Papua New Guinea is a rare gem: a pristine dive destination that has not been overrun by tour boats and dive liveaboards.
It is an expensive place to travel to, and moving around the country can be difficult and slow. However your efforts will be rewarded by a surprising number of dive shops, offering fantastic value and unspoiled dive sites.
Diving in PNG is divided into three main areas:
· New Guinea (the mainland), including Port Moresby and Bootleg Bay, Milne Bay, Tufi and Madang & Wewak
· New Britain, including Kimbe Bay, Rabaul & Duke of York Islands and the south coast;
· New Ireland, the least developed dive location, including Kavieng.
Most divers will fly into Port Moresby. Air Niugini, the national airline, is usually the best option: it flies to and from Australia (Sydney, Cairn, Brisbane), Japan (Tokyo), the Philippines (Manila), Singapore and the Solomon Islands (Honiara).
Getting around PNG by road is difficult if not impossible. There is virtually no transport infrastructure, and travel between regions can be slow. Regional transport between dive locations would normally be done by air, with a likely transit point at Port Moresby.
When planning a dive trip, it’s best to choose one (or perhaps two) destinations and focus on those. Another option is liveaboard diving, usually operating out of Port Moresby itself or Milne Bay. One or two resorts also operate their own liveaboard vessels.
Positioned right on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Papua New Guinea has some of the most diverse underwater environments in the world, with up to twice as many marine species as the Red Sea in Egypt and up to ten times as many as the Caribbean. Its coral reef system is the fourth largest in the world, and a small individual diver fee levied by the dive resorts goes back to the local tribes, who protect the reef areas and prevent overfishing.
You only have to go a few metres out from most shorelines to find spectacular vertical drops of 300 metres (1,000 feet) or more. In these deeper waters you will be rewarded with a plethora of pelagic marine life like barracuda, tuna, manta rays, and hammerhead and whitetip sharks. Most regions have a couple of good drift dive locations to take advantage of the currents.
In more sheltered bays and inlets around Kimbe Bay and Kavieng, a vast range of soft and hard coral formations can be found on the reefs – over 70% of all Indo-Pacific species are represented - as well as gigantic sea fans, giant clams, and the odd green turtle. There are excellent, expert-led macro photography and muck diving opportunities as well; in fact, muck diving was invented right here in Papua New Guinea. Macro species include gobies, seahorses, shrimp, pipefish, anenomefish, squat lobster, and an unusually high number of nudibranch species including the beautiful Spanish Dancer. Many of the dive sites are fairly shallow, so flash-free photography is not only possible, but can produce dazzling results.
Not too far from Kavieng you will even find a freshwater cave dive that local dive masters know about.
Papua New Guinea is also one of the best wreck diving destinations, with plenty of World War II Japanese wrecks to be found especially around New Ireland and New Britain.
There is a hyperbaric recompression facility in Port Moresby, operated by Hyperbaric Health Australia. Whilst most dive operators run high standard operations, it is recommended that separate diving insurance is taken out due to the relative isolation of the dive locations and the limited recompression facilities in country.
The main airport is Jackson Field International Airport in the capital, Port Moresby. From here you can fly direct to most dive resorts, often with a land or sea transfer at the other end.
Other key airports/airfields include Milne Bay (Gurney Airport) and Kavieng (Hoskins Airport). Kimbe and Tufi both have small airfields with scheduled and charter flights.
Most dive shops in PNG are situated in resorts, with one or two notable exceptions.
It is possible to have a pretty good dive holiday without straying far from Port Moresby. You can dive the Papuan Barrier Reef and Horseshoe Reef Marine Park, not to mention quite a few wreck dives from dive locations just an hour from the capital.
Milne Bay is possibly one of the most well known- and certainly most popular- dive locations on the PNG mainland. Getting here involves a 50-minute flight from Port Moresby to Gurney Airport, a 90-minute road transfer and a 20-minute boat ride. The local Tawali Resort gives you access to some famous dive sites including Tania’s Reef, Wahoo Point (great for sharks), Sponge Heaven and Pelagic Point. You can also experience muck diving, invented in PNG and a great way to discover marine life you don’t normally get to see.
Madang is an easy one-hour flight from Port Moresby. Niugini Diving Adventures is the only dive operator in Madang, operating out of the Madang Resort. They have a number of dive boats running day dives. There are plenty of dive sites: everything from reefs to wrecks, volcanic mountains to deep-sea channels, and plenty of options for beginners and advanced divers alike.
About 250 miles north-east of Port Moresby, Tufi Resort is a paradise for divers, with its very own house reef and thirty more separate dive sites just minutes away by boat. You will get plenty of pelagic activity here, from tuna and barracuda, turtles and rays, to reef sharks and hammerheads. Tufi can only be accessed by plane or boat. You can fly from Port Moresby to Tufi in just under an hour, only on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.
Kimbe Bay on the northeast island of New Britain is worth the flight from Port Moresby. You will find almost 200 offshore reefs here to explore, with over 70% of all Indo-Pacific indigenous corals present. The main resort is Walindi Plantation resort, a well-regarded family-run resort with fantastic online reviews. They run three day-dive boats, with plenty of information given the evening before about what dive sites will be visited. They also have a liveaboard vessel, the FeBrina, which runs to dive sites further out into the Bismarck Sea.
In Rabaul on the northeastern tip of the island, you will find fantastic wreck dives with a plethora of WWII Japanese naval ships to explore right in Rabaul Harbour.
Kavieng, a remote dive spot on the northwestern tip of New Ireland, is a diver’s delight. There are no tide tables for the Kavieng area, and currents can be strong, but the local dive shop and resort staffs are knowledgeable. The strong currents attract plenty of pelagic marine life, with over 175 species to see and visibility of 20-40 metres most days. The local Lissenung Resort has three dive boats, and Scuba Kavieng can also arrange day dives, out in the pelagic currents or a more sedate drift dive along one of the nearby walls. The gentler waters of the Pacific to the north are also worth a visit. Muck diving is also a speciality around Kavieng Harbour, and there are a number of wrecks including seaplanes to be explored.
Kavieng can be reached by a 90-minute flight from Port Moresby, with a 20-minute boat transfer to the main local resort of Lissenung. As well as diving, snorkelling is reputed to be fantastic. Surfers and kite-surfers won’t be disappointed either.
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