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Tari Basin Eco-tourism Project

The Huli Wigmen is one of the icons of indigenous culture worldwide and certainly a major icon for PNG. The image of the painted face and decorated wig is one of the most spectacular images.
The Tari basin is the home to Hela Land and the Huli Wigmen. The intact culture, the warmth of the people, their enthusiasm to share their culture and lifestyle with tourists and the spectacular backdrop of the Tari basin landscape give the area a major potential opportunity to have an economy based on tourism.

Events in past year have reduced the tourism interest and it is now appropriate to re-invigorate the interest and the product.


Hela Culture

The main tourism product, which has the potential to be an icon for PNG is the Hela culture, particularly the Huli wigmen. This is the only place on earth to experience the local culture. It is vibrant and thriving as a traditional culture which has accommodated some western lifestyle points and living standards, but is essentially completely authentic.

The people are friendly to tourists and fiercely proud of the culture, this brings an exuberance to presentations of culture which so far has not been dimmed by the role of performing for tourists.
In terms of having a tourism product which can form the basis of a thriving local economy in an area where the transport logistics could detract from the viability of the product, Hela Land has it. The culture can be promoted, the experience can be offered and the product provided which will attract tourism.
To avoid any doubt, the Huli culture can provide a basis for tourism development in the Tari region.


The Huli Wigmen

The Lonely Planet guide for PNG provides an apt description of the Huli Wigmen:

“The Huli are the largest ethnic group in the Southern Highlands, with a population of around 55,000 and territory exceeding 2500 sq km. Huli dont live in villages, but in scattered homesteads dispersed through immaculately and intensively cultivated valleys. The gardens are delineated by trenches and mud walls up to 3m high, broken by brightly painted gateways made of stakes. These trenches mark
Boundaries, control the movement of pigs and also hide troops of warriors in times of war. As usual, the women do most of the work, while the men concentrate on their finery and plotting war with each other.

Traditional Huli culture is highly developed and strikingly executed in dress and personal decoration. Body decoration is high art. Flutes similar to pan pipes are a popular form of entertainment and bamboo jew’s-harps are played.

Huli men wear striking decorative woven wigs of human hair. The hair is usually the wigman’s own, supplemented by hair donated by wives and children, who are thus short-haired. Designs are indicative of a wigman’s tribe, The Huli cultivate yellow everlasting daisies used to decorate their wigs and they
also use feathers and cuscus (possum) fur. There’s a bend of snakeskin across the forehead, and usually a cassowary quill through the nasal septa. Their faces are decorated with yellow and red ochre. Kina shells are worn around the neck, decorative belt and bilum (string bag) -cloth covering the privates and an arsegras (tanket leaves stuck into a belt) up back.”

Cultural Presentations

Cultural activities such as the spirit dances, the Huli wigmen dancing and the general sing sings can be presented to tourists at a Lodge or cultural centre or in the village.

Cultural Attractions

The following list of activities and attractions is what was seen and advised during the site inspection for the development of this strategy, it is recognized that there are more, and however this provides an indication of the diversity.
  • Hela Spirit Dancers
  • Village Visit
  • Wedding Ceremony
  • Wig School/Bachelors Centre
  • Sing Sing
  • Sun dance
  • Cultural centres
  • Skull Caves


The wildlife of the Tari Basin is also spectacular, with birdwatchers from over the world coming to Ambua to see particular species of birds (including various species of Birds of Paradise), with a popular spot to birdwatch being the Tari gap.
With local wildlife being part of the economy of locals for food and other resources (fur, feathers for decorations etc.), the wildlife exists but often not in the abundance that allows a tourism product to depend upon it. As such birdwatching can be a focus or ancillary product, but other wildlife viewing will be an added bonus rather than a focus.


There was a rafting tour undertaken on the Tagari River in years gone by and the river from Lakwanda downstream would appear to be able to provide a reasonably reliable and safe experience.
NOTE: The route of such a rafting operation has not been sited and there may be unsafe rapids etc. which make the potential opportunity unviable.

Trekking is offered by Ambua, from a leisurely walk from the Lodge to Knalu for lunch to an overnight trek from near Lakwanda Lodge to Karita Guest House.

Scenery and Landscape

The Tari basin itself is very scenic, with almost every view shed having the backdrop of the surrounding mountain ranges. There are small creeks, waterfalls, rain forested gullies, forested hillsides and ridges all of which have the potential to provide points of attraction for walks and lookout points. There is a major waterfall on the Tagari River which is an attraction, with access by road and then one hour walk.


For tours in Tari, Hela Province visit

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