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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of Papua New Guinea


Papua New Guinean Geography - View from the air
View from the air

Papua New Guinea gets a part of its name from the island of New Guinea, which is the large island whose eastern half is occupied by Papua New Guinea (and whose western half is governed by Indonesia). The country also consists of over 600 smaller islands of various sizes, which make up the Bismarck Archipelago and the islands of Bougainville. All of these islands are a part of Melanesia.

Most of the country is volcanic in origin as the country lies on the edge of the Australian continental plate. This volcanic nature has led to fertile lands and a very mountainous interior. The largest mountains run from the northwestern part of New Guinea to the far southeast as these mountains reach heights of up to 14,700 feet (4,500 meters). This stretch of mountains is made up of numerous mountain ranges, including the Central Range, the Bismarck Range and the Owen Stanley Range.

The islands are also heavily forested and many of the off-shore lying islands are surrounded by coral reefs. Most of the people on New Guinea and the people of the islands first settled from Indonesia, although others later arrived from other parts of Melanesia.


Papua New Guinean Geography - Outrigger canoe on the coast
Outrigger canoe on the coast

The weather in Papua New Guinea is in a way unpredictable and in another way completely expected. Although there are technically wet and dry seasons, it can and does rain throughout the year. A second major contributing factor in the country's weather is the elevation as New Guinea is fairly mountainous and temperatures and rainfall change with elevation. These regular rains, rivers, lakes, varied geography, and fertile soil make the country a natural home for crop growth and human settlement as fresh water is easily available and the island is home to some of the world's most famous foods.

The wet season runs from about December to April as the humidity soars and rains, often heavy rains, are regular as each month averages at least 5 inches (125 mm) of rain in the capital of Port Moresby. February and March usually get the most rain with each month averaging over 8 inches (200 mm). Temperatures this time of year are fairly hot with daily lows in most of the lowlands being around 72° F (22° C), but day time highs usually hitting 85-90° F (29-32° C). This is also cyclone season and cyclones tend to arrive annually.

The dry season is not really dry, or at least predictably dry. From June to November there seem to be dry spells in various areas, but the rains still arrive to all parts of the country from time to time. Temperatures are also nearly the same as they are during the wet season, but may be a few degrees cooler (5° F (3° C)) most days. There also tends to be less humidity, making it feel much more comfortable (when the rains don't make an appearance).

The mountainous interior of New Guinea has slightly different weather throughout the year. In mountain valleys the temperature extremes are somewhat muted, while at elevation, they tend to move in the opposite direction as nights get cooler than at lower elevations and days can get hotter. The mountains can also force more rain out of the clouds depending on the direction of the winds, meaning there may be more rain in the mountains.


Papua New Guinean Wildlife - Bananas

Despite being an island nation the number of native plants and animals in Papua New Guinea are shockingly large and some of the plants native to the island of New Guinea are now famous plants the world over. Despite the incredible native plant life, the native animal life isn't quite as impressive, although still larger than most island nations. Due to the close proximity to other islands and the Asian mainland, in addition to the waters and winds spreading plant seeds and animals, the country is very diverse today.

Despite the diversity, there are few native mammals on the islands. The native land mammals are limited to a few rodents and some bats. Despite this, many other mammals have been introduced to the islands thousands of years ago by people, including the platypus, opossums, rats, wild boars, dogs, and deer.

The other historic mammals present in, or around, Papua New Guinea live in the waters around the country, including dolphins and whales. These waters are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life. In these waters you can find surgeonfish, clownfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, krill, crab, seahorses, rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, and sea urchins among many others. On land, in the fresh water lakes and rivers there are hundreds more animals, including rainbow fish, gudgeons, gobies, grunters, glassfish, catfish, freshwater shrimp, crabs, and spiny lobsters, which are known as crayfish on the islands.

Papua New Guinean Wildlife - Sugarcane

Due to the overwhelming amount of water, land animals, and plants, it is not a surprise that the bird variety in Papua New Guinea is also substantially large. Pigeons, parrots, hornbills, eagles, and the hooded pitohui are just a few of the many birds that live on the islands or migrate through.

The reptilian and amphibious life is also fairly diverse, especially those animals that are adapt to living in the water. Frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards, including the monitor lizard are common on the lands. Numerous turtles are also common on both the land as well as in the sea as sea turtles call the surrounding waters home. The saltwater crocodile can also be found in the surrounding waters and in marshes.

Insects, spiders, and other small animals are also common in Papua New Guinea with hundreds of butterflies, flies, ants, bees, snails, and worms as well as various spiders that live in the country.

The native plant life in Papua New Guinea is, in a way, limited in scope as an island nation. However, the native plants to New Guinea are incredible in the impact they have made on the world from a culinary perspective. Coconuts, sugarcane, breadfruit, and taro are all believed to have originated on New Guinea. Additionally, bananas, yams, and lemons originated from the region as well (likely from Indonesia or Southeast Asia) and in early history these plants made their way to what is now known as Papua New Guinea.

There is also a substantial presence of other trees and plants, including hundreds of orchids, ferns, mosses, mangrove trees, and pandanus trees among many others.

This page was last updated: November, 2013