Papua New Guinea

Driving Directions Papua New Guinea

PAPUA NEW GUINEA in the southwest Pacific comprises the eastern half of New Guinea and several archipelagoes and islands, including New Britain, the Bismarck Archipelago, and New Ireland. The other half of New Guinea is Irian Jaya, part of the Indonesian ter­ritory. The main island has a mainly low-lying coast and southern half, but there are spectacular and rugged mountains that form the Highlands from the center to the north.

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The mountain chain extends for well over 1,000 kilometers or 621 miles, and individual peaks and ridges are sep­arated from each other by fertile valleys. Lower slopes cloaked in dense tropical rain forests and the forbidding landscape has meant that many local tribes have remained isolated from each other and undiscovered for hundreds of years. The highest peak is Mount Wilhelm at 4,500 meters or 14,765 feet. Major rivers include the Fly, Purari, Sepic, and Ramu.

The climate is tropical, with high temperatures and heavy rainfall.

Many of the smaller islands are volcanic in origin with dramatic mountains. Some volcanoes on the north coast and smaller islands are active. The rough and inaccessible countryside means traveling is difficult, and in places, road building is impossible. There are a modest number of roads, but no rail system and a light plane is often the only mode of transport which can reach remote villages.

Subsistence farming is the main economic activity, although some coffee, cocoa beans, and copra are grown for cash. Timber is cut for export, and fishing and fish processing industries are developing. The country’s wildlife is plentiful and varied, while the coastal waters support an abundance of sea life. Minerals such as copper, gold, silver, and oil form the mainstay of the economy. The country still receives valuable aid from Australia, from whom it gained its independence in 1975.

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The island of New Guinea, the second-largest in the world (820,003 square kilometers/ 316,605 square miles), is divided in half between Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya.) The border between the two is a nearly straight north-south line. The island of New Guinea was formed by the colliding Australian and Pacific Tectonic Plates. New Guinea’s mountains have isolated the surrounding regions from one another, producing diversity in languages, customs, and wildlife. The mountains form chains crossing the island, with riverine plains interspersed. Hundreds of smaller volcanic and coral islands lie off the eastern shore to complete the nation of Papua New Guinea, but 85 percent of the total land area is on the island of New Guinea itself.

The seas surrounding New Guinea all belong to the Pacific Ocean. The Bismarck Sea is to the north of the main island of New Guinea and is encircled by the Bismarck Archipelago. To the east of New Guinea in the Solomon Sea, which is enclosed by New Britain, Bougainville, and the Solomon and Trobriand Islands. The Coral Sea is south of New Guinea and north of Australia. About 40,000 square kilometers (15,444 square miles) of coral reefs, rich in marine life, lie close to New Guinea’s shore. The Ontong Java Plateau, one of the world’s largest ocean lava platforms, is northeast of New Guinea. The Eastern and Papuan Plateaus lie beneath the Coral Sea.

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The Ok Tedi mine is a major producer of copper concentrate for the world smelting market. It is located on Mount Fubilan in the Star Mountains of western New Guinea. An average of 80,000 metric tons of material is mined each day. In 2001, Ok Tedi Mining Limited exported 694,900 dry metric tons of copper concentrate. This mixture contained 203,762 tons of copper, 455,222 ounces of gold, and 1,150,031 ounces of silver. At this rate of production, the mine will be depleted of its resources by 2010.

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