The World Traveling Guide

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Papua New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

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Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. According to recent data, 848 different languages are listed for the country, of which 12 have no known living speakers There may be at least as many traditional societies, out of a population of about 6.3 million. It is also one of the most rural, as only 18% of its people live in urban centres. The country is one of the world’s least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.

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Strong growth in Papua New Guinea’s mining and resource sector has led to the country’s becoming the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world as of 2011. Despite this, many people live in extreme poverty, with about one-third of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day. The majority of the population still live in traditional societies and practice subsistence-based agriculture. These societies and clans are explicitly acknowledged within the nation’s constitutional framework. The Papua New Guinea Constitution expresses the wish for “traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society” and for active steps to be taken in their preservation.

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After being ruled by three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea established its sovereignty in 1975 following 70 years of Australian administration. It became a separate Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II becoming its head of state.

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There is evidence of human settlement as long ago as 35,000 years in what is now Papua New Guinea. This comes from an archaeological site at Matenkupkum, just south of Namatanai inNew Ireland province. Other archaeological digs at several locations in New Ireland have discovered tools and food residue dating back 20,000 years.

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In more modern times, Papua New Guinea (known popularly as ‘PNG’), the eastern half of the island of New Guinea (which is the second largest island in the world), was divided between Germany (‘German New Guinea’) and Great Britain (‘British Papua’) in 1884. The Dutch had West Papua, now the Indonesian territory of Papua. The southeast part of the island, also known as Papua, was owned by the UK but administered by Australia, and thus a colony of a colony, until Australian independence in 1901, when it became an Australian colony. In 1914, the Australians did their part in the Allied war effort and took control of German New Guinea, and continued to administer it as a Trust Territory under the League of Nations and (later) the United Nations. However, it was not just disinterested colonialism. Gold(#gold) had been discovered(#discovered) in several places and was rapidly exploited. Remnants of vast gold dredges can still be seen in the Bulolo and Wau area.


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During World War II, New Guinea was the site of fierce fighting on land (at Buin and on the Kokoda Track) and sea (at the Battle of the Coral Sea). It was the first place in the war where the Japanese advance was checked and then reversed. After the war, both New Guinea and Papua were administered from the government center of Port Moresby on the south coast, in Papua. In 1975, the country, now united as ‘Papua New Guinea’, achieved independence from Australia. Today Papua New Guinea continues to be the foremost country in Melanesia. The country(#country) struggles to fulfill the dreams of independence as economic stagnation, corruption, law and order problems, and a nine-year secessionist revolt on the island of Bougainville all conspire to make the country somewhat less than a tropical paradise.

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The attempts by Bouganville to break away at the time of Independence led to a decision to offer the regions(#regions) of the country a certain amount of political autonomy. Decentralization led to the establishment(#establishment) of nineteen provincial governments and the process of dividing up the country into unviable administrative units seems to be continuing, with a decision in 2009 to split both Southern Higlands and Western Highlands provinces into three new provinces.

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In 2009, Papua New Guinea received 125,000 visitors, but only around 20% of these declared themselves as tourists. The country offers the traveler a true paradox. With little tourist infrastructure outside the main tourist areas, getting around can be tough. But Papua New Guineans themselves are wonderfully welcoming people who will go to great lengths to accommodate strangers. Tourism is well developed and growing in a handful of locations. Beyond these, the country is 120% adventure travel and not for the inexperienced or faint of heart.

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For people who can make it out here, the experience is unforgettable. The incredible natural beauty is simply indescribable. Its unique flora and fauna includes enormous radiations of marsupials and birds, including the Raggiana bird-of-paradise (the national symbol) and several species of tree kangaroos. Untouched coral(#coral) reefs compete with spectacular World War II wrecks for the attention of divers, and the hiking is out of this world.

Transport in Papua New Guinea is heavily limited by the country’s mountainous terrain. Port Moresby(#Port Moresby) is not linked by road to any of the other major towns, and many remote villages can only be reached by light aircraft or on foot. As a result, air travel is the single most important form of transport for human and high value freight. In addition to two international airfields, Papua New Guinea(#Papua New Guinea) has 578 airstrips, most of which are unpaved. Assets are not maintained to good operating standards and poor transport remains a major impediment to the development of ties of national unity.

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