14 Papua New Guinea interview with Beth Whitman – Podcast

In Podcast 14 in my travel podcast series, I interview travel writer Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick about her recent trip to Papua New Guinea, a country that I was lucky enough to visit myself as a student some years ago. Beth talks about the sing sing at the annual Mount Hagen show where different tribes from all over the highlands gather to sing and dance, dressed in their colourful traditional costumes with painted faces, grass skirts and head-dresses made of shells and feathers. She also spent some time on the coast at the Tawali Dive Resort where she enjoyed meeting a local family for a meal of taro and sweet potatoes with coconut and took a guided trip around the capital city, Port Moresby. We talk about how tourism is developing in Papua New Guinea and some of the things you need to be aware of in order to have a safe and enjoyable trip.


Link to audio file

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Beth Whitman with a Big Man's wife in Papua New Guinea

Beth Whitman with a Big Man's wife in Papua New Guinea

Show notes

Beth runs the Women’s travel website Wanderlust and Lipstick, offering inspiration and advice for women travellers, and is also the author of several books about women’s travel. Beth also leads guided Women’s Tours to countries such as India, Bhutan, Vietnam and Cambodia and is planning her first guided trip to Papua New Guinea for 2011.

Tribal man at Mt. Hagen Show in Papua New Guinea

Tribal man at Mt. Hagen Show in Papua New Guinea

Beth was drawn to Papua New Guinea by because she is interested in tribal societies and had in the past seen photos from the Highlands of people wearing their colourful traditional dress.

Erima tribal man at Mt Hagen Show in Papua New Guinea

Erima tribal man at Mt Hagen Show in Papua New Guinea

We discuss the Mount Hagen show that takes place for 2 days every August at which local tribes gather to dress up in their traditional finery and put on a display of singing and dancing.

The large scale sing sings such as the Mount Hagen show started as a way for tribes to get together in a friendly way and to dampen down tribal tensions and warfare.

Beth flew to the Highlands for the show and she recommends going with a tour group as accommodation is expensive and it is not easy to get there by public transport and flights are also limited and need to be reserved well in advance.

Man with mirror getting ready for Mt Hagen Show

Man with mirror getting ready for Mt Hagen Show

Beth was lucky to see a pre-show and have plenty of opportunity to photograph the tribal groups preparing and practicing their dancing. The show takes place over two days over a weekend although it is shorter on the Sunday

Beth visited the Tawali Dive Resort on the South East coast of Papua new Guinea near Alotau where there excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities on the reefs of this stretch of coast.

Beth also enjoyed a guided walk through the settlements along the coast and spent some time with a family for a traditionally cooked meal of taro and sweet potatoes steamed in banana leaves with shredded coconut. As a blond and pale skinned westerner, Beth was the centre of attention and enjoyed playing with the children there.

We discussed the food options, especially as Beth is a vegetarian and she found that in mainstream hotels the usual range of western style food was served and especially in the Highlands there were plenty of different fresh fruits and vegetables. On the coast you can also find excellent fresh fish.

However, as there is not an established tourist infrastructure, Beth advises making sure you keep some snacks with you, especially at the Mount Hagen show where you would not want to break off from such amazing displays, and food is not necessarily easily available.

Tawali Dive resort in Papua New Guinea

Tawali Dive resort in Papua New Guinea

Beth took a guided tour on her last day in Port Moresby when she visited the University Book Store, the Botanical Gardens, the waterside stilt houses and a craft store where she bought some handicrafts, such as a wooden carvings. Beth was taken around by her guide, Andrew who has lived in Port Moresby for many years but is also a Huli wigman.

Parliament Haus in Port Moresby

Parliament Haus in Port Moresby

We discuss the importance of pigs in the society of Papua New Guinea, as they are used to settle arguments between tribes, are used as a bride price and are generally a sign of wealth and status. Pigs and women are apparently the things that people are most likely to fight over.

Beth also hopes to visit the Sepik area on the northern side of PNG when she returns next year where there is a large river system with many remote communities where foreign visitors are a welcome novelty.

We talk about the local culture and the wildness of the people and country, where only a couple of generations ago it might be normal to be at war with the neighbouring tribe and with 850 different languages spoken by different tribal groups, how Pidgin English is a unifying force in modern times.

We talk about the dangers that you should be aware of, especially in large cities such as Port Moresby, where it is inadvisable to walk around without a guide or someone with local knowledge, in case you wander into dangerous areas or situations where you might be a target for theft.

For this reason, and because of the lack of tourism infrastructure, Beth advises visiting the country as part of an organised group or tour, rather than as an independent traveller, as many parts of your trip may need to be arranged in advance.

Beth found that despite the need to travel with a guide, she was able to connect with local peoples, through smiles and sign language and by showing postcards of her home town of Seattle.

Beth plans to return to Papua New Guinea in August 2011 with a small tour group to visit the Mount Hagen Show, Sepik River area and possibly the coastal area of Madang. If you are interested, you can contact Beth through her website at Wanderlust and Lipstick.

For more information of Beth’s visit to Papua New Guinea, and other travel articles you can visit her website Wanderlust and Lipstick where you can also find details of the Wanderlust and Lipstick Travel Guides and the Guided Tours that Beth organises. Do take a look at Beth’s photos of Papua New Guinea –  all photos used are copyright of Beth Whitman.

If you enjoyed this travel podcast please check out my other podcasts in my Travel Podcast Archive

More Papua Guinea articles by Beth Whitman

Papua New Guinea – Erima Tribe
Papua New Guinea – Is Port Moresby Safe or Dangerous?
Papua New Guinea – off the charts
Papua New Guinea – a recap

More Papua New Guinea articles from Heather

Friday Photo – meeting the elders in Papua New Guinea
Friday Photo – Back to school in Papua New Guinea

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    October 3, 2010 at 11:41 am

    I am really interested in PNG as well, so read this with fascination and now hope to travel there next August for the annual sing sing.
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels´s last blog post ..Seeing Georgetown- One Cautious Step After Another

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    October 3, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    @ Barbara – perhaps you can join forces with Beth or at least make sure you book everything early for the show as I gather flights and accommodation are expensive and in short supply. As PNG is generally a very expensive place to get around, you’d better start saving now!

  • Reply
    October 4, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Great podcast about an amazing place. I was listening with fascination.
    Fida´s last blog post ..Oct 2- The golden glory of Golden

  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    October 8, 2010 at 2:14 am

    I’ve always been fascinated by Papua, New Guinea. What an informative podcast interview with Beth, who’s obviously done her research.
    Donna Hull´s last blog post ..Walking on a Glacier

  • Reply
    October 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    It is so amazing and fascinating to see such pure ethnic group considering the modern world we are living right now. I have not seen such group in my life in action and right now I am including it to my what to do list for next year.

  • Reply
    November 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    PNG looks awesome, i’m hoping to go next year. The blogs on here are very helpful, nice to read from people who have had first hand experiences.

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    Holiday Abroad
    February 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Papua New Guinea is such a wonderful place to spend your holiday! You can learn so many things from this civilization. I’d go back there in a minute 🙂
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    Papua is a great place! The people are wonderful and everything is so much fun in there!

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    I’ve been to Papua a few years ago and I must admit I’ve spent a wonderful vacation in there, even if before arriving there I had some doubts.

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    March 21, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Very informative article. Thanks for sharing this post. It is very useful.

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    August 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Do you think you could’ve done what Beth did?

    • Reply
      August 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      Yes, I love a bit of adventure – when I was in PNG as a student we were up in the highlands in a remote area where there were no tourists, only missionaries

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    Wedding Singer London
    March 18, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Some really great pictures of PNG. i am off to the Tawali Dive Resort on the South East coast in July to experience some of the diving and snorkeling opportunities on the reefs and your piccies and interview make me look forward to it even more.
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      March 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      @Wedding singer Do hope you have a great time in PNG – I was up in the highlands when I was there but the coastal diving at Tawali looks amazing

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    stickers muraux
    April 3, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    You made a fantastic trip ! I wish I could travel like you someday.

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