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Madang Cruise Port

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Madang Overview

You can find a number of ways to describe remote Madang, which is part of Papua New Guinea.

Exotic. Primitive. Culturally rich but economically poor -- grindingly poor.

But this impossibly beautiful spot in the South Pacific is earning a reputation as a tourist destination.

Madang Harbor is right out of a holiday brochure, with its manicured lawns, palm trees and thatched bungalows. You might see waterfront homes with helicopters out front. In contrast, boys in handmade outriggers – just as they have for centuries -- circle ships that call on Madang.

To visit slow-paced Madang is to step back in time. In many ways, this peninsula jutting into the Bismarck Sea has yet to join the 21st century. Perhaps that's not surprising given the fact that fewer than 20 percent of residents live in urban areas and nearly half are illiterate. Look at a map of PNG, as it's called, and you'll see few roads. In this mountainous, densely forested country, access is typically gained by air or boat. PNG, which shares its island home with Indonesia's West Papua, is famously known as the spot American aviator Amelia Earhart took off from in 1937 before her plane's mysterious disappearance.

Today, most of PNG's seven million residents live off the land. The country is known for its many tribes -- hundreds of them. In the highlands, PNG's most primitive region, tribesmen still use arrows, bows and spears. It is not far-fetched to say this is still a country barely explored both geographically and culturally.

Madang, as well, is defined by its tribes: remote mountain communities perched on ridges, river people who live in stilt villages and deep-sea fishermen from the coastal islands. The Madang region is known for its lush yet rugged beauty. There are 38 kinds of birds of paradise, for example, along with tropical rain forests, lagoons with a rich underwater life and plummeting waterfalls. If you hear screeching, look up. Fruit bats, or flying foxes as they are called, are common inhabitants of the trees, even in town.

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Quick Facts
Best Souvenir
Language
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Where You're Docked
Hanging Around
Getting Around
Don't Miss
Been There, Done That
Lunching
Staying in Touch
Shore Excursions
For More Information
 
Best Souvenir

The residents are proud of their culture, and the arts and crafts are exotic and inexpensive. Madang is linked to other centres by road, so it offers a great range of goods. Among the most popular are highland bags, wooden masks and carvings. But there are also items that are uniquely local such as the clay pots from the Bilbil village or bilums, the iconic woven string bags carried by men and women.

Editor's note: Few vendors know arithmetic and tend to deal in increments of five. Generally, the prices are set, but vendors will have a "second price." If you try bargaining, it is best not to be too aggressive because this will have the opposite effect, and vendors will stick to the original price.


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Language

English is the official language, but it's generally spoken only in government and education circles. Remarkably, more than 820 distinct languages are spoken in PNG, including 175 in Madang Province. The most widely spoken in Madang is Tok Pisin or pidgin, which traces its origins to English and German and Indonesian words. A few examples: one is wan, far is longwe, hospital is haus sik, and mosquito is natnat.


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Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency is the kina, but tour guides and vendors are happy to accept U.S. and Australian currency. For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. It's a good idea, though, to carry small denominations.

Larger operations, like the Madang Resort Hotel, accept credit cards.


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Where You're Docked

Ships dock at a bare-bones pier that has no tourist services. In some ways, this is part of the charm. PNG is one of those rare places where you feel as though you could be standing in a last frontier.


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Hanging Around

When a cruise ship arrives, a small village of vendors spontaneously appears just outside the security gate at the pier. It can seem a bit intimidating at first, but it's definitely worth a look. Vendors aren't aggressive and are pleased to share the stories behind their handicrafts.


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Getting Around

When a cruise ship arrives, a small village of vendors spontaneously appears just outside the security gate at the pier. It can seem a bit intimidating at first, but it's definitely worth a look. Vendors aren't aggressive and are pleased to share the stories behind their handicrafts.

Getting Around

By Taxi: There are a few taxis, and the Madang Resort, which has a popular orchid garden and barramundi pond, routinely offers complimentary shuttle service to its property. You can walk the same distance in about 30 minutes, but it's recommended that people travel in groups and not alone.

Renting a Car: Car rental agencies include Avis, Budget and Hertz. Be warned: The roads are in bad shape.

The cruise lines generally suggest that passengers stick with organized shore excursions. If you are determined to strike out on your own, seek assistance through the Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau.

On Foot: If you are walking around the town, be aware of your surroundings and avoid areas devoid of people. However, also be careful if you find yourself in the centre of a crowd. Make sure your valuables such as video cameras and mobile phones are secure.


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Don't Miss

To fully appreciate the lifestyle of many residents, visit Bilbil, a village in a lush rainforest known for creating the clay pots that once were traded up and down the coast. People live in thatched homes made from the sago palm. Many still cook outdoors over fires. Pigs and chickens, both highly valued, have the run of the place -- sadly so do dogs, which tend to be underfed and underappreciated. You'll notice that many of the villagers, including children, have teeth and tongues stained red from chewing betel nut, which has narcotic qualities. During events arranged for tourists, women and men -- including Bilbil's chief -- produce a "singsing," an exhibition of traditional songs and dances. The women, wearing grass skirts made from the highly functional sago palm, also demonstrate how they make their clay pots. There are generally a few wares for sale as well.

If you want an unusual experience, you might like the Balek Wildlife Sanctuary, home to a sulphur spring that bubbles out of a cave in a limestone escarpment. You might spot turtles and fish. While it is within hiking distance, check with your cruise line or the Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau whether that is a wise choice at the time of your visit. The bureau may be able to recommend a guide.

The Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau, located on Modilon Road, near Coronation Drive, has a small but informative museum that showcases PNG's rich past with a terrific collection of artefacts: carved canoe paddles, a bamboo fishing net, stone axes, spears, masks, body ornaments, clay pots, drums used to send messages from one village to another and a tribal leader's chair that once adorned a "spirit house" where young boys were initiated into manhood. There's also an exhibit about the country's existence under German rule, and, more recently, as an Australian protectorate. PNG gained independence from Australia in 1975 and operates today as a constitutional monarchy that's part of Great Britain.


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Been There, Done That

Madang Resort Hotel, PNG's oldest hotel, exudes a lot of Old World glamour with stunning views of the Dallman Passage and 10 acres of lush, landscaped tropical gardens. The gated resort is often the setting for shore excursions featuring a musical and dancing pageant with dozens of participants in traditional dress. Let's just say it feels a little more like Disneyland than Bilbil. Contact the resort well in advance to check whether you can get a resort day pass to use the facilities when your ship is in port.


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Lunching

Residents eat garden-grown vegetables and fresh fish and other sources of protein in coconut milk. Fishermen also supply fresh fish to hotels and restaurants, which serve them in Western-style dishes with locally grown vegetables or supplies that are flown in.

For a quick snack, there's a town market that sells fruits and vegetables, or you can take the five-minute walk from the wharf to Andersons Foodland for store-bought meals. For street food, try the Krangket Fish Market where women sell fried vegetables from their gardens and fresh fish. The markets are generally open every day except Sundays.

Along with lunch, you can often get pool privileges at the large hotels such as the Madang Resort Hotel and Madang Lodge. Or you can sample Chinese cuisine at the Ocean Restaurant and the Madang Club. You will find these next to each other on Coastwatchers Avenue.

For its relaxed atmosphere and magnificent views, our recommendation is Coasties Restaurant and Bar at the Coastwatchers Hotel, just across the road from a Madang landmark, Coastwatchers Memorial Lighthouse. The restaurant is also a good spot for dolphin sightings. The restaurant serves the usual cafe fare, with dishes such as a classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich finished with homemade aioli served with homemade potato crisps; bruschetta consisting of a baguette topped with bush tomato and olive and herb salsa; or vegetarian fried rice, an Indonesian-style vegetarian fried rice topped with fried egg. You can also order a pizza.


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Staying in Touch

There is an Internet cafe in town, and some hotels also offer services for a fee. For the latest information, ask at the Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau.


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Shore Excursions

As more cruise ships stop at Madang, the shore tours and infrastructure will grow and improve accordingly. In the meantime, the best advice is to enjoy the unique unsophisticated experiences. Tour buses, for example, are actually large vans that seat about 15 people. They're not air-conditioned, and guides might be so-so. Still, with little to do in the town of Madang, a shore excursion is the best way to explore the region.

Best for Culture-Lovers: A visit to Bilbil or a similar coastal village is a must to see how the people live. Seize the opportunity because it truly is a chance to step back in time. The Madang Visitors and Cultural Bureau is also well worth seeing so that you get a sense of the history of the region as well as a chance to view the collection of artefacts.

Best for Families: If you'd like to learn about how the residents live but also need to keep the children happy, a more relaxed option may be to attend the cultural extravaganza at Madang Resort Hotel. Or simply take one of the harbour cruises that includes snorkelling. The waters are crystal clear and abundant with fish.

Best for Active Types: Water sports such as kayaking and sailing are available at some of the resorts, and if you want to go diving, there are excellent sites within 30 minutes of the harbour. Madang boasts nearby coral reefs and World War II wrecks that will satisfy even veteran divers.


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For More Information

On the Web: Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Pacific Islands

IndependentTraveler.com: Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific Travel Guide

--By Ellen Uzelac; updated by Toni Eatts, Cruise Critic contributor


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