PNG road trip – Goroka and Eastern Highlands

Goroka is an attractive town and a relatively quiet one (at least by Highlands standards) with plenty on offer for tourists in addition to the famous Goroka show that is held in September each year.

I spent a couple of days there in January 2010 as part of a road trip from Madang to Hagen. The entry below provides some details on a few of the attractions both within Goroka itself and nearby.

Goroka town

(JK McCarthy Museum, Mt Kis, Mt Gahavisuka, accommodation)

JK McCarthy Museum (K5/psn, near the Sport Institute): although it has obviously seen better days, this is a terrific museum and well worth an hour or two. There are about six large rooms that include WWII refuse and a range of traditional artifacts from various parts of PNG. However, perhaps the most interesting section is the large collection of photos of the Eastern Highlands taken in the 1930s and 1940s by Mick Leahy and others shortly after they first entered the Highlands.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the museum’s founder, JK McCarthy, lived and worked as a patrol officer and then administrator in PNG for more than 40 years between 1927 and the late-1960s. At various times he was posted in the Sepik, New Britain, Bougainville, Madang and the Highlands. He also wrotewrote one of the classic books on PNG patrolling – Patrol into Yesterday.

Phone: (675) 732 1502, Facsimilie: (675) 732 2987, Email: (Open 8-12 & 1-4 weekdays, 2-4 Sat & 10-12 Sun.)

Mt Kis Lookout: Mt Kis is near the centre of town and now has a shiny new Digicel tower at the summit. This doesn’t spoil the lookout, which affords great views over the town and valley and out towards the surrounding mountains. However, we were warned that the “Lookout” is also known as “Look Out!” because of the prevalence of trouble-makers nearby. So keep your wits about you or go with a guide. (We didn’t but fortunately were befriended by a helpful ex-security guard named Paul Papio who lives in the area.)

Mt Gahavisuka National Park (K20/psn + K25/vehicle): The National Park used to be run by the provincial government but several disputes with landowners mean that they now look after it themselves.  However, they don’t receive any funds from the  provincial government for upkeep and so the road and facilities (such as BBQ area and some huts for camping overnight) are now somewhat run-down. At the time we visited, it was certainly only accessible by 4WD.

Nonetheless, it is well worth the trip. There are several walking tracks that wind their way around the forest-covered mountain peak before finishing in views out over Goroka in one direction and towards Asaro in the other. Allow at least 45-60 mins round trip walking at a leisurely pace.

The right turn (if heading from Goroka) to Mt Gahavisuka is not sign-posted and is easy to miss. You may find it is best to ask your hotel to arrange a guide. Otherwise, it is about 3km from Independence Dr/Goroka marketsalong the highway. The turn-off is between “3 Mile” and “4 Mile”, which are both sign-posted.

Accommodation: we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Pacific Gardens Hotel, which is owned by colourful Governor of Eastern Highlands Province, Malcolm Smith-Kela (‘kela’ is pijin for bald …). The hotel is aptly named – the grounds are beautiful and are surrounded by tall trees, a running creek and lush vegetation. At night, guards with bows and arrows prowl the perimeter! It has also received positive reviews on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet.

Rooms: K375/nt for very nice “premium room” (double); K225/nt for perfectly satisfactory “standard room” (double). Phone: (675) 732 3418 / 732 1139, Email:

Nearby attractions

(Yonki dam, Kainantu Cultural Centre, SIL, Asaro mud men & Kamaliki Training Centre)

Yonki dam: The Yonki dam and hydropower station fills much of the Arona valley and is the main power source for Madang, Morobe, and much of the Highlands (or at least those parts that are connected to the grid). As you drive up the Highlands Highway from Lae, it is about 30 minutes beyond the junction with the Ramu Highway that connects up with Madang (ie, about 2.5-3 hours from Goroka). More info & pics available at Malum Nalu’s blog.

Kainantu Cultural Centre: The Cultural Centre is another worthwhile stopping point on the drive from Lae or Madang to Goroka. It is about an hour’s drive from the junction with the Ramu Highway, perhaps 30 minutes beyond Yonki and about 2 hours from Goroka.

Kainantu itself is a pretty rough looking town and didn’t get a great write-up in a recent article in the Post-Courier (19/12/09) which opened with:

Kainantu is notoriously known as an outlaw town and is often shunned by tourists and other local PNG natives passing through into the Highlands region. Tribal fights, attempted armed robbery, cold blooded murder and other types of lawlessness are rampant …

However, as the article goes on to describe, the Cultural Centre has a great range of locally made pottery, using clay from the nearby Bundaira and Arau areas. Vases and fruit bowls sell for K50 or less; and numerous different tea sets containing 11 cups, a teapot, a milk jug and sugar bowl sell for K180. Once again, journo and blogger Malum Nalu has more details and some terrific pictures of the pottery.

Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL): According to the Lonely Planet, SIL is situated at Ukarumpa in the Aiyura valley, about 30 mins past Kainantu (perhaps 1.5 hours from Goroka). SIL’s web site explains its objectives:

SIL PNG is dedicated to vernacular language development and translation of materials within the country of Papua New Guinea. We analyze and publish academic studies in hundreds of languages and promote literacy activities including the development of orthographies for unwritten languages.

SIL in PNG is a branch of SIL International, a volunteer nonprofit organization that has worked in PNG since 1956. In cooperation with the PNG Department of Education, research has been carried out in more than 389 languages, and at the present time about 316 SIL members are actively working on projects in 190 different languages.

Asaro mud men: There’s heaps of information about the famous mud men elsewhere so I’ll let you Google this yourselves. The left turn (if heading from Goroka) to Asaro village is about 20km from Independence Dr/Goroka markets along the highway. Generally the villagers need a day’s notice to prepare a performance for visitors so speak to your hotel to assist with the arrangements.

Kamaliki Vocational Training centre: I only know what I’ve read on Malum Nalu’s blog but it sounds like an interesting place.  Apparently the centre is about 10km out of Goroka (heading towards Lae).



2 Responses to “PNG road trip – Goroka and Eastern Highlands”

  1. Patrick Scarle Says:

    Hi all. If as I suspect this is the old primary school Kapakamarigi I was the first european teacher there in 1961. i woulld really like to have more information about this school if possible. i have a number of photos I took of the school and the local people and are any of the students from that time still living in the area?

  2. PNG trek – Highlands to the coast « Harry Greenwell Says:

    […] to Mt Wilhelm trek: Goroka is a beautiful part of the Highlands (see earlier post) and apparently there is an old road from Goroka through to the base of Mt Wilhelm that takes […]

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