Travel Into Papua New Guinea on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

Papua New Guinea on a Harley (16/6/08 - 6/7/08)
Distance 1807 km (506587 km to 508394 km)

This is part of the fourteenth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from South Korea

16/6/08 We spent the last two weeks in Brisbane with our children, our mothers visiting from down south for a week, buying some spare parts and restocked necessities while the motorcycle was shipped from South Korea. Today was a day of mixed successes and inconveniences. Airlines PNG wouldn't let us board without an onward ticket (PNG immigration rules) which is pretty normal, and airlines are often fined for carrying passengers without one. We purchased a fully refundable return ticket, and showing how silly some rules are we cashed it in on arrival to Port Moresby, negating its purpose, but the funds won't return to our credit card for another week. The connecting flight to Lae was delayed, almost two hours while they changed a tyre and worked on the brake lines, not a confidence builder, so we arrived at Lae airport after dark. There were many westerners on the flight, all appeared to be either mine support workers or missionaries, and were collected by waiting vehicles. We caught a balusAir for the rear tyre at a roadside stop, Lae bus, the airport public bus, stopping at most hotels in town we noticed how full their car parks were with 4x4's, and felt the mining boom has arrived in Lae, gateway to most highland mines. Our chosen hotel was full but for a couple of basic rooms, twin beds, shared bathroom, no decor, but had risen in price by 30% since the latest guide book was written, our room $US 45.00, another indication of booming mining. It had taken 14 hours from leaving last night's bed to tonight's and we ate at the hotel, no-one of sane mind walks Lae after dark, and there are no taxi's in the city, the second largest in PNG.

17/6/08 PMV's (public motor vehicles) are how locals get around in Lae, 20 seater mini vans in other peoples languages, plying a fixed route with regular stops, similar to our buses. It was a friendly walk to the nearest bus stop, people offering us morning wishes, and again walking after we hopped off the bus at the markets, heading for the shipping agents. The bike had arrived on the 9th, a week ago, and had been stored at the wharf warehouse. Henry Kabala of Deugro PNG, shipping agency, welcomed us, arranged for his customs clearance staff to assist, and after a meetingTree Kangaroos at Lae Rainforest Habitat with Sibabel Kobua, manager of revenue, customs operations, we were given permission to import the motorcycle, temporarily, without duty. Paperwork, much paperwork was being completed while Kay and I, after clearance to enter the port area, uncrated the motorcycle with fifty dock workers looking on and offering assistance where required. The crate was stored at the wharf for onward shipping. The motorcycle's battery was low and wouldn't start the bike, but a jump start trolley, generously offered, did the trick and we were riding in Papua New Guinea by 3.30pm, the 188th country, with just five to go, and we are counting down.

18/6/08 Security is tight. Our hotel, along with all others, is surrounded by a high fence, many have razor wire on top. There is a security guard and a solid metal gate at the entrance. Houses are floodlit, fluorescent lights under the eaves are left on overnight as there is little or no street lighting. We are yet to see another westerner walking or on the streets yet we have received nothing but welcome smiles. There is no rest from logistics in the Pacific. The elation of getting the motorcycle into PNG relatively easily yesterday, can only be enjoyed fleetingly. We were at Air New Guinea thisRoadside stop for a coke on the way to Goroka morning booking onward flights to the Solomon Islands. They are the only airline on this route, so the price is extreme, $US 580.00 each, for a return, cheaper than a one way ticket, and it removes the need to have an onward ticket when entering The Solomon's. We have only been able to find one ship to take the motorcycle and it leaves on the 2nd of July, a bit early, but the following one is three weeks later and misses an onward connection to Vanuatu, meaning we would have to stay in the Solomons for almost two months, so we decided to book the motorcycle on the 2nd. Rode around town, internet, supermarket, Intercontinental Hotel for flights, and the shipping agent, the locals waving and often calling out as we passed. We are yet to see another motorcycle and have been told large motorcycles don't exist here, almost all vehicles are 4x4's.

19/6/08 It is now the rainy season in Lae, getting 1.5 metres over the next three months, but as happens in PNG it is the dry season elsewhere, where we want to ride, Madang and the Highlands. It rained all of our first day here, was sunny yesterday but was again raining this morning. A price for onward shipping and booking to The Solomons, from Deugro PNG,Seventh Day Adventist service on the Goroka oval about $US 330.00, substantially less than the quote from Express Freight Management, the agent for Sofrana Lines, yet it is going on their vessel? Headed out of town to the Rainforest Habitat, stopping to put more air in the tyres, and taking out the camera, we were inundated with people wanting their photo taken. The habitat has a large rainforest aviary with butterflies and birds. Outside there are pens with cuscus, more birds and the flightless cassowary. There was also a pen of tree kangaroos. This habitat is considered one of the best places to see native animals in PNG, we have been told it is difficult to impossible to see them in the wild.     

20/6/08 We shipped into Lae because there are decidedly few roads out of Port Moresby, or out of anywhere else in PNG, and even Lae isn't inundated with choices in this mountainous country. This morning we headed towards Goroka, with small groups of people waving or calling out, smiling as we passed. We are finding the people incredibly polite, soft spoken and helpful. Only one incident we saw in Lae raised any anger. A security guard at the local supermarket insisted on looking into a man's bilum (shoulder bag) suspecting there had been something stolen, he found nothing,Running from the tribal fighting and the man reacted verbally at the slight to his character. Many highland people come to the city looking for work, to see what a city is, and sit around during the day, people watching. This can give a feeling of being watched, naturally, as we are the only "white" people on the street. Compared to many places we have visited in Africa, particularly Sierra Leone or Nigeria, the streets here seem pretty empty. It was a good asphalt road the 300kms to Goroka with a few patches where water had destroyed a couple of hundred metres. We stopped at a roadside village shop, slowed for a couple of markets, grabbed a coffee and sweet potato lunch at the petrol station in Kainantu, and arrived in Goroka mid afternoon. The spread out cattle plains had been left behind and we were now in the more densely populated highlands, 1600 metres above sea level, as they say, "in perpetual spring time". The highland people are short in stature but have a reputation for volatility. Friday afternoon the Seventh Day Adventist Preachers, with their followers, fill Goroka's grassy field and nearby we strolled the bustling markets, with people selling fresh grown, fresh picked vegetables when suddenly the quiet markets erupted, vendors started to collect their goods, buyers bustled past us, thenBuying sugar fruits, roadside, heading for Mt Hagen settled. The Simbu (Chimbu) people from further up the highlands come to Goroka on Fridays, they drink, and settle "paybacks." Over half an hour, the street alongside the markets full with youths, slowly moved forward only to retreat racing, disturbing the otherwise peaceful market. Hundreds moved up and back, yet we could only see one side of the disturbance. Growing louder and bigger with time until a number of police, armed with rifles, charged into the road, firing into the air, and the disturbance was over for this Friday. Meanwhile we had been adopted by an elderly couple of locals, informing us that these were not Goroka people fighting but drunk Simbu's, Gorokan people were happy to get along with all clans of their area. It had been an interesting introduction to the highlands.       

21/6/08 With a tight time frame and the need to return via Goroka we headed out to Mt. Hagen early morning. The road started with good asphalt but after 50km's it deteriorated to potholes, roadworks, wash outs and long sections of dirt for the next 50km's before returning to reasonable asphalt for the last 80km's. This highland area is subjected to heavy rains and this road had been closed for a month following a massive land slumpSingsing, we encountered, celebration on opening a new mine carrying away the side of a hill, and had only reopened a few weeks ago. Numerous smaller washouts and landslides didn't help the problem either. Last night's drinking had flowed over to early morning and there were many drunks staggering home, walking down the edge or occasionally the middle of the road, mostly harmless but occasionally a little aggressive in their actions. Slowly they disappeared, collapsing for a rest and were replaced by well dressed families heading to the nearest worshipping place, Seventh Day Adventists, happy to wave or call out a good morning as we passed. Traffic was light, mostly trucks carrying containers, their windscreens protected from rocks by steel mesh, numerous mini buses and a few government cars. We had stopped to buy and eat local passionfruit from some roadside sellers and later, a little over half way, a large crowd had gathered, spilled onto the road, but was still allowing traffic to pass. Slowing we saw about 100 traditionally dressed men and women dancing, a "singsing." Turning around we were almost mobbed, covered the motorcycle, and taking turns, we moved through the crowd to the performers, who were rotating, dancing and drum playing, in batches of about 20 participants,Kay photographed the women while I watched the motorcycle in an informal market atmosphere. There were almost as many people trying to look at the motorcycle with Kay as were watching the performance with me. One particular man had taken us to his charge, and with a couple of assistants kept a cleared area around the motorcycle. Again people asked to be photographed, and were pleased we were interested in photographing the performers. The reason for the "singsing", a new gold mine was opening up in the area, a celebration, more jobs for the locals, better times were ahead.

22/6/08 It rained late afternoon keeping us to the Lutheran Guesthouse where we are staying but this morning the air was clear to stroll around town. The one month road closure had caused difficulty for the region. Goods had to be carried across the mud slide and wash outs, fuel was in short supply and shops rationed goods, prices rose. The town was now back to normal and we hoped last night's rain hadn't caused another road closure. Sunday, almost everything is closed except churches and the busy supermarket. Mt. Hagen is not a pretty town, PNG's third largest, it supplies most highland people who come in from outlying areas to shop, party or look for work. The few tourists that come here generally arrive by aeroplane, notLarge crowd gathered to look at the motorcycle at the singsing a good first impression, and take tours to surrounding villages something we are able to do as we travel through.     

23/6/08 PNG is a diesel country, only a few vehicles use petrol and it took us half an hour of hunting around town to find a station with petrol this morning, supplies are still low after the road closure. The main cash crop of the highlands is coffee and heading back down towards Goroka we stopped at a riverside area where the beans are washed and dried after the shell is removed. Again the people working welcomed our interest, wanted to have their photos taken and show us what they were doing. A couple more stops for photos of traditional villages and the same welcoming. It was a more relaxed ride back than the one into the highlands a couple of days ago. We were now more accustomed to the villager's excitement as we passed, the calling out, waving, and any warnings of possible trouble or violence had faded, but as we rounded a corner coming off the range a group of about 50 men, a number with machete's, were strung out across the road and four large rocks were strategically placed to prevent vehicles from passing. The only vehicle in sight we came across them suddenly, but were as quickly waved through between the rocks.Photo with police outside the Mt Hagen station Who or what they were waiting for, it obviously wasn't us and we arrived in Goroka early afternoon. 

24/6/08 Headed down out of the mountains towards Madang and back to the coastal plains we turned off the Highlands Highway and onto the Ramu Highway. Ramu Sugar, an enormous enterprise spreads out across an entire valley between mountain ranges, also runs cattle and is branching out into palm oil. At least they are not clearing rainforest for plantings, just replacing already cleared sugar cane land. The road is good till well past Ramu settlement, then starts to get patchy through what seems to be new settlements in previously cleared rainforest. By the time the road reaches the Finisterre Range, along about 100km's, it turns into a bad dirt track for the next 40km's and is often closed due to rain, up and down over the mountains through magnificent rainforest, crossing a forded river, and quite a challenge for the motorcycle before opening onto coastal flats, 180km's from the Highlands Highway to Madang.

25/6/08 Coming as an independent tourist/traveller to PNG is relatively unusual. MostDrying coffee beans in the highlands other western visitors are either mine support workers or missionaries, one trying to financially benefit the other trying to change the people, tourists just come to see the people and the place, how it is, and seem to be received differently, as guests. We would more readily accept visitors to our place as friends rather than business men or someone who is preaching to us, the people of PNG are no different. At the small Lutheran Guest House we sat down to breakfast, and there was the District Administrator of West Sepik province and a couple of government people who had flown into Madang for a conference. They weren't all staying at the upmarket hotels, like Africans might, funds are too tight in rural PNG and most are incredibly loyal to their country, many people we see wear shirts with their flags colours or shade under flag umbrellas. It was a reminiscent day for Kay, it was in Madang that she spent a couple of years growing up, her father was the grocery manager of Burns Philp in the early 60's. Things have changed but not. Their house was gone, replaced, but the neighbour's places were still there, along with the golf club, the bowls club and the Coastwatchers memorial all bringing back memories. Flying foxes had now invaded the casuarinaLakatoi canoe's near the Madang Club trees along the coast but the poinciana trees had gone and the raintrees were, if possible, bigger. We strolled around the waterfront, centre of town and lunched at the Madang Club.     

26/6/08 Just as some remote island and mountain areas of the Pacific were getting used to western ways, with regular shipping and aeroplanes, these services are folding due to poor management and more recently the high cost of fuel and maintenance. There are a couple of thousand air strips dotting the mountains of PNG, but with the recent collapse of a major small airline many have now been left idle, the villages left with little outside support or supplies. Perhaps the economic development brought to remote areas by missionary contact is slowing. Three new westerners arrived at the guest house last night, two Americans, father and daughter and a New Zealand woman. The American father grew up in PNG, his parents were missionaries, SIL, Summer Institute of Linguistics, he has continued their work and was bringing his daughter to reminisce with him his youth, not having been to his childhood village for thirty years. The NZ lady had a similar story, also returning, 25 years,The small settlement of Bogia to an island village where she spent 15 years creating a written version of the local's language and translating the Bible into that language. This is what SIL does all over the world, religious work, but also the recording of hundreds of tribal languages that would otherwise be lost. It seemed like a real flash back in time for them and Kay. The road to Bogia, built with aid money, 185km to the north, was asphalt, at least when it was finished ten years ago, but with little maintenance since, it is showing its neglected age with growing potholes. A pleasant ride along the coast, through hinterland, past well tended fishing villages, different styles of grass and bamboo houses, and is as remote as we have been in PNG, no electricity and just a couple of small village stores. Bogia has a generator for a few hours of fan cooled room in the evening, a seaside quietness and tropical heat oppression near to the equator.

27/6/08 There are over 800 individual languages in PNG, more than any other country, stemming from the mountain isolation. Tok Pisin (Pidgin English) came about as a way of communicating between white employers and native employees, was then used as a way for different villagers to communicateManum Island steaming away early morning and today it is taught as a second language in remote areas and is the main language in towns and cities. When we were listening to the Seventh Day Adventist preacher in Goroka a few days ago, with his slow preaching and repetition, Kay, who learnt the language of her friends till leaving PNG aged 13, could understand almost 70% of what he was saying despite not having heard the language for over 40 years. Me as a newcomer could gain about 20%, a mix of English words and easily understood coined descriptions. It is a happy language, rolls easily with a pleasant melody and we enjoy listening to it, grasping the bits we can and passing back a shortened broken English which they politely seem to understand. Sunrise was shining on Manam Island, a few km's off shore, a perfect volcanic cone, that is unless you live there. One of the world's most active volcanoes it erupts on average every five years and smokes almost constantly, last erupting in 2004 when most of its inhabitants fled to the mainland. We headed back to Madang after breakfast, shooting a few photos as we passed quiet villages. 

28/6/08 A quiet day in Madang at the Lutheran Guest House talking to SIL guests thereFishing village near Bogia on holidays or organising their projects. We wandered about town, visiting a few places Kay remembered from her childhood, the school, Country Club and Madang Club.

29/6/08 An uneventful ride back to Lae, back over the rough Finisterre Range, now partially graded and whilst less bumpy the last night's rain had made the surface more slippery, Kay having to walk on one section. A stop for fuel at the Ramu roadhouse where we were mobbed by onlookers whilst buying kaukau (sweet potato) for a snack.

30/6/08 The motorcycle was due to leave for Honiara in two day's time, so it was back to the wharf early to make arrangements. Traffic lights have not arrived to the roads we have ridden and with little traffic the country is a pleasure to ride, not to mention the scenery. We were asked to return at 1.00pm and by 3.30 all the paperwork and crating had been finalised. We learnt the ship's latest schedule has been delayed a day, one we would have preferred to spend in Madang rather than in our hotel in Lae. The motorcycle should be in Honiara on the 11th July, all going well.

1-4/7/08 We remainedRamu beef, sugar and palm oil. at the Lae Traveller's Inn most of the time, taking walks to town to buy groceries and visiting the Lae International, where most westerners stay, for internet, otherwise it was more work on the book and watching TV for rests, and finding out the ship has again been delayed, was now anchored off Lae, but there would be no room at the wharf till at least the 6th July meaning a 16th July arrival in Honiara.

5/7/08 Our lunchtime flight back to Port Moresby on Air New Guinea, notorious for its delays and overbookings, left 90 minutes late, not arriving till late afternoon and with little reason to wander the streets we caught a taxi to the Mapang Missionary Home, ate dinner, with good conversation with the New Zealand managers and another couple staying there. To confirm Port Moresby's reputation for a dangerous city our taxi driver informed us three taxi drivers were shot dead just a few nights ago. Apparently one driver had taken a fare to outside the city limits, at night, he was killed whilst returning and two other drivers trying to investigate what happened were set upon and also killed. Missions, irrespective of denomination, where we stayed in PNG, have provided a great way to meet locals, ex-pats, travellers and missionary workers.

6/7/08 Expecting more delays, with more stories as we waited to check in, our flight left on time at 9.15am for Honiara in the Solomon Islands. Most passengers were continuing on to Fiji and only a handful left the flight.

Move with us to the Solomon Islands


Top of Page

Story and photos copyright Peter and Kay Forwood, 1996-
All Rights Reserved.

Hosted by: Horizons Unlimited, the motorcycle travellers' website, with more Travellers stories, and a Bulletin Board for all the latest On the Road Information! Webmaster: Grant Johnson