From the lowland rainforest, to alpine grasslands, and the shrouded misty peaks, Western Highlands Province is a land of colour and vibrancy. The capital city, Mt Hagen, is a bustling commercial centre where wealth from coffee and tea plantations has brought rapid change to traditional life style. Old and new ways live curiously together, not always harmoniously. Mt Hagen has a reputation as the wild frontier of the Highlands.
The Saturday market in Mt Hagen is a focal point of local life and provides a meeting place for traders from all over the province. It is a kaleidoscope of fruit and vegetables, birds, animals and people in bright shirts and skirts; some wearing flowers or grass in their hair. The men traditionally wear a long beard and the women wear an array of brilliant scarves and carry their brightly coloured string bags. These bags, called bilums, are used to carry everything from babies to firewood and are made by treading an entire length of string through each loop. Traditionally the string is made from tree bark, although these days many women buy synthetic yarn from the local stores for their bilums. Handicrafts can also be found at the Western Highlands Cultural Centre in Mt Hagen. It features a reconstructed village hut and has a museum with exhibits of artefacts and curios.
Singsings are held regularly throughout the province. The Mt Hagen market is an opportune place to purchase traditionally made bilums. These are gatherings of clans in traditional costume where ritualistic dancing and singing is performed for ceremonial reasons. However there are many opportunities throughout the year to watch a ceremonial singsing.
Things to See
Set in the large Wahgi Valley, with its neat villages, gardens, coffee plantations and groves of casuarinas, this busy town has a wild-west feel about it. All main banks and airlines have offices here. The market, located at the corner of Wahgi Parade and Kum Road, is the place to see colourfully attired locals, particularly on Saturdays, as well as fresh produce, pigs, feathers, and maybe cassowaries.
Mount Hagen Show: The most popular time to visit Mt Hagen is the third weekend in August, when the annual show is held. Hundreds of different Highland tribes are represented, each wearing their distinctive tribal head dresses of feathers and flowers and body paint. It is a wonderful opportunity to see a glimpse of the richness of traditional Highland’s social structure.
Art & craft: Traditional weapons, bilums and Highlands’ hats, decorated with cuscus fur, are available from the larger hotels and around the town. The Cultural Centre has a reconstructed village hut and a museum with artefacts.
Archeological Sites: The Kuk Valley is a site where land was first cultivated for gardening. Check with the Cultural Centre or hotels for permission to visit.
Things to Do
Walking / trekking: Walks of various lengths can be done from Haus Poroman Lodge, through forest or to villages and plantations. Longer and more strenuous hikes can be taken from the city to the towering peaks of Mount Hagen (3791m), Mount Ongo, Mount Kubor, Mount Kini Kaino Ku, and Mount Giluwe (4368m). Trans Niugini Tours, on Kongin Street behind the hospital, can also organise tours and treks, as well as Paradise Adventure Tours.
Birdwatching: Baiyer River Wildlife Sanctuary, north of Mount Hagen, is one of the best places to see Papua New Guinea’s colourful birds of paradise.
Click here to view accommodation listing in the Western Highlands Province
Air Niugini and other third-level airlines provide flights to Kagamuga Airport from Port Moresby. They also provide connections to Mt Hagen from other centres in PNG.