How to survive Papua New Guinea

You may have noticed that I’ve been a quiet blogger over the past few weeks. The main reason for this is because I’ve been adventuring around the wild and dangerous country, Papua New Guinea. Actually, replace the word ‘adventuring’ with ‘working’, and the word ‘dangerous’ with ‘kinda cool’. The word ‘wild’ is still appropriate.

When I told my friends and family about the trip, their reactions were a mix of horror and concern. Papua New Guinea, or PNG, has a reputation of being a country you don’t want to visit, unless you’re proficient in the use of an AK47 and a machete (and I’m only proficient with a machete…). The nations capital, Port Moresby, is consistently ranked as one of the worst cities in the world to live in, with reports of theft, violence, and much worse happening every day. And since this was the first stop on my journey, the concern from my loved ones was understandable. I have to admit, I my own concerns as well.

But it turns out that PNG really isn’t that bad, as long as you keep your head (pun intended) and follow a few simple ground rules. To help you out, here’s my short survival guide for PNG.

Rule 1: Smile.
99% of the people in PNG are the friendliest folk on earth. Throw them a smile and you’ll usually get a wave and a great big glowing smile in return. It’ll also weed out the 1% of folk who want to rob you instead. They won’t smile

Rule 2: Don’t step in the bright orange puddles.
In fact, don’t step on bright orange anything. It’s Buai, and you don’t want to know where it’s been.

Rule 3: Keep your eyes open.
Seems basic, since most people have their eyes open when not asleep. What I mean is be aware of your surroundings. Part of this refers to safety, sincethere’s potential danger around each corner, which can be easily avoided if you keep out of dangerous areas. But it also refers to the scenery – once you get out of the cities, there is some amazing country to be seen, which is sometimes easy to miss through the metal bars around your transport truck (seriously,to prevent machetes and spears from breaking the windows. Yep)

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Rule 4: Eat!
Another basic rule (survival shouldn’t be complex after all). Before I went I was told not to expect much from the local food, and there are some places where this is all too true. But you can also find some of the freshest fish, most tender beef (raised on palm oil, gloriously decadent), and the tastiest vegetables (totally organic as well, since they can’t afford chemicals) that you’re likely to find anywhere. And the fruit, don’t even get me started on the fruit…

Rule 5: Drink plenty of the local beer! (it’s a beer blog,surely you saw this coming)
There’s three local beers that you can get; SP Lager, South Pacific Export, and Niugini Ice. All three are brewed by the same brewery, South Pacific Brewery, which is somehow linked to Heineken. So each beer is slightly different lager, with marketing being the major difference between them.

The SP Lager is the most commonly found, and is the drink of the working class. The PNG nationals are fiercely loyal to it, with billboards and signs with the slogan “Our Beer” being seen all over the place.

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I can can understand this loyalty – SP actually has a decent flavour! Old world hops provide a spicy bitterness which, when coupled with the light biscuity malt, provides a thirst quenching sensation more like a pilsner than a pale lager. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they also don’t use preservatives in the brewing process, because I never once ended up with a hangover! Just make sure you order it properly – either ask for a ‘green can’ or a ‘brown bottle’, depending on your preference.

The South Pacific Export is the more ‘upmarket’ version of SP, aimed at the expat community and those who want to be seen to have more money. It costs more, isn’t abbreviated to SP, and comes in a fancy green Euro style glass bottle. But that’s as upmarket as things get, with the taste being exactly what you’d expect from a beer in a green bottle. It’s bland, and the small amount of flavour that is present is too sweet. Do what the locals do, stick to the SP.

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The third, Niugini Ice, is the ‘cool’ choice. It has a surprisingly sexy label, comes in a clear glass bottle, and is drunk by the younger nightclub crowd (yeah, I went clubbing in Port Moresby, but that’s a story to be told over a few beers). As far as flavour goes…well, it comes in a clear glass bottle. The less said about Niugini Ice, the better.

So there you have it, 5 simple rules to follow if you ever find yourself in PNG. It’s probably best not to consider this as a true survival guide (consult someone who actually knows what they’re on about for that, or maybe watch ‘Man vs Wild’), but if you follow my advice then you’ll at least have a good time (or at least have a good beer) in what is an intriguing country.

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6 thoughts on “How to survive Papua New Guinea

  1. Last tried SP in ’72 at the Madang golf club. It was then a generic Ozzie lager, and not too different to Tooths or Fosters. Tried some brown stubby SP today, for the first time in 41yrs. It’s like a Japanese style dry lager, with rice malt for dryness. However, it’s heavily laced with Pride of Ringwood hops, from Tassie, and done with a short boil of about 20min. Very sharp tasting, a bit like tonic water. That’s so you can still taste it while kai-ing the buai!

    Melanesia and Polynesia are not the greatest places for exotic foods. Anyway, fried galip nuts and pit pit (the coastal variety) from PNG are very interesting things, you won’t have tasted before. Pit pit is also found in Fiji, but is seasonal. Polynesian palusami is coconut butter wrapped in several types of leaves and baked for and hour or so. Very unusual herbal taste.

    • Sounds like you’ve had much more time in PNG than my meager 9 days! Thanks for the insight into the brewing process – I agree with the sharp flavour, but I’d much prefer a sharp flavour to no flavour at all. Maybe next time I go I’ll have the chance to be more adventurous with my food options as well

    • I don’t live in Sydney, so I don’t know which bottle shops carry what beers. I do know that the Dan Murphy’s stores in Brisbane carry SP, so you might want to start with your local Dan’s? Good luck!

  2. Have to disagree with the author regarding Niugini ICE, it’s delicious, flavoursome, crisp and refreshing – goes down fast, especially when waiting at Jacksons Airport. Don’t let another’s opinion (sorry Nick) set you back from trying this, it’s certainly well worth a shot if you can get your hands on it. 🙂

    • No need to apologise at all! I agree that everyone should try any new beer that they want, and form their own opinion. I’d personally rather have a few SP ‘Green tins’, due to the high turnover less chance of skunking…but that’s just me

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