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Birdwatching in Papua New Guinea

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Image Credit: Khaligo, Pixabay

Birdwatching in Papua New Guinea is not for the faint of heart. It can be challenging because of the rugged landscape, unpredictable earthquakes, and tropical climate. However, travelers to this oceanic country will be rewarded with some of the most incredible birding on the planet. There are 38 varieties of birds of paradise alone. Scientists continue to identify new animal species¹.

Our guide will cover some of the must-see spots in Papua New Guinea. We’ll also provide travel tips for birdwatchers going to more remote locations like this country.

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Top Birdwatching Hotspots in Papua New Guinea

1. Port Moresby

 

Type of spot Urban with surrounding savannas, grasslands, and forests
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Plumed Whistling Ducks, Raggiana Birds-of-Paradise, Nankeen Night Heron, Little Pied Cormorants
Fee n/a
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/varirata-national-park

Port Moresby is where most people start their expedition. It is the capital and largest city. However, it contains diverse habitats, offering excellent birding opportunities. The Varirata National Park is a popular birding site for locals and travelers. It is accessible by road and includes a wide variety of species, including five of the 38 birds of paradise varieties.

The breeding season is April through October, giving you the best chance to see the birds in their full, colorful plumage. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to spot other wildlife, such as forest wallabies. The park is user-friendly and well-maintained. Its information center is located outside of the park in Sogeri.

Pros
  • Diverse habitats
  • Beautiful overlooks
  • Suitable for beginners
Cons
  • Lots of bugs
  • Best visited with a local guide

2. Tabulil

 

Type of spot Lowland rainforest
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Queen Carola’s Parotia, Flame Bowerbird, Blue-Jewel Babbler,
Fee n/a
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

Tabubil is located at the bottom of the Star Mountains. Transportation is by air and then driving to the spot. The Ok Tedi River is an excellent place to stop. Thanks to the copper and gold mine, there are usable roads to explore the area. That’s a good thing since you have the opportunity to see over 300 bird species here if you’re lucky. The dense forests make spotting them hard sometimes.

The town is one of the wettest places on Earth. Be prepared for rain. It accounts for the dense vegetation, which can sometimes make travel difficult. You’ll likely see many unique animals other than birds while touring this area.

Pros
  • Abundant bird life
  • Fun boating excursions available
  • Magnificent waterfall views
Cons
  • Challenging for some people
  • Some inaccessible prime birdwatching sites

3. Kiunga

 

Type of spot Lowland rainforest
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Flame Bowerbird, Large Fig Parrot, Magnificent Bird of Paradise, Chestnut-Backed Jewel Babbler
Fee n/a
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

Kiunga is a town in the Western Province of the country, where over half of the bird life resides. The area is remote and remarkably pristine. However, the lowland rainforests and swamps will reward your efforts to explore this rugged landscape. While you can get to this site by car, birdwatching is on foot or boat. It is much smaller than the nearby Tabubil yet worth the trip, nevertheless.

The key to birding in the Kiunga area is patience. If you sit still for a while, you’ll catch glimpses of some of the more stunning birds that live here, including the Superb Fruit Dove, if you’re lucky.

Pros
  • Abundant diversity of birds
  • Beautiful landscapes
  • Possible sightings of less common species
Cons
  • Not easily accessible for all people

4. Middle Sepik River

 

Type of spot Lowland rainforest
Difficulty Level Easy to moderate
Common birds seen New Guinea Harpy Eagle, Northern Cassowary, Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise, Spotted Whistling Duck
Fee Guided tours available
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

The Middle Sepik River is the place to visit if you want to see wetland species. It’s the longest in New Guinea. Of course, there are crocodiles, too. Your best birding is by boat to get to the more inaccessible areas. The river is navigable through most of its length. The surrounding area and basin are virtually undisturbed, offering unique birding opportunities.

Karawari Lodge offers comfortable lodging in this otherwise undeveloped site. About 229 avian species¹ have been recorded on its grounds. Its ridgetop location has beautiful views of the forested landscape.

Pros
Cons
  • Mainly boat-access only

5. Mount Hagen

 

Type of spot Montane rainforests
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia, Black-Throated Robin, Blue Bird of Paradise, Island Leaf Warbler
Fee Guided bird tours start at K40.00 (ca 11.35 USD)
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

The name of the city of Mount Hagen comes from the extinct volcano in the area. It’s known for its annual cultural event. The best accommodations are at the Kumul Lodge¹. Luckily, it’s also an excellent place to birdwatch with its guided trails. They also offer paid guided birding tours. You might even catch a glimpse of a Brehm’s Tiger Parrot or White-Shouldered Fairywren.

The nearby Baiyer River Wildlife Sanctuary is located north of the town. The 1,830-acre nature reserve is home to 185 bird species. However, travel is not advised at this time at the undeveloped site.

Pros
  • Comfortable lodging
  • Birding on-site
  • Suitable for beginners
Cons
  • Average roads
  • Not safe in all places

6. Fly and Elevala Rivers

 

Type of spot Streams and swamp forests
Difficulty Level Moderate
Common birds seen Collared Imperial Pigeon, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Shining Flycatcher, Twelve-Wired Bird of Paradise
Fee Guided tours available
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

The Fly and Elevala Rivers offer more viewing opportunities for wetland birds and waterfowl. A guided boat tour is one of the best ways to spot the abundant birdlife. The rivers snake through swamps where hundreds of birds congregate under their shade. The shrieks and calls of parrots¹ fill the air. There are some walking trails, but they aren’t always maintained.

The rivers and the shorelines provide habitat for life listers, such as the elusive Papuan Babbler and the Little Paradise Kingfisher.

Pros
  • Wide variety of waterfowl and wetland species
  • Some trail access
  • Uncommon and rare bird sightings
Cons
  • Accessible by boat
  • Buggy

7. Waigeo, Salawati, and Batanta

 

Type of spot Forested islands
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Western Crowned-Pigeon, King Bird of Paradise, Red Bird of Paradise, Palm Cockatoo
Fee Guided tours available
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

Waigeo, Salawati, and Batanta are three islands worth a visit if just for an opportunity to add the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise to your life list. The land is mainly undisturbed forests, sometimes making for challenging hikes. Getting to the islands is also a chore, with your best chances with a chartered boat. There are some accommodations for visitors, but not like the lodges on the mainland.

The locals can guide you to the best spots for even the rarest of birds. The undistributed nature of the islands makes for excellent birdwatching, particularly if you’re patient and find out where the birds display.

Pros
  • Rare bird sightings possible
  • Pristine environment
  • Suitable for birders looking for an adventure
Cons
  • Difficult travel

8. Tari – Southern Highlands

 

Type of spot Montane rainforest
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Brown Sicklebill, Blue Bird of Paradise, Dwarf Cassowary, Lawe’s Parotia, Ribbon-Tailed Astrapia
Fee Guided tours available
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

Tari in the Southern Highlands had remained relatively undisturbed until well into the 20th century. It’s one of the reasons it’s a destination for birdwatchers today. Ambua Lodge is the best place for accommodations and to arrange guided tours. The site is home to 217 species¹ and is alive with the sound of birds everywhere.

The lodge overlooks Tari Valley and offers incredible views. It is a bird lover’s paradise with tours led by local guides available. The hikes are sometimes difficult yet rewarding.

Pros
  • Abundant birdlife
  • Beautiful scenic views
  • Suitable for intermediate to advanced birders
Cons
  • Challenging hiking for some people

9. New Britain

 

Type of spot Forested island
Difficulty Level Moderate to challenging
Common birds seen Bismarck Kingfisher, Melanesian Scrub Fowl, New Britain Boobook, Golden Masked Owl
Fee Guided tours available
Website https://www.papuanewguinea.travel/bird-watching

The air of New Britain is filled with the sounds of parrots and other birds welcoming you when you reach the island. Hiking is sometimes challenging, especially if you tackle any of the volcanoes. The area boasts several endemic and rare species due to its location. Several satellite islands offer more birdwatching.

The Pokili and Garu Wildlife Management Areas are must-see destinations for viewing more exotic birds. The Walindi Plantation Resort¹ on Kimbe Bay offers high-quality accommodations and decent birdwatching.

Pros
  • Many endemic and exotic birding opportunities
  • Abundant wildlife
  • Excellent accommodations available
Cons
  • Accessible by boat

hummingbird dividerHabitats and Climate of Papua New Guinea

The climate of Papua New Guinea is mainly tropical. You’ll find various terrestrial ecoregions, including freshwater swamps, lowland rain forests, and savannas. Higher elevations are colder and home to ecozones like subalpine grasslands. The mean annual maximum temperature of the lowlands can get up to 90°F¹, with minimums hovering around 73℉.

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Getting Around in Papua New Guinea

Traveling through Papua New Guinea is often tricky, especially in the lowland rainforests in the southern part of the country. There are also the mountainous New Guinea Highlands that cuts a west-southeast swath. The north section has some unstable volcanic activity.  It’s also worth noting that over 86%¹ of the country’s population is rural.

hummingbird dividerFAQ

Is it safe to travel in Papua New Guinea?

It’s best to explore Papua New Guinea with a guide or on a birding tour if just to have someone who knows the area and can speak the language. Bear in mind there are about 850 languages¹ spoken on this island nation. Travel is primarily by foot or air. However, several waterways criss cross around the country. We suggest relying on common sense when traveling in any new place.

We strongly urge you to check the latest status on any US State Department travel advisories¹. Currently, the agency does not recommend visiting Papua New Guinea because of civil unrest.

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Image Credit: fsHH, Pixabay

What vaccinations do I need to travel there?

You will need proof of vaccinations for cholera and yellow fever. We recommend ensuring you have a polio vaccination. You should also bring anti-malarial medication with you as you would when visiting any tropical area. We suggest checking for updates on any COVID-related regulations.

When is the best time to visit Papua New Guinea?

The dry season from June through October is an ideal time to plan your trip. You’ll find travel much easier than during the wet seasons. Areas such as the south slopes of the Highlands and New Britain often receive torrential amounts of rain during the monsoons, sometimes exceeding 300 inches¹. The northwest monsoon¹ runs from December to March, and the southeast, May to October.

hummingbird dividerConclusion

A birding trip to Papua New Guinea is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of the most beautiful and rare birds on the planet. Many tours require hiking to get to the hotspots, making it a fitness journey, too. A stunning array of avian diversity awaits, with some so colorful and unusual that you may hardly think they’re real. If you’re up for the challenge, this country has a lot to offer.


Featured Image Credit: Khaligo, Pixabay

About the Author Chris Dinesen Rogers

Chris has been writing since 2009 on a variety of topics. Her motto with all of her writing is “science-based writing nurtured by education and critical thinking.” Chris specializes in science topics and has a special love for health and environmental topics, and animals of all shapes and sizes.

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