6 things I wish I'd known... Papua New Guinea

Kim Romanski on what you need to know before visiting one of the world's most exotic and mysterious destinations

5 mins

1. A little of the lingo

Although I knew there were over 800 languages in Papua New Guinea, I had presumed they were all variations on Pidgin and that words like 'please' and 'thank you' would be very similar. I was wrong! In some areas Pidgin is positively discouraged so it's worth finding out local dialect on arrival in different destinations within PNG. Most people speak English however.

2. To tip or not to tip?

Tipping generally is not encouraged… but when visiting tribes or villages there is often a donation box. The tribes in the villages get paid very little for showing you their customs and traditions, yet put a lot of work into preparation for your visit and while you are there.

We put a minimum of 10 Kina (approx £3) per person in the donation box although sometimes we doubled it to 20 Kina per person when we could see how much effort had been made. An example of this was in Tufi, where one village had spent the morning building a wooden structure covered with flowers and leaves so we had shade to eat our lunch in; it was the most beautiful setting high up on the cliffs overlooking the fjords.

3. Where to buy souvenirs

It is best to buy wooden carvings from your hotel shop, however the villages are great value for money if buying shell jewellery and billums (billums are the traditional bags used by everyone in PNG).

The large carvings are superb and if I'd had room in my suitcase this would have been my star buy.

4. The changeable climate

If you are travelling around (as most visitors do by air – PNG is a large country!) you need to take a fleece or similar for when you visit the Highlands, as well as summer gear for visiting the islands and beaches. I packed warm pyjamas for Mount Hagen but didn't need them as my hotel (Rondon Ridge) had cosy electric blankets.

5. Cheeky wildlife!

Although you need to be up and about by 5.30am to catch a glimpse of the birds of paradise, most of the hotels that I stayed in had birdlife and wallabies roaming free. My stay at Loloata Island (25 minutes from Port Moresby and very useful if you don't want to stay in the city) had two tribes of wallabies – one tribe lives at the top of the island and another at the bottom. They tend to avoid the humans but can make you jump out of your skin if you pass a crowd of them without knowing they were there! Victoria Crown Pigeons are as big as turkeys and also roam freely.

At Tufi Dive Resort there are two resident Hornbills – Lulu and Kai Kai – who we nicknamed the terrible twins. They are into everything including your bag, and can fly off with anything you leave around. They also think toenail polish could be berries so will chase your feet… they love shoelaces on trainers too.

6. Layover in luxury

I was told that many travellers don't want to overnight in Port Moresby (which you often have to do depending on domestic flight schedules) which is how I discovered Loloata Island – 25 minutes from Port Moresby by minivan and boat – and a world away from the city business hotels. If you only have a few hours in between flights, there's nothing much at the airport so get to the Airways Hotel via their shuttle bus (right outside domestic arrivals and only a 10 minute drive) for a superb buffet (or a-la-carte). For a quick snack go into their deli which is ideal for tea and cake, or even pizza – and very good PNG coffee.

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