Papua New Guinea with New Guinea Travel

By Sandy Fassett
This item appears on page 28 of the June 2020 issue.
A tribesman at the Tumbuna Sing Sing — Mt. Hagen, Papua New Guinea. Photo by Sandy Fassett

The year was 2005, and one of the trips my husband, Larry, and I had on our bucket list was Papua New Guinea. Shortly after seeing an advertisement in ITN promoting tourism to PNG, we wrote to the address given. The agent Greg Stathakis responded immediately with all the information we requested, and he was always available for further questions.

Due to out-of-state college tuition bills, a wedding, grandkids arriving and a few health issues, that dream trip was put on hold for several years. However, as we have done for other destinations, we collected articles from ITN in preparation for a possible future trip to Papua New Guinea.

When we took out our PNG folder in 2018 and contacted Greg, we were thrilled to find that he was still guiding tours (after 40 years!).

We signed on for a May 8-19, 2019, tour with New Guinea Travel (408 East Islay St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101; 800/676-1241,

Including flights within PNG but not the flight to Brisbane, Australia (where our group met), or the connecting flight to Port Moresby, PNG, the price of the trip was $9,666 per person, which may seem on the high side, but New Guinea Travel’s groups are small, and Greg is with them 24/7. And with several local guides always present, one feels safe and well looked after.

While waiting with great expectations to begin our wonderland adventure, we were amazed at the vast amount of information we received from Greg beforehand covering every aspect of the trip. He answered all our questions in detail.

This trip was, in many instances, like going back in time. We visited villages that rarely see outsiders and that have never had electricity or clean water. Their daily food is sago palm, fish and, occasionally, sweet potatoes.

Over time, Greg has earned the trust of locals in PNG, developing close relationships with them. He also hires locals to guide his tour groups, allowing visitors a look into each village’s daily life. We interacted with locals in places others will never have the opportunity to enjoy.

Sandy Fassett with a performer at the Tumbuna Sing Sing. Photo by Larry Fassett

During one question-and-answer period, a villager told us he had five wives and 20 children! At another village, while I was sitting down and enjoying the antics of a baby, other children gathered around and seemed fascinated with my gray hair while gently touching it.

When I stopped to rest under some shade while on a bush walk, a village woman rushed over to me and said, “No sit here. Coconut fall and hit you on head hard.” An important lesson learned!

I was 71 and my husband, 75. We, and everyone else in our group of 14, were always given close attention as to our comfort and well being. Greg is one of those special guides you rarely meet who cares deeply about both the country he’s sharing with you and your experiences while there. He even made arrangements to get our group a private tour of the National Museum & Art Gallery in Port Moresby when renovations had it closed for the month!

There were many activities during the day plus PNG nature movies to enjoy at night. We could choose to participate or just sit back and relax. We were always able to go at our own pace. In addition, tipping was not allowed, and we were never under any pressure to buy any type of souvenir.

The Tumbuna Sing Sing at Mt. Hagen was a great highlight for us. The festival is less crowded in May, and it’s not as hot then. There were almost no mosquitoes and there was little rain.

We also were able to watch the groups as they prepared for the show. Their performances on the field were spectacular! The performers came from all over the country, and all were unique. None of us were prevented from taking as many photos as we wanted, and there were no fences or borders between us and the performers. After the show, we were invited to have personal one-on-one time with them.

The Sepik River cruise part of the trip was an incredible adventure, offering gorgeous sunsets, abundant wildlife and visits to many villages that have seen little change in a hundred years. The cabins were spacious and air-conditioned, and the staff worked hard to make our time on the river enjoyable.

It would be impossible to overstate how unique this trip was. We’ve been to over 150 countries and can honestly say that Papua New Guinea is one of the most remote and fascinating destinations we’ve been to.

We returned home, far from a world that has no word for multitasking, a world without the complications and busyness of the life we have here. This was, without a doubt, a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Chesterfield, VA