IN PAPUA New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, coral-ringed beaches, smouldering volcanoes and rainforest-covered mountains set the stage for unforgettable adventures.
* Exploring the landscape
Test your mettle on a 10-day trek following the steps of Australian Diggers along the Kokoda Track, or climb Highland peaks for a glimpse of both sparkling coasts on a clear day.
Prowl through jungle-clad scenery with village guides, en route to thundering waterfalls or in search of magnificently plumed birds of paradise.On the coast, hundreds of islands and atolls cry out for exploration. You can travel by slow-boat along pristine stretches of shoreline, staying overnight at peaceful villages.
* The life aquatic
The Solomon Islands and PNG are world-famous diving destinations, with excellent conditions most months of the year. Live-aboard boats and first-rate dive resorts provide access to sites far from the hordes. The waves are equally uncrowded for surf lovers, with fantastic reef, point and beach breaks scattered around the northern shores.
There's also fantastic fishing, with yellowfin tuna, mackerel, sailfish and Papuan black bass in abundance.
* Cultural wonders
Home to more than 800 distinct languages and lifestyles, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons provide fascinating opportunities to be immersed in traditional cultures.
It's well worth planning your trip around over-the-top annual festivals: see colourfully painted and feathered Highland warriors, fearless snake-wielding fire dancers and brilliantly attired island oarsmen chanting.
Festivals aside, there are myriad ways to have a paradigm-altering experience: an impromptu singsing on the Trobriand Islands, learning about the legends of an eerie skull cave or sharing fruit with new friends on a bumpy PMV ride.
* Bountiful rewards
Travel is rarely easy in Melanesia, but the rewards are bountiful. After a few weeks of hard travel you can find your way to a pristine swath of coastline and unwind for a few days in a beautifully sited ecofriendly resort or bush-material village guesthouse overlooking the sea.
Spend your days snorkelling coral reefs, walking sandy beaches or paddling up placid rivers. By night, watch the sunset, feast on fresh seafood and watch the sky slowly fill with stars while daydreaming about the great adventures still ahead.
*** Top experiences ***
PNG and the Solomons rank among the best destinations on Planet Scuba, with an irresistible menu of underwater treasures: luscious reefs festooned with huge sea fans; warm waters teeming with rainbow-coloured and bizarre critters; eerie drop-offs that tumble into the abyss; and a host of atmospheric WWII wrecks.
A handful of beautifully set dive resorts provide the idyllic gateway to your undersea adventure.
-- Seeing a festival
Rio's Carnival has nothing on the magnificent pageantry of a Highland festival.
PNG's biggest fests, such as the Goroka Show, are pure sensory overload, with massive feather headdresses, rustling grass skirts and evocative face and body paint adorning enormous numbers of participants - more than 100 tribal groups at last count - from all across the Highlands.
One of the prettiest towns in the South Pacific was devastated by Mt Tavurvur, which erupted in 1994 and buried much of Rabaul under volcanic ash.
Today you can wander the abandoned, apocalyptic streets of this once-thriving community and take in adventures further afield.
You can visit Matupit Island, with its village of megapode egg-hunters, go diving in wreck-strewn Simpson Harbour and peer back in time at eerie WWII bunkers hidden in the hillsides. There are great views to be had, particularly from atop the volcanoes looming over the town.
Marovo Lagoon (SI) A visual feast awaits you at Marovo Lagoon. A profusion of dive sites at South and North Marovo offer excellent fish action, suitable for all levels of proficiency. South Marovo has scenic sites off a cluster of three islands - Kicha, Mbula and Male Male islands - while North Marovo has a vibrant assemblage of dramatic walls and uncomplicated reef dives.
-- Idyllic islands
There are some places where you arrive, put down your pack and think: this is it! This is why I travel. White-sand beaches, swaying palms, the day's freshly caught seafood served by moonlight. Outside Kavieng, a handful of thatch-roof guesthouses scattered on tiny islands near Lavongai provide the type of getaway that would make Robinson Crusoe proud.
--- This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands (9th Edition) by Regis St Louis, et al. Published this month, $42.99, lonelyplanet.com
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- PNG & SOLOMON ISLANDS
- Getting there
The good thing about flying into PNG is that you don't have to shop around too much looking for a ticket. The only international airport is Port Moresby's Jacksons Airport (POM), and presently only the following three companies sell tickets to PNG: Air Niugini (airniugini.com.pg), Airlines PNG (apng.com) and Qantas (qantas.com).
Mid-range: PNG Kina (K) 300-600 ($A140-$280)
Double room in mid-range hotel: K300-K450
Flying between regions: K350-K600
PNG has a notorious reputation, though the dangers are overhyped. Outside Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen, things are much more relaxed. Tribal fighting is still an issue deep in the Highlands but rarely involves outsiders or foreign travellers.
Don't flaunt your wealth - wear unremarkable clothes and keep your camera hidden. Carry a bilum (a traditional string bag) rather than a daypack.
Always keep at least K50 "raskol (bandit) money" in your pocket to appease any would-be thief. Hide the rest in a money belt or your shoe.
Speak to people rather than be aloof.
Be especially careful on the fortnightly Friday pay nights when things get pretty wild.
If you get held up, try to stay calm. Most robberies are fairly unsophisticated affairs. News.com
- More: See pngtourism.org.pg
Papua New Guinea Travel Tips
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