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Reviewed 4 November 2014

We stayed in 4 Trans Niugini Tours (TNT) Lodges (Rondon Ridge above Hagen, Lake Murray Lodge, Karawari Lodge and Ambua Lodge near Tari), traveling to them via the TNT charter plane and touring with TNT guides. All meals were provided by TNT at these Lodges or as picnics packed by the Lodges. We knew this was going to be an expensive trip, over $750 USD per person per day (double occupancy), not including airfare between Lodges (or beverages). What we didn’t realize is that with a complete monopoly (no competition) at this price point both the service and facilities at TNT lodges were a total rip off. Both service and facilities were lacking throughout. On site management didn’t seem to care or to make any effort at service recovery or even honesty. Lodge staff were either poorly supervised or had low morale since many were listless and not responsive to our concerns.
None of the 4 TNT Lodges had tissues, hair conditioner or hand lotion. Towels were old, stained and some were thread worn. The rooms in all Lodges had only 1 hand towel and no wash clothes. Some lights didn’t work in each Lodge. There were no small rugs next to the beds. (All 4 Lodges are reviewed separately)
Food taste varied, but was acceptable at all 4 Lodges. Portions were uniformly small or smaller. We felt hungry much of the time, and we were happy that we had brought beef jerky with us. All of us (6 out of 6) got traveler’s GI symptoms in 3 different Lodges. Was it the cream? The sandwiches?
Karawari Lodge: The Karawari River drains into the Sepik River. This area is very, very hot, and very, very humid. During the day, while on the River and visiting villages, the touring was great. However the Lodge, again not improved since built, was not mosquito/insect proof. There was no airconditioning, and the Lodge turns off the electricity between 10:30 pm and 6 am (they say to avoid the sound of the generator, but it was quiet - we couldn’t hear it) so the ceiling fan didn’t work at night. The nights were truly horrible, with heavy, hot air filled with moths and mosquitoes everywhere. When I asked the Lodge manager, August, if the electricity could be left on at night he answered, “Do you know how much that costs?” Under those conditions, at $750+ USD per person per day, a ceiling fan at night seems like the very least they could offer. In addition to feeling hot and miserable, we felt very poorly used. To me, the lack of relief from the heat and humidity at night, when leaving the electricity on would have provided some help by way of the ceiling fan, was TNT’s greatest abuse. Each bungalow had guest two rooms, and these two rooms connected at the ceiling so that we could see the light from a flashlight and hear the steps taken as the guest in the adjoining room moved about at night. (It would have been a really bad choice for a honeymoon!)
Our guide, Chris, was a very nice, sincere, helpful man. He offered insights to life tribal life as his own life, living in this area as well. We were welcomed back to the Lodge with cool towels upon returning from tours every time. August, the Lodge manager, was the best of the TNT lodge managers, and the only one who seemed to care about his guests at all (although not enough to leave the electricity on!)
The food tasted good, but another couple got traveler GI symptoms while there. (5 of us were there at the same time; 2 got sick.)
Charter flights: George was the pilot of their 9 seater plane, and he seemed professional and experienced. We felt safe. The cost was, again, way excessive. From Rondon Ridge to Lake Murray the cost was $823 USD per person, one way for a 1 hour 15 min flight. Three guests were in the plane. From there we flew to Ambua Lodge, about 55 minutes away, another $823 per person. Three flew. From there we flew to Karawari, about 40 minutes away for $523 per person. Seven guests flew (over $3,500 USD total for 40 min of flying). Then finally on to Rondon Ridge, another $523 per person, about 30 minutes, 6 guests in the plane. Our charter air costs were a total of $2,692 USD for these 4 flights, totally less than 4 hours in the plane. No fewer than 3 of us flew at a time. TNT is making a bundle on these flights, but as with the Lodge monopoly, it’s the only way to get to these places, so they get away with it.

Local cultural touring: All Lodges had their cultural offerings well planned out, and they all delivered. While the Lodge/TNT has to develop these relationships, and TNT pays the people we visited some money, TNT didn’t develop the cultural offerings and doesn’t share the traditions we observed. TNT is taking advantage of the surrounding villages to lure guests to their Lodges, and while I don’t know what the villages are paid, I doubt that it is enough to justify the effort the villagers go to nor the excessive prices they charge guests.

Overall, we all felt relieved to be escaping TNT’s greedy clutches. The people of Papua New Guinea were very, very nice and welcoming - far more so than we anticipated. The cultural offerings at Lake Murray were once in a lifetime opportunities. We aren’t birders, but we encountered others who were, and they spoke most highly of Kawawari for birding. (We wanted to see birds, but not as much as we wanted to see the people and culture.) It’s such a shame that the only tour operator at this price point is TNT. I hope competition enters the market that will put TNT in its overpriced, dilapidated and indifferent place and make future tourists feel they are getting comfort and value as they meet the warm and generous people of PNG in their spectacular country.

Room tip: Bring a generator and a fan to run at night.... Ask for a room overlooking the River.
Date of stay: October 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled with friends
    • Value
    • Sleep Quality
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3  Thank lsmkw
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
TransNiuginiTours, General Manager at Karawari Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded 8 December 2014

Dear lsmkw,

We appreciate you taking time to write about your Papua New Guinea trip including your stay at Karawari Lodge. We are pleased to read that you enjoyed the tours. We note that you were uncomfortable in the heat and humidity and displeased that the generator did not run all night.

Karawari Lodge is located close to sea level and is surrounded by dense tropical rain forest. The climate is typically hot and humid. This is in contrast to our highlands lodges where the temperatures are moderated by elevation and where it is easy for all of us to forget that we are just a few degrees south of the equator.

As mentioned in reply to your other reviews, we advertise remote Wilderness Lodges, not Five Star accommodation. The buildings at Karawari Lodge are constructed from bush materials, incorporating many traditional building styles The pre-trip information we provide describes Karawari Lodge as, "arguably the most authentic jungle lodge in PNG." The pre-trip information goes on to describe the lodge and the accommodation to help travelers decide whether or not it is suitable for them:

"The main building and each accommodation unit is traditionally built from local materials giving an authentic and rustic air. A concession to western needs is a spacious and modern bathroom. Ceiling fans, mosquito-netted beds and a breezy veranda complete the ambience. There are two adjoining but separate and self-contained rooms per building. A diesel generator provides power and is turned off at approximately 10:30 pm each evening. Power is turned on again at 6:00 am each morning. The rooms are built of materials gathered from the rainforest and the roof is made from sago palm leaves. Small geckos don't discriminate between the sago palm and your roof and may rustle around during the night, so there is no need for alarm. During the dry season beautiful green tree frogs sometimes take a bath in the toilet bowls! Please advise our staff and they will carefully remove any small visitor in your room and send it back to its jungle home. Lights attract moths and insects. Turn off the veranda and room lights whilst you are at dinner."

LED lights, operable when the generator is off, have been installed in the rooms to provide illumination for guests who get up in the night. General maintenance, particularly of bush material buildings in this climate, is an ongoing process.

In response to some of the more general comments in your reviews...

Trans Niugini Tours owns and operates the lodges where you stayed, Rondon Ridge, Karawari Lodge, Ambua Lodge and the recently opened Lake Murray Lodge.

In total we have seven lodges, including those just mentioned, plus our own aircraft, boats, vehicles, communication systems and maintenance workshops. We know from experience that in a country like Papua New Guinea, with its vast wilderness areas, small tourism sector and undeveloped infrastructure, it is important to be as self reliant as possible.

Trans Niugini Tours was founded in Papua New Guinea forty-five years ago. Since then, many challenges have been met and many risks, including financial risks, have been taken. Lodges were constructed, airstrips built, and staff from villages near the lodges were hired and trained.

Trans Niugini Tours has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate its dedication to the people and country of Papua New Guinea by investing in remote regions as they open to sustainable tourism. It is logistically and financially challenging to develop and operate lodges in the mainland wilderness areas of Papua New Guinea. To date, no other companies have chosen to invest as heavily as we have.

Our lodges bring money directly into areas where there are very few or no other sources of income. Of the 200 people current employed by Trans Niugini Tours, all but five are from Papua New Guinea. Almost all of the staff members at each lodge are directly from the area where the lodge is located.

The lodges generate more than employment income for the staff. Market gardeners, bilum makers, carvers, painters, trade store owners and villages that host tourists are among the other business operators who develop or expand as the result of a lodge's presence.

We are dedicated to the environment. One result is that we do not provide some of the items you mentioned (conditioner, tissues, body lotions). This helps to minimize spin-off rubbish into the communities. We continue to seek ways to reduce or eliminate rubbish, including plastic water bottles. We have a way to go on this but are pleased to note that many travelers now carry their own water bottles and refill them from potable supplies at the lodges. To minimize the impact of laundry soap, and in some locations water usage, we decided to set each room with two bath towels and one hand towel. We have found that most guests are fine with that. Additional towels are available on request.

Where possible, we have built hydro and solar power plants to produce electricity for our remote locations. As a result of this effort we have been able to provide power to local communities at no cost to them. Of the four lodges you visited, only Karawari Lodge is reliant on a generator for electricity.

Our air charter operation is a service to our guests. We appreciate your comments about the professionalism of the service. You refer to the high cost. Here is a price comparison. Other Mount Hagen based charter air companies charge US$ 9000 for a charter from Mount Hagen to Lake Murray. This price includes the necessary reposition back to Mount Hagen.

For the two Lake Murray flights you mention, Mount Hagen to Lake Murray and Lake Murray to Ambua, we received about US$ 3000 total for all 3 passengers in your party. Comparing what we received for those two flights to what other charter air companies charge for just the Mount Hagen to Lake Murray flight illustrates that we heavily subsidize flights in order to transport travelers to our remote wilderness lodges

It is good to read you found the cultural tours to be well planned. Our head office staff, lodge managers and lodge guides support and co-operate with the villagers in the communities where we operate as they develop ways to present their traditions, stories and life-styles to international tourists. The villagers want the opportunity to celebrate their culture. They want their children to understand the importance of preserving their culture and are proud that people from around the world come to learn about it and experience it first hand. There are fair and businesslike payment arrangements with each village.

Your comments about not having enough food have been carefully considered. We apologize that the portions were too small and have worked with the staff to remedy this. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention.

It is good to know you enjoyed your time with Karawari Lodge manger Augus and your tours and conversations with lodge guide Chris. You mention of the chilled towels offered back at the lodge following outings. We are pleased you found them a refreshing welcome back after a day of exploring.

Best regards,
Jayesh Naduvil,
General Manager, Trans Niugini Tours

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This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 August 2014

My husband and I stayed at 2 of the lodges that are accessible through Trans Niugini tours, Karawari and Ambua. Both were enjoyable for very different reasons and have their pluses and minuses. Keep in mind that there are few lodging options in the remote areas of PNG and although all are expensive, you are paying for the experience of seeing one of the last places on earth that is relatively untainted by western society, not the accommodations.

Karawari pluses: amazing location with a gorgeous view of the river and tree tops for viewing parrots and sunbirds. The food was pretty good considering you are in the middle of nowhere. The staff are mostly from local villages which we greatly appreciated, and you can learn so much about the local customs and culture from just talking to them. Almost all have Christian names but in their villages go by their 'village name', which we preferred to use. We stayed in a room which was clean and cosy for the most part. Chris is the best birding guide, but we enjoyed the guide we were assigned, whose village name was Api.

The minuses: We had a few harrowing experiences that could have been avoided with better planning. For example, we were scheduled to spend the day visiting villages in a motorized dugout canoe (the other group had a covered boat all day), but we were not warned ahead of time and were not prepared with enough sun screen and water. Our guide only brought one paddle, no radio and no parasol (to shield from sun or rain). As it is not unusual to have motor problems, we were stranded in a tributary for 2 hrs in the blazing sun and there was no one nearby to help. We were all quite scared. Lesson learned: come extremely prepared (bug spray, flash light, travel umbrella, high level sun screen and ask a lot of questions so you are prepared for the day).
Many of the rooms are adjoined to another room by way of a shared patio. So if you are travelling as a family, that works well but if you are a couple, it lacks privacy, so see if you can have a choice of rooms. Bring your own toiletries and shower before you come. Don't forget anti-malarials and buy bottled water or you will surely get sick.
Despite these issues, we had a wonderful experience and would recommend it to seasoned travellers who can 'expect the unexpected'.

Room tip: Avoid rooms #2-4 as they are near the generator (noisy).
Date of stay: July 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Sleep Quality
    • Service
2  Thank superbug_slayer
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 19 April 2014

Kariwari Lodge is accessible only by light plane but what a wonderful flight it is. We came in from Mt. Hagen which takes about a half hour with beautiful jungle and river scenery the whole way. The lodge itself consisting of a large main building and ten or so thatch roof cabins is situated at the top of a ridge overlooking the river and the jungle all around. From the river below it blends in like an authentic local native village as it should. Whoever put it on this
Location and designed it deserves a medal. In the distance you can see mountain peaks. The cabins each contain two rooms so there is accommodation for about twenty maximum. The bedroom with a high ceiling is very airy aided by large windows affording magnificent views including sunsets. There is no air conditioning but a good ceiling fan and no glass in the large windows so the breeze cools you naturally. There are twin beds with netting all around but we saw no sign of any bugs. It's all spotlessly clean and comfortable. The main building where you have your meals is chock-a-block with authentic carvings and trinkets most of which are for sale and very reasonably priced. Even the chairs, bar stools, tables and pillars are authentically carved and very interesting. The meals were excellent with lots of tasty fresh fruit and vegetables. They even had crisp white placemats and napkins at dinner and decorated the table with colorful flowers. They really do go to a lot of trouble and this is just for two solitary guests so I can imagine what they must do when they have more people here. How they can provide this in such a remote location is amazing. We did several cruises up and down the river to visit various small native villages where we saw demonstrations of how they harvest and use the Sago Palm for cooking and building materials, how they carve canoes from tree trunks,

They still live in the same way as their ancestors have for thousands of years and it is truly a happy, peaceful life without the western stress of always wanting more and bigger. The kids, of which there are a great many, are all smiles and very friendly as is everyone.

Room tip: Rooms 1-6 have the best views. Also ask for Chris as your guide as he was terrific.
Date of stay: April 2014
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
3  Thank PeterAZ
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 January 2014

Wow - I love this place!
Augus is the manager and he is excellent - as are all his staff. The view from the lodge is incredible - the jungle goes forever.
I was disappointed to read a review from a person that didn't seem to realize where they were in the world - this is the middle of ???? The rooms are wood and thatch and there is no A/C and the power turns off at 6 am - but there is hot water, mosquito nets ( never saw one) and the most amazing experience in PNG. We were fortunate that the lodge was not full when we were there as the rooms are adjoining - open on the ceiling - we did not have a neighbour. The Lodge should spread people out when it is not full. People live here with no power, no running water and a 3 day trip to the nearest town!
I loved spending all day on the river - visiting villages - we went to see gold panning - we even tried our hand at fishing with a hand line. We are not birders but got up early to see a 12 wire bird of paradise!
The Lodge has a great display of local handicrafts - very well priced - I checked at many shops in PNG and the prices do not compare. I purchased several masks and they were home before me - that is good service from a place with no wifi!!!!
The Lodge is run by Trans Nuigini Tours - I hope they realize what a gem they have - only thing - they should provide binoculars and bird books for their guides - the guides are excellent but it helps to know what you are looking for.

Date of stay: November 2013
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
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2  Thank Funexploe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 October 2013

The main lodge is lovely. There is lots of beautiful artwork (some of which is available for purchase) and its a nice place to spend time in the late afternoon. The view from the veranda is fantastic. The welcome is very nice (towels & juice) and the staff is very friendly.

I went bird watching one of the mornings and that fine because we saw the bird of paradise (with the help of some strong binoculars and cameras on full digital zoom) but it was hard to see the bird and the overall trip was rather lengthy. To be honest, the people who slept in didn't really miss much. I actually skipped one of the village visits and I didn't feel as though I missed out either. I just couldn't bear another boat ride and lots of the other guests said the trip wasn't that great. The air conditioning was turned off for part of the time that the group was away from the lodge and that was uncomfortable. I was concerned that they didn't know I was there so I went to ask them to turn it back on but they couldn't.

The food is so-so. The packed lunch was OK and the dinners were mediocre.

The beds were twin beds that couldn't be put together. Our room was attached to the room next to us which was uncomfortable. We could hear everything that was being said and vice versa. The other room got up much earlier than we did and turned the lights on. Their wake up call, the chatting and their lights woke us up so we couldn't go back to sleep. We didn't feel as thought we could enjoy our veranda at night because the other couple were early sleepers. This also meant that we felt guilty keeping our light on but we couldn't even talk in the dark because the beds were so far apart and under mosquito nets. The rooms are very basic.

Another reviewer described this lodge as akin to an African safari lodge but for the price you pay... it is nothing close to the comfort, food, service and privacy of a private lodge in this price range.

Also, make sure that any artwork you purchase is carefully and clearly labelled on the outside for shipping, hand luggage or checked luggage. The staff wrapped up a few pieces of art that didn't have any information on the outside (the tags were put on the inside) so they get shipped as they were supposed to and almost got lost in Mt. Hagen. Luckily, as we were leaving Mt. Hagen, someone noticed random packages of art, we opened them, identified them and then there was an emergency attempt to try and get the situation sorted out.

If there was another option we would encourage others to try it but there isn't.

Date of stay: August 2013
  • Trip type: Travelled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
1  Thank Constantlyontheroad
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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