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

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.

Shore Excursions

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


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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.

Port Facilities

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

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.

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.

Food and Drink

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.

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.