Mt Hagen a trip back in time

Papua New Guinea is probably one of the least civilised places on earth.  I don’t mean that unkindly.  In fact, for me, that makes it more attractive.

I do feel qualified to make that statement as I was fortunate enough to once live in Papua New Guinea, in fact, I lived in Mt. Hagen, and that was a long time ago, when it was still very primitive, although things are not so much like that these days.

Mt. Hagen is the third largest town in Papua New Guinea, and it is the Capital of the Western Highlands Province, which still counts as perhaps the least explored area in Papua New Guinea.  It is located in the Wahgi Valley in the Western Highlands, and is 5,500 feet above sea level.  Mt. Hagen’s altitude and proximity to The Equator means that it has an ideal climate of warm days, regular rainfall and slightly cooler nights.  Nowadays, the town has a population of about 40,000 and it is something of a transport hub between several provinces.

The town is named after the dormant volcano of the same name.  The land here is very lush, and Mt Hagen is Papua New Guinea’s major producer of coffee and tea.  The first westerners, three Australians, entered the area in 1933, and it remained very remote for a long time afterwards.

Tourist infrastructure is very basic, but it is worth making the trip along the Highlands Highway from the coastal port of Lae to Mt Hagen simply to admire the scenery.  The town of Mt Hagen comes alive every August for the Mt. Hagen Show.  The Show is famous for its Sing Sing, a get together of the many tribes who dress in traditional attire to sing and dance traditional songs.  Hundreds of different Highland tribes are represented, each wearing their distinctive tribal head dresses of feathers and flowers and body paint. It is a wonderful opportunity to see a glimpse of the richness of traditional Highlands’s social structure.

There are tourist operators who will take you on guided walks to see the various villages, where people still live in traditional grass huts, and it is also possible to arrange treks to some of the nearby peaks.

Mt. Hagen does have a fairly high crime rate which is due to both alcohol consumption and tribal disputes.  Animosity between some of the various tribes extends back for generations, and sometimes those rivalries can get out of hand.

If you are the sort of person who enjoys the five star experience, then Mt. Hagen is not for you.  The town does have some hotels, motels and back packers places, but this is a place for adventurers, and if you after adventure then this is one place you will find it in spades.

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