“How much money should I change into Kina?” I asked Kaelah before we departed on the cruise. Neither of has had any idea. I had read bits of my Papua New Guinea guide book about the areas we were visiting, and it didn’t have much to say about shopping or souvenirs. We had little to no idea how much development there would be in the places we were visiting, and whether or not we would want to buy anything there anyway. I decided to change $200 Australian dollars into Kina which I assumed would be more than enough, and that I would probably end up changing some of it back upon my return. Spoiler alert: not only did I spend all my Kina, but I even ended up in debt to my friends after borrowing their Kina.
We had a hard time finding information about what to buy in each port, and even testimonials from people who had been on the one cruise which visited these stops the year prior were not reliable. Many people told us, “oh there is nothing to buy at all at the next stop.” Lies.
Every stop we went to was so incredibly different. PNG is an extremely culturally diverse country with over 800 ethnic groups. So it’s no surprise that the impromptu markets that greeted us in each destination where also incredibly diverse. A guide like this is necessary in PNG. If you see an item you like, you can not assume that it will be available at your next destination. Because it probably wont.
Alatoa was the first stop and the one place where extensive local markets were not set up. There were several locals selling items near the whaft, but it wasn’t the all out affair that we found in other places. Alatoa was the largest and most developed town that we visited, which makes it easy to strike off and explore for yourself. We found a little hotel with a waterfront bar located about half way between the cruise ship and the central market area which had a little gift shop attached. This is the only place in PNG to get tourist kitsch like fridge magnets and tea towels. So if you have the obligatory fridge magnet to buy for someone back home (like we did) then this is the place to do it.
We went on a shore tour in Madang to see a local cultural performance on the grounds of a large hotel. Just outside where the event was taking place was a huge congregation of artists selling paintings on un-stretched canvas. The works were amazing, and both Holly and I bought one. And I’m glad we did too, because Madang was the only spot we saw people selling paintings.
Wewak was a very unique destination given it’s proximity to a hugely cultural diverse region of the Sepik river. Large groups from all different tribes had come down the river to sell their wares to tourists. Most of the items found here were hand made masks and other ceremonial items. You could buy head dresses here, necklaces of crocodile teeth, and I even saw one person selling a mud man mask.
I bought three different masks here which I hung in my stair way and which now terrify me pretty much every day.
Rabaul has several spread out points of interest including the volcano and some Japanese war relics. At every stop, there were locals selling crafts. A lot of the stuff for sell in Rabual were handmade shell jewellery of the type you expect to find on a Pacific Island. Not much of it appealed to me. However, there is one local designer called LavaGirl selling some really good quality coconut and shell jewellery and is worth keeping an eye out for.
Rabaul was also the nest place for buying PNG caps or shirts. I bought Jake a PNG shirt here, as kids ones were in short supply.
This is the best place that we stopped in for buying wooden carved items. The market here was HUGE. I only saw about a third of it, and had to stop looking as I quickly spent all my money, all Kaelah’s money and had run out of money to borrow. This is the place to buy beautiful carved walking sticks. The sticks are incredible pieces of art and can take months to carve the intricate designs and figures. There are a lot of artisans selling walking sticks, so make sure you do some comparative shopping.
Kirawina is also a great place to buy drums. I ran out of money so was very jealous of Holly’s drum purchase. The little drum was carved like a lizard with a wide open mouth. And the drum skin was actually lizard skin. It made a beautiful sound and was such a unique art piece as well.
Stock up on kina for your visit to Kirawina island.
The market on Doini Island wasn’t that impressive, but it was a good place to get rid of the rest of my Kina. It was our last stop, and the road from the dock to the market was lined with school groups and family groups dressed in traditional costumes and dancing in exchange for donations. They all had signs detailing what they were fundraising for. School groups would fundraise for supplies or money for excursions. While there were some families there fundraising for weddings, or birthdays and medical expenses. I highly recommend that if you are going to take photos of the performers, that you should also make a donation.
I wasn’t interested in much at the market on Doini Island, but this was the only place along our stops were I saw carved wooden spears and arrows for sale.