This is the second in a series of articles by Don Silcock on this fascinating and often misunderstood location and provides an overview of the main diving locations. If follows on from his first article Understanding Papua New Guinea that was published here on Wetpixel. If you are interested in diving in PNG or looking for a new diving destination in Asia, you really should read this article!
In subsequent articles Don will elaborate on the diving to be had in those locations.
Where to Scuba Dive in Papua New Guinea
There is some tremendous scuba diving in Papua New Guinea, but in a country that is so diverse and spread out over such a large geographical area, if you are planning a trip there, it makes sense to concentrate on one or two of the main diving locations.
Unless, of course, you have unlimited time and money… in which case you should probably do them all!
The country of Papua New Guinea consists of the eastern half of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world (with Indonesia’s West Papua occupying the other half) and then several large islands that make up the island provinces of the country.
Usually referred to as PNG, from the perspective of scuba diving the country can be thought of as three primary areas - starting with the main island of New Guinea.
The most well-known and the best diving in New Guinea is Milne Bay, centered on Alotau on the eastern tip of the island, plus the numerous other small islands that make up Milne Bay Province. There is also surprisingly good diving near the capital Port Moresby on the South coast of New Guinea, excellent diving at Tufi on the north-east coast and some nice sites around Madang farther up in the north-west.
Secondly, going east into the island provinces, there is the large island of New Britain and the diving on the North coast centered on Kimbe Bay, Rabaul on the north-east tip of New Britain and then the remote south-east coast of the island. Finally, there is the excellent diving around Kavieng at the north-west tip of the chain of islands that make up New Ireland Province.
New Guinea – Milne Bay
I like to think of Milne Bay as the spiritual home of scuba diving in Papua New Guinea as it is the place that really put the country on to the international diving map.
It was the exploits of Bob & Dinah Halstead aboard their boat MV Telita, the first liveaboard in PNG, that caught the attention of divers globally but other adventurers soon followed such as Rob van der Loos and his boat the MV Chertan and Craig de Wit on MV Golden Dawn.
Milne Bay has tremendous biodiversity with everything from the famous black sand critter site Dinah’s Beach at Lauadi up on the north coast of the bay to the excellent manta ray cleaning station Giants@Home down in the southern China Straits
It is also sometimes possible to dive the incredible B17 Black Jack aircraft wreck from Milne Bay, which really is one of the “must-do” dives in Papua New Guinea.
There are two basic options for diving Milne Bay and you can either base yourself at Tawali Dive Resort on the North coast of the bay or you can dive with one of the liveaboards that operate there - which will allow you to see a lot more of what the bay has to offer.
There are two liveaboards operating year-round in Milne Bay - MV Chertan and MV Spirit of Niugini, plus MV Golden Dawn operates there periodically each year.
Chertan has been based in Milne Bay since 1993 and its skipper and owner Rob van der Loos probably knows the area better than any other individual. The next article in this series will explain all about the diving in Milne Bay – the main sites, logistics and when to go, but if you can’t wait till them check out the Complete Guide to Diving Milne Bay to help you plan your trip to where it all began in Papua New Guinea.
New Guinea – Port Moresby
Port Moresby suffers from a pretty bad reputation and most diving tourists consider it as a place to get through as quickly as possible on the way to one of the other main locations.
But get past that reputation and, contrary to what you might expect so close to a capital city, there is some very good scuba diving around Port Moresby. The best dive sites are concentrated along the offshore and sunken barrier reefs, some of which can be stunning in the right conditions.
Until recently, there were two options for diving Port Moresby - the Dive Center, run by John Miller operating from Tahira Marina just outside the city, and Loloata Dive Resort in Bootless Bay.
However late last year Loloata was sold and closed for refurbishment and as of this writing it has yet to reopen with rumors indicating that scuba diving will not be on the agenda when it does.
There are at least 15 dive sites on the offshore and sunken barrier reefs, several of which offer everything from the elusive rhinopias to schooling barracuda, and you could easily spend several days diving them.
But if you can only do a couple of sites make sure that one of them is the wreck of the Pacific Gas - which in my opinion is one of the best dive sites in PNG and Suzies Bommie which simply teems with life! Again… a future article will provide all the details on diving Port Moresby, but if you can’t wait — check out the Complete Guide to Diving Moresby.
New Guinea – Beautiful Tufi!
Located in the spectacular tropical fiords of Cape Nelson in Oro Province on the north-east coast of New Guinea, Tufi is without doubt one of the most scenic places in all of PNG and is one of my very favorite locations in the country.
Physically isolated by the formidable Owen-Stanley Mountain range, Tufi is only accessible by plane or the long way around by ferry from Port Moresby, as there are simply no roads.
Although some of the PNG liveaboards visit Tufi occasionally there is really only one option for diving in this area and that is Tufi Dive Resort, which is located on a headland overlooking the main fiord.
The diving comes in three flavors at Tufi – first of all there are a more than 25 excellent offshore reefs that are only really dived by visitors to the resort, then there is some good critter hunting to be had right off the dive jetty in the main Tufi fiord and finally the resort dives the incredible B17 Black Jack aircraft wreck on a regular basis.
One of the reasons I like Tufi so much is that of all the main diving locations it is probably the best place to experience village life first-hand. The resort has worked with several of the local villages to help them set up homestays so that you can spend a night or two staying with a local family which (in my opinion…) is the best way to begin understanding the fundamental culture of Papua New Guinea.
More to follow on Tufi, but in the meantime you can check out the Complete Guide to Diving Tufi to help you plan your trip to this very special, remote and incredibly beautiful part of PNG.
New Britain is the largest island in Papua New Guinea and is notable for its active volcanoes and the high mountain range that separates and isolates the north of the island from the South.
Scuba diving in New Britain revolves around three main locations – Kimbe Bay on the North coast, Rabaul at the north-east tip of New Britain and the remote south-east coast of the island.
New Britain – Kimbe Bay
Kimbe Bay is to New Britain what Milne Bay is to the main island of New Guinea, and offers a similar level of biodiversity with great dive sites and superb marine life.
There are numerous excellent sites in Kimbe Bay itself and then to the Northwest are the remote Witu group of volcanic islands and the unique Garove Harbour which is located inside the crater of an extinct and submerged volcano.
Then to the Northeast, along the northern coast line of New Britain, are the series of off shore reefs called The Fathers which are the sunken remains of a huge extinct volcanic caldera.
Kimbe Bay also a unique WWII aircraft wreck site with the beautifully preserved Mitsubishi Zero Wreck.
There are two options to dive the Kimbe Bay area – Walindi Plantation Resort is a long established and well-run operation that dives the sites in the bay itself using day-boats.
Then there is the resort’s liveaboard the MV Febrina, and its legendary captain Alan Raabe who knows New Britain better than anybody, that regularly dives the Witu group and The Fathers. Check out the Complete Guide to Diving Kimbe Bay to learn more about this beautifully scenic and incredibly bio-diverse part of Papua New Guinea!
New Britain – Rabaul
Rabaul is located on the rim of a huge caldera that forms the superb natural anchorage that is Simpson Harbor.
That harbor and Rabaul’s strategic location made it a prime target during World War II and it was captured by the Japanese forces in January 1942 when they invaded PNG.
Rabaul became the main army and navy base for the Imperial forces in PNG, but as the tide of war turned, by the end of WWII Simpson Harbor had become the last resting place of an estimated 54 Japanese ships and, although only about 10 of them were accessible, Rabaul went on to become the wreck diving capital of PNG!
Until September 1994 that is, when two of the six large volcanoes around the rim of the caldera erupted, decimating the eastern part of Rabaul and covering many of the best wrecks with grey volcanic ash.
23 years have passed since then with time has proving to be a great healer and several of the wrecks can now be dived again.
That wreck diving in and around Simpson Harbor, combined with the excellent Duke of York islands some 30km to the east, makes the Rabaul area prime diving real estate!
The area is dived by MV Febrina as part of its mid-year and south coast itineraries plus there are land-based operations at Rabaul–Kokopo Dive based out of Rapopo Plantation Resort and Rabaul Dive Adventures based out of Kokopo Beach Bungalows
New Britain – South Coast
The South coast of the eastern half of New Britain is what you might call a remote location.
There is only one logging road over the mountainous hinterland from the North coast of the island and there are no airports — only airstrips for the logging companies, so the only way to access the South coast is by boat.
The mountain range that separates the north coast from the south creates the specific weather patterns of New Britain, whereby the south coast is opposite to the north — so when it’s the wet season in the north it’s the dry in the south…
The area has a mixture of remote and untouched reefs, some excellent critter sites and a few WWII wrecks, but the Febrina is the only boat to visit the South coast on a regular basis and that is limited to the early months of each year.
New Ireland Province lays at the far eastern end of the Bismarck Archipelago and is famous for its unique Malagan carvings and traditional culture. Divers know the area for its WWII wrecks, large pelagics and the big currents that sweep through its northern islands, while surfers travel to New Ireland between late October and April to enjoy the swells coming in from the north-west and north-east and the 4-6ft swell they produce.
The province consists of the main island of New Ireland and numerous other smaller islands, the largest of which is New Hanover.
The diving is concentrated around Kavieng at the north-western tip of New Ireland and is and is mainly wreck diving on the Pacific Ocean side of the island, while to the South on the Bismarck Sea side it is mainly reef diving.
New Hanover offers more Japanese WWII wrecks plus some tremendous reefs, but the area is quite remote and is rarely dived.
There are two options for diving the Kavieng area – Lissenung Island Resort which is located on small but very nice island about 20 minutes by boat from Kavieng and Scuba Ventures which is located in Kavieng itself.
For more information and insight on Papua New Guinea, including the country’s special culture, check out Don’s Complete Guide to Papua New Guinea Scuba Diving.
Don’s website www.indopacificimages.com has extensive location guides, articles and images on some of the best diving locations in the Indo-Pacific region.