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With around 20,000 people, Goroka is the capital of the Eastern Highlands province of PNG. It is 1,600 m (5,200 ft) above sea level and blessed with a very pleasant, spring-like climate all year round.
A university town and a base for several NGOs and institutes like the partially internationally funded Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, Goroka is somewhat less off the beaten path than rural PNG in general. For tourists, the town is best known for the Goroka Show cultural event, which draws visitors from near and far every September, though it does have natural and cultural attractions that can be enjoyed around the year.
Goroka's 1 airport is in the centre of town and you can check in and then walk back downtown for a drink while waiting for your plane. Car rental is available at the airport. Air Niugini and Airlines PNG both have twice daily flights from the nation's capital, Port Moresby. Port Moresby, in turn, has flights from Australia, East and Southeast Asia and a few other Oceanian countries.
By road, Goroka is on the "Highlands Highway", about 285 km (177 mi) west of Lae, 90 km (56 mi) west of Kainantu and some 180 km (110 mi) east of Mount Hagen. While this is the main road of the Highlands, frequent landslides, potholes and armed bandits make road travel a risky enterprise.
The centre of town near the airport, market, shops and Bird of Paradise Hotel is easy to walk around and fairly safe, although it can feel otherwise as it is crowded with people. There are some reliable taxi drivers around and the hotels and resorts will be able to provide drivers.
- 1 J.K. McCarthy Museum, Airport Road. Highly variable hours - never sure when it's open. Set up by and named after a long-time Australian patrol officer in PNG, the museum has seen better days but, nevertheless, is well worth a visit. There are several large rooms that include World War II relics and many traditional artifacts from PNG. The most interesting section is arguably the collection of photos taken in the 1930s by the first Australians to enter the Highlands. K5.
- 2 Rugby League, football field opposite the market. League is PNG's national sport and most days there will be multiple games being played at the sports ground.
- 3 Raun Raun Theatre, in the north of the town. Performances are irregular and possibly infrequent (you have to be lucky to catch one), though the building itself is an interesting landmark looking somewhat like a collection of traditional huts fused together to form one big building.
- The Goroka Show. This sing-sing (traditional tribal gathering) is the major cultural event of the PNG Highlands and takes place during a few days around 16 September when the country celebrates its independence. The show brings together people from over 100 tribes in traditional costumes who gather for music, dancing and displays of tribal rituals. Accommodation is at a premium and you may have to fly in or drive from nearby towns. Tour companies offer trip packages to Goroka during this time, though it is possible to get there independently and buy tickets for the performances a couple days before the event.
- 1 Asaro village. About 20 km (12 mi) north-west from Goroka is the village of Asaro from where the well-known mudmen originate. The villagers are happy to deliver the "mudmen" performance, let you try on the masks, and answer any questions related to their culture. Arrange the trip through your hotel in Goroka.
- 2 Walks. There are a lot of potential walks in the hills around Goroka. Some areas, like the road to Mt Kiss, are considered no-go areas, but guides will be able to advise on safe routes. If you are staying at the Pacific Gardens, you can access Mt Kiss by going up to the houses at the southeast corner (no. 28-31) then going up some metal stairs to a steep slippery path that leads to a guardhouse on the fence. From there, a flatter path follows the inside of the fence halfway up the mountain and gives good views over the town and valley. It should be safe on the inside of the fence but the guards will be happy to escort you. There is one safe walk (2 hours return) that follows the road north-east past the Pacific Gardens Hotel towards a river, canal and weir. Stay on the main road except where there is a junction where the main road goes straight/left and another road goes to the right up a steep hill. At the top of this hill, you can cross over a small canal and walk a hundred metres back towards town along the canal to a good lookout, then turn back to the steep road and follow it on to the river.
- 3 Mt Gahavisuka Provincial Park (11 km (6.8 mi) west along the Highlands Highway). Nature park filled with birds and animals, with a few walking tracks, including a 2-hour walk to the top of the mountain. May require a guide. There may also be a lodge in the park.
- 4 Daulo Pass. You can drive 20 km (12 mi) (40 minutes) west along the Highlands Highway to Daulo Pass, a section of twisting roads with good views.
- 1 Main Market (just northwest of the airport next to the football ground). Early to late, daily. Unlike many things in PNG, fresh fruit and vegetables can be bought fairly cheap and at good quality. The market has a big selection of seasonal produce, including a huge collection of leafy greens. Fixed prices are listed by each item (use coins or K2 notes as sellers have limited change) and you need to take your own bag. Clothes and household goods are also sold at the markets and there are a couple of small supermarkets next door.
- 2 Bilum Market, in front of the Provincial Headquarters, next to the Bird of Paradise Hotel. Hundreds of colourful bilums are hung from the fence of the Provincial Headquarters. Basic string bilums (good for the market) start at K30 while fancier handbag-style bilums start at K50. Haggling is not the norm but you may get discounts for multiple purchases or if they are desperate.
There are several supermarkets in town, including Bintangor opposite the Bird of Paradise (open every day to 18:30 except 18:00 on Sunday) and Papindo at the back of the same block. Brian Bell (closes M-F at 5PM, Saturday at noon), on the west side of the airport, is best for homewares and there are many smaller Chinese-run stores with various goods.
Most large stores accept credit cards (but be aware of occasional fraud) and there are ATMs at the major banks, including Westpac and ANZ. There is an ATM inside the Bird of Paradise that does not charge fees, although it is intended for guests only.
Most restaurants are located in hotels.
- Deck Bistro, in the Bird of Paradise Hotel, ☏ . 6:30-10AM, 11:30AM-2:30PM, 6-10PM. Themed buffets that are reasonable, Enzo's Pizza and other east/west meals. Said to be the best restaurant in town but that's not saying much. K60.
- 1 Mandarin, Elizabeth St (opposite Bird of Paradise Hotel, next to Bintangor Supermarket), ☏ . Lunch and dinner. Chinese restaurant. Has a takeaway booth for snacks.
- 2 The Steak House, Airport Road, in Hotel Phoenix (south of the entrance to the airport - go to the back of the compound with the sign), ☏ . Leathery steak and other dishes in a pleasant setting overlooking a pool (which can get noisy). From K25.
- 3 Papindo (at the back of the block that has Bintangor Supermarket and Mandarin Restaurant). This supermarket has a decent cafeteria-style restaurant inside with things like sandwiches, burgers and Filipino dishes. K5-20.
- Pacific Gardens Hotel, Mokara Street North. The other big hotel has a restaurant situated next to a creek and forest. Food's probably a little worse than the Bird of Paradise though and the service is comical.
- Deck Bistro and Birdys Bar, in the Bird of Paradise Hotel. Two bars within the hotel, one is the bistro on a deck overlooking trees and mountains and is good in late afternoon (also does good espresso) and the other is inside near the entrance and is more of a cocktail and sports bar. An easy place to meet expats and travelling PNG people. There is a third bar ("DJ Bar") with an entrance from the outside aimed at locals that might be unsafe without local friends. 10AM-10PM.
- Bottle Shops. These are generally pretty bad in Goroka. The best wine and spirits place has shut down. There are reports of a place with a reasonable wine selection in the suburbs but you can still expect poorly-stored plonk at high prices. Bintangor and Papindo have alcohol counters (Papindo's is around the side) with very limited selections like a case of beer for K120 and up, a bottle of gin for K160, or bottles of wine.
- 1 Bird of Paradise Hotel, Corner Elizabeth & McWilliam St., ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. The main hotel in Goroka. Rooms have TV and bathrooms and Wi-Fi Internet access. The hotel has a restaurant and several bars, it also features a swimming pool, a fitness room, squash court and conference and event facilities. Standard rooms K350, premier rooms K450.
- 2 Lutheran Guesthouse. Cheap and clean rooms just a short walk away from the center. Breakfast (fresh fruits) included. Dinner for K25 extra.
- 3 Pacific Gardens, Mokara St, North Goroka (a few minutes drive from town), ☏ , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The other main hotel in town, in a quieter location. Rooms are equipped with bathrooms and the hotel advertises Internet access. The hotel has a bar and restaurant, gift shop, currency exchange and dry cleaning laundry as well as conference facilities. They also offer complimentary airport transfer. rates are apparently available upon request.
- 4 Hotel Phoenix, Setion 106, Allotment 1,2,3 Airport Road (across the street from the airport terminal), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Standard rooms are equipped with bathroom, fridge and TV. Wi-Fi is available. The hotel has a pool, conference facilities and a restaurant, and can provide laundry services and tours. . Standard rooms from K350 (including breakfast).
- Mt Wilhelm — Goroka is a convenient starting point for an ascent of PNG's highest mountain, Mt Wilhelm. The base camp for the mountain is at Keglsugl. This is about five hours by road from Goroka and there is a guest house, Betty's Lodge, with 37 beds (☏ this company. , fax: ☏ ). For the affluent, charter flights to Keglsugl airstrip, at 8,000 ft (2,400 m), may be possible. The mountain is at 14,793 ft (4,509 m) and the climb and descent involves an overnight stay on the mountain. You may be close to the Equator, but temperatures can drop way below freezing at the summit. Taking a local guide is essential. Organized treks are available, for example from
- Kainantu is on the "Highlands Highway" approximately 90 km (56 mi) by road from Goroka. It is home to the Eastern Highlands Cultural Centre and Museum and is well-known for its pottery. Kainantu is 11 km (6.8 mi) from the nearby missionary station of Ukarumpa. This houses the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which aims to translate the Bible into all of Papua New Guinea's numerous languages. Accommodation is available at the 22-room Kainantu Lodge (☏ , fax: ☏ ).
- Kundiawa is the capital of Chimbu Province. It is on the Highlands Highway approximately half way between Goroka and Mt. Hagen, the capital of Western Highlands province.