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Cruise visitors at the Alotau Cultural Festival in Papua New Guinea (Photo: Coral Expeditions)

The Alotau Cultural Festival in Papua New Guinea

Cruise visitors at the Alotau Cultural Festival in Papua New Guinea (Photo: Coral Expeditions)
Tiana Templeman

Last updated
Mar 26, 2024

Read time
4 min read

Papua New Guinea cruises continue to grow in popularity, combining breathtaking natural beauty with insights into the Indigenous culture of a country that remains less touched by mass tourism than others in the region. And at the Alotau Cultural Festival, you'll find a simple way to experience some of that culture up close.

Traditional festivals that take place at different times throughout the year can be a challenge to see on cruises, such as the Kenu and Kundu Festival, which takes place in Papua New Guinea in November each year.

With that in mind, cruise lines sailing to Papua New Guinea offer a year-round experience to give visitors a front-row seat to some of the island nation's culture. You'll find it listed as the Alotau Cultural Festival, though it's also known as the Lik Lik Festival on certain cruise lines. Regardless of what it's called, the excursion showcases Papua New Guinea's singing, dancing, arts and crafts.

What Is the Alotau Cultural Festival?

Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province in southeastern Papua New Guinea, hosts the Alotau Cultural Festival. Despite the name, this isn't a festival in the traditional sense. While it can be a challenge to catch annual festivals on a cruise due to the limited window of time that they take place, the Alotau Cultural Festival is open throughout the cruise season.

Sometimes billed as the Lik Lik Festival (on lines like P&O Cruises), expect traditional dances from throughout the region, musical performances and stalls selling arts and crafts. Tickets include a return transfer to the festival where you are welcome to stay as long as you like, with regular shuttles travelling back and forth between the festival and ship.

Our First-Person Account of a Visit to the Alotau Cultural Festival

Cultural performers at the Alotau Cultural Festival in Papua New Guinea (Photo: Coral Expeditions)

It's a 10- to 15-minute drive from the port in Alotau to the Alotau Cultural Festival, which is held at the Education Milne Bay Centre. We booked one of the first available spots for this tour, so we could maximise our time at the festival and beat the crowds.

Unfortunately, as can be the case in the tropics, the weather wasn't on our side, and we were met with gloomy skies and rain. However, impacts on our good time were minimal. There were long open-sided thatched huts where we could shelter and watch the dancing to keep us dry.

We suggest that you spend more time here than most lines suggest. Rather than consisting of a single performance repeated over and over again, the dancing at the Alotau Cultural Festival is a rotating display, with a brief introduction provided by an MC as each troupe takes the stage. When one dancing group finishes, another one is waiting to take their place, and so it continues until the festival ends in the early afternoon.

We loved the diversity of the performances, from a fearsome warrior dance to the gentle swaying steps and singing of another group, and were glad we stayed long enough to see them all.

As the rain increased and the undercover area became crowded, we headed to the main building where we saw a small laminated sign: 'Contemporary Performances — Upstairs'. Here we discovered another stage featuring singing groups and solo vocalists. From a rousing gospel choir to a bare-chested dancer still wearing his grass skirt, singing acoustic versions of Top 40 hits, there were plenty of reasons to stay a little longer.

In addition to dance performances and singing, there are plenty of stalls selling souvenirs and crafts.

Is the Alotau Cultural Festival Worth a Try?

Alotau Cultural Festival (Photo: P&O Australia)

The Alotau Cultural Festival is definitely worth booking as a shore excursion if your cruise visits Papua New Guinea. This well-priced excursion provides an entertaining introduction to Papua New Guinea's incredible cultural wealth and is suitable for all ages, provided you can walk short distances. We normally prefer exploring independently, but that isn't really an option at Alotau, unless you keep your expectations very, very low. It's the perfect port to book a ship's shore excursion. You'll find it offered on many major lines including P&O Cruises, Holland America, Princess, Oceania and more.

Things to Note Before Visiting the Alotau Cultural Festival

While shuttles run from port to the cultural festival in the mornings and early afternoon, they will not drop you off anywhere in between (even if you ask). If you want to take a look around the area after the festival, you will need to return to the ship and then walk back into town or negotiate a ride with one of the drivers outside the port gate.

If you're perusing the souvenir stalls and wooden crafts catch your eye, you may be better off saving your money until you reach Kitava, or Kiriwina Island. The wooden items there are superior to those available at Alotau.

While the local currency is the kina, stallholders will accept Australian dollars as well. Note that nearly all transactions are done in cash, and credit cards are generally not accepted.

Publish date September 06, 2018
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