Diving PNG: Oro Province Overview

Beautiful Tufi

Beautiful Tufi

Oro Province, or the Northern Province as it is often referred to, has some of Papua New Guinea’s most dramatic and awe inspiring scenery.

But located as it is with the formidable Owen Stanley Range as it’s western border, and the Solomon Sea forming the eastern one, its physical isolation means that it does not receive the number of visitors it truly deserves.

Accessible only by air from Port Moresby, which involves a flying over the peaks of the Owen Stanleys – a special journey in itself – or the long way round the coastline by sea.

The Owen Stanley Range

The Owen Stanley Range

Popondetta together with Tufi and Wanigela are the places that you can fly to.

Popondetta is the main town but has very few charms with which to attract visitors, apart from the one real main road in Oro Province – which goes to Kokoda and then stops…

Tufi on the other hand should be on the itinerary of any body interested in Papua New Guinea – a real gem with incredible scenery, strong local culture and some excellent diving!

Map of Oro Province showing the location of the main towns


Diving Papua New Guinea: Oro Province & WWII

Wanigela air strip in 2009

Like it’s southern neighbor Milne Bay, Oro Province played a major part in the Allied campaign in WWII, starting from July 1942 when the Japanese made a surprise landing at Buna and established a base from which to launch their overland attack on Port Moresby over the Kokoda Trail.

After the successful defeat of the Japanese at the Battle of Milne Bay in August 1942, the Allied forces used its base in Milne Bay to launch its counter-attack on Buna.

The difficult logistics involved in doing this required the establishment of an advanced base on the eastern side of the Owen Stanley Range and an area near Wanigela Mission, on the northwestern shore of Collingwood bay, some 65 miles below Buna was selected.

In October, in what became known as the “Wanigela Operation”, Australian soldiers managed to clear an airstrip in the dense kunai grass that was big and long enough to bring in a company of engineers.

The engineers then cut out a full runway that was used to successfully bring in a full battalion of men & equipment.

Wanigela was then used as the launching pad and supply base for the attack on Buna.

Further north of Wanigela, Tufi Fiord at Cape Nelson was selected by the US Navy as an advanced base for the PT Boats supporting counter-attack on Buna.

The PT boats operated regular patrols all the way up to Buna, plus on occasions further north into the Huon Gulf and were credited with the sinking of one Japanese submarine and at least 18 armored barges.

The actual Battle of Buna started in November 1942 was horrendous and lasted until late January the following year when the Japanese were eventually defeated at great human cost on both sides.

Diving Papua New Guinea: Oro Province Tourism – The Kokoda Trail

Infinite Sorrow

Infinite Sorrow

The Kokoda Trail is the location of what many consider to be one of the finest hours of the Australian Army in WWII and has a high emotional connectivity with many Australians – both old and young.

Walking the Kokoda Trail has become almost a right of passage for many Aussies and is something that I have yet to do personally, but have it high on my “to do” list.

I have however read a lot about it and a book that tells the story from the Australian side well is Paul Ham’s Kokoda, as it illustrates well those traits that make most Aussies so likable and why I am so proud to be one…

Aussie traits such as giving it a go even when the odds seem impossible, and looking after your mates no matter what, are why the word Kokoda resonates so much down under!

However, there are always two sides to every story and the Japanese version is less well known, but equally as harrowing as the Australian version.

The Japanese side of the story goes a long way to explain why they did things that seem incomprehensible to most people.

Devotion to Emperor Hirohito, extreme obedience no matter what the circumstances, and absolute loyalty are the overwhelming characteristics that strike you upon reading about their side of the story.

Two other books that tell aspects of that story very well are The Path of Infinite Sorrow and The Bone Man of Kokoda.

Diving Papua New Guinea: Oro Province Tourism – Cape Nelson

Cape Nelson has some pretty special real estate and the area’s unique topography is the result of an ancient eruption of three volcanoes on Cape Nelson, the lava flow from which created the long & narrow coastal inlets as it poured into the Solomon Sea.

Geologists refer to such coastal inlets as “rias”, because a true fiord is created by glaciers – large but slow moving rivers of ice that carve out U shaped canyons over thousands of years. The fiord being what remains after the climatic conditions change and the ice melts.

But everybody seems to refer to the inlets as fiords and there is no doubt they are quite special.

The “fiords” of Cape Nelson in Oro Province

The “fiords” of Cape Nelson in Oro Province

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