In 2000 it had a population of 254,158. As of 2011 it had a population of 364,145, giving it an annual growth rate of 2.1% over a nine-year period. The place where the city was founded has been inhabited by the Motu-Koitabu people for centuries. The first Briton to see it was Captain John Moresby in 1873. It was named in honour of his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby.
Although Port Moresby is surrounded by Central Province, of which it is also the capital, it is not part of that province, but forms the National Capital District.
The Motuan people of the area now known as Port Moresby traded their pots for sago, other food and canoe logs, sailing from Hanuabada and other villages built on stilts above the waters of the bay. Their language, Motu, was the basis of Hiri Motu, an official language of Papua New Guinea. It has been steadily in decline since the 1960s when Tok Pisin (till then confined to the northern side of the former border between Papua, British New Guinea until 1905, and New Guinea, that was German New Guinea until 1914) began to grow in popularity.
The Hiri expeditions were large scale. As many as 20 multi-hulled canoes or lakatoi, crewed by some 600 men, carried about 20,000 clay pots on each journey. To the Motuans, the Hiri was an economic enterprise and it confirmed their tribal identity through its long and dangerous voyages.
There was already an important trade centre on the site of Port Moresby when the English Captain John Moresby of HMS Basilisk first visited it. He sailed through the Coral Sea at the eastern end of New Guinea, saw three previously unknown islands, and landed there. At 10 a.m. on 20 February 1873, he claimed the land for Britain and named it after his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby. He called the inner reach "Fairfax Harbour" and the other Port Moresby.
In 1883 Queensland attempted to annex the south-eastern corner of the New Guinea Island (subsequently known as Papua), fearing that Germany would take control of the entire eastern half of the island. British authorities refused to approve the annexation following the German annexation of New Guinea in 1884, but four years later it established a protectorate over Papua as British New Guinea.
In 1905 the recently federated Australian government passed the Papua Act which came into effect in 1906. The act transferred Papua, with Port Moreseby as its capital, to direct Australian rule. From then until 1941 Port Moresby grew slowly. The main growth was on the peninsula, where port facilities and other services were gradually improved. The first butcher's shop and grocery opened in 1909, electricity was introduced in 1925, and piped water supply provided in 1941.
During World War II, some Papuan men enlisted in the Papua Infantry Battalion and others as carriers over trails and rough terrains (porters) as supply support to Allied and Japanese armies during long jungle marches. Historian William Manchester makes it plain in his biography of General Douglas MacArthur, American Caesar, that acting as porters was well down the natives' list of acceptable voluntary activities and that they would fade away without great inducements. Many Papuan residents of Port Moresby either returned to their family villages or were evacuated to camps when the threat of Japanese invasion loomed. The city became, by September 1942, home to an important Allied complex of bases and thousands of troops were eventually stationed in the area or more often, staged through it, as it was the last Allied bastion on the island and, conversely, a key staging and jumping off point as the Allies began conducting offensive warfare themselves, pushing back the Japanese advances.
In 1945, the Territory of Papua and New Guinea was formed when Papua and the former German New Guinea, which had been administered by Australia since 1918, were amalgamated under a single Australian administration though several laws remained in two territories and remain so, which can be complicating with provinces sitting on two sides of the otherwise extinct boundary. Port Moresby became the capital of the new combined territory and a focal point for the expansion of public services.
In September 1975, Papua New Guinea became an independent country with Port Moresby as its capital city. Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, represented the Queen of Papua New Guinea at the celebrations. New government, intellectual and cultural buildings were constructed in the suburb of Waigani to supplement and replace those of downtown Port Moresby. They included those for government departments, including a National Parliament Building, which was opened in 1984 by Prince Charles and blends traditional design with modern building technology.
The Papua New Guinea National Museum and National Library are in Waigani. A mansion was built in Port Moresby just west of the old legislative building but the last pre-independence chief minister and first prime minister of the sovereign state declared it not nearly grand enough; it was made the residence of Australian high commissioners and a mansion suitable to Somare's demands was built in Waigani.
Several of the government buildings have been abandoned due to long-term neglect. Chief amongst these are Marea Haus (known to most locals as the "Pineapple Building") and the Central Government Offices. Nearby buildings, such as Morauta Haus and Vulupindi Haus, are starting to show significant signs of decay due to a lack of maintenance. However, widespread restoration rather than demolition of long-disused office buildings has been highly active since the first decade of the 21st century. The legislative building before independence and the first parliament building is long-gone but the old court house in town Port Moresby remains, bearing its pre-independence label with its previous title.
The population of the Port Moresby area expanded rapidly after independence. In 1980, the census return registered a populatiion of 120,000; by 1990, this had increased to 195,000.
Port Moresby has a tropical savanna climate (Köppen Aw) with relatively constant temperatures throughout the year. Port Moresby’s average yearly rainfall is just over 1,000 millimetres or 39.37 inches, making it the driest place in New Guinea.
The wet season starts in December and ends in May; the dry season covers the remaining six months, and, like the area around Townsville in Queensland, is due to the southeasterly trade winds running parallel to the coast, and the city being surrounded by high mountains. Average daily high temperatures range from 28 to 32 °C (82.4 to 89.6 °F) depending on time of year, while the average low temperature shows very little seasonal variation, hovering around the 23 °C (73.4 °F) mark. It tends to be slightly cooler in the city during the dry season.
Port Moresby is the single district of the National Capital District, which contains three Local Level Government (LLG) areas. For census purposes, the LLG areas are subdivided into wards and those into census units.
Port Moresby refers to both the urbanised area of the National Capital District and more specifically to the main business area, known locally as "Town".
Since the 1990s the original town centre has ceased to have restaurants and night life, though it is very successful and prosperous looking as an office centre. The affluent housing region north of downtown along and up from the coast remains so, though there are now few modest residential houses, most of which are replaced with substantial mansions and apartment buildings.
The suburb of Boroko, once the commercial heart of Port Moresby, is very idle, with many former shopping buildings now empty; the west is full of high rises, shopping centres and affluent housing. Other neighbourhoods of Port Moresby include Koki, with its popular fresh produce market, Newtown, Konedobu, Kaevaga, Badili, Gabutu, Kila Kila, Matirogo, Three Mile, Kaugere, Sabama, Korobosea, Four Mile, Hohola, Hohola North, Boroko, Gordons, Gordons North, Erima, Saraga, Waigani, Morata and Gerehu. There are villages like Hanuabada, the largest in Papua New Guinea.
Parts of Port Moresby have security problems with house break-ins being the main problem. Fences topped with razor wire, security lighting, alarm systems, guard dogs, locked gates and walls are considered necessary around houses and apartment buildings. Carjacking is now rife in the capital and stopping at the few functional traffic lights is not recommended after dark when marauding gangs gather at the intersection(s). Security guards are widely employed as the police force is under resourced and weakened by internal corruption. Travel by foot is not recommended in and about the city and suburbs due continuing breakdown in law and order. The UN Global Compact Cities Programme, using a method called Circles of Sustainability has assessed the urban security of Port Moresby as 'critical'.
Port Moresby is served within the city by buses and privately owned taxis. Flights are vital for transport about the country, highways not being widely available. Port Moresby is served by Jacksons International Airport, the biggest international airport and Papua New Guinea Defence Force Air Wing base in the country. Air Niugini and Airlines PNG conduct regular domestic and international services from the airport, while Virgin Australia and Qantas fly to Brisbane. Jacksons has international flights to Brisbane, Cairns, Cebu, Sydney, Honiara, Nadi, Port Vila, Manila, Bali (Denpasar), Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
As the national highway system is not fully linked, there are many internal flights to other towns, e.g., Madang, which cannot be reached by ground transport, such as minibuses, known locally as PMVs (public motor vehicles).
Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources, which account for two thirds of their export earnings. Though PNG is filled with resources, the lack of country's development led foreign countries to take over few sites and continued foreign demand for PNG's resources and as a result, the United States constructed an oil company and began to export in 2004 and this was the largest project in PNG's history. The project increased the potential to triple PNG's export revenue. Papua New Guinea gained much assistance from Australia and was offered two hundred million dollars a year and many countries such as Singapore, Japan and China also plays great part in PNG's industry business. The decision to hold the 2018 APEC meeting, bring a large number of world leaders to Port Moresby, indicates the speed with which Port Moresby is entering the world economy.
In recent years Port Moresby has been economically booming. There has been substantial building of housing, office towers, shopping malls and commercial establishments over much of it. The waterfront area has been completely redeveloped with apartments, restaurants and shopping centers. Sporting facilities were upgraded significantly for the 2015 South Pacific Games and further development is taking place in preparation for the 2016 FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup.
Airlines PNG has its head office on the grounds of Jacksons International Airport. The Jacksons International Airport was redeveloped and is to be further developed in time for the APEC Heads of Government meeting in 2018.
The 1969 South Pacific Games, held from 13–23 August 1969 at Port Moresby, were the third South Pacific Games to be held. A total of 1,150 athletes participated.
The 1991 South Pacific Games held from 7–21 September 1991 at Port Moresby and along Lae were the ninth South Pacific Games to be held. This was the first time that events at one games had been held in two cities. The decision to do so was to allow both locations to benefit from the construction of new facilities.
Papua New Guinea Cricket Board is the official governing body of the sport of cricket in Papua New Guinea. Its current headquarters is in Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea Cricket Board is Papua New Guinea's representative at the International Cricket Council and is an associate member and has been a member of that body since 1973. It is also a member of the East Asia-Pacific Cricket Council.
The 2015 Pacific Games was held in Port Moresby from 4 to 18 July 2015. In September 2009, the Pacific Games Council, at its meeting coinciding with the 2009 Pacific Mini Games, elected Port Moresby as the host of the 2015 Games. The final vote was 25-22 in favor of Port Moresby over Tonga to host.
The 2015 Pacific Games involved 24 different countries from the pacific regions with 28 different sports events including; basketball, soccer, touch rugby, table tennis, weight-lifting, triathlon, swimming, cricket, squash, shooting, sailing, va'a, rugby 7's, power-lifting, rugby league 9's, volleyball, beach-volleyball, athletics, hockey, netball, karate, lawn bowls, body building, boxing, softball, taekwondo, golf and canoeing. Papua New Guinea ranked first with the most medals followed by New Caledonia and Tahiti.
The opening ceremony took place on the 4th of July 2015 involving various of traditional dances. The closing ceremony involved singers such as J Boog, Fiji, O-Shen and George Mamua Telek.
The International Education Agency provides private education via six internationals schools; Korobosea International School, Boroko International School, Ela Murray International School, Gordon International School, Port Moresby International School and IEA TAFE college. There are approximately three hundred staff.
The Port Moresby International School (POMIS) has been operating since the 1950s. It is an International Education Agency school and is the premier international high school in Port Moresby. It enrolls nearly 1000 students from Grades 7 to 12.