This provincial center of Western Highlands Province lies at 6,000 ft/1,830 m. It offers an excellent, cool climate—days average 75 F/24 C—and a wild, primitive feeling. Attractions include tribal villages, beautiful mountains, coffee plantations, jungle scenery and waterfalls. Your introduction to this undeveloped area begins with the scenic 7-mi/11-km ride from the airport to the town of Hagen (prior arrangement with a hotel for transport from the airport is strongly advised). Local attractions include the Sunken Gardens, the Cultural Center and the morning market (operates every day except Sunday, with Friday usually the busiest and biggest—because so many tribes attend, people watching there is one of the highlights of a trip to PNG). If the opportunity arises, attend a performance by the Wahgi Mudmen in nearby Kurumul. And if you're not also visiting Kundiawa, consider making day trips to Banz and Minz to see tribal ceremonies and jungle scenery (be warned that both trips entail grueling drives over often unpaved roads). Mt. Hagen hosts the Highlands Sing-Sing festival, usually in August of odd-numbered years. (Inquire locally about other sing-sings, which are held for various special occasions in the area.) 320 mi/515 km northwest of Port Moresby.
Note: It is best to travel with local guides when visiting the villages in Western Highlands Province. In the Highlands, bitter tribal disputes are negotiated passionately, and confrontations along the roads leading out of Mt. Hagen toward Mendi are sometimes violent. It is advisable to avoid these stretches of road in rented vehicles. Fly from Mt. Hagen to Mendi or Tari to explore the outer reaches of the Highlands Highway.
If you must travel by road, take a large PMV, communicate your concerns to the driver and get a feel for the dynamics of the situation before making your trip. The PMV drivers make this trip daily and have developed a special relationship with the tribes along the road—they tend to be the best judges of the local situation.
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