Diving PNG: Milne Bay Province Overview

Milne Bat elephant ear pong

Milne Bay at it’s best…

Milne Bay Province is located at the eastern tip of the main island of New Guinea.

It consists of the mainland portion & Milne Bay itself, and somewhere between 400 to 600 islands (depending which book you read…) which fall into four main groups – the Trobriands, the D’Entrecasteaux Islands, Woodlark Island and the Louisiade Archipelago.

Map of Milne Bay Province

Milne Bay Province Overview: Milne Bay & WWII

Milne Bay was a very important base for the Australian Army during WWII and the Battle of Milne Bay in August 1942 was the first time that the seemingly invincible Japanese forces were decisively defeated and forced to abandon their complete objective.

It was also the launching pad for the Allied forces that ultimately defeated the Japanese force that landed at Buna, in Oro Province and established the forward base that was used to launch the overland attack on Port Moresby using the Kokoda Track over the Owen Stanley Range.

Milne Bay Province Overview: Samarai Island

Map of Milne Bay showing the location of Samarai Island

Prior to 1968, when Alotau was made the capital of Milne Bay Province, the island of Samarai in the China Strait served as the provincial capital.

Roughly 2km wide and 7km long, the China Strait is the passage between the southeast tip of the mainland & the China Straits group of islands.

It connects the Coral Sea to the south with Milne Bay & the Solomon Sea to the north and was named by Captain John Moresby.

Moresby, who surveyed the region and claimed the southeast part of New Guinea for Britain in 1873, wrote in his journal that believed he had found “a new highway between Australia & China”.

This was a very big deal at the time as it seemed to provide a way to eliminate the long & dangerous detour sailing ships of the day had to make around the Louisade Archipelago as they made their way north from the east coast of Australia to China.

Samarai Island is sadly run down these days and a shadow of it’s former glory under the Australian colonial administration, when it was the second largest town in PNG after Port Moresby.

Milne Bay Province Overview: Getting There…

Gurney Airport at Alotau in Milne Bay

Alotau is the gateway to Milne Bay and has an enviable reputation as a safe & pleasant town.

It’s airport Gurney, was built in WWII by the US Army and named after Squadron Leader C.R. Gurney of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Gurney is served by Air Nuigini and Airlines PNG (APNG) from Port Moresby.

Back in 2008 the PNG government announced that approval had been granted for direct international flights between Alotau and Cairns in Australia, bypassing Port Moresby and providing a major boost for both the diving sector and the local tourism industry in Milne Bay Province.

Alotau – International Departure Lounge

It would also have been a major step forward in opening up PNG in general for increased tourism.

But despite the presence of a new, but deserted “International Departure Lounge” at Gurney airport the last time I was there, it appears that there are still no commercially operated flights available between Cairns and Alotau…

Milne Bay Province Overview: Where to Stay?

If you are passing through Alotau there are two main options for accommodation, Napatana Lodge run by the highly respected & very forthright Gretta Kwasnicka-Todurawai and the more mainstream Alotau International Hotel.

I have yet to meet her, but Gretta is apparently a fantastic source of local & provincial information who has an extensive network of contacts and will go out of her way to help her guests.

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