There is some tremendous scuba diving in Papua New Guinea, but it is a big and diverse country that is spread out over a large geographical area – so if you are planning a trip to PNG it makes sense to concentrate on one of the main scuba diving locations.
Unless, of course, you have unlimited time and money…. in which case you should probably do them all!
From the perspective of scuba diving in Papua New Guinea it is best to think of the country as four main areas as shown on the map.
First there is the main island of New Guinea, with good diving near the capital Port Moresby on the south coast, plus Tufi on the north-east coast and Madang up in the north-west.
Then there is Milne Bay, centered around Alotau on the eastern tip of New Guinea plus the other islands of Milne Bay Province.
Going east into the island provinces of PNG there is the large island of New Britain and the diving on the north-east coast, centered around Kimbe Bay and Rabaul, plus the remote south-east of the island.
Last, but my no means least, is the excellent diving around Kavieng at the north-west tip of the chain of islands that make up New Ireland Province.
The Main Locations – New Guinea
The main island of New Guinea has three significant scuba diving locations which offer some great diversity of reefs, wrecks and critter diving. The following brief descriptions contain links to take you to the anchor page for each of those locations or you can go back to the Complete Guide to Diving Papua New Guinea and follow the links from there.
Port Moresby & Bootless Bay
Contrary to what you might expect so close to a capital city, there is some great scuba diving around Port Moresby and in the right conditions a couple of the sites are simply world-class!
Often overlooked by diving tourists passing through on their way to Milne Bay, New Britain or New Ireland a stop-over in Port Moresby gives you the chance to sample the local diving at the sites in Bootless Bay and the offshore reefs.
Personally I try to avoid Port Moresby completely and stay at Loloata Resort, particularly if your trip coincides with the peak diving season of November and early December when the conditions are usually at their very best.
Located in remote Oro Province and universally know as “Beautiful Tufi”, this area of Papua New Guinea is as scenic underwater as it is above, and is one of my favorite places in PNG.
Tufi literally has something for everyone as the incredible fiords are really quite unique and visually spectacular, plus the local villages are very welcoming in an open & friendly manner and offer some great experiences if you are interested in staying at a village guest house for a few days.
Isolated by on the east coast by the Owen-Stanley mountain range, Tufi is only accessible by plane or ferry from Port Moresby.
Below water there is the critter diving right off the dive jetty in Tufi fiord and then offshore there are a series of excellent reefs that are only visited by divers from the resort. I have literally spent weeks diving and exploring Tufi and it’s surroundings and never tire of it!
Madang & Wewak
This is an area of PNG I have yet to explore, but I have heard a lot of good things about it and it is very much on my “to do” list.
But, for now, I can only point you in the direction of those who I know have dived the area such as Jan Messersmith who was a long-term resident of Madang and ran an excellent blog on the area & life in general called Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.
Jan has now moved back to the USA, but his blog is still a great source of local information on Madang. Also, Golden Dawn bases itself in that general area from June through to September.
Finally, although I have never dived with them, Melanesian Tourist Services have extensive operations in the area and offer diving as part of their overall portfolio through Nuigini Dive Adventures.
The Main Locations – Milne Bay Province
Milne Bay is the place that put Papua New Guinea on the international scuba diving map.
Initially largely because of Bob & Dinah Halstead and their exploits there in their boat the MV Telita.
These days Bob & Dinah have sold their business and moved on, but Bob still leads occasional charters on Golden Dawn, which now does Milne Bay in March, June & October.
MV Chertan concentrates solely on the Milne Bay area and operates in conjunction with the Tawali Resort on the north coast of the province.
Milne Bay has tremendous biodiversity with everything from the famous black sand critter site Dinah’s Beach at Lauadi up on the north coast of the bay to the incredible manta ray cleaning station Giants@Home down in the southern China Straits
It is also possible to dive the incredible B17 Black Jack aircraft wreck from Milne Bay – one of the “must-do” dives in Papua New Guinea
The Main Locations – New Britain
The island of New Britain is the largest in Papua New Guinea and is notable for its active volcanoes, superb reefs and the high mountain range that separates and isolates the north of the island from the south.
Scuba diving in New Britain revolves around three main locations – Kimbe Bay, Rabaul and the south-east coast of the island.
The Kimbe Bay area is to New Britain what the Milne Bay area is to the main island of New Guinea, and offers a similar diversity of great sites and superb marine life.
There are numerous excellent sites in Kimbe Bay itself and then to the northwest are the remote Witu group of volcanic islands and the unique Garove Harbour which is located inside the crater of an extinct and submerged volcano.
Then to the northeast, along the northern coast line of New Britain, are the series of off shore reefs called The Fathers which are the sunken remains of a huge extinct volcanic caldera.
Like Milne Bay, Kimbe Bay also a unique WWII aircraft wreck site with the beautifully preserved Mitsubishi Zero Wreck.
Rabaul & the Duke of York Islands
Rabaul is located on the rim of a huge caldera that forms the superb natural anchorage that is Simpson Harbor.
Rabaul was captured by the Japanese in January 1942 forces when they invaded PNG and then turned it in to a major army and navy base.
By the end of WWII Simpson Harbor had become the last resting place of an estimated 54 Japanese ships and, although only about 10 of them were accessible, Rabaul went on to become the wreck diving capital of PNG!
Until September 1994 that is when two of the six large volcanoes around the rim of the caldera erupted, decimating the eastern part of Rabaul and covering many of the best wrecks with grey volcanic ash. 12 years have passed since then and time has proved to be a great healer and many of the wrecks can now be dived again.
The wreck diving in and around Simpson Harbor, combined with the excellent Duke of York islands some 30km to the east, makes the Rabaul area prime diving real estate!
The South Coast
The south coast of the eastern half of New Britain is what you might call a remote location.
There is only one logging road over the mountainous hinterland from the north coast of the island and there are no airports – so the only way to access the south coast is by boat.
That mountain range that separates the north coast from the south creates the specific weather patterns of New Britain, whereby the south coast is opposite to the north.
So when it’s the wet season in the north it’s the dry in the south…
The Main Locations – New Ireland
New Ireland Province lays at the far eastern end of the Bismarck Archipelago.
The province is world-famous for its unique Malagan carvings and traditional culture.
Divers know the area for its WWII wrecks, large pelafics and the big currents that sweep through its northern islands.
While surfers travel to New Ireland between late October and April to enjoy the swells coming in from the north-west and north-east and the 4-6ft swell they produce.
The province consists of the large main island of New Ireland and numerous other smaller islands, the largest of which is New Hanover.
New Hanover offers more Japanese WWII wrecks plus some tremendous reefs, but the area is rarely dived so if you get the chance to go there – just do it!