6 Travel Experiences You Can Only Have in Papua New Guinea

09/01/2024

One of the most colourful and rapidly changing places on earth, Papua New Guinea, must be seen to be believed. Steeped in culture and tradition, this island nation promises travel experiences like no other place on earth.

The Rabaul Mask Festival

You can’t talk about Papua New Guinea without mentioning some of the incredible festivals that are held each year around the country. Throughout the year, Papua New Guinea’s tribal history and culture are on full display in a series of colourful, vibrant festivals packed with music, food, arts and other performances.

Ancestral and spirit masks are worn whilst performing ritual dances
Ancestral and spirit masks are worn whilst performing ritual dances

While not the largest gathering, the Rabaul Mask Festival is a must-see event. Groups from all across the islands gather with bright, colourful costumes and elaborate spirit masks to honour their ancestors. Far from being a sombre affair, the Rabaul Mask Festival features traditional costumes and ritual dances, and you can even see something you won’t come across elsewhere.

During the Baining Fire Dance, initiated men from the Baining tribe perform dances through flames, somehow remaining unharmed while the sound of beating kundu (drums) and tribal chanting fills the night.

The Kenu and Kundu Festival

We won’t go into every festival in detail here because there are too many. However, you can read more about them in this article, which contains plenty of things to do in Papua New Guinea. But one of the more unique experiences is the Kenu and Kundu Festival.

Held each year in Milne Bay, tribal groups from across the country gather to celebrate their culture, show off their elaborate traditional dress and acknowledge the region’s maritime history. Like many gatherings of this nature, you’ll experience sing-sing performances, traditional food and music and much more. But one of the highlights is the canoe (kenu) race.

Tribes prepare their heavily decorated traditional war canoes, with participants donning amazing costumes and headdresses. The race takes place in Milne Bay, as tribespeople battle it out to the sound of pounding kundu (drums). While there is certainly a fierce rivalry in these races, the festival is always held in good spirits as a true celebration of the region’s history.

The Kenu and Kundu Festival is a spectacular annual event that showcases many of the fascinating cultures of Milne Bay.
The Kenu and Kundu Festival is a spectacular annual event that showcases many of the fascinating cultures of Milne Bay.

Sing-Sings

Both the Rabaul Mask Festival and Kenu and Kundu Festival are wonderful events, but they are part of a much larger tradition that stretches across all of Papua New Guinea. Sing-sings are annual gatherings of tribes or villages. Sing-sing groups from nearby tribes come together to celebrate their history, show off their cultural dress, and share music and a number of other traditions.

Some of the popular sing-sings include the Ambunti Crocodile Festival, Siwai Cultural Show, Goroka Festival and the enormous Mount Hagen Cultural Show. At various times throughout the year, visitors can attend and sometimes even participate in local cultural shows and festivals. Each gathering is unique, with every tribe bringing its own unique traditions and stories.

Stay with local families

The great thing about exploring places like Papua New Guinea is the friendliness of the locals. Of course, caution is needed in any new area, but with competent and well-organised guides, such as the Crooked Compass team, you can have some wonderful, enriching experiences.

Many tours through the country aren’t necessarily concerned with finding Papua New Guinea landmarks but with experiencing daily island life. For example, you have the opportunity to stay with local families on Yuo Island or visit with villagers in Madang. The Sepik River region, known for its strong connection with crocodiles and other animals, is also a great place to meet locals.

No matter where you spend time with local families in PNG, you’ll witness a laid-back, simple, yet challenging lifestyle far different from most parts of Western society.

Photography expeditions

A photography expedition through Papua New Guinea is one type of travel experience you won’t get anywhere else. Crooked Compass offers a photography and travel experience like no other, led by renowned international travel photographer David Kirkland.

Get up close and personal with performers dressed in their spectacular tribal costumes. Photo credit David Kirkland.
Get up close and personal with performers dressed in their spectacular tribal costumes. Photo credit David Kirkland.

We’ve already mentioned how colourful the Papua New Guinea festivals can be, and these provide a great setting for some of the most unique photography experiences in the world. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, David is there to guide you through this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Contact Crooked Compass today to learn more about photography expeditions or any other eye-opening Papua New Guinea travel experiences. We’ve got tours for everyone, and we can’t wait for you to join us.