With a history of gold mines and coffee plantations, the Eastern Highlands Province has had more exposure to European influence than any of the other Highlands provinces. The province has a history full of colourful characters, including, miners, missionaries, patrol officers and plantation owners. Traditional dress is seldom worn these days, although the Highlanders still live in villages of neat clusters of low-walled, round huts built amongst the rolling kunai-grass covered hills.
Goroka, a small outpost station in the 1950s, has developed into an attractive, well organised town with modern facilities and a relaxed atmosphere. It is a major Highlands commercial centre of 25,000 people and at an altitude of 1600 metres, it has a climate of perpetual spring.
Air Niugini has direct flights to Goroka from Port Moresby. Third level airlines also provide connections to Goroka from various centres.
Today Goroka has become known for its annual show, held every September. The show is a marvellous opportunity to gain an overview of PNGs cultural diversity. The shows were first held in the 1950s, as a means of gathering together the different tribes and clans. At times there could be more than 40,000 painted warriors dancing to the beat of the Kundu drums. The scenario was an amazing success and grew from its original concept of a local get-together into a major tourist attraction.
Flora and Fauna
Eleven kilometres from Goroka, the 80 hectare provincial park is set in beautiful mountain scenery, with great views, picnic shelters and clearly marked walking tracks. The park has a botanical sanctuary with rhododendrons and native plants from all over Papua New Guinea, two orchid houses and an information centre. The park also includes a botanical sanctuary, where exotic plants from all over the country have been added to the local, natural orchids and rhododendrons. There are clearly marked walking tracks and a lookout at 2450 metres, with panoramic views.
Lying at 1600m, this attractive town built around the airport, has pleasant temperatures for walking and is cool at night. On Saturdays, the market, on the side of the Highlands Highway, is very colourful and busy as people trade, fruit, vegetables, pigs, feathers, small animals, ferns and fungi. The Raun Raun Theatre is home to a Goroka-based theatre company. This circular building located in the park opposite the market, is the place to see live performances.
The JK McCarthy Museum has excellent displays of artefacts, pottery, weapons, war memorabilia and a collection of photos taken when Mick Leahy first came to the area in 1939. The museum is located across the airstrip, on Morchhauser Street.
Arts and crafts, baskets, highland hats, bilums, spears, bows and arrows and necklaces are available from the museum, from the footpath outside, and inside the lobby of the Bird of Paradise Hotel. Other places to look are the Christian Bookshop, the Prison Rehab Shop behind the Police Station and the art department of University of Goroka Teachers College.
A further attraction is the yearly festivals held in the province. The PNG Coffee Festival & Trade Fair which started in 2001 is held every May, while each year on Independence Day in mid-September, thousands of painted tribes people bedecked in feathers, grass skirts and other traditional costumes come together for a huge "sing sing". This festival includes ground-shaking dances, bands and other cultural attractions – a sight not to be missed.
Coffee Plantations: Tours of plantations and processing plants can be arranged and are a good way to see some of the outlying villages.
Asaro Mudmen: Villagers once used unique mud masks to scare their enemies. Speak to your accommodation hosts for more information.
Famito: This lush valley, 10km south of Goroka, has a 9-hole golf course, pretty villages, coffee plantations and a go-cart track.
Lufa: A cave near Lufa has interesting cave paintings and the village makes a good base for climbing Mount Micheal (3380m). It is recommended that travellers hire the services of a local guide.
Kainantu: Strung along the highway, this small town is a key service centre for the local coffee and cattle producers. Located on the Lae side of town, the Eastern Highlands Cultural Centre sells traditional crafts and has a small museum and coffee shop. The centre is open 8.00am – 4.30pm weekdays and 9.00am – 4.00pm weekends.
Ukurampa: The Summer Institute of Linguistics is based here in the Aiyura Valley, a 30-minute drive from Kainantu. Ukurampa is a pleasant place for day walks and accommodation is available at the Summer Institute of Linguistics guesthouse.
Okapa: Traditional culture can be seen in the nearby Yagusa Valley. In town, Highlands Handicrafts sells bark paintings and crafts typical of the area. The Eastern Highlands Mission has a guesthouse for those wanting to do walks, bird watching, see wildlife or visit villages.
Things to do
Bird watching/adventuring: For a remote experience, visit Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area, located in the south of Goroka. The friendly people of Herowana and Ubaigubi villages can act as guides. You can fly to Herowana or reach Ubaigubi by a long difficult road. Trekking between villages is only for the experienced.