One of the unique sights while in Madang is their 7000-strong resident population of Speckled Flying Foxes (Pteropus conspicullatus), a type of giant fruit bat. Known as 'kwandi' by the locals, they get their name from a band of straw-coloured hair around their eyes. Although they have an impressive 4-6 ft wingspan (1.5-m) these bats only top the scales at 1.3-lb (600 grams).
Normally, the bats nest in large 'camps' in the treetops of the forests, but residents noticed them moving into town in the mid-70s. It is not exactly known what caused this, perhaps due to the extensive logging in the forests surrounding Madang. The result is that it is now easy to spot these bats nesting during the daytime high up in the tops of Casuarina trees that are scattered about town. They seem to have learned over the years to stay 20-25 m above ground so as to remain out of effective rock-throwing range!
They do not actually sleep all day long and their high-pitched screeching can be heard as you walk near the trees. However, just before dusk, they get serious and begin their mass migration to the countryside in huge flocks as they seek out their typical food of fruit, flowers, nectar, buds and insects. So many of them take flight at this time of day that the airport has to temporarily suspend operations for safety reasons.
The Spectacled Flying Fox was placed on the 'Threatened Species' list in May, 2002.
All along the north coast of Papua New Guinea, the locals live in many small villages with simply constructed housing typically looking like these dwellings. Over the centuries, they have learned how to make shelters using the raw building materials that are close at hand. This makes recovery a bit easier following typhoons, tsunamis or earthquakes given the lack of rapid assistance from the central government!
This village on the outskirts of Madang had the typical houses perched on wooden 'stilts' a few feet above the ground. In addition to allowing for more cooling breezes to waft through, the floor is also is one further step removed from the various creepy/crawlies! Some houses also put wooden railings around these posts and used it as a fenced off area to store some of their small livestock.
As for the houses themselves, construction consisted of various combinations of Pandanus Palm bark floors, thin bamboo rafters and walls made of lashed central spines of very large Palm leaves. Thatched Sago Palm leaves themselves are used as shingles for siding and roof.
If you don't feel like getting wet, a nice drive along the coastal roads is a good bet. Situated by a small spit of land sticking out into the Bismarck Sea, Madang is such a scenic spot with its palm-fringed beaches, close-in off-shore volcanic islands and the landward backdrop of the Finisterre Mountain range that it well deserves its reputation as the 'prettiest town in the South Pacific'!
There are opportunities to stop and have a look at some of the local villages or you can take a tour inland to see what all the plantations are about.
Coast Watchers Avenue
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
Coastwatchers Avenue, Madang, 511, Papua New Guinea
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
While my 7-month pregnant wife and her friend were in Madang for their short get-away weekend, they...more
The easiest and most common way to reach Madang is by aircraft, usually from Port Moresby after about a 1-hour flight over the intervening central mountain ranges of PNG. I travelled that way a few times but the trip I most enjoyed was when I drove overland to Madang by myself in an Elcom Landcruiser.
On that trip, I had to visit all substations in the central mountains to carry out tests at each one. I flew into Mt. Hagen from Port Moresby, where I picked up a Landcruiser for my journey. After performing tests at Mt. Hagen, Kundiawa and Goroka, I spent the night near Kainantu with Elcom friends who worked there. The next day I checked out the Kainantu sub before heading down off the mountains toward the eastern coastal plains. It was on these flatlands that I had to veer off the main sealed Highlands Highway (which went to Lae) and instead took the un-sealed road to Madang. Because this road ran parallel to the Ramu River, which flows out of the mountains and toward the north coast, the trip entailed several fords of smaller tributaries where there were no bridges. It was quite an adventure to be travelling along by myself in this remote part of PNG! The day after finishing work in Madang, I back-tracked on the same road and ended up in Lae for my final tests before flying out from there! A recent (2004) posting on the web by a tourist says "we take the Ramu Highway south out of Madang in a convoy of 15-seater minibuses in various states of disrepair. They are crammed with people, pigs, chickens with cargo on the roofs: bananas, buai (betel nut) and sweet potato. This road to Lae is the only 'interstate' in the country and, despite its extraordinary convolutions and steep pitch in parts, is mostly sealed and in good condition. Once over the tortuous Finisterre Range the road opens out into the vast Ramu Valley. Gone are the coast's omnipresent coconut plantations - this is cattle and sugar cane country".
This photo was taken near Kainantu on a back road that was not in as good a shape as the road to Madang!
There are lots of opportunities to purchase local artifacts while in Madang. In fact, the Madang Resort Hotel has a great craft store located on the premises.
Also, at various places around town, local markets have excellent displays of good for sale at quite reasonable prices. Bilbil is a small coastal village just a few miles south of Madang that is famous for its very delicately made pottery. This small market in Madang had quite a good selection of these items up for grabs.
The experience I had dealing with power system commissioning and operational problems during my early career in Canada came in very handy in Papua New Guinea. The techniques that I had learned and applied seemed to be in short supply in PNG, so they were soon put to good use as I tried to educate the Technicians who were working for me. Over the course of my first two years in the country a lot of problems were found and corrected.
Near the end of my 3-year contract job tour of duty, a consulting firm was brought in from overseas to assess the state of the power system and I ended up escorting them around the country showing them the present status. One of these consultants took this photo while we were in Madang, as a couple of the local guys at the diesel station asked me to help them out with a problem. In the end, the consultants gave us a clean bill of health, so I left PNG a happy man when I decided not to renew my contract a few months later! After all that travelling and humidity, maybe those Canadian winters were not so bad after all!
This is about as close as I got to sight-seeing in Madang - standing on the harbourfront behind the local diesel power station! Still, it was a pleasant scene with one of the many small off-shore islands visible in the distance and a banana tree to keep me company.
With both a 66,000 volt transmission terminal delivering hydro power from the central mountain ranges and a diesel power station for back-up in case of transmission problems, I had lots of things to keep me busy in Madang. On this particular trip, I was putting the finishing touches on two very big 3,300 kW Toshiba diesel generators that had been installed. One of the final tests was to make sure that their speed governors (something like an automobile 'cruise control') could hold the desired 50 Hz speed when additional customer load came on the system. This was easy enough to do thanks to the large wood chip mill located in Madang. As they fed another huge log from the rain forest into their electric motor-driven mechanical chippers we could see the frequency start to drop but could also hear the diesel grunt as it bore down to produce more power! Looked like things were working OK.
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Known as the 'prettiest town in the South Pacific', Madang is located along the reef-strewn shore of Astrolabe Bay on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The clear waters of the Bismarck Sea combined with airplane and ship wrecks makes this area a popular diving attraction for tourists. In addition, the MV 'Melanesian Discoverer', a 42-passenger luxury catamaran is available for cruises to world renowned attractions along the coast in both directions. To the northwest, five-day cruises are available up the Sepik River to experience what life is like in this lush and isolated rain-forest area (the largest remaining one outside of the Amazon). Alternatively, week-long cruises to the southeast will take you to the Trobriand Islands (just visible at the bottom right corner of the map, below the 'n' of 'Solomon'), noted for their beauty and friendly inhabitants.
The map also shows that Madang is linked by road to the central part of the country. After crossing the Finisterre Mountain range behind the town, the road swings east once it reaches the Ramu River valley. It subsequently splits, with which way you go depending on whether you want to continue to Lae on the coastal flats, or swing west up into the Highlands as you head for Goroka and the interior.