Melanesian Gallivant #3 – Port Moresby Nature Park

A cancelled flight and a consequent accommodation mix-up meant I only had one full free day in Port Moresby, the rest of the time being taken up with waiting for the hotel computer to say ‘yes’ and then having to find a pharmacy for medication for this damnable head cold I picked up in Honiara a few days ago.

But I wasn’t sick enough to justify lounging about the Port Moresby Hilton all day, so the front desk organised for an Uber to drive me around for half a day for a negotiated price of 200 kina, about $A75. A bit over the odds no doubt but I’m no good at haggling.

My beaten-up minibus arrived at the same time as a fleet of limos picking up some VIPs. I exited the Hilton in the middle of this impressive throng of blokes in suits and sunglasses and a few glossy, elegantly dressed women. I heard the word ‘minister’ and there were handshakes and smiles, some of them in my direction. It pays to be careful when you’re a politician – that scruffy old chook might be a journalist. You never know.

For my 200 kina I got a driver and another bloke, whose presence was never explained. I wouldn’t exactly call him a guide because his English was no better than the young driver’s. But they were genial fellows and their minibus had aircon, which was nice although Port Moresby seems significantly cooler and breezier than either Honiara and Nadi were.

First stop, the National Museum and Art Gallery. Open and FREE, according to its website.

Alas, when we got there, it was closed. Had been for a few months, according to the uniformed custodian (see above pic) who said there was a ‘smell’ problem that just couldn’t be fixed. Pity. I would have liked to see more of this striking indigenous architecture and design. And the wartime history. There was this plane wreck outside.

My other chosen destination was the Port Moresby Nature Park, and that turned out to be an absolute gem. It’s the only zoo in PNG and is ‘the single most successful conservation story in the Indian-Pacific region’, according to one online description. It was in a parlous state when an Australian couple with experience in zoo curation were invited by the governor of Port Moresby to come over and “tidy it up”. They managed to keep up the rescue and breeding programs through the Covid years when there was little money to feed the animals and the very real threat that local people, also suffering economically under Covid, might actually even raid the zoo for meat!

Tourists pay 22 kina entry fee, less than locals. A sign at the front desk explains that this is intended to support the park by encouraging local residents to visit, as well as tourists. I was happy to pay the extra. I just wish there were more visitors of both types here, although it was nice having the animals and the helpful staff almost to myself. But I do think this place should be massively supported.

The birds are spectacular. Clockwise from top left: Pesquet’s parrot, hornbill, bird of paradise (and see featured pic), southern cassowary (same as we have in Australia, I think) and the Victoria Crowned Pigeon, a kind of monster mutant turbo-charged version of the common pigeon on steroids. It’s got a coo like the rumble of a Harley-Davidson. In fact the bikie reference is spot-on. This big bruiser made me duck and squeal when it dive-bombed me from its perch.

Big bikie m***erf***ers of the pigeon family.

There are lots of species here we know in Australia, like bats (above) and macropods, reminding us that the island of New Guinea was once part of Gondwana. This tree kangaroo is the heaviest arboreal marsupial.

This is either a sleeping ringtail possum or a cuscus. I think the guide said possum but he looks more like a cuscus (which they do have here) when you go looking for a match on Google.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo, familiar to all Aussies these days, even in Tasmania where they aren’t native. Noisy, destructive little buggers, but I can’t help loving them. This one gave a shy ‘hello’ to this staff lady giving him a tickle.

I love this sign, which encourages Papua New Guineans to substitute fake feathers for the real thing in ritual headdress in order to save threatened bird species.

Pig-nosed turtle