>  Cruising   >  Ultimate Papua New Guinea cruise guide

Visiting the ports of Papua New Guinea is a genuine step back in time. It is an amazing cultural journey which provides a window into tribal and village life that has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years. With new ports and improved infrastructure being added all the time, cruising around Papua New Guinea just keeps getting better. Here is our ultimate guide for cruising in Papua New Guinea, including a round up of the most popular Papua New Guinea ports and things to do in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea dancers
Farewell performance at the port

Passport and visa requirements for Papua New Guinea

You will need your passport for leaving and arriving back into Australia when you go on a Papua New Guinea cruise. Visas are required for Papua New Guinea cruises but are issued onboard the ship and charged to your account. Paperwork for the visa is completed at the pier prior to boarding. Filling out the paperwork is easy and only takes a minute or two.

You get your visa on the ship

Papua New Guinea weather

It’s highly unlikely you’re going to need to pack a sweater as the temperature seldom gets below 18 degrees Celcius. The main weather consideration for a Papua New Guinea cruise comes down to rainfall and humidity. During the wet season from October to April there can be quite a bit of rain, especially if there is a cyclone hanging around the South Pacific. However, the rain is unlikely to disrupt your plans for swimming as the water and the weather will still be lovely and warm. Humidity generally sits between 70% and 90%, even in the winter months. This can make exploring the villages at Kitava and Kiriwina very hot and sticky. You’ll need water and plenty of it if you’re going to attempt this on a humid day.

Papua New Guinea currency

Most of the ports in Papua New Guinea are remote with little development so there are few if any ATMs. Bring Kina for your purchases to make life easier for yourself and the locals. While most ports do accept Australian dollars for purchases as the markets, the locals are often offered a poor exchange rate when they swap these notes for kina via the local currency handler who visits the island.

Stay well and stay hydrated

Always carry a water bottle (or two) that can be filled up on the ship before you go ashore. It is important to wear sunscreen and a hat to avoid sunstroke when you’re out and avoid. A rashie is a must if you’re planning on going swimming. Bring all the medication you require, as there is limited medical infrastructure at the ports (even the capital of Alotau). You won’t be able to pop down to the chemist to get a prescription filled in port if you run out of tablets.

Many cruise lines set up a basic first aid station at each port but, of course, this is only good for minor injuries. If you sustain a coral cut while you’re onshore, you can get it treated at this makeshift medical station for free. Make sure your hepatitis and tetanus vaccinations are up to date before you cruise. While malaria is also common in Papua New Guinea, this isn’t a major concern on the islands most cruises visit. Take insect repellent and reapply it regularly and you should be fine. 

Papau New Guinea snorkelling

Papua New Guinea has some of the world’s best snorkelling and reefs. However, there is very little tourist infrastructure. There are few if any spots on most islands to hire snorkel gear or other similar equipment so remember to bring your own. Reef shoes are also handy but not essential. Bring a few zip lock or plastic bags from home for items like cameras and phones in case your bag gets wet on the tender ride back to the ship or the raft ride to the motu at Kitava.

Buying sustainable souvenirs

Many of the islands have markets set up with beautiful wood carvings and thatch baskets for sale. These are mostly the genuine item and a lot of work has gone into the pieces so paying a fair price for these is both recommended and encouraged so visitors support the local village. Be mindful of souvenirs which are not kind to the environment like shells and coral. Taking these from the ocean to sell to tourists harms the local reef. They probably won’t be allowed back into Australia if you buy them due to quarantine concerns.

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Giving to the village

If you would like to bring something with you as a gift to support the village, providing useful items such as pens, paper and pencils for the school or fish hooks is always appreciated. You can also make a donation to the school during the kids’ dance performances.

Respecting the local culture

It is important to be respectful of the local traditions and customs in Papua New Guinea. Please do not photograph people without asking and be polite in your interactions with them. Locals can be shy and are not used to large numbers of western tourists (although this is starting to change). Smile and talk to locals if they approach you and be friendly to anyone you meet. If you don’t want to tour the village, a smile and polite “No, thank you” is all you need to say. Papua New Guinea locals are not pushy or interested in giving cruise passengers ‘the hard sell’. This is just one of many reasons cruising in Papua New Guinea is such a pleasure.

Papua New Guinea cruise ports

Alotau cruise port

Alotau is the capital of Milne Bay Province and the main port for the 160 islands that make up this area. It is also the first stop on most Papua New Guinea cruise itineraries. Alotau in Papua New Guinea is very much a working port with hundreds of small ships, boats and canoes making their way to and from the islands for trade and transport. The Battle of Milne Bay took place at Alotau and Milne Bay during WWII. War history tours are popular at this port. There is also a cultural festival offered as a shore excursion by most mainstream cruise lines which is well worth doing. Alotau provides an excellent introduction to PNG, from the tropical heat to the rich culture and friendliness of the locals. 

Kitava cruise port

Kitava is a small island off Trobriand Island which forms part of the Kiriwina chain of islands. Kitava tours are pretty much non existent apart from some locals showing you around or taking you snorkelling in their rafts. This is what makes Kitava such a special place to visit.

Take a ‘taxi ride’ to the motu at Kitava

Kiriwina cruise port

Kiriwina Island is the largest and by far the most populated of the Trobriand islands and home to a largely unspoiled island culture. The first thing you will notice on arrival is the crystal-clear water and jungle clad cliffs and the locals waving at everyone on the ship. Kiriwina Island is where you can see the famous local version of cricket which involves singing and cheering to earn points and has rules that keep changing throughout the game.

Rabaul cruise port

You won’t see Rabaul on every Papua New Guinea cruise itinerary but it is an increasingly popular stop for ships. It is Rabaul’s location and history that makes this a popular tourist destination for visiting cruise passengers keen to explore the history and culture of coastal Papua New Guinea. Plenty of tours tick off Rabaul’s three ‘big-ticket’ items. Number one is the town’s WW2 history, the second is the Tavurvur volcano and then there is the Mini Mask Cultural Festival which is held for visiting cruise ships.

Conflict Islands cruise port

A handful of organised excursions are available at this pristine Papua New Guinea port but it’s just as enjoyable to make your own fun. The stunning lagoon is filled with tropical fish and pristine coral gardens beckons and there are shaded island paths that are ideal for strolling. Facilities are limited but you can enjoy a drink at an open-air bar, grab a bite to eat or use the swimming platform for guided snorkelling trips. However, it’s just as easy to wade into the crystal clear water and set off on your own to explore the fringing reef which is conveniently close to shore.

Disclosure: The writer paid for her cruise to Papua New Guinea. It remains one of her favourite cruise destinations.

If you are cruising in Papua New Guinea, check out our other Papua New Guinea posts with tips for cruising in Papua New Guinea with kids, and our suggestions for Alotau, Kitava, Rabaul and Kiriwina.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.