PAPUA NEW GUINEA & SOLOMONS

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: MILNE BAY

New Guinea’s little-known gems

Season: Year-round diving (January to April considered the best months)

Visibility: 15-30 metres/50-100ft

Water Temperature: 24-29°C/75-84°F


Leaf Scorpion Fish (Martin Edge)

Diving: House reef, walls, coral gardens, critter diving, wrecks, Manta Rays, shore diving, boat diving

Snorkeling opportunities

Nitrox

Willing to share option on liveaboards

Can be combined with New Britain or New Ireland

 

Situated at the far southeastern tip of mainland Papua New Guinea is the small town of Alotau, the start point for diving trips in the magnificent Milne Bay area. Captain John Moresby was the first European to enter Milne Bay thinking, incorrectly, that he had discovered a new route between Australia and China. Milne Bay Province is the largest of Papua New Guinea’s coastal areas and the one least disturbed by man. The population is low, with some islands uninhabited, and consequently commercial exploitation, pollution and population problems, which can ruin dive areas, are unknown here. Sandwiched between the Coral Sea and the Solomon Sea, Milne Bay has a huge variety of diving: spectacular wrecks (including some of the world’s finest aircraft wrecks), classic walls of coral (some of which are visited by Mantas), patch reefs, deeper oceanic reefs, muck (or ‘critter’ diving), pass dives with surging waters filled with hungry feeding fish and calm bays hiding tiny creatures. Tidal movements of these two great seas flush clear, deep, ocean water into the plankton rich lagoons, resulting in optimal conditions for marine growth. Deep oceanic water comes close to the land, so the many mangroves, which act as nurseries for numerous marine creatures, and rivers do not affect the quality of the diving. Expect 25 metres visibility, or more, on most dives.

Weather patterns here are unlike those prevailing in the rest of Papua New Guinea, with January to April, a time considered the wet season in the rest of the country, being the prime time to visit. The Milne Bay area is so vast that many areas remain undived. The prolific marine life and fabulous richness and variety of the reefs make a trip to the Milne Bay region the obvious choice for those in search of a top quality resort or liveaboard in one of the world’s most remote diving areas. From seahorses and shrimpfish to wobbegongs and dugongs, from fish-filled drift diving to wreck exploration, Milne Bay diving is hard to beat. With the high airfare, this is one of those trips that you should put on your ‘Trip of a Lifetime’ list. Start saving now!

The long, mountainous peninsula to the north of Milne Bay curves away protectively to the east, with the tip of the peninsula, Cape Vogel, pointing out towards the D’Entrecasteaux Islands. Just off the beach at Boga Boga village is the wreck of the B17 ‘Flying Fortress’ Bomber, Blackjack, which was returning from a bombing raid in Rabaul in July 1943 when a combination of storm conditions and engine failure caused the pilot to ditch his plane. The pilot’s skill was such that the emergency landing was so close to the shore and so successful that the residents of Boga Boga village showed up very quickly and soon had the airmen safely in their village. The 4-engined bomber is so well preserved that it appears like an operational aircraft! Great views of the entire bomber can be seen as you descend, and it is worth taking some time over this in order to take in this magnificent ‘wreck’. The nose of the plane has relatively little damage. The cockpit has all the switch gear, gauges, cables and controls intact. The seats are still in place (just imagine how the pilot and co-pilot felt, when they first felt the plane lurching as the engines started to fail in the tropical storm, how they must have wrestled with the controls to bring down the plane safely until they could glide her into a watery landing!). The vast wings bear the four huge engines. Tucked away below the tail is the rear gun turret. Rocking the barrels you will discover that the bearings are water tight and that one can still raise and lower the gun barrels and rock the gun turret to and fro! With a maximum depth of around 40 metres, time is too short on this magnificent wreck and a slow and careful ascent is required followed by a fascinating safety stop on the very healthy reef off Boga Boga to watch anemonefish.

Kathy’s Corner has a dugong living in the area, and you could be lucky and catch a glimpse of her (or him!). The site has a wall which bottoms out to a sandy seabed, rather too deep at 60 metres, though a shallower, coral garden turns up a variety of creatures such as Leaf Scorpionfish, Ghost Pipefish, and a variety of rather ugly and bad-tempered-looking frogfish. This is a good place to find mantis shrimps lurking in burrows. Allegedly, these creatures can smash aquarium glass with their modified forelegs and can strike swiftly and powerfully at predators, or diver’s fingers, so watch out and don’t annoy the little sweeties! Turtles are common here and make excellent subjects for wide-angle studies. A night dive will reveal flashlight fish that have bio-luminescent patches beneath their eyes that flash in the dark. Gorgeous, fancy, crimson Spanish Dancers flash their ‘skirts’ at night divers.

When baitfish arrive at Banana Bommie, the predators arrive too, literally out of the blue. Dogtooth Tuna, Spanish Mackeral (or Cero) and other predators turn up and plunge into the mass of baitfish to eat their fill. The sloping reef wall levels off to a sandy sea floor at around 30 metres. Garden eels sway tantalizingly and tempt one to try and creep up on them. Glorious, dark red Spine-cheeked Anemonefish venture a short way from their anemone hosts before wriggling back to those soft, safe tentacles, while Barramundi Cod in their smart black and white ‘outfits’ peer from their coral homes. Banana Bommie is well known as a dive site with a huge variety of life and one which should satisfy any diver’s appetite.

The wreck of the Muscoota, a 4 -master launched in 1888, in Discovery Bay is not far from Alotau and can be done as one of the first or one of the last dives. Draped in soft coral and encrusted with sponges, the wreck is home to some big schools of fish. Check out the deck as a Tasselled Wobbegong shark is often seen resting there. The tip of the bow still peeps out of the water and the rudder is at a very diveable 24 metres, so one can explore the wreck in just one dive. Coal, still visible in the open holds, is a reminder of the ships history as a coal refuelling barge. The internal sections of the boat are silt-filled and difficult to access.

Inaccessible by road from Alotau, Deacon’s Reef is one of those reef dives that has everything. The rugged shoreline meets the sea, continuing as a 7 metre ‘clifflet’ below the surface and giving way to a shelf that slopes down to 40 metres or so. Beyond is a series of coral ‘towers’ rising from the depths. The area between is filled with prolific coral growth. Fabulous cabbage corals cover large areas like living sculptures of cabbages in an overgrown allotment. Filigree stands of staghorn corals hold families of busy black and white Humbug Dascylus. There are also fan corals, plate corals which act as tables under which sulky sweetlips lurk and soft corals in fruity shades of strawberry, raspberry and orange. Search for nudibranchs, flatworms and tiny transparent gobies. The more you look, the more you will see. Don’t forget your magnifying glass on this dive!

Dives on the outer reefs offer the possibility of some (literally) great encounters! Wahoo Point is located on the north side of the mainland with a shelf at 3-10 metres dropping away to a sheer wall that bottoms out at maybe 100 metres. This location is frequently visited by hammerheads, Manta Rays, sometimes even by Whale Sharks or Minke Whales, and has been the location for Orca spottings on a couple of occasions. It is a super place for wide-angle shots with a resident school of barracudas and some photogenic elephant-ear sponges.

Most of the dives in Milne Bay are calm and current free, but one dive site which has relatively strong current and, because of this, attracts large quantities of wall-patrolling reef fish, including several species of sharks, is a steep wall which drops to around 40 metres. The top of the reef makes an excellent end to this dive as one can enjoy some beautiful coral bommies which host a wide variety of crabs, rays, shrimps and ‘tons’ of fish.

Important: Kindly note that the diving described here is typical of liveaboard expeditions in Milne Bay. Diving at Tawali Resort includes fabulous reef diving of a similar nature, but there are not usually opportunities for wreck diving while based there.


COMBINATIONS: Why not extend your visit to PNG and visit New Britain or New Ireland? Walindi Plantation Resort on New Britain and Lissenung Island in New Ireland offer a superb range of diving with marvellous ‘macro life’ as well as good numbers of big fish. Alternatively, we could arrange for you to stay at a very comfortable but remote lodge in the interior of New Guinea where the tribal people still lead lives not that far removed from their Stone Age forbears. Talk to us about the possibilities.


Jack Spiral (Martin Edge)

Resorts


Clown anemonefish (Roger Steene)


Image by Roger Steene


boxer crab species (Roger Steene)


Roughsnout Ghost Pipefish (Roger Steene)


Pygmy Seahorse (Roger Steene)


Weedy Scorpionfish (Roger Steene)


Manta Ray (Roger Steene)


Milne Bay Reef (Roger Steene)


Whale Shark (Roger Steene)


Coral Grouper portrait (Martyn Guess)


Oriental Sweetlips school (Martyn Guess)


Pink Anemonefish (Shannon Conway)


Diver and soft corals (Shannon Conway)

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