Port Moresby

Overview

Introduction

The capital of Papua New Guinea and largest city, Port Moresby sits on a bay on the southern Papuan coast.

First impressions of the city are usually dismal: It's hot, humid and falling apart. The surrounding hills, brown and barren, are a stark contrast to the lush green rain forests found in nearly all other parts of the country. (Port Moresby lies within a "rain shadow"—it receives much less rain than the rest of the country.)

It's fairly narrow, but sprawls about 7 mi/11 km along the coast and into nearby valleys. Joining the sprawl in ever greater numbers are people arriving from the countryside, many of whom end up living in squatter settlements.

Unfortunately for the traveler, Port Moresby is not connected to Madang, Lae and the rest of the towns along the Highlands Highway. The only way to see the rest of the main island is to fly. Many visitors make their connecting flights to Madang, Wewak or the outer islands without even spending the night in Port Moresby.

If you find yourself stuck in Port Moresby for any length of time, you can find better—and cheaper—accommodations in the suburb of Waigani. About 8 mi/13 km north of downtown, Waigani has become the new government center. It's where the national museum, prime minister's residence, Parliament House and several embassies are located. Adjacent to Waigani is the university, home to the National Botanical Gardens (with one of the largest orchid collections in the world, although there are times when only a few are in bloom).

Luckily, transportation in the Port Moresby area is the safest and most reliable in the country. One can navigate most of the sights in the area by Public Motor Vehicle (PMV)—usually a Japanese minibus that operates much like an ordinary city bus. Although there is no official time schedule, PMVs maintain regular routes and come at consistent time intervals during the day. (PMVs do not operate at night. If you must go out at night, call a taxi. It is not advisable to walk anywhere in Port Morseby after dark.)

To see the city, begin by taking a taxi (don't walk) to the top of either Paga Point or Burns Peak for an overview, then visit the natural-history displays at the National Museum and Art Gallery. In Koki Market, on the harbor, residents sell goods from their lakatois (boats). The National Library has an extensive collection of videotapes and 16-mm films on various aspects of life in PNG (both traditional and modern). The Institute of PNG Studies has tapes and records of traditional songs and stories. The Port Moresby Golf Club has an adequate course.

Other places to visit include the Bomana War Cemetery, Louki Gorge and Rouna Falls. Port Moresby has a "show" (festival) in mid July with singing, dancing, colorful costumes and a general party atmosphere. In September, the weeklong Hiri festival includes traditional dancing, singing, sailing and canoe racing.

Perhaps the best pastime in Moresby is people-watching. Where else can you see people from 700 distinct language and cultural groups assembled in one community? The diversity in the Melanesian people collected in Port Moresby is truly remarkable.

Note: The high crime rate in Port Moresby is sometimes augmented by political turmoil that can lead to violent incidents.

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