Incredible islands – New Guinea

The island of New Guinea is truly one of the wildest and most primitive places on Earth.  The world’s second largest island is divided into West Papua, which is controlled by Indonesia, and independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

The island used to be connected to the continent of Australia, but the shallow waters of the Torres Strait appeared after the last ice age.  Due to the fact that both places were once connected, they share some common native fauna, including wallabies, possums and the egg laying monotreme the spiny anteater, or echidna, as it is also known.

The island of New Guinea is much more geologically active that Australia, and forms part of the Ring of Fire, meaning that it is prone to earthquakes and has volcanic activity.  The interior of the island is very mountainous, with some of the higher mountains reaching heights of 4,884 metres (16,024 feet), meaning that New Guinea has the highest mountains between the Andes and the Himalayas.

New Guinea is close to the Equator and is one of the few places in the world to have equatorial glaciers on its highest mountains.

The whole island contains a human population of about 7.5 million, and it is believed that humans have existed here for at least 60,000 years.  Many of the people have lived very much undisturbed in remote valleys for thousands of years, so that many individual languages have developed.  Over 1,000 different languages have been identified on New Guinea, which is far more languages than you would normally see developing on a continent.

Some of these people still live relatively primitive lives depending on hunting and gathering for survival, and tribal wars are still common (in fact, I have even witnessed them from when I lived in Mt Hagen in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea).    

Tourism is still very much in its infancy in Papua New Guinea, and it is not encouraged for West Papua where there is quite a strong independence movement against Indonesian rule, and where violence often occurs.  One aspect of tourism that is increasing in Papua New Guinea is Dive Tourism.  The waters around Papua New Guinea are still relatively unpolluted and the seas are warm, shallow and have many coral reefs that are ideal for diving upon.

New Guinea figured heavily in the defence of Australia against Japanese invaders during World War II, particularly the battles which took place around the Kokoda Track, a very narrow and arduous track which traverses the difficult Owen Stanley Ranges.  It was during these battles that Australian troops were able to defeat the Japanese, although both sides suffered incredible losses, and so many Australians like to walk the Track in honour of those soldiers who fought so hard.  Although the war finished decades ago, the track is still very arduous and it is not unusual for walkers to die from exhaustion on the Track.

The island of New Guinea is for adventurers only; there is not the tourist infrastructure there to travel in luxury.  If you have an interest in wild places, then New Guinea is one of the wildest places that you can visit, but it does take commitment and planning to even consider a visit; which once undertaken would never be regretted.

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