Leo Wells on Papua New Guinea

papua-new-guinea-48A few blog posts ago, I mentioned that I was out of the country for much of July, and I promised to share something of my travels. Specifically, my wife Angie and I spent the better part of two weeks in Papua New Guinea on a National Geographic Expedition.

Angie and I love to travel, and we have been fortunate to visit a variety of fascinating places around the world. Our trips with National Geographic are among our favorites, as they are always unique and informative. I am pleased to share some highlights of this most recent trip, but it is difficult to fully convey the wonder of the experience in a short blog post. Let’s just say that Papua New Guinea is among the most amazing places we’ve visited.

Papua New Guinea is located just north of Australia, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. (The western half is part of Indonesia.) Papua New Guinea is considered by many to be one of world’s least explored areas, and it is a place of great biological, cultural, and geographic diversity.

I’m told there are approximately 800 indigenous languages in this country of only seven million people, with as many as 200 sub-dialects. This will give you some idea of the cultural diversity that exists within its boundaries. Papua New Guinea is a very rural country where headhunting and cannibalism were practiced until the 1950s. It boasts a diverse geography, with highlands and volcanoes as well as tropical rainforests. The rugged terrain has made it difficult to develop transportation infrastructure, and many areas are accessible only by air.

Angie and I spent 10 days exploring these diverse cultures and environments with the other members of our group. Our trip started in Australia in Caims, northern Queensland, which is a major center for ecotourism. From there we flew to the coastal city of Port Moresby and on to the central highlands, where temperatures were cool.

(The highlands of Papua New Guinea are one of only a few places south of the equator that experience snow.)

Next we traveled to the lowlands of the Sepik River, home to the beautiful Birds of Paradise. In Rabaul, we saw a reenactment of native tribal traditions at the Mask Festival, where many cultures come to share their traditional dances. The coral reefs there are home to several kinds of clown fish (perhaps better known as “Nemos” to my granddaughter and other fans of the animated Disney movie). The fact that both the traditions and the species are endangered by encroaching industrial development is a sobering thought.

Other interesting facts about Rabaul: during World War II, the city was occupied by over 90,000 Japanese troops. The Japanese dug an estimated 300 miles of tunnels, which still exist today. The Japanese also sunk a number of ships in the harbor to deter entry by allied ships and submarines. Until a volcanic eruption in 1994 covered many of the ships in debris, these wrecks were popular dive sites for recreational scuba divers.

National Geographic Expeditions allow individuals to experience unique places that were accessible only by extreme effort just a few decades ago. If you’re interested in that kind of adventure, I recommend them highly.

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