huge head-dresses decorated with bright green beetle exoskeletons. Canoe down the Ramu River visiting remote villages and picking up samples of unique Ramu art. The land-only trip is priced at $4,800 per person based on twin-share with a single supplement of $480. It includes airport transfers; a tour escort throughout; sightseeing in Port Moresby; 12-nights at hotels, resorts and guest houses and one night camping; most meals; scheduled air travel Port Moresby to Goroka and Madang to Port Moresby; charter air travel from Mt Hagen to Simbai and Simbai to Aiome; touring around Goroka with two days attendance at the Goroka Show; local guides/interpreters; two days at Kalam Culture Festival, Simbai; full day tour of Madang including a harbor cruise; and Ohu Butterfly Village. International airfare is additional.

The 2008 Tufi Culture Festival and Papuan Gulf Mask Festival tour will run in early June 2008. This ten night escorted expedition visiting Tufi, Kerema, Baimuru and Balimo is the first of its kind to be offered in Papua New Guinea, sampling three contrasting Papuan cultures (Tufi, Papuan Gulf, Gogodala) and visiting remote villages way off the tourist trail. Although the disadvantage of small-group expeditionary travel is the inevitable high overhead costs, the reward is the opportunity to observe and experience the rapidly evolving lifestyles of rural Papuan peoples that have been untouched by western civilization. The cost of this tour will depend on the number of bookings, due to the different sized aircraft and boats required to be chartered for a smaller versus larger group. With six to eight participants, this all-inclusive tour will cost $ 5490 per person but with 12 to 16 people, the price will come down to $4,350. Transfers, domestic and charter flights, speed boat rides, nine-nights accommodation in hotels and guest houses, all meals and expert guides are included. Highlights include the unique fjord lands of Tufi and interacting with the Tufi people; swimming or snorkeling among the coral reefs around Tufi; Tainabuna Village; paddling your own outrigger canoe around the sheltered inlet or a canoe ride up the fjord to see basalt cliffs and cascading waterfalls; local Tufi dance performances by bonfire light; Kofure Village for the Tufi Culture Festival with a full day program of cultural performances; preparation and serving of traditional foods; Karama village for the Papuan Gulf Mask Festival; meeting with dancers, mask artisans, elders and young locals, Papuan Gulf culture and art in the villages of the Pie River and Purari River delta; traveling in motorized longboats to various villages to purchase cultural artifacts; visiting the Gogodala tribe with their animal totem culture; and Gogodala cultural performances.

After all that intensive touring and roughing it, you may feel like just relaxing on the beach, or perhaps taking in some scuba diving in the crystal clear waters on the Soloman Sea. Only accessible by boat, Tawali Resort (tel. 800/684-9480; is located on a volcanic bluff overlooking the clear protected waters of Milne Bay. Tawali was constructed by local craftsmen and you will find beautifully carved totems and woodwork in the spacious main lodge and throughout the resort. Accommodation here including all meals is $165 per person per night plus 10% government tax, round-trip airport transfers ($40 per person) and reef and chamber fees ($8 per day). Outer reef boat dives with a free house reef night dive cost $150, coastal day boat dives are $80 with a free house reef night dive and a coastal night boat dive is $40. Nitrox is $20 per day for unlimited fills or $8 per tank. If you plan to do a lot of diving, you would be better off taking a dive package that includes deluxe accommodation with balcony and ocean views; all meals; drinks and snacks on dive boats; daily boat dives and shore diving on the house reef (your choice of two to five dives per day); tanks; weight belts; unlimited air fills, airport pickup and return transfers; and reef and chamber fees for $1850 per person for six nights. Round-trip airfare from Port Moresby to the closest airport in Alotau is $167 including taxes.

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