Port Moresby

Frequently ranked the least liveable city in the world, Port Moresby from my several short visits isn’t that bad, and has a number of interesting sights. You do need to act differently here though as a tourist, no wandering the streets. It’s best if possible to visit with someone who lives here, as I was lucky enough with work colleagues, or organise transport to and from places through your hotel.

Port Moresby is the largest city in the South Pacific, outside of Australia and New Zealand, home to nearly half a million people. That’s a relatively small percentage though of Papua New Guinea’s population of around eight million, the majority of whom live in small villages in remote areas. This helps explain the culture shock and some of their behaviour when they reach the capital, as people from the around 800 tribes in PNG mingle, not always in harmony.

It’s a spread out city with large areas yet to be developed, even in the centre. Downtown is much like any other city with hi-rise hotel blocks and shopping centres. It becomes more interesting as you head out, for example past the squatter settlement at eight mile (roads are named after their distance from the city centre). There are also informal markets by the side of the road and no westerners on the streets outside of the city centre. Driving around in the daytime with local expats felt pretty safe though, just don’t head out at night, and be careful which areas you visit.

There are some buildings of some architecture merit in the city, starting with the National Parliament of Papua New Guinea, opened in 1984. An effective blend of the traditional and modern it has an impressive facade and well maintained gardens.

Unfortunately the building itself is less well maintained. After the APEC conference in November 2018, security services and police were not paid promptly and so went on a rampage through Parliament, smashing the place up. A sad sign of frustration with the government and weakness of the rule of law in PNG, no one was convicted and they were paid which can only encourage more direct action in the future. Nine months later there are still broken windows around the building.

On a Sunday visiting only a few days after more recent unrest when the Prime Minister stepped down security didn’t seemed to have improve. The front door of Parliament was open, and seemingly no one was around. I signed in and called out, taking a quick wander around the confusingly circular building and to one of the wings. The Parliament chamber itself was locked, but I could see inside through a broken window.

The neighbouring Papua New Guinea National Museum & Art Gallery was a highlight for me. I’m a huge fan of Papua New Guinean arts, and their amazing masks, weaving and sculptures are brilliantly represented here.

Outside the museum were more examples along with a number of remains from WW2.

Another sign of government dysfunction is the recently completed Gordon’s Market. It was jointly funded by governments of New Zealand and PNG, but the PNG government hasn’t paid for the work yet so the market remains closed.

On the waterfront the APEC Haus is flash, and the beach area by it has proved a hit with families enjoying the facilities and safely lit area.

Another well used civic facility is the relatively new Aquatic Centre. It’s a very smart facility, nicer than many in Auckland, with two large outdoor pools and eight playing courts inside.

Port Moresby Nature Park is understandably one of the most popular places in the city, an oasis of calm and natural beauty only ten minutes from the city centre. It is one of the best places to see Papua New Guinean wildlife, often tricky to find in the wild, housed here in somewhat small but serviceable enclosures. A separate blog post will follow to do the place justice but here’s a taster.

To end with Bomana War Cemetery which I visited twice. Here are buried several thousand Australian dead plus those from a few other nationalities, mainly from the fighting against the Japanese along the Kokoda Track 1942, which is where I was heading next…

Author: jontycrane

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