Tripologist: Fascination deserved, dangerous image is not

Tribal culture ... children in Sepik River, Papua New Guinea.
Tribal culture ... children in Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Getty Images

I've nursed a long fascination with Papua New Guinea and, in particular, its various tribal cultures. I'm planning a trip that includes the highlands and a cruise along the Sepik River and perhaps some of the islands. However, I have nagging worries about personal security for travellers. Am I right to be concerned, and how can I make sure that I travel safely in this part of the world?
- A. Bryant, Coffs Harbour.

Our neighbour is painted as mad, bad and dangerous by the media, yet the image is largely undeserved.

While it's true Port Moresby has a crime rate that requires a high degree of caution, the capital city ranks low on the country's list of attractions, and there is no compelling reason for visitors to spend even a single night there.

Japan in winter ... visit during the warmer months unless you're there for snow sports.
Japan in winter ... visit during the warmer months unless you're there for snow sports. 

You do need to visit Papua New Guinea on a tour organised by a reputable operator, and I'd suggest Trans Niugini Tours. TNT is a hugely experienced operator with many years of expertise in operating lodges and tours in PNG. They have various packages and they can also tailor something more specific for your needs.

I have travelled extensively in Papua New Guinea during eight visits since the mid-1980s. The only time anything untoward happened was in the market in Madang, where a photographic flash was removed from my backpack, which I'd probably left gaping. The culprit was a young bloke, who was tackled by a woman stallholder and given a thorough tongue lashing before the flash was returned to me.

 

Japan in mid-winter will test familial affection

I'm organising a family reunion holiday in Japan for 12 days in early December. Our three-generational group comprises my Singaporean parents, my Singaporean brother's family of four and my Sydney family of four, ages ranging from 70 to seven. We don't speak Japanese. We are united by our love of good food and desire to reunite but, beyond that, I fear we may have differing ideas of what makes a good holiday. On the grandmother and niece's must-do list are: Disneyland, Universal Studios, hot springs, seeing snow (but not skiing) and being on Mount Fuji.  I have harboured a 15-year desire to stay at least a night in a ryokan with a kaiseki dinner, but I doubt my seven-year-old son will sit through a four-hour meal civilly.  My parents are used to joining conducted tours so that they needn't plan, while my husband and I are fiercely independent travellers interested in foodie exploits and an in-depth experience of the modern Japanese culture.  Could you please suggest an itinerary, how to find local guides for private day tours, and good-value accommodation in at least four-star apartments, hotels or inns?
- W.L. Teo, Burwood.

I can't see this working out. So divergent are your interests, ages and expectations that Japan in mid-winter is going to test the bonds of familial affection. You would probably need three or four separate itineraries to satisfy the needs of everyone in your group. While you and your husband might relish your night in a ryokan,  the children might not be wild about the idea of sleeping on a futon, with a laptop-size pillow stuffed with buckwheat. By the end of that multicourse kaiseki meal, there might be chopstick duels and blood on the tatami matting.

Japan is a fascinating country but for most visitors, the only compelling reason to visit in December is snow sports. I suggest you either change your destination or choose a warmer time to visit Japan.

A holiday that might work for your extended family is a cruise. Cruises cater to many different interests and as the tour organiser, you can relax and let everyone follow their individual pursuits. In early December, you might consider a cruise to NewZealand or the South Pacific. See Cruise Express (cruiseexpress.com.au).

 

Looking for a layover sleep

I am travelling from Madagascar to London via Johannesburg in August and will have a 16-hour layover in Johannesburg, arriving at 10pm. I want to get some sleep before my flight the following afternoon. I know there is a hotel in the airport, but it seems rather expensive and I am on a budget. Do you have any suggestions for a reasonably priced hotel close to the airport that would provide transfers to and from the airport, or am I better to stay at the airport hotel? I am returning to Johannesburg, so am not interested in seeing any sights during my layover; I'm just looking for an inexpensive, comfortable place to sleep, preferably with internet access.
- K. Dodsworth, Minnamurra.

On a similar layover in May, I stayed at the Southern Sun Hotel, Oliver Tambo International Airport. This was the cheapest option I could find within easy reach of the airport.

The shuttle bus operates every 15 minutes and takes five minutes to reach the hotel. My room was well used and in need of some tender loving care but everything worked, the bathroom was fine and the bed was comfortable. Internet is available via a prepaid voucher.

For a one-night stay in mid-August, the internet rate is R1475 ($173). At the Protea Hotel Transit O.R. Tambo airport, located within the airport terminal, the rate is R1552 for that same one-night, including complimentary wi-fi. Neither option is a bargain but the transit hotel is a better choice.

 

Head north for weekend sun

I'm desperate to escape for a weekend, or maybe even a long weekend, with my husband in July or August. We want somewhere warm, onshore and relaxing, with decent food and by the beach, although not for swimming. Any suggestions?
- S. Gallo, Redfern.

Cairns is lovely at this time of year, with average daily maximum temperatures at a balmy 27 degrees.

I'd recommend you stay in Port Douglas rather than Cairns itself. The only drawback is travel time. With such a tight time frame, you want to keep travel time to a minimum, and Port Douglas is a half-day trip from Sydney, even with a non-stop flight.

Although it's cooler, with an average daily maximum of about 21 degrees in July-August, another prime choice is Salt Village at Kingscliff, which lies just south of the Gold Coast in the far north of NSW. This is a mini resort area that has developed over the past few years, less than 30 minutes from the Gold Coast Airport. Total travel time from Sydney Airport is under two hours.

My choice of accommodation would be Peppers Salt Resort & Spa, which has room rates starting at under $200 a night. But you might want to avoid the school holiday period, which ends on the weekend of July 14-15 for both NSW and Victorian state schools.

 

Digiwatch

CouchSurfing has at least 4 million members in more than 240 countries, and if you want to travel sociably, meet the locals, sleep in their homes and avoid hotel charges, nothing beats it. Free to join, CouchSurfing encourages guests to repay their hosts by lending a hand with domestic duties or a small gift. There is an expectation that members will reciprocate by offering their own couch or even a bedroom to travellers, but there is no obligation. couchsurfing.org. 

 

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