Port Moresby, capital city and biggest population center of Papua New Guinea, located on the southern coast of New Guinea island, on Paga Point between Fairfax Harbour and Walter Bay of the Gulf of Papua. Port Moresby is also the capital of the Central District of Papua New Guinea.
The city is surrounded by rubber plantations and experimental livestock and dairy farms. Its exports are copra, coffee, rubber, plywood, timber, and gold. Sawmilling, brewing, tobacco processing, and the manufacture of handicrafts and concrete are the principal industries, and fishing is important. Port Moresby is the site of government offices, the territorial museum, the University of Papua New Guinea (1965), the Institute of National Affairs, and sports facilities.
Local geography creates a microclimate in Port Moresby. Because the city is in the rain shadow of the Owen Stanley Range, it receives less than 1,270 mm (less than 50 in) of precipitation per year, far less than the average rainfall on the island of New Guinea.
The dry climate created by the rain shadow leads to occasional drought and drinking-water shortages, but the mountains also shield the city from the heavy rains that regularly sweep across the rest of the region from May to November. With offshore protection provided by coral reefs, the rain shadow helps insulate the harbor from harsh weather approaching from the northwest.
The region that became Port Moresby was explored in 1873 by British captain John Moresby, who named the port after his father. About 15 years later, Great Britain established the colony of British New Guinea, and named Port Moresby the capital.
Port Moresby was an important Allied military base during World War II (1939-1945). The city was coveted by both sides in the fight for control of the Coral Sea and the South Pacific. The United States Navy defeated the Japanese naval forces attempting to take Port Moresby in the Battle of the Coral Sea, in 1942. The following year Japan suffered a further blow when Allied forces turned back a Japanese offensive against the city across the rugged Owen Stanley Range.
The Motu and Koitabu people occupied the area for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. The Motuans, who migrated there about 2,000 years ago, have sustained themselves despite the area’s nutrient-poor soil and low rainfall by building seaworthy sailboats—up to 15 m (49 ft) long—and sailing along the Gulf of Papua to trade their clay pottery for sago flour.