You don’t hear much about Port Moresby as a travel destination. You don’t hear much about the city at all, for that matter, apart from it being rife with violent crime.
But is there more to the city than the rumours convey? Is it worth a visit?
The founding of Port Moresby
Port Moresby (by the way, locals refer to the city as Pom, or Moresby; in Tok Pisin it’s Pot Mosbi) is the ancestral home of the Motu-Koitabu people. The Motu were traders, and they sailed up and down the Papuan Gulf, exchanging clay pots for sago (a practise that is celebrated in the annual Hiri Moale Festival at Ela Beach).
The first European on the scene was the British Captain John Moresby, who arrived at the small Motu trade port in 1873, and promptly named the settlement after his father, as you do.
In 1884 the British government established a protectorate over the southeast quarter of New Guinea, which was known thenceforward as British New Guinea (the northeast quarter of New Guinea came under German control at more or less the same time – the western half of the island had been under Dutch control since 1828).
During WWII Port Moresby served as a major Allied base, and was home to thousands of troops. Following WWII, the territories of British New Guinea and German New Guinea were unified, with Port Moresby its capital.
In 1975 Papua New Guinea became independent, prompting the construction of a suite of new government buildings in the suburb of Waigani.
Amongst the mix are the Parliament Building (seen above), the National and Supreme Court, the National Museum, the National Library, and the Australian and New Zealand High Commissions.
The Pineapple Building
Many of the government buildings in Waigani fell victim to neglect over the decades and have since been abandoned.
But it isn’t all bad news; in recent years several of these buildings, including Marea Haus (commonly known as the Pineapple Building), have been repaired and restored.
Port Moresby Nature Park
If you find yourself in Port Moresby with a spare day on your hands, then I highly recommend a visit to the Port Moresby Nature Park (formerly the National Botanic Gardens), situated on the outskirts of the capital.
Local animal species that call the park home include birds of paradise, cassowaries, dorcopsis, and tree kangaroos. Read all about the Nature Park in my post here.
Ela Beach is a picturesque strip of waterfront in downtown Port Moresby.
It’s also the venue for the Hiri-Moale Festival.
Hiri Moale Festival, Independence Day
If you are heading to Port Moresby, then why not plan your visit to coincide with the Hiri-Moale Festival, held each year on Independence Day (the 16th of September)?
The Hiri-Moale Festival celebrates the epic sea voyages undertaken by the Motu people in years past.
During the day up to 100 lakatoi canoes descend upon Ela Beach. There is a street fair, and various cultural demonstrations. It was definitely my favourite experience in the Papua New Guinean capital.
Is Port Moresby safe?
The only way I can responsibly answer this is to say: no, Port Moresby is not safe. Most establishments frequented by expats will be surrounded by razor wire fences, and complemented by a full-time security force. Walking around the streets of the capital by yourself is not recommended. Carjacking is a real threat, and coming to stop at traffic lights at night is discouraged. The crime and violence of the city is real.
Make sure you get sound advice from someone who knows the lie of the land before venturing out on your own.