Madang (Photo:Tyler Olson/Shutterstock)
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Madang

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.

About Madang


Pro

Off the beaten path Madang is spectacularly beautiful and equally as rich in culture and authenticity

Con

Most of Madang's inhabitants are shockingly poor, which may be difficult for some travelers to observe

Bottom Line

Madang's unspoiled natural beauty and environment create a once-in-a-lifetime experience


Find a Cruise to the South Pacific

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.

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.

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.

Shopping

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.