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“Visit while you still can”
Review of Ambua Lodge

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Ambua Lodge
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Tari
Hoboken, NJ
Level Contributor
4 reviews
4 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 18 helpful votes
“Visit while you still can”
Reviewed September 11, 2010

Ambua Lodge is operated by Trans Nuigini Tours (TNT) just outside Tari in the Southern Highlands Province. I have reviewed TNT operations separately on TripAdvisor, so will only comment on the lodge here.
The rooms are nice, but basic. In PNG they are certainly luxury by any stretch of the imagination but by any other standards they are far from it. Everything works and is comfortable – that is about as much as you can really ask for. The central lodge is very homey and cozy and a great place to hang out in.
The views at Ambua used to be spectacular (as we understood), but now they are a bit less so as a result of the Highland Highway road expansion resulting from the PNG LNG project. The views further down into the valley are excellent and the grounds of the property itself are stunning, but that completely pristine look is now gone.
Birding, for which if the area is famous, is very good. We saw Kings of Saxony and other Birds of Paradise with relative ease, but we did feel that birding was considerably better, albeit a bit more physically taxing, at TNT’s other property, Rondon Ridge.
The unequivocal highlight, though, of the visit is the time you spend with the Huli people and learning about the Huli culture. You witness everything from sing-sings and other traditional dances to potentially having the opportunity to go to a woman’s village to learn about the role of Huli women (this was even more of a highlight in such a bifurcated culture). These cultural learnings are brought even more to the fore through the fact that all of your guides are Huli. They are very open and willing to chat about their traditions and culture, giving the guest the opportunity to learn on a very intimate basis.
With the massive PNG LNG project, Tari and Ambua Lodge are changing. As opposed to adventure and bird seeking tourists, most of the guests at Ambua now are oil field workers and businessmen, giving the place a very different vibe. The lodge still caters mostly for tourists (and does an excellent job of it), but you can definitely see the change in the air.
More information regarding our experiences there can be found at www.hobokencupcake.com.

  • Stayed August 2010, traveled as a couple
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
12 Thank RagnarKnox
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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English first
Calfornia
Level Contributor
39 reviews
32 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 241 helpful votes
Reviewed September 3, 2010

We went to Ambua Lodge as part of a Trans Niugini Tours package, and we stayed there 3 nights. I will say at the outset that I really liked Ambua Lodge overall, BUT there were some problems.

The Bad:

On our second day here, we had a bit of a scare with raskols, which is not at all what we expected here. Port Moresby, maybe, but not here. The raskols didn't rob us, or hurt us, because we were with a guide from Ambua Lodge, but 6 or so of these guys (looking not at all friendly and carrying machetes, and one of them had a rifle... they had painted their faces and so were disguised). They definitely had very bad intentions. We saw them smash up the window of a bus that was approaching us, which was quite frightening. They talked to our guide, but did not come into the bus. This was out at the Tari Gap, some 5-10km from the Lodge, right after some birdwatching. We thought the trip was going to be exciting, but this sort of excitement was not what we expected. This episode definitely freaked us out, although we never once considered leaving PNG because of this.

Rats in our room got into my luggage and ate my emergency snacks. Also, I saw a rat running around the dining hall. Keep your luggage zipped up tight in the rooms.

We were 2 females traveling together, and when we were in the villages we felt a bit frightened; got some malevolent stares from many, many men. However, when we were on the Trans Niugini Tours more intimate (and pre-booked) look at village life, Huli Wigmen, etc., it was perfect. But when we just went to look at a random village, unbooked, we felt very, very uneasy, to put it mildly.

The Good:

OK, so you don't come to Papua New Guinea and expect it to be like Hawaii, so who cares about a few rats or bugs? Overall, the TNT tour, guide, accommodations and everything were very good. The bus picked us up at the airstrip right on time (and took us to our flight out on time as well), and our guide & driver took us to everything we asked for (except to return to see the birds of paradise -- we did not want to risk seeing those raskols again). The staff here was very helpful in general. The food at the lodge was so-so, kind of boring, but not terrible. The visit to the women's area of the village was excellent, as were the Huli Wigmen, the men with the yellow painted faces, the mourning ceremony re-enactment and the wedding ceremony re-enactment. The setting of Ambua Lodge is lovely, and there are some very pretty waterfalls nearby. We did see several species of birds of paradise here, but they were far away and hard to see. Definitely bring binoculars and the longest camera lens (300, 400mm) you are willing to bring.

We went during the off-season (that is, during the summer, but not during the sing-sing time). In some ways, this has a lot of advantages, such as practically private photo shoots, and a nearly private lodge stay. The main drawback is that there are few (if any) other visitors during this time, and if you seek the company of other travelers, it may get lonesome.

The temperature here at Ambua is pleasant, not hot and humid. Nighttime can be cool, do bring a fleece jacket. The heated blankets in the rooms were very nice.

Special note for women: PNG is a very unusual place. I am a pretty intrepid traveler (as is my female friend who traveled with me) but I do not recommend coming to Tari or Ambua Lodge alone as a female -- you may be a little freaked out. For PNG in general, (esp if you are traveling outside of the Trans Niugini Tour program) make sure you have arranged for transfers from all your flights, and that you go anywhere outside of your hotel room with a local guide/guard. It is not advisable for a non-PNG woman to wander around anywhere in PNG alone, especially not in the cities: Port Moresby (particularly) but also Wewak, Lae, Mt. Hagen, Goroka, etc. The only exception to these rules is the Karawari Lodge which is very safe (but far from any towns.) If you must go out in the evening in a town, make sure you are with a secure group, and minimize your time out in the evenings (outside your hotel or lodge, that is) if at all possible.

  • Stayed June 2010, traveled with friends
    • Value
    • Location
    • Sleep Quality
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
17 Thank TravelingLemur
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Encinitas, California
Level Contributor
59 reviews
41 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 54 helpful votes
Reviewed July 17, 2008

This is just to expand upon and update some of the previous exceptional reviews by others. Our price for a 5-night stay was about $360 per night per person. The reason I rated Ambua as 4 stars was that some might expect luxuries generally associated with 5-star resorts which are not present there but considering the location, etc. it is truly a haven to be enjoyed immensely. Air travel to Tari is always a question due to weather and reliability of local air carriers. We took a charter arranged by Trans Niugini Tours (operators of Ambua Lodge) from Mt. Hagen to Tari. This is probably one's surest bet but beware of luggage weight restrictions. The Ambua private airstrip was not in use when we were there due to a dispute with a local land owner. The on-site lodge management and staff were very helpful and went out of their way to help us in every respect. As they are on a contract of a limited time I would not expect that the outstanding managers present during our stay (Paddy and Suzanah) would be there in the distant future. As opposed to a previous comment I have reason to believe that little money is filtered down to the local villages and know that the local staff is not richly rewarded for their work. So, I would recommend donating if possible to a tip pool so all can reap the rewards of their labors. The buses are not only still without any semblance of suspension they're probably even worse with no operating headlights and parts falling off ont to roads.

It is still as others have said an unforgettable experience.

  • Liked — Setting
  • Disliked — Buses
  • Stayed July 2008, traveled with friends
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
9 Thank peterginsburg
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Toronto, Canada
Level Contributor
122 reviews
35 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 171 helpful votes
Reviewed June 17, 2008

Ambua Lodge is as photogenic as the brochure photos. It is very picturesque, well maintained with the full comforts of home:plenty of hot water, good sized bathroom, good kitchen, very comfortable beds but minus telephone, t.v., radio, internet/mobile service or hairdryer.

The Lodge is comprised of about 40 individual round huts, with 180 degrees picture window, French doors opening outward to the park-like garden, thatched roofing, walls made of woven bamboo (or rattan) strips. A walkway separates the complex from the thick forest growth and the stream that provides hydroelectric power to the Lodge.

The one luxury worth mentioning is the electric bed warmer with its own thermostat. At 7,000 ft (2100 m), nights (and days) can get very cool and very damp. The little gadget kept my bed dry and toasty, as well as my clothes. (I would slip them under the bed cover whenever I left the hut.) Ambua Lodge is by far the quietest place I’ve stayed, with only the murmur of the stream, the occasional rustle in the forest and the soft pitter-patter of the night rain for “noise.”

The Lodge staff is very accommodating and provides a “homey” vacation experience in Tari. A good thing to remember is that the Lodge provides monetary support to the different hamlets that we visited to ensure continuity of their traditions. One is advised not to tip or give donation to any villager. The all inclusive package (including local tours) at Ambua Lodge booked through Trans Niugini Tour (it’s parent company) was very well worth the price.

  • Liked — so comfortable yet so remote
  • Disliked — i had to leave eventually
  • Stayed February 2008, traveled solo
    • Value
    • Location
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
6 Thank JABuenafe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Santa Barbara California
Level Contributor
45 reviews
15 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 17 helpful votes
Reviewed June 9, 2007

This is a beautiful place, the rooms are clean, beautiful panoramic views, the lodge/dining room is comfortable and the food was good. The staff was helpful and friendly. it was an amazing place to stay.

  • Stayed June 2007
    • Value
    • Location
    • Check in / front desk
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
4 Thank sbmimi
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Salzburg, Austria
Level Contributor
77 reviews
49 hotel reviews
common_n_hotel_reviews_1bd8 212 helpful votes
Reviewed August 13, 2005

Since Trans Niugini Tours – the operator of Ambua Lodge – offers „all inclusive“ Packages at the lodges I am going to do a review not only for the accommodation but for the whole package:

Some notes before
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I try to write in an objective way so you know what you can expect at the lodge.

However from a subjective point I would say that the trip to PNG (with Ambua – beside Karawari – as the main attraction) was one of our best trips ever. It is absolutely great and exciting!

The tour organization by Trans Niugini Tours is perfect.

Location
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Ambua Lodge is situated in an elevated location above the Tari Valley surrounded by highland rainforest. A very impressive place for a lodge. When you arrive by chartered plane you will arrive at the small lodge airstrip just below the lodge (alternatively you might arrive by scheduled flight at Tari airport about 90 minutes by car from the lodge).

The climate is nice with cool nights, so you will have a very good sleep. Its not really cold at night – you would be ok with a t-shirt but a sweater is more comfortable in the evening.

Accomodation
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The lodge consist of the main building, an office building, some service buildings and the guest room cottages. The main building which is basically one large room with a open fireplace in the center and contains a lounge area with a bar and the dining area. In front of this main building you can sit outside on some garden furniture and enjoy the great views of the lodge and the valley below. The garden around the lodge has many flowers ad a well kept lawn. Just behind the lodge you can walk in original rain forest.

The rooms are in individual round cottages. Each cottage has panoramic windows and from most cottages you have a perfect view. The furniture of the cottages is functional, like the bathrooms. Its safe to rate the accommodation standard with 3 stars. But at the same time you should not forget that the lodge is located in a remote area where nearly all of the people who live there (except some missionaries and very few local business people) still live in a “stone age” lifestyle. Therefore the lodge is real luxury compared to the lifestyle of the people around – but of course not by international standards.

Rooms and the entire lodge is very well kept, clean and actually a beautiful property.

Meals
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The food is international standard food (spaghetti, roast beef, chicken curry usually with some vegetables and potatoes).

Breakfast is pretty basic with some fruits, cereals, milk, tea, coffee, toast and eggs with bacon. Lunch is either a lunch pack (sandwich, fruits, cake) or a small meal at the lodge. Dinner is a three course meal with soup, main course and desert.

I would highly recommend to specifically ask to try the local vegetables (sweet potatoes and other potato like root vegetables…).

In the afternoon they usually serve some tea with cookies.

Tours
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The tours are actually the reason why you go there. Tours can vary according to the booked program (e.g. birdwatchers will have a different schedule as people who mainly want to see the culture of the Huli people).

The first tour in the morning (starting at 6 am) is a bird watching tour which will return at 8 am. You will have a very good chance to see several kinds of birds of paradise and many other birds.

The main tour will lead you down to the Tari valley and usually include several stops at Huli villages. There you will see “Sing Sing” group performances, learn about the lifestyle of the Hulis and get some hands on experience (e.g. trying to hit a banana tree with a traditional style bow and arrow). The whole experience is amazing and you will end up with (at home) unbelievable photographs.

Obviously Trans Niugini Tours arranges the performances and also pays the people for their performance. So it is guaranteed that you will see performances by Sing Sing groups and Hulis with the famous yellow painted faces.

The vehicles used on the tours are pretty old small busses with non-functional shock absorbers. I think some improvement is needed here.

People at the lodge
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The lodge is managed by a Canadian couple – Ian and Pauline. They do a very good job and take really care of the guest. Beside that they give you some insights and have many stories about the Huli people and what its like living and working in such a remote area of PNG. All other employees of the lodge are local Huli people.

Usually there are not many guests at the lodge. In the high season (some days in August) there can be up to 50 guests but the standard would be between 5 and 20 guests. I found the other guests experienced travelers and good company. The atmosphere at the lodge is very open and you will get to know most of the other people staying at the lodge.

Price/Value
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This is the big question – is it worth the high cost? Usually you will book the Ambua Lodge as part of a package tour so its hard to say how much one day at the Lodge will cost. There high-season rack rate mentioned by some operators is about 250 Euro per person – which means you pay 500 Euro per room per couple (all inclusive). This is a lot of money and expensive by international standards for the accommodation standard offered.

However there was no single moment when I felt paying too much because:
-the experience is great and unbelievable
-everything is organized very well
-the place is very remote and most supplies are flown in by air from Mount Hagen (or even from Australia)
-the occupancy rate is usually low (so many employees per guest)

  • Stayed August 2005
    • Value
    • Rooms
    • Cleanliness
    • Service
Helpful?
43 Thank Marco_Polo_73
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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Additional Information about Ambua Lodge

Property: Ambua Lodge
Address: Tari | Tari Gap, Tari 255, Papua New Guinea
Location: Papua New Guinea > Highlands Region > Tari
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Parking Restaurant
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 1 Hotels in Tari
Price Range (Based on Average Rates): $$$
Number of rooms: 42
Also Known As:
Ambua Hotel Tari

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