Papua New Guinea in a Nutshell
Papua New Guinea is home to some of the world's most spectacular diving, with resort and liveaboard options for every diver.
Intro To Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a world-class dive destination with pristine coral reefs, extremely rich marine life and exotic culture. The country lies just south of the Equator and 100 miles (160km) to the north of Australia, encompassing the eastern side of New Guinea Island plus 600 smaller islands and atolls. Papua New Guinea is renowned for its indigenous cultures, who use over 800 languages (1/3 of the languages in the world) and live in the largest area of intact rainforest outside the Amazon. There are 28,000 miles (45,000kms) of reef systems, so it's a destination where divers rarely come across other groups.
The diving in Papua New Guinea is centered around islands in the Bismark Sea and Milne Bay, as well as many coral reefs off the mainland. The diversity of diving in PNG is what attracts many divers, including underwater photographers looking for coral atolls and walls, barrier reefs, WWII wrecks and the abundant wide-angle and macro subjects for which the Indo-Pacific is known for. Papua New Guinea also has its own hyperbaric chamber and top notch dive facilities, with many catering to underwater photographers. PNG is a place where resorts and liveaboards are both great options.
Typical Papua New Guinea Diving & Dive areas
Papua New Guinea offers a wide variety of diving, including vast coral beds, huge walls, wrecks and more. Depending on the site, photographers are encouraged to shoot wide-angle or to keep their eyes on the bottom looking for colorful macro life. One can expect to be in the water 4 or 5 times a day on a liveaboard. Land-based dive operations will generally offer about 3 dives per day and most dive sites are within a 30 minute boat ride from the resorts.
New Britain Island's Kimbe Bay is known for abundant, diverse marine life and exceptionally healthy reefs. National Geographic magazine apparently agrees, as does photographer David Doubilet, ranking these reefs among the world's most beautiful. Kimbe Bay highlights include Father's Reef and South Emma, known for pelagics like sharks and baracudas, and Susan’s Reef, celebrated for its colorful soft corals, fans and other wide-angle scenery. Other top sites include a fully intact Japanese Zero fighter plane, and picturesque Rest Orf Island, where scenery is equally good above and below the surface. Witu islands are also nearby, famous for schooling fish and loads of soft corals as well as unusual critters. While less reliable than the reef dwellers, various marine mammals also make regular appearances in Kimbe Bay, including pilot whales and several species of dolphin; even orcas and sperm whales show up on occasion. May/June and Sept - Dec often offer great diving conditions here.
Located on the northwest tip of New Ireland, Kavieng is best known for big animals like reef sharks and semi-pelagic fish like Dog-tooth tuna, Spanish mackerel and barracuda. It’s also blessed with excellent soft corals, sponges and fans, all of which thrive in the often-vigorous currents. There are also some great World War II wrecks. Apr - June, Sept - early December usually offer the best diving conditions.
Forming the northern coast of the main island of New Guinea, scenery in this region could be described as tropical fiords - gorgeous, lush, green, and very isolated, with no roads leading to it. The diving is a mix of critter diving and great reefs. August - November is generally considered the best season for diving.
Encompassing the easternmost point of the huge island of New Guinea, Milne Bay offers some of the best diving in PNG for both ends of the marine life spectrum. For macro critters, this region is hard to beat, with an amazing diversity of species, many of which are found in less than 20 ft. depths. In fact, Milne Bay is the original place for “muck diving”, and helped put PNG on the map for diving. That alone would be reason enough to visit, but there’s also excellent scenery, including sloping coral reefs, dramatic walls and isolated pinnacles. There are even some sites, such as Luadi / Dinah’s Beach, where you can see all the above in a single dive!
Milne Bay has lots of small critters. Ghost pipefish, flatworms, seahorses, frogfish, cuttlefish, mandarin fish, lots of nudibranchs, etc. You can even see Rhinopia here.
Bootless Bay / Loloata Island
Easily accessed from the capital of Port Moresby, Loloata Island offers a welcome escape from the city, as well as some superb diving. Depending on the site, this area offers a bit of everything, from prolific fish life, thriving corals, rare species like Rhinopias scorpionfish, and even big fish like Napolean wrasse and reef sharks. About the only thing lacking here is a chance to visit remote villages, but aside from that, it compares very well to PNG’s other top dive areas.
Papua New Guinea Marine Life & Photography Subjects
Papua New Guinea is located in the "coral triangle" and you can expect to see and photograph an abundance of diverse marine life. Macro life includes frogfish, pipefish, seahorses, exotic nudibranchs, crabs, shrimp and a plethora of other critters. Large sea life includes pelagic sharks and fish, turtles, sea snakes and even marine mammals. Those who like to shoot metal will find a variety of World War II wrecks that include ships, aircrafts, and submarines.
Underwater Video of Marine Life in Tufi
Best Time To Dive Papua New Guinea, Water Temps And Visibility
Papua New Guinea can be dived year-round, however the high season is between May and November. Visibility ranges from 50 to 150 feet and water temperature averages about 79F (26C) along the edge of the Coral Sea and 88F (31C) in the Bismark Sea.
Health and Safety
PNG is a high-risk malaria area, so be sure to take anti-malaria pills, and check with your doctor or the CDC beforehand to be sure that you have the best drug for the specific area you’re visiting. Also, remember that even the best anti-malaria pills do not always work, so be sure to cover up and use insect repellent when ashore, especially around dawn and dusk.
As in all international travel, but especially in PNG, you need to be aware of your surroundings—don’t go places without a guide or a big strong person who can speak the local language. Some areas are very, very remote if you are trekking, but perhaps the most dangerous location is Port Moresby—leaving your hotel on foot here is not advisable. In general over-nights in the capital are best avoided, but if you must, consider staying at nearby Loloata Resort, which is a separate island and a far more pleasant, safe place to be.
International flights arrive at Jacksons International Airport (POM) from several Asian and Australian hubs. The airport is right next to Port Moresby, which makes transfers to liveaboards easy. Domestic flights also leave POM for other parts of the country, operated by Air Niugini, Airlines PNG and QuantasLink. A good tip is to fly into Papua New Guinea on the same carrier being used for any domestic flights, as the airlines will then allow higher baggage weight restrictions.
PNG is a destination for much more than scuba diving. Travelers visit the country to surf, hike, fish, bird watch, kayak, snorkel and explore the indigenous culture. It's easy to spend some time doing any of these activities before or after the dive portion of your trip. On liveaboards you're pretty limited to diving and snorkeling, however land-based resorts offer many of these activities to complement your dive schedule. These are also great activities for non-diving travel companions while you're out on the ocean.
Papua New Guinea Resort And Liveaboard Options
PNG offers both Liveaboard and Resort diving options. Liveaboards are a great option for exploring many areas during a week-long trip. Resorts allow divers relaxation on land along with a wide variety of local dive sites.