The Highlands is a region in Papua New Guinea.


Map of Highlands (Papua New Guinea)
Performer at the Mt. Hagen Show, 2007
  • 1 Mount Hagen — capital of the Western Highlands
  • 2 Goroka — capital of the Eastern Highlands.
  • 3 Kainantu
  • 4 Mendi — capital of Southern Highlands province.

Other destinations[edit]

  • Mt. Wilhelm— this is PNG's highest mountain, and a popular climb
  • Lake Kutubu — at 800m above sea level this is considered to be one of the most beautiful spots in PNG. It also has considerable biodiversity and ecological significance
  • 1 Ukarumpa — a missionary community in Eastern Highlands, which is home to the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a movement endeavouring to translate the Bible into all of PNG's languages



  • Southern Highlands. With over half a million people, the Southern Highlands has the highest population of any province in Papua New Guinea. It has two important towns, Mendi, the provincial capital, and Tari Basin. A recent decision by PNG's parliament may see the province being split up into three provinces in 2012. The province is rich in natural resources but is also fairly lawless (The Government declared a State of Emergency in the province in 2006.) On the other hand, the Southern Highlands are rich in traditional culture and there is considerable wildlife, including birds of paradise. A rewarding experience if you are prepared to be adventurous.
  • Western Highlands covers an area of 8,500 km2, and there are close to half a million inhabitants. The provincial capital, Mt. Hagen is a bit of a Wild West frontier town. Much of the province's income comes from coffee production; it also sends large quantities of sweet potato, potatoes and other vegetables down to the lowlands. The province has some good walks and is popular with birdwatchers.
Asaro Mudmen from the Eastern Highlands
  • Eastern Highlands covers an area of 11,200km², and has a population of almost half a million, speaking 20 languages. It forms the boundary between the Highlands and the coastal provinces of Morobe and Madang and has both mountain ranges and wide river valleys. Eastern Highlanders are generally regarded as the friendliest people in the Highlands and there are fewer tribal fights than in other provinces in the region. It is the leading coffee producer in the Highlands, which provides the main source of income to most people. It has the country's largest hydro-electric power station at Yonki, and the world-renowned Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research. A major tourist attraction are the Asaro Mudmen who wear masks made of mud.
  • Chimbu Province, also known as Simbu, has an area of 6,100km² and a population of close to 300,000. Its capital is Kundiawa. It occupies a central position in PNG, sharing boundaries with five other provinces. Despite this, it is one of the poorer provinces in the country.
  • Enga Province is the most westerly of the Highlands provinces. The name Enga actually means "people to the west" in a language spoken around Mt Hagen. Enga is the highest province in Papua New Guinea, with much of it being over 2000 meters. Enga covers an area of 12,800km² and is drained by two major river systems, the Lagaip that heads south into the Fly river and the Lai, which flows north to the Sepik. Unlike most other provinces it has only one major ethnic group, known as the Enga but, despite this, tribal warfare is common. The capital is Wabag and its Cultural Centre has a good display of wigs, war shields and masks. The centre also houses a workshop where young artists are taught sand painting, an art form unique to Enga Province involving the use of "sand" made up of ground up rocks of different colours. In Porgera is the world's largest gold mine outside South Africa, but this does not appear to have benefited the people too much. Orchid enthusiasts cannot miss Laigam, where the botanical gardens have over 100 species of delicate mountain orchids, as well as a good range of rhododendrons.


The Highlands were discovered by Australian explorers delving into the unexplored interior of Papua New Guinea in search for gold in the beginning of the 20th century. They were amazed to discover a whole nation of people living in a fairly advanced agricultural society that had no previous contact with white men.


The Highlands has the most people of all of Papua New Guinea. Highlanders are comprised of a number of different tribes scattered across the Highland plateau surrounded by mountains. Traditionally they live in clans which comprises a group of families living in small agrarian communities and protecting each other's interests not uncommonly by fighting small skirmishes with neighbouring clans (which usually doesn't result in casualties as the clan in that case has to pay a severance to the family of the deceased). The largest tribe are the Huli wigmen, who are famous for their tradition of growing ornamental wigs from their own hair.


As always in Papua New Guinea there is the problem with language. The staff in hotels and some stores will probably be able to speak a rudimentary level of English but as soon as you get out of the cities people will probably only speak pidgin, or Tok Ples (the generic term for the tribal languages). Therefore, it's highly recommended for any traveller to bring along a guide that comes from the area.

Get in[edit]

The Highlands Highway connects Lae with Goroka, Kundiawa, capital of Chimbu Province, and Mt. Hagen. It then branches into two, with one road heading into Enga province as far as the Porgera gold mine and the other heading to the towns of the Southern Highlands. After Mt. Hagen, 4WD is advisable.

Get around[edit]

Apart from the Highlands Highway there are some rudimentary roads but they are a) slow and generally in a very bad shape (think, muddy sludge) and b) dangerous because of the occurrence of holdups. The recommended way to get around is to fly to the closest airport to where you want to go and trek from there. There is an abundance of tiny airstrips and these are often served by Mission Air Fellowship (MAF), which has its headquarters in Mt. Hagen and operates twelve planes throughout PNG both supplying mission stations and supporting local communities.[1] It is sometimes possible for tourists to fly with MAF.


Mountains in Enga Province
  • The Sing-Sing festival in Goroka This is a really nice experience and travellers to the Highlands should take care to plan their trip to include it. People from many different tribes gather to show off their traditional costumes and there is dancing and singing competitions. It usually draws a huge crowd from all over the country and from abroad.
  • The Kuk Early Agricultural Site — inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and as of 2021, it's the only UNESCO WHS in Papua New Guinea



The Highlands is an agricultural society and they do not consume much meat (the pigs are usually saved for weddings and great feasts to show off the wealth of the clan.) The local diet is bland and very starch-intensive. Taro, Kau-Kau (sweet potato), imported rice and other vegetables are the daily staple diet for most people. The villagers generally do not use spices, so it's best to bring some salt and pepper along just in case. In the towns of Goroka and Mt. Hagen there are some restaurants (usually at the hotels) which serve good food, but they are few and far between. The coffee from the Highlands is famous for its high quality: be sure to buy some coffee beans to take home.


One should always be careful in situations where people are drinking alcohol in Papua New Guinea, particularly in the Highlands. The locals tend to become quite rowdy when drinking and have difficulties controlling the amount they consume.



A stones throw down the road from Ambua Lodge is the more rustic Warili Lodge that is run by locals, is only $20/night, and offers birdwatching as good as, or better, than what is offered at Ambua Lodge.


The Ambua lodge One of the most spectacular hotels imaginable. Located close to the village of Tari in Southern Highlands, it is comprised of bungalows built in the traditional Huli way. The scenery is to die for, with beautiful scenic walks in proximity to the hotel, and the sunsets are amazing. There are possibilities to organize bird-watching tours to see many species of birds of paradise. Something which several famous film-makers, such as sir David Attenborough, have taken advantage of during the years. There are also tours to the small surrounding villages with the possibility of an overnight stay for the adventurous. This is one of the most famous hotels/lodges in Papua New Guinea and something that should be experienced if one has the opportunity. ($200/night)

Stay safe[edit]

It is said that the Highland people go to war over three different things: Land, Pigs, and Women. So as long as you stay away from those three things you should be safe. It is important to consider especially when trekking in the Highlands that every inch of land there is owned by one or other clan who fiercely protect it. It is customary to give money to the people that own the land you are traversing. Therefore, it is always best to have someone experienced set up the deal with the locals before setting out. It can also be extremely helpful to have a guide from the area with you to avoid any misunderstandings (sometimes a few are needed since not all of them can safely travel through other clans land.) The payback skirmishes that happen occasionally is nothing for the tourist to be concerned about. There are even instances when tourists have been able to witness ongoing struggles between families without any harm coming to them, but as always, its better the err on the safe side and stay away from those areas.

Go next[edit]

This region travel guide to Highlands is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.