Diving Papua New Guinea

Diving Milne Bay PNG photograph by Des Paroz

You only left the dive resort a half hour ago, but you get the feeling you are the only ones left in the world. At first, you saw some fisherman in boats only big enough for one or two people, but nothing recently. You are approaching an island, the water is crystal clear around it and looking down you see a pristine reef. It is full of fish and some of the largest most colorful corals you have ever seen. As you look towards the island, You see no signs anyone lives on it, no people moving around, no buildings, not even a dog barking, just a long stretch of beach with palm trees and a mountain rising behind it. The boat captain and dive master are watching the bottom and over a patch of sand, the anchor is thrown overboard. The dive master comes back and says “This looks like a good place to try, let’s go diving”. Welcome to the undersea world of Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is considered by many divers as the best diving in the world. However, its remote location and widely undeveloped areas keep it in the realm of dreams for most divers. Reports of lawlessness and travel warnings by the government can make even the season traveler think twice about visiting the area. However, local travel experts claim that the concerns are easily countered with common sense and proper planning. The people are friendly and welcome visitors when you get to know them.

The island of New Guinea is the second largest in the world after Greenland. It is one of the anchors of the famous coral triangle, the portion of the world with the most biodiversity. Located on the eastern portion of the island of New Guinea, is Papua New Guinea, a Commonwealth Nation. The country also has hundreds of smaller islands. Two provinces of Indonesia: Papua and West Papua are found on the western portion of New Guinea. The island is vastly unexplored and it is widely believed that there are tribes in remote regions that have never had contact with modern civilization. Only about 18% of the population of PNG lives in urban areas. Most of the country’s population live in small villages widely separated and tribe based. There are 852 known languages in the country.

The island is north of the eastern portion of Australia. The upper reaches of the Great Barrier Reef are off to the south of the island. The country is organized into 4 regions with 19 provinces, an autonomous region, and the National Capital District. Each of the provinces has an airport and the National Capital district has the country’s international airport, Port Moresby’s Jackson’s International Airport.

Location

Diving Papua New Guinea

The vast area the country spans plus the low level of industrial development and low population density means that man’s impact on the oceans is relatively small. Pristine coral fringing reefs are around most of the islands. There are also areas of deep waters and barrier reefs. WWII saw New Guinea as a battleground in the Japanese drive towards Australia. Aircraft and shipwrecks are also common in the waters as a result of the war.

Here are some of the dive destinations within Papua New Guinea.

Port Moresby

Port Moresby has the only international airport in the country so it is the entry point into the country. It is not commonly regarded as a dive destination but it does have some diving that is worth looking for if you are there. Outside of the entrance of the harbor is a channel between two barrier reefs, Sinavi Reef to the west and Nateara Reef to the east. Naterara is narrow between .8 to 1.7 kilometers wide, a half a mile to slightly over a mile wide. It is about 11 kilometers long (6.8 miles) with a deeper section extending another 5 kilometers (3 miles). Most of the diving is along this reef either on the deep side or the lagoon.

Milne Bay Province

The Milne Bay Province is south and on the opposite coast of New Guinea island from Port Moresby. This area is what initially put PNG on the scuba diving world map and is the most popular of the dive destinations. Divers will find a full range of dive sites all with great conditions. The Black Jack dive site is a B-17 that is considered the best aircraft dive site in PNG and is often on the list of best aircraft site in the world.

Kimbe Bay

Kimbe Bay is located on New Britain Island, which is the largest of the islands after New Guinea. New Britain is one of the newer areas to be explored for scuba diving. The island and its neighbors are a volcanic island with a number of active volcanoes. Kimbe Bay has different weather patterns than other portions of the country. When the conditions become less than ideal in other locations they will likely still be great here. If bad weather impacts Kimbe Bay, there are other areas nearby that are likely not impacted. The Witu group of volcanic island are visited by liveaboards sailing from here

Rabaul and the Duke of York Islands

New Britain province is also the home of Rabaul and the Duke of York Islands. These islands are at the opposite end of New Britain Island from Kimbe Bay. During WWII, Rabaul was a major Japanese military base. Simpson Harbor located there is a natural harbor formed on the rim of a sunken caldera. Reports indicate that over 50 Japanese ships were sunk in the harbor. Most are lost, some buried after a volcanic eruption but at least 10 wrecks are known and dived.

Kavieng

Kavieng is located at the northern tip of New Ireland Island. The island marks the divide between the Pacific Ocean and the Bismark Sea. The Bismark Sea side of the island offers great reef diving. The Pacific Ocean side offers dives over deep waters. Both sides are known for large pelagic species. The signature dive for Kavieng is Albatross Passage, a drift dive in the channel between two islands.

Liveaboard or Resort

The question of do you stay at a resort or dive from a liveaboard comes up for many destinations around the world. Sometimes the choice is easy other times it takes a great deal of thought to make up your mind. PNG is one of those locations where both options have merit. Papua New Guinea has a number of truly great liveaboards. In most cases, you will not see another dive boat your entire trip. Some of them even included exploratory dives along the way. Making their own dive sites as they cruise, you could truly be the first to dive a remote reef.

Some of the remote dive resorts can offer similar unexplored sites and the opportunity to be the only divers on a site. The resorts can also give you some insight on how the locals who do not live in cities live.

The choices that need to be made! What would you do?