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png.gif (8553 Byte) Facts at a Glance

Full country name: The Independent State of Papua New Guinea
Location: Southeastern Asia, group of islands including the eastern half of the island of New Guinea between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean, east of Indonesia
Climate: tropical; northwest monsoon (December to March), southeast monsoon (May to October); slight seasonal temperature variation
Area: 462,840 sq km (180,508 sq mi)
Population: 4.5 million
People: 95% Melanesian, 5% Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese
Language: 750 indigenous languages plus Pidgin and Motu
Religion: 44% Protestant, 22% Catholic and 34% pantheistic beliefs
Government: Democracy
Currency: 1 Papua New Guinea Kina (PGK)


Papua New Guinea lies south of the equator and north of Australia. It's the last of a string of islands spilling down from South-East Asia into the Pacific. It comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and a collection of surrounding islands. The country is dominated by a central spine of mountains, the Owen Stanley Range, with many peaks over 4000m (13,120ft). Three quarters of PNG is covered by tropical rainforests and the remainder is made up of delta plains, flat grassland and mangrove swamps. The principal rivers include the Fly, Sepik and Ramu. The major islands of New Ireland, Bougainville and New Britain are surrounded by striking coral formations and are often scenes of unpredictable natural violence (in 1994, the once-beautiful New Britain town of Rabaul was destroyed by the Tuvurvur eruption).

There are close to 9000 species of plants in PNG, most of them found in lowland rainforests. Around 250 species of mammals live in the islands, mostly bats and rats, but also including marsupials such as the tree kangaroo. There are also two kinds of echidnas (spiny anteaters). The real treat however is the 700 species of birds. There are more parrot, pigeon and kingfisher species - from huge crowned pigeons to delicate pygmy parrots - than anywhere else in the world. Other notable birds are giant cassowaries, kokomos (hornbills) and cockatoos. The highlights of the insect kingdom are the world's largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra Birdwing (the first collected specimen was felled by a shotgun blast), and scarab beetles (which are often used as body ornaments).

Papua New Guinea has only four national parks, including Varirata National Park and McAdam National Park, but more have been proposed. The major problems facing the environment and its flora and fauna are logging and heavy-metal pollution from copper mines such as Panguna on Bougainville Island (currently closed) and Ok Tedi in the Star Mountains.

The climate is typically monsoonal: hot, humid and wet year round. There are defined wet (December to March) and dry (May to October) seasons but both are subject to regional variation (especially in the islands). Rainfall, for example, varies tremendously: Port Moresby may experience an annual rainfall of 1000mm (39in) while Lae has over 4500mm (176in). In extreme rainfall areas, such as West New Britain, the annual rainfall can exceed 6m (20ft) a year. Temperatures on the coast are reasonably stable all year (hovering between 25 and 30C/77 and 86F) but humidity and winds are changeable. Temperatures drop at higher altitudes and can be very chilly in the Highlands.

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