Port Moresby | Wewak | Sepik River | Chambri Lakes | Mount Hagen (Highlands) | Kuk Swamp | Tari Valley | Alotau (Milne Bay) | Dobu Island | Fergusson Island | Port Moresby
With over 1000 distinct cultural groups and 800 different languages, Papua New Guinea is the most culturally diverse country on the planet – a vivid testament to its long and complex history. The dramatic landscapes of this intriguing country have been home to people for at least 60,000 years. The early inhabitants of New Guinea were the world’s first long distance sailors, navigating their way on treacherous ocean crossings to reach these unfamiliar shores. Over the course of 2500 generations, these industrious people ventured out to settle the most remote island atolls, and developed unique systems of agriculture and trade.
The indigenous cultural groups are intimately connected to the land through traditional practices passed down from generation to generation, like voices on the wind, keeping the past connected with the present. Anthropologists since the mid-19th Century have been documenting this extraordinary range of cultural and trading rituals, including the famed account of inter-island kula exchange by Bronislaw Malinowski, who in 1922 highlighted the unique complexity of trade involving ornate shell valuables, and in doing so, introduced Papua New Guinea to the wider world.
Through the lens of the ancient trading routes that link them, this expedition explores the culture of Papua New Guinea in depth, venturing off the beaten track to three of the country’s most fascinating regions – the Sepik River, the Highlands and the Coral Sea.
Led by renowned archaeologist Dr Ben Shaw, our journey follows age-old trading routes and features immersive experiences with a number of colourful tribal groups. We witness a kula exchange negotiation unfold before our eyes on an idyllic island in the Massim Archipelago, spend a day with the enchanting Huli Wigmen of the Highlands and gain exclusive access to archaeological dig sites. Staying in luxury lodges and rustic bush huts within traditional villages, the real story will be told by the people of Papua New Guinea. Through interactions with various tribes and local academics, we hear first-hand tales of innovation, resilience and adaptation that help us understand this unmatched cultural melting pot and the living history that connects it
Every Arcadia expedition provides you insider access to the most unforgettable and thought-provoking local experiences, curated exclusively by us for our travellers. Here are some of the Arcadia Exclusives on this trip:
Day 01 – Arrive Port Moresby
Upon arrival into Port Moresby, you are met at the airport by an Arcadia representative, who will transfer you by private vehicle to your hotel.
At our 6pm group meeting, you will meet the expedition leader, Dr Ben Shaw, who will introduce you to the rich and complex histories of Papua New Guinea and will set the scene for the rest of this remarkable journey.
Tonight we have a very special welcome dinner and banquet at Mumu, Port Moresby’s premiere dining experience. Mumu is a customary banquet that has been an important feature of local life over centuries, when extended family, villages and entire tribes gather in celebration. This contemporary take on the traditional method of using hot rocks in the ground fuses the old world with the new, distinctively PNG, but with world class quality and presentation.
We stay this evening at the Airways Hotel, one of the country’s leading properties. Nestled in its own botanical gardens, the hotel is set in an oasis of luxury in one of the Pacific’s most striking settings.
Airways Hotel, Port Moresby | Meals: D
Day 02 – Port Moresby
The original Motuan people of the area now known as Port Moresby are traditional seafarers with trading links that stretch throughout the Gulf of PNG. The annual trading expeditions, called hiri, involved Motu men preparing Lakatois, large multi hulled canoes especially designed to carry enormous payloads. Yams and clay pots made by the Motu women were the key items of exchange, usually for sago, other food staples and canoe logs.
They sailed from Hanuabada and other villages built on stilts above the waters of the bay with their voyages taking several months. Using the south-east trade winds, the outward journey was usually fairly smooth going, however conditions could be treacherous when sailing the fully loaded canoes back. This morning we will see a Lakatoi vessel up close and learn from a local expert about these incredible voyages.
This afternoon our group will have the privilege of visiting the fabulous PNG National Museum & Art Gallery in the company of the museum’s curator. The museum is the best in the country – it regulates all PNG cultural heritage collections and research and therefore houses some of the world’s most unique pieces of human history. To date it has well over 30,000 anthropological collections, 25,000 archaeological collections, 18,000 natural science collections, 20,000 war relics and more than 7,000 pieces of contemporary art. Our visit with the curator will provide tremendous insight and context for the journey ahead.
Airways Hotel, Port Moresby | Meals: B,L,D
Day 03 – Wewak
After breakfast, we transfer to the domestic terminal for our flight to Wewak, capital of the East Sepik. We check in to the best hotel in town, the charming Wewak Boutique Hotel, and dine in style at the hotel’s restaurant for lunch.
The arrival of World War II on the Sepik’s doorstep heralded a period of unprecedented change throughout the region. Men were forcibly enlisted as labourers en-masse by both sides and in some villages, the entire population of young men were killed or enslaved by Japanese forces. Local resources were plundered and foreign goods introduced. A new power dynamic emerged causing severe disruption to traditional social structures and relationships.
The Sepik region was largely under Japanese control throughout the war. This afternoon we visit Wom Airfield on the outskirts of Wewak, one of their major operations bases in the Pacific theatre. It was on this site on September 13, 1945 Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) 18th Army commander Adachi signed the instrument of surrender and handed his sword to Australian Army Major-General H.C.H. Robertson. This is an opportunity to touch on the magnitude of impact the war had on traditional societies across all of PNG, many who previously had little or no contact with the outside world.
Wewak Boutique Hotel, Wewak | Meals: B,L,D
Day 04 – Sepik River
After breakfast, we drive over the Prince Alexander Mountains towards the legendary Sepik River. We stop in Maprik, home to a burgeoning vanilla trade. This highly sort after spice is transforming the economy of the area and is often traded across the West Papuan border, where its mislabelled and sold as an Indonesian product.
We travel on to Pagwi to meet our flotilla of dugout canoes, our transport for the next three days. The Sepik Region is often compared to that of the Amazon. The extensive lowland area is characterised by swamps, rivers and lakes all surrounded by thick rainforest. The people of the Sepik travel by canoe everywhere and have developed a fantastic tradition of carving and house construction. The lowland tropical jungle gives rise to amazing wildlife including the much-revered crocodiles. Our friendly hosts from the Iiatmul tribe are known for their ritual scarification. The marks are unique to the individual and can have various meanings associated with the ancestral crocodile totem.
This afternoon we visit traditional spirit houses and hear from elders about the ancient practices, superstitions and connections with the river that are still a prominent feature of everyday life. One of the villages we visit is Kanganamun, with its spectacular towering House Tambaran. This National Heritage listed building is one of the only original Spirit Houses of its kind still standing. We will be given a traditional welcome and gain a first-hand understanding of why this area has captivated art collectors and traders since the first artifacts from the Sepik appeared in international museums and galleries in the early 20th century.
Late this afternoon we arrive at Kaminabit Village, where we will spend the night in the guest houses of a local village. You will feel safe and comfortable here. Sepik River Village guesthouses are very basic and may include the use of bucket showers and pit lavatories, however the Arcadia Expeditions team will make sure you have everything you need to be comfortable. Our local hosts are excellent storytellers and incredibly knowledgeable of local history, myths and legends.
Sepik River Village Guesthouses, Kaminabit Village | Meals: B,L,D
Day 05 – Sepik River
The Sepik River has been a pathway to the mountainous interior of Papua New Guinea since colonisation. Glancing at a map of this enormous river and the tributaries that feed it, it’s likely to assume that trading routes in the region have traditionally followed these ample waterways throughout history, however there is much more here than meets the eye. Between 4,000-8,000 years ago, what are now the Sepik and Ramu basins was an enormous, brackish inland sea navigable from the north coast all the way to the feet of New Guinea’s central mountains. Archaeologists have proven through the distribution of stone mortar and pestles, pottery and even obsidian from West New Britain, that the region was a major trade route linking the coast to the central highlands. What are now hills and high points were islands and centres of population during pre-historic times. As the water receded towards what is now the mouth of the mighty river, geographic changes and the resultant redrawing of tribal boundaries broke the region into two distinct trading spheres.
Nowhere is this past reality more visible today than in the expansive waters of Chambri Lakes. We’ll spend the morning visiting the villages here. One of the villages, Aibom is home to one of the most distinctive styles of Sepik pottery, crafted from the blend of two clay types local to the village. These pots have been traded widely throughout the Sepik, along the coast and deep into the Highlands for centuries.
Whilst we have travelled more than 100km inland, we are today on the shores of an ancient coastline that would have been dotted with villages thousands of years ago. Are these some of the oldest villages in Papua New Guinea? You will have the opportunity to participate in researching the deep human past, by accompanying our Leader Dr Ben Shaw on a journey near the homestay to find the past village life on this ancient shoreline, further enriching our understanding of Middle Sepik trade and culture.
Sepik River Village Guesthouses, Kaminabit Village | Meals: B,L,D
Day 06 – Sepik River
This morning we will learn about the sharing economy of a largely subsistence village and its number one commodity, sago. The sago palm is a cornerstone for life on the Sepik. Leaves are used to make roofs, the bark becomes floor and the inner trunk is dug out and processed by hand to make sak-sak, the staple of the Sepik diet. You will be treated to a demonstration of this work and may choose to roll your sleeves up and have a go. Alternatively, you may wish to go out on canoes with the women to check their nets for the overnight catch, helping in the smoking process of yesterday’s catch to preserve it.
Over lunch we’ll learn more about the systems of gifts and reciprocity between individuals, families and clans that underpins society and keeps the village at peace.
In the early afternoon we will board our dugout canoes for the final time, returning to Pagwi and then by road on to Wewak, where we check in once again to the Wewak Boutique Hotel for a relaxing evening.
Wewak Boutique Hotel, Wewak | Meals: B,L,D
Day 07 – Mount Hagen
After breakfast ,we’ll head to the airport for a flight to the welcoming cooler climes of the Western Highlands. Mt Hagen is the Highlands region’s main centre of commerce. A bustling city attracting migrants from all over the country, it resembles something out of 1950’s Africa.
We’ll have lunch at Banz Cafe where you’ll be treated to the best cup of coffee in PNG. We will have the opportunity to tour the roasting facility and learn about the Highlands’ most profitable cash crop.
After lunch, we visit master axe makers, who still handmake the tools in the fashion handed down to them through the generations. Stone axes have been a daily part of village life in the highlands for hundreds of years and are the trademark of the Tuman people, who have used them as a bartering and economic tool with neighbouring tribes.
Rondon Ridge Lodge, Mount Hagen | Meals: B,L,D
Day 08 – Mount Hagen
This morning we rise early for some birding with one of PNG’s pre-eminent bird experts. We hope to catch a glimpse of PNG’s National symbol, Birds of Paradise, in the wild.
After breakfast, we visit one of PNG’s most important archaeological wonders. Kuk Swamp is a 10,000 year old agricultural site in the fertile heart of this incredible land. Over 116 hectares of swamp and 1500 metres above sea level, excavations of Kuk Swamp reveal it has been worked almost continuously for over 9000 years, making PNG one of the original, independent cradles of agriculture anywhere in the world. We explore this amazing site that contains well preserved archaeological remains that demonstrate evolutions in farming practices that transformed agricultural understanding for the local Melpa tribe and their surrounding neighbours.
In the afternoon you will be witness to the ceremonial trading ‘moka’ system whereby each group is constantly upping the ante in an attempt to have centre stage by hosting the next feast, where they can showcase their prosperity leading to significant exchanges between clans. The elaborate self-decoration plays an integral part of revealing the tribes relationship with other clans to the greater community. The use of primary colours in this region, predominantly red, white and black, is also of great importance, with each colour and texture holding a significant purpose.
Rondon Ridge Lodge, Mount Hagen | Meals: B,L,D
Day 09 – Tari Valley
After breakfast, we take a short flight further into the interior, landing in Tari Valley, home of the Huli Wigmen.
Of all the tribes to capture the world’s collective imagination, none are more synonymous with PNG than the Huli Wigmen of Hela Province. Located deep in the remote mountainous jungles of the Southern Highlands, the Huli are a proud, flamboyant tribe known for their ornate ceremonial ‘wigs’ with dances and songs fashioned on that of the mating rituals of Birds of Paradise.
The Tari Valley is one of PNG’s best bird watching spots and after lunch, we head out on a birding excursion. Birds of Paradise feathers, which are used by many tribes in their elaborate traditional ceremonial dress, have historically been important items of trade between local tribes. From 1905 to 1920, 30,000–80,000 Bird of Paradise skins were exported annually to the feather auctions of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. This demand for Bird of Paradise plumes inspired Malay, Chinese, and Australian hunters to seek their fortunes in New Guinea’s rainforests. Today, Birds of Paradise are an important part of PNG’s tourist economy. For many ardent birdwatchers from around the world, laying eyes on the incomparable Birds of Paradise is considered the ultimate and we hope to see these breathtaking birds during our guided walk.
Ambua Lodge, Tari Valley | Meals: B,L,D
Day 10 – Tari Valley
This morning our group will be collected early by private vehicle and head to a remote village where we experience one of the highlights of the expedition – spending an immersive day with the Huli Wigmen. Although the Huli Wigmen are undeniably one of the most recognisable tribes in the world, they are one of the least visited. The village we will be attending is not one usually visited by tourists and hence they are very excited to host our group.
The Huli are one of the largest cultural groups in Papua New Guinea and the second largest single language group, occupying fertile valleys and steep ridges between 1200m and 2800m above sea level in the rugged highlands. They expanded their territories in the past through skilled negotiation, trade, and war, and have supported expansion through complex systems of agriculture and forest management. Ritual knowledge of clan ancestors, genealogies, and origin myths are necessary to maintaining the fabric of Huli society and manifests in elaborate cult-like bachelor initiation ceremonies. During these ceremonies, young men are taught this ritual knowledge and grow out their hair to create wigs to be used in later ceremonies. Contact with Huli was only made by the colonial state in 1934.
We spend our time with the villagers, learning about the intricacies of their culture, including how chiefs obtain power through their ability to amass pigs and Kina shells. Huli trade items include rare bird feathers, stone goods and axes and rare shells traded all the way into the highlands from the coast.
Lunch will be a traditional Highlands Mumu with pigs and vegetables cooked in the ground using hot rocks and we will also be treated to a spectacular Huli sing-sing with the proud locals in full regalia.
Ambua Lodge, Tari Valley | Meals: B,L,D
Day 11 – Tari Valley to Port Moresby
This morning we take a flight to Port Moresby where we check in once more to the welcoming surrounds of the Airways Hotel.
This afternoon is completely free to relax by the pool, allowing time to recharge the batteries and reflect on the expedition so far.
Airways Hotel, Port Moresby | Meals: B,D
Day 12 – Milne Bay
On the eastern tip of PNG, the Owen Stanley Range dips into the Coral Sea with idyllic tropical islands scattering in every direction for miles around. Tiny atolls, coral outcrops and 435 islands make up the province of Milne Bay. Culturally this region is often referred to as ‘the Massim’.
The islands of this spectacular region were settled between 3000-3500 years ago by the Austronesians on their migratory journey into the far reaches of the South Pacific. Languages, art and culture throughout the Massim Islands are shaped by this ancient Lapita cultural legacy, and the people here share many similar traits to inhabitants of other Pacific nations many thousands of miles across the open ocean.
Choose your own adventure
This afternoon our travellers can choose from the following included options in Milne Bay:
Milne Bay is known as a world class diving destination. Choose from a WWII wreck dive or explore some of the superb reefs teeming with wildlife within an easy boat ride of the resort.
With some of the most plentiful reefs in the Southern Hemisphere, Milne Bay is ideal for snorkellers. Take an excursion to the heavenly Coral Gardens reef and be amazed by the varieties of corals and fish that you will see.
Art & Cultural Tour
Take a leisurely walk amongst the coastal villages of this beautiful part of PNG, meet with friendly locals and learn more about their culture, traditions and lifestyle.
Tawali Leisure & Dive Resort, Milne Bay | Meals: B,L,D
Day 13 – Dobu & Fergusson Islands
We will make the crossing from Tawali in speedboats this morning for a fast and comfortable journey to Dobu Island – the site of our once-in-a-lifetime experience to conclude the expedition – witnessing an ancient Kula Trading Ring ceremony.
The Kula Trading Ring is a sophisticated traditional exchange network on an enormous scale. The ring spans 18 island communities of the Massim Archipelago and involves thousands of individuals. It was first brought to international attention in the 1920’s as the subject of ethnological study by the father of modern anthropology Bronislaw Malinowski in his book, Argonauts of the Western Pacific.
Unique in its complexity, archaeological and oral evidence indicates the Kula network has been operating in its current form for around 500 years, and in earlier forms for at least 1000 years. What probably started as a way of keeping distant island communities connected as a support network during severe droughts has developed into a highly competitive system through which social prestige can be gained – or lost.
Participants can travel distances of hundreds of kilometres in specifically built sailing canoes in order to exchange Kula valuables. These ornamental gifts consist of red shell-disc necklaces (veigun or soulava) that are traded in a clockwise direction, and white shell armbands (mwali) that are traded counter clockwise. While the exchange of Kula valuables is also accompanied by the trade in other items, as Malinowski noted; “the trading system is based primarily on the circulation of the two articles that are of very high value, but serve no real use”.
Dobu Island is a setting of jaw-dropping beauty for this final chapter of our story. Nestled in the channel between Ferguson and Normanby Islands, Dobu village sits on the side of a dormant volcano. We will mingle with local families, witness the negotiation and get to understand the nuances of an actual Kula Exchange, set up exclusively for our group by Arcadia Expeditions.
This evening we head across to Salamo, a tranquil village on nearby Fergusson Island, where we spend the next two nights.
Village Stay, Fergusson Island | Meals: B,L,D
Day 14 – Dobu & Fergusson Islands
Today we’ll wake up and cross back to Dobu for our second full day on this picture perfect island in the South Seas. Trade negotiations will continue in the Kula Exchange, and we will also have the opportunity to observe and participate in village life. Take a lesson from the expert navigators on how to sail the traditional Kula canoes, snorkel, fish or just spend time in conversation with the locals.
The rarest Bird of Paradise species, Goldie’s Bird of Paradise, is distributed in the hill forests of Fergusson and Normanby Islands and we will allow flexibility in our schedule for those who wish to go in search of this spectacular and elusive creature. Bird watchers are also likely to spot Eclectus Parrots, Yellow-bellied Sunbirds and the endemic Curl-Crested Manucode.
Dei Dei Hot Springs are also just a short boat ride away and an excursion here is a lovely way to spend an afternoon for those so inclined.
In the evening, the Kula trading will conclude with a joyous community celebration, a village feast and sing-sing. This will be a send-off our group will remember forever.
Village Stay, Fergusson Island | Meals: B,L,D
Day 15 – Milne Bay
This morning we say our goodbyes to our new friends in Dobu and Fergusson Islands and make the return journey to Tawali Resort.
An afternoon at leisure culminates with our farewell dinner, a chance for our expert Storyteller Ben to wrap up our expedition and hold one last lively discussion over a cocktail.
Tawali Leisure & Dive Resort, Milne Bay | Meals: B, L, D
Day 16 – Alotau to Port Moresby & Departure
We head to Alotau airport early this morning for our flight to Port Moresby, where you will connect with international flights or embark on further touring.
Dr Ben Shaw
Ben is an archaeologist with a passion for Pacific cultures and exploration. He has undertaken research throughout Papua New Guinea for 14 years and is a lecturer of archaeology at the Australian National University in Canberra, the premier institute of Pacific history. Ben has a wide range of interests, including the development of traditional maritime trade networks, the influence of agriculture on past societies, and people’s response to rising sea levels since the last ice age. He has documented this research in 30 published articles and book chapters.
Growing up in southern New Zealand, Ben spent much of his time exploring the vast mountainous backcountry – ever curious to see what was over the next ridge. From an early age he developed a keen interest on the origins and development of Maori culture after first hearing ancestral stories of master navigators and long-distance voyages that spanned the Pacific Ocean. An interest which has turned into a lifelong pursuit and has taken Ben through Polynesia to Papua New Guinea, where he is now piecing together evidence of Lapita culture, the people who colonised the remote Pacific islands 3000 years ago.
Ever since Ben’s first trip to Papua New Guinea, he has been enthralled with the hospitality of local communities, the natural beauty of the landscape, and the sheer diversity of cultures and languages. With this enthusiasm, he has undertaken excavations in some of the most remote areas in the country, across many island, coastal and mountain regions spanning 60,000 years of human history. This has included spending 8 months on an isolated island, 4-days boat ride from the mainland, to work alongside local clan groups to record the long-term human history of the island. Most recently, Ben discovered the earliest known village in Papua New Guinea associated with the intensification of agriculture and regional trade.
Rondon Ridge Lodge
Mount Hagen, Highlands
Boasting panoramic views of the Wahgi Valley below, the eco-friendly Rondon Ridge is the pinnacle of luxury in this spectacular remote setting. The surrounding area is pristine rainforest, with the lodges many walking trails providing ample opportunity to explore the unique ecology of this area, which includes 10 species of Bird of Paradise.
Tari Valley, Highlands
Ambua is surrounded by mid-montane jungle, a mass of interlocking tree tops with shades of green offset by the occasional splash of colour from high altitude orchids. Guests are accommodated in private round houses set amongst landscaped gardens and built almost exclusively from natural materials. Each unit features 180 degree picture windows to soak in the magnificent view.
Tawali Leisure & Dive Resort
Overlooking the crystal clear waters of Milne Bay, Tawali Resort is located in a secluded area atop a volcanic bluff and is set amongst picturesque fishing villages. Accessible only by boat, on the doorstep of this world-class retreat is some of the best diving and snorkelling in the entire Pacific.
- Meals as per itinerary (15 breakfasts, 13 lunches, 15 dinners) including welcome and farewell dinners
- All domestic flights as per itinerary
- Private airport transfers (arrival and departure)
- Accommodation as stated on a twin-share basis
- Porterage at airports and hotels
- All land transport by private air-conditioned vehicle and boat transfers
- Services of an Arcadia Expedition Leader and English-speaking local guide throughout
- Sightseeing as specified including entrance fees to sites mentioned in itinerary
- Reusable responsible travel water bottle with daily drinking water provided
- Gratuities/tipping for local guides, drivers, hotel staff and restaurants for included meals
- All taxes
- Return international flights
- Passport and visa charges
- Items of a purely personal nature (i.e. telephone calls, laundry etc)
- Excess luggage
- Lunch and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in itinerary
- Travel insurance