Lisa’s Luxury Likes- Papua New Guinea Picks

Cultural Diversity in Papua New GuineaPapua New Guinea is a bucket list best for anyone who wants to explore cultures and nature, not homogenized by chain stores, cookie-cutter tourist attractions, and popular media. Over 800 languages are spoken amidst 300 islands, in a varied realm promoted with the tag “ a million different journeys.”

Known as “PNG” to more savvy travelers, the country lies south of the equator and North of Australia.  Tribal village ceremonies, giant purple clams, and tropical orchids are just part of the alluring diversity.

Amazingly, “remote” and “roughing it” are not synonymous in chosen pockets of PNG. Travelers with a sense of adventure can still enjoy great comforts while gathering indelible memories and authentic mementos, instead of staged photo opportunities and factory made souvenirs.

The Luxury Picks

*The Sepik Spirit Lives up to its claim as “ A floating luxury lodge” that takes people up rivers to remote Papuan villages famed for word carving, Spirit houses, and tribal dancing.  Birders, photographers, art collectors, and amateur anthropologists- sign up now!

*Lissenung Island Resort: A private island with contextually classy R & R–great food, snorkeling, diving and culture.

*Karawari Lodge – A real tropical beauty set on a ridge above dense jungle; a great home base to experience Highland cultures and festivals.

*Malolo Plantation Lodge on the Bismarck Sea – A short paddle from this cozy north shore sanctuary, Tadwai Island offers corral cays, ancient reefs and views of paradise

Click here for more information on travel in Papua New Guinea

Click her for more on high-end PNG tours.

Click here for Check Lists Before going on any International Travel

and for Luxury Travel Mavens top  tips on Long Distance Air Travel 


-Lisa TE Sonne, Luxury Travel Mavens

© Lisa TE Sonne

Creative cruising: a mirrored stairwell off the Danube, and self portrait with an iPhone

Renowned underwater photographer and explorer Anne L. Doubilet  shares a first with Luxury Travel Mavens’ readers—her first river cruise, a first rate experience. An Explorers Club Fellow who has traveled the world’s seas for National Geographic publications, a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame,  winner of the PlatinumPro 5000, international lecturer and creator of the traveling exhibit Ice and Coral, Doubilet also shares some of her photo tips– including the value of an iPhone.

What’s your most memorable luxury trip above water?

I recently took a very high-end trip on a riverboat luxury cruise along the Danube River. “Musical Magic Along the Blue Danube” is a specialty tour offered just a few times a year by Tauck. This was a very unusual type of trip for me as I usually go on working expedition trips to remote places in reconverted fishing trawlers where roughing it is the norm.  And usually I am tossing around on high seas in the open ocean behind tightly closed portholes or strapped to the deck so it was wonderful to cruise smoothly along the water on my first ever riverboat trip.  I particularly loved the floor to ceiling sliding glass panels in each cabin that could remain open to the air and sunlight.

The musical splendors of the Danube

We started with two land-based days exploring Buda and Pest—this Hungarian city is divided into 2 sections by the Danube. Embarking the ship we traveled the river lock system ending up 900 feet higher than when we started.  Stops and tours along the river were in Bratislava, Slovenia; in Austria– Vienna, Melk and a cruise through the gorgeous Wachau Valley, Salzburg—Mozart’s birthplace, Linz home of the linzer tart cookie; in Germany the old cobblestoned streets of Passau and Regensburg; ending for two days in magnificent Prague, Czech Republic.

I love classical music and opera, and my travel companion was Hillary Hauser Executive Director of Heal the Ocean —a close lifelong friend who is an underwater colleague of mine and my opera and classical music tutor. The beauty of the underwater world and the music world is something we share together. Many of my working expeditions were with my teacher and mentor, Dr. Eugenie Clark, the Shark Lady which was like a private marine biology course with the world as classroom. Traveling with such knowledgeable personages makes everything come alive!

Cruising the Danube on the Swiss Jewel

What made the trip luxurious?

The Swiss Jewel is a new sparkling, spacious, light–filled riverboat—just one in a fleet owned by Tauk– beautifully and luxuriously appointed throughout from the private cabins and suites to all the public areas—gracious bar and lounge area, main dining room, smaller Lido Bar on the back deck for more informal meals, and the spectacular huge sun deck comfortably furnished with many tables, umbrellas, chairs and recliner. Relaxing on the sundeck (for which we hardly had time because we didn’t want to miss anything!) as the lush countryside gently flows by is like traveling inside a painting. The service and care of the staff onboard coupled with the rich tours on land made this a very special trip.

Why would you recommend the trip?

We had our own two maestros (Michael Shaw and Andrew Eggert) accompanying us—both PhDs in either Music History or Opera—to discuss the music we would hear and the historical sites we would visit. It was a magnificent immersion in history from royal times of the 1700s when music and art were part of court life, World Wars I & II with the horror of Nazism, the rise and fall of communism and the present day resurgence of tourism.  The palaces, the museums, the gold leaf, the architecture and of course the MUSIC—Mozart, Liszt, Beethoven, Hayden, Bartok.  We visited the homes of Mozart, Liszt and Bartok.  Ferried around in private vans and educated by local guides, we were treated to private tours of opera houses, palaces, museums, special lunches and dinners with concerts, ballets, and opera performances arranged for us.

Musical Cruise on the Danube included live Maestros and historic composers

What are some favorite memories?

In Vienna, we attended opening night at the Vienna Opera—had great seats—for a performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo; in the Auersperg Palace we sat in on a rehearsal of the Vienna Residence Orchestra (one of the world’s best) with commentary by the conductor; a private dinner at Palais Pallavicini under crystal chandeliers served by choreographed white gloved waiters while entertained by musicians, opera singers and ballet dancers was a royal foray into Austria’s history of music and art and opulence at court!

One of my favorites, the Lobkowicz Palace and Art Museum in Prague will stay with me forever. The music archive contains original manuscripts written by Beethoven and Mozart and the personal Lobkowicz family history is awe-inspiring. Our farewell dinner there –preceded by a private tour of the famous art collections–was storybook worthy.

What tips do you have for travelers to get the best photos?  

Champagne Cruise

An interesting photo situation for me occurred on this trip. Because we had to travel light and because this was not a working trip, I only brought one camera body and a few lenses. On day two in Budapest before we even embarked our riverboat, my one camera malfunctioned with some of the lenses.  After despairing and unsuccessfully looking for a camera repair shop in Budapest wasting valuable sight seeing time, I decided to shoot the whole trip with my iPhone.  I was the subject of a photo-shoot with Annie Leibovitz several years ago and her recent recommendation of the iPhone camera stuck in my mind.

You can see some of the results on my website Gallery– Danube Cruise of Music Magic.  I also made a Quicktime movie of stills in iPhoto using the Origami presentation for a fast moving mosaic of the whole trip.

My three main photo tips are:

  • 1. Don’t forget to always look behind you when shooting.
  • 2. Try for the best possible natural light available which usually means sunset and sunrise. Many times this is not possible due to traveling schedules so if stuck at high noon use a bit of fill-in flash to make the subject matter pop out;
  • 3. Get as close as possible to subject matter with wide- angle lenses and particularly with an iPhone!

What are places you have loved traveling to that you recommend people not miss?

For the very adventurous traveler I recommend Papua New Guinea above water and below and Madagascar

Both are places with disappearing indigenous cultures where the rich biodiversity of the natural world is also threatened. Probably our grandchildren will not see much of what we would there—a very unsettling picture indeed!

-Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

Photographs by Anne L. Doubilet

Doubilet in the waters of Papua New Guinea

From her website bio: Anne L. Doubilet is an underwater explorer, writer and photographer. She has logged thousands of dives worldwide working as a freelance photographer and dive-team member for National Geographic Magazine on 34 stories about the seas.   A member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, Anne has worked in the Red Sea, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Japan, the Galapagos, all around Australia’s coasts, and throughout the Caribbean. She is a recipient of a Platinum Pro 5000 Diver Award from Scuba Schools International. Now officially “bi-polar!” she recently photographed melting and shifting ice in the Arctic and Antarctic. A member of the National Arts Club, she premiered her photography exhibition Coral and Ice there and has traveled it to several locations. Author and contributing photographer of the award-winning children’s book, Under the Sea from A to Z, Anne’s work has also appeared in various National Geographic Society publications and The Explorers Journal. She was featured in Vogue Magazine August 2009 and is an “Ambassador of the Sea” in the book Ocean Portraits published in Fall 2010 from Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. A Fellow of The Explorers Club–an international organization with a one hundred year legacy of who’s who in exploration– she served on the Board of Directors as Vice President in charge of Lectures and Programs.  Lecturing at various national and international venues, Anne speaks to the issue of oceans in peril as seen through her 40 years of working underwater.

Gale Anne Hurd produces hit action movies & great dives.

As her professional reputation shoots even higher in the entertainment stratosphere, what does producer Gale Anne Hurd do to relax when she has time? She plunges into the ocean with mask and tank for luxurious exploration.

This month alone, Hurd’s meg- hit television series WALKING DEAD broke all cable records, her movie VERY GOOD GIRLS is in post-production, and her star was placed on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame (between Buster Keaton and Peter Lorre).

At the event, director and explorer James Cameron extolled the intelligence of the Phi Beta Kappa Stanford grad and lauded her talents as one of the “biggest producers in the business.” She helped discover his directing talent when they both worked with Roger Corman.

Part of Hurd’s smarts includes knowing how to do things well, whether she is producing box

Diver Gale Anne Hurd with the star of The Walking Dead, Andrew Lincoln, and her own Star for the Hollywood Walk of Fame

office hits, overseeing a television series, owning and operating a wine bistro, promoting ocean conservation, or enjoying luxury diving.

The action producer of other worldly hits including THE TERMINATOR movies, the HULK, THE ABYSS and ALIENS shares a passion in her personal life.

Why do you love diving?

To me, scuba diving is the closest I can get to a different universe without leaving planet earth.

How long have you been diving ? Where have you dove? 

I’ve been diving since 1987, when I became certified in advance of producing THE ABYSS.  I’ve completed over 300 dives in the Pacific Ocean, both North and South (from California to Micronesia and Hawaii, Fiji and Indonesia, Tahiti, etc), the Coral Sea off of Australia and Papua New Guinea, the Atlantic off of Florida and the Bahamas, as well as most areas of the Caribbean, including remote areas off of Saba, Dominica, St. Kitts, Barbuda, Belize, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the Cayman Islands, St. Barths, St Martin, and  Anguilla

Do you have an extraordinary moment that stands out in your diving memory?

A night dive from shore off Madang, PNG to the wreck of the Coral Queen and watching thousands of flashlight fish swarm around us right after sunset, all blinking in unison.  It was like being surrounded by 10,000 Tinkerbells!

“Diving is as close as I’ll come to leaving this world.”

What is a favorite luxury dive experience from a land base?

I made some fantastic dives from the Aman Resort in Moyo Island, Indonesia a number of years ago.  It’s a tented luxury resort on a VERY remote island.  They had an underwater nature trail there that was fantastic.

What  are your favorite live aboard dive trip experiences??

As a former owner of the Palau and Truk Aggressors, I’m a big fan of the Aggressor boats around the world.  They are all fantastic ships in great locations for diving.  I also very much enjoyed the Tiata off of Papua New Guinea, which when I was on board traveled from Kavieng, New Ireland to Rabaul New Britain.  The fish life and invertebrates are beyond compare, and the local tribespeople are fantastic, which makes the experience wonderful on a socio-cultural level as well.

What makes it a “luxury dive” for you ?

To me, safety comes first, a great, well-maintained boats kitted out for divers, and the ability and guest-friendly nature of the crew.  Being ecologically sound by tying up to buoys rather than dropping anchor on coral reefs is essential.  Having comfortable staterooms and good food is important too.

Hurd dives with Sting Rays.

Any tips for other divers to make diving more luxurious?

Buy your own equipment and keep it well serviced; after all, it really is your life support and should be treated as such.  Make sure you have the proper dive skin or wetsuit for the water temperatures you’ll be encountering.

Is there any diving you haven’t done yet, that is still on your bucket list? Where and why?

One day I’d love to dive the Galapagos and also Borneo.  Both are remote areas with sea life I haven’t encountered before — and of course, the Red Sea.  I had hoped to dive the latter when I visited Jordan a few years ago, but I came down with a terrible virus and was unable to dive.

 Why do you think it’s important that we protect the oceans?

We are the Water Planet, and if the oceans become even more unhealthy, all life on the planet will suffer.  It’s a very delicate balance now, and we must take action.

You are on the advisory boards of Heal the Bay and Reef Check. How are they helping our seas?

 Heal the Bay focuses on the health of the beaches and oceans off of Southern California, and monitors the water quality of the local beaches, scoring the safety and health of each one.  Reef Check monitors the quality of seas and sea life in over 90 countries around the world and trains local people who are stakeholders (fishermen, etc.) to dive and monitor their seas, so that they can take the lead in protecting their own seas and beaches.

Hurd at her Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, California

You founded one of the most wonderful gathering places in Pasadena, California–  VerticalWineBistro. Is there any consciousness to how fish fits in the menu because of your diving? 

We do focus on sustainably caught seafood because of my interest in protecting the seas.  We use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood list, which is easy to access on line.  I recommend it to everyone!

In pressure filled arenas, you are very successful in your life including producing innovative Oscar-winning films, and developing and heading up the record-breaking television series WALKING DEAD.  Does diving help your professional success?

It’s a great way to relax and escape for me.  When you’re diving, you are completely engrossed in the undersea world and not thinking about work.

 Has diving helped your personal life?

My daughter and I have dived together around the world, and it’s something we love to share.  She was certified on the island of Culebrita, in the US Spanish Virgin Islands, another wonderful and rarely dived site just off of Puerto Rico.  So many of my friends dive, and it’s wonderful to take dive trips with them as well.

 Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

 Photographs provided by Hurd’s company Valhalla Entertainmnent.


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Snorkeling may be the easiest entry for traveling underwater — home to some of the greatest destinations, attractions, and wonders.  Snorkelers stay in the upper layer of water, where sunlight dances and the full array of colors are still visible for memories and photography.  Floating gently on the sea and peering down at nature’s life force in motion is soothing meditation, relaxing exploration, and privileged access.Scorpion Fish of La Paz, Mexico

I am passionate about scuba, small submersibles, and the emerging infrastructure of underwater tourism, but I would never give up the basic joy and beauty available through snorkeling.

Some of my favorite snorkeling memories are in the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos, Palau and Papua New Guinea. Just getting to be there is a luxury – and then there’s snorkeling!

Baja’s Sea of Cortez

To see sea lion pups twist and twirl in a 360-degree aqua-ballet around you, head to the rookeries in the Sea of Cortez, “the world’s aquarium.” This UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve is a long finger of water between the Mexican mainland and the skinny peninsula below California known as “Baja,”  The Sea of Cortez was made famous by writer-biologist John Steinbeck and oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

North of Cabo San Lucas, and less than a two hour flight from Los Angeles, the city of La Paz (The Peace) is Baja’s historic and modern capital and a wonderful departure port for water lovers.

A luxurious way to enjoy the Isla Espiritu Sea Lion Colony is to indulge in an American Safari Baja Un-Cruise  for a week full of memorable wildlife opportunities with comforts for all your senses. After playful encounters with the big-eyed pups, the crew greets you with towels, drinks, and snacks, followed by hot showers or Jacuzzi soaks while looking for whales and dolphins, then a gourmet brunch.Sea Lions at Play

If you are enjoying La Paz and Baja from a land base, Fun Baja offers a delightful daytrip. I enjoyed the shady boat, international group of fellow snorkelers, and the fresh-fish lunch they made for us on a secluded cove of the island of Espiritu Santo.

Humans are the minority among the hundreds of barking and diving pups and parents in the sea lion colonies. The curious playful ones may even grab a fin.


The underwater wildlife of the Galapagos is as wondrous as the topside of the islands. The island group straddles the equator 600 miles from South America. Snorkeling is wonderful year round, although a wetsuit helps, since the cold Humboldt current sweeps down to this part of the Pacific to make for rich biodiversity.

Snorkelers can see swimming marine iguanas, fur sea lions, and even the famed Galapagos penguin! Penguins don’t normally live in the northern hemisphere, but the delightful Galapagos penguin is an exception.  After following the antics of sea lions and even a prowling reef shark, I lifted my head to get my bearings- and there was a little penguin debating whether to jump in the water!

Ecoventura’s one-week, ecofriendly “expedition cruises on 20 passenger yachts” island-hop to the highlights and are a great platform for snorkeling. Once the gear is fitted for you, including wetsuits, it’s “yours” for the week. Naturalists are onboard and underwater to help identify great creatures – blue-footed boobies on the trail, and schools of surrounding fish in the sea.

On one outstanding day, I saw large sea turtles in the morning and then an Ecoventura guide arranged for me to get close to Giant Tortoises on land in the afternoon.

Papua New Guinea

Cultural Diversity in Papua New GuineaPNG has some of the greatest cultural diversity on the planet – more than 600 languages are still spoken there. It’s hard to pull away from visits to tribal river cultures, shopping for the hand-carved masks displayed in working Spirit Houses, and witnessing the dances and festivals in the Highlands. But the hundreds of islands of Papua New Guinea, north of Australia, are surrounded by beguiling waters with their own alluring diversity.

The private South Pacific island of Lissenung resembles a sweet movie set – a paradise dollop you can walk around in an hour. Just off the Island of New Ireland in the Bismark Sea, the Lissenung Island Resort is set up for divers, with a thatched dining hall and hammocks hanging into the water, but I enjoyed some of the best snorkeling I can remember. A treasure found - to be photographed and returned.

The consistently warm waters and huge range of healthy corrals attracted fish of many colors to Lissenung, and I also enjoyed wonderful snorkeling off the North Coast of Madang. My souvenirs include photos of scorpion fish, corals and a memorable shell.

Trans Niugini Tours can help you plan your trip and indelible dips.


Stingless Jelly Fish

The Republic of Palau is an incredible Micronesian archipelago of  small tropical islands, touted as one of the top dive locations in the world. The snorkeling is also spectacular.

Hike inland on Eil Malk Island in Palau to the world-renowned “Jellyfish Lake,” where the pulsing orbs of jellyfish have evolved without the notorious stinging touch. Instead, snorkelers who brush against them feel a gentle softness. To get a sense of the other worldliness of their realm, you can see a video and piece I did for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel.

The lake jellies are unique, but don’t miss the oceanic treasures either. Giant clams, colorful tropical fish, and Gorgonian corrals may be enjoyed by simply walking from your resort into the water with a mask.Japanese Zero on seabed off Palau

Palau has also declared itself a shark sanctuary to protect them from slaughter, so snorkelers may be treated to the sleek behavior of one of the food chains most intelligent creatures.

For wreck lovers, remnants of WWII Pacific battles litter the sea bottom, sometimes in shallow waters, like this Japanese Zero Plane.


Still ahead, I am looking forward to sharing with readers of Luxury Travel Mavens great warm-water places to snorkel with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, and with manatees, the mammal rumored to be mistaken for mermaids.

For more adventure, there’s night snorkeling to see the wonders of glowing bioluminescence or the swoops of manta rays, those glorious winged creatures called both angels and devil fish.

And for those who want to don a “dry suit,” unforgettable snorkeling awaits in Alaska.

—Lisa TE Sonne for Luxury Travel Mavens

All photos © Lisa TE Sonne except for jellyfish © Sharon Spence Lieb (travel writer/photographer)