Our expedition to Papua New Guinea was one of the greatest trips I have had in my 50 years of globe trotting. The quality and quantity of fishes and corals was truly world class.

The chance to interact with the villagers and school children was wonderful. As usual, GDA provided a terrific experience both above and below the water. It was a most memorable time.
~ Jerry Braet, Founding member since 2003

Where else can you dive pristine reefs, experience unbelievable marine life, and come across a B-17 that ditched during the war off a remote Island.

Then take an afternoon tour in one of the most culturally diverse lands with 850 indigenous languages spread out among almost as many small societies.

In all my expeditions led by Ridlon and Carin, PNG remains the most memorable. The breadth and depth (no pun intended) of what you experience is absolutely amazing.
~ Skip Huisking, Founding member since 2004

Papua New Guinea

Destination Review: Papua New Guinea Diving

First Thoughts

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has always been wild and wooly and even into the 21st century much hasn’t changed. The numbers are stunning – with over five million people living within 200 cultures speaking 800 languages. PNG has more than 25% of the worlds languages. Social structure remains relatively intact to that of days past and traditions are still an important part of daily life. To reach anywhere on the island by plane, you’ll fly into Port Moresby. Port M is definitely a town in which you want to be off the streets at night and tucked inside your hotel room. Once outside of the capital city, the island is a relatively untouched and undeveloped adventure capital. Its massive the second largest island in the world, and contains several distinct areas which include the highlands, lowlands, Sepik River area and several outlying island groups. In the highlands, the mountains tower over 14,000 feet and the temperature is cold at night. The Sepik is PNG’s smaller answer to the Amazon while the outlying islands are remote and still bear the remains of WWII battles.

Why We Think Papua New Guinea Rocks or Doesn’t

It’s wild here. And on a planet where wild places are getting harder to find, this is still it. Even though there’s been more immigration into the cities, PNG is still very tribal and retains its old social customs much of the island is still completely inaccessible. Its part of the Coral Triangle with Indonesia and the Philippines and the fish life is amazing.

Things that Rock

  • Wildness
  • Incredible marine and terrestrial biodiversity
  • Diversity of dive areas
  • Opportunity to see rare and unusual fish
  • Real cultural experiences especially in highlands and out islands
  • Fantastic cultural art
  • Diving and the highlands all in one trip
  • Some great WWII history

Things that Don’t

  • Port Moresby isn’t safe
  • expensive to get there
  • long schlep to get there
  • you must be on an anti malarial prophylaxis here

The Diving

Muck Diving. Yes, the term has become almost ubiquitous for any site without a pretty reef but TRUE muck diving began in the volcanic sand in PNG and will reward you with critters that belong on the pages of Dr. Seuss. And while muck diving put PNG on divers lists around the world, there’s SO much more here. The reefs of Milne Bay, Witu, Fathers and the Duke of Yorks are stunning. The corals are vibrant and healthy and the fish life is profuse. Biodiversity or the number of different types of fish and other marine animals is off the charts. You will come here and see all kinds of fish you have never seen anywhere else in the world. New Ireland has some great drift dives between islands. And there is great bommie diving in many places. Bommies are submerged pinnacles some coming with reach of the surface, some larger than a football field on top and others coming almost to a point. These bommies create a scattering of submerged reefs all around New Britain, New Ireland and Duke of Yorks. The one thing that is glaringly absent with the rest of this mash of fish life are sharks.

Land Based or Live aboard in Papua New Guinea?

There aren’t a lot of choices either way in Papua New Guinea so it may be a situation of deciding where you want to go and just seeing what is there or choosing from the short list of resorts and live aboards. For many years, Walindi on New Britain was the grand dame of PNG diving and one of the few places to go but isn’t what it used to be. Tawali is one of the newest resorts in the far reaches of Milne Bay. Its an adventure just getting there but the diving is worth it. Alan Raabe has been running a live aboard called the Febrina in PNG since forever and is one of the craziest guys I’ve ever met. He’s also one of the best skippers and probably knows PNG SCUBA diving better than any single one person alive. The Febrina isn’t the newest of boats, but it’s worth going with Alan Raabe because you get Alan Raabe.

Dive Areas in Papua New Guinea

Southern New Britain Island- We had the opportunity to be the first to explore the sites on the southern side of New Britain Island where we were rewarded with HUGE intact sea fans, great critters and fab soft coral action in the currents! Live aboard only.

Fathers and Witu Reef- Again, most of these sites are live aboard only but you can do some of the closer in site from Walindi. However, we found the diving further out from Walindi much clearer with better critters.

Milne Bay- This area on the southeast side of PNG is accessed from the small village of Alotau, just a one hour plane hop from Port Moresby. This is muck diving at it’s finest AS WELL AS some amazing bommies (pinnacles) with heaps of fish, sharks and sometimes mantas. Milne Bay truly has the spectrum. It can be dived from both live aboards and a couple of land based resorts.

Loloata– Just 30 minutes from the airport, Loloata on the Coral Sea side of PNG isn’t the prettiest diving I’ve done but if you are after critters such as ornate ghost pipefish and the weedy scorpionfish (Rhinopius) this is a GREAT stop off on the way to other dive areas.

Duke of York Islands-You know how there are certain dive sites that just stick out forever in your mind. Diving in this area was one of those special places. The water was so clear we could see forever and the entire undulating reef and sand structure was laid bare before us. I can still today picture in detail the reef. I LOVE this area.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • Stay at Loloata Island. This is a great alternative to an overnight in Port Moresby. The island is located thirty minutes from the airport and then a short boat ride to the island. It’s laid back atmosphere will immediately begin to relax you from the long plane ride to get to PNG. Dik Knight, the owner will regale you with stories! If you have a couple of days, stay and dive there area some fantastic sites right here in Bootlegger Bay … if Rhinopius is what you seek, look no further!
  • Shop at PNG Arts. Normally, we wouldn’t consider shopping adventure but PNG Arts in Port Moresby is an outstanding and huge warehouse literally stuffed with masks, story boards, carved statues, painting and any craft you can imagine from several areas of PNG.
  • Check out the Volcano at Rabul!– An awe inspiring site, the Vulcan and Tavurvur volcanoes are two of the most active pyroclastic shield volcanoes on Earth. Get close and hear them rumbling and watch the ever rising cloud of smoke and ash. I bet you don’t sleep well that night!
  • Be the guest of honor at a Sing-Sing. Or at least attend one. A Sing Sing is a gathering of local villages or tribes for the purpose of sharing traditions. This isn’t a lets roll out the dog and pony show for the touristas. This is the real deal.
  • Try Betel Nut – The chewing of betel nut is a national pastime in PNG, though the locals call it buai (boo-eye). It has a mild stimulant effect IF you can chew it long enough. The nut is removed from it’s shell, often wrapped in the leaf and sprinkled with lime (as in coral lime not the citrus). The effect, beside the stimulant is orange teeth. The majority of the population of the island have orange stained teeth! Yes, a proven carcinogen.
  • Visit local villages- There are some amazing villages and people in PNG and you should take any opportunity you have to visit them. We went to a school on a remote island and Sharkman juggled for the kids and taught them how. It was really super cool!

Papua New Guinea Seasonality

In general, Late December-April is the wet season but with calm seas and visibility underwater on the decline. April and May the seas generally remain calm and visibility begins to clear. June through early October is the dry but windy season creating bumpy seas but good vis. Late October-early December is back to the doldrums with calm conditions and good vis (my favorite season in PNG). Water temps range from 76-86 depending on the season.

Overall

Going to Papua New Guinea is more of a diving adventure/expedition than just a vacation. It’s a long way to go and takes a while to get there. You’ll likely want to stop off in Australia along the way that’s what we do. Port Moresby doesn’t have much to recommend itself but as the gateway to the entire country, its necessary to pass through. Get in and out as quickly as you can. The true magic of PNG and it is magical is that you get a very real experience; no cruise ship terminals, no Columbian Emeralds and no mediocre reefs damaged by development. The reefs are healthy, vibrant and stocked with over 1200 species of fish. That’s almost twice as many as live in the entire Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico combined. This is a place where the rare and unusual is more common of uncommon. It still has a bit of a Wild West feeling and yes; you do need to look out for yourself. And that’s a nice change from our over processed, overdeveloped world.

Sharkman and Mantagirl Give Papua New Guinea

Two Fins UP

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Adventure

The adventure life comes in many styles in the PNG. Some of our favorite things to do include:

  1. Dive Dive Dive. Scuba diving in Papua New Guinea is our favorite thing to do!
  2. Stay at Loloata island. This is a great alternative to an overnight in Port Moresby. The island is located thirty minutes from the airport and then a short boat ride to the island. It’s laid back atmosphere will immediately begin to relax you from the long plane ride to get to PNG. Dik Knight, the owner will regal you with stories! If you have a couple of days, stay and dive…..if Rhinopius is what you seek, look no further!
  3. Shop at PNG Arts. Normally, we wouldn’t consider shopping adventure but PNG Arts in Port Moresby is an outstanding and huge warehouse literally stuffed with masks, story boards, carved statues, painting and any craft you can imagine from the New Guinea highlands.
  4. Check out the Volcano at Rabul!- An awe inspiring site, the Vulcan and Tavurvur volcanos are two of the most active pyroclastic shield volcanos on Earth. Get close and hear them rumbling and watch the ever rising cloud of smoke and ash. I bet you don’t sleep well that night!
  5. Be the guest of honor at a Sing-Sing. Or at least attend one. A Sing Sing is a gathering of local villages or tribes for the purpose of sharing traditions. It’s a night to remember for sure!!
  6. Try Betel Nut – The chewing of betel nut is a national pastime in PNG, though the locals call it buai (boo-eye). It has a mild stimulant effect IF you can chew it long enough. The nut is removed from it’s shell, often wrapped in the leaf and sprinkled with lime (as in coral lime not the citrus). The effect, beside the stimulant is orange teeth. The majority of the population of the island have orange stained teeth! Yes, a proven carcinogen. Help!!! We need dentists here!
  7. Visit local villages – There are some amazing villages and people in PNG and you should take any opportunity you have to visit them. And this one time (at band camp) we went to a school on a remote island and Sharkman juggled for the kids and taught them how. It was really super cool!
  8. Muck Dive- Yes, the term has become almost ubiquitous for any site without a pretty reef but TRUE muck diving in volcanic sand really started in PNG and will reward you with critters that belong on the pages of Dr. Seuss!!
  9. Visit the Highlands- Parts of the Highlands remain as untouched as they were when they were discovered back in the 1930’s and yes, there are still some remote villagers who have not seen white man. You can fly in to Mt. Hagen and do the touristy thing or truly get out into the remote areas and climb, raft and hike. Climbers can even be rewarded with snow on the peaks. Mt Wilhelm is the highest peak at 4509 meters. Only a 3-4 day non technical climb….

Getting There

Papua New Guinea is a dive destination that you can explore your entire life and not come close to seeing it all! There are many different areas to discover and innumerable mythical creatures to discover.

I have had the pleasure to adventure in many areas of PNG including Kimbe, Rabaul, and Kavieng both by liveaboard and land based. For land based diving, I would head to Tawali in Milne Bay but do understand exactly what you are getting into before you go. This area is remote and wild so be prepared.

To get to Tawali you’ll need to schlep it to Port Moresby. You can do so from Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, KL, Tokyo and other Asian gateway cities It is a long haul and flights on Air Niugini are expensive. You will not want to spend much time in Port Moresby as it still retains its reputation as a frontier town with many shady characters. Then you will take a domestic hop to Alotau where you will be picked up and transported by bus across some paved and some dirt roads for about 1 hour and then by boat to the resort.

You will be rewarded with fantastic diving both on the reef and in the muck.

From www.tawali.com

Tucked away, only accessible by boat, sits what may be Papua New Guinea’s best kept scuba diving secret – Tawali Resort. Welcome to the exotic culture of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and to Tawali Resort. Located on a volcanic bluff overlooking the clear protected waters of Milne Bay, Tawali offers travelers a unique location to dive, relax and enjoy the unspoiled wonders of this magnificent part of the world.
Learn what it really means to step back in time where the worries of the world fade and the magic of nature unfolds.

Overall feel of Tawali

Tawali is definitely tucked away within the green forests of PNG. Since it is accessible only by boat and a long drive, you are isolated. There is no shopping and very few activities besides diving. This would not be my choice for a diver/non diver couple. But if diving is your passion, come on out and play!

Resort Spec Highlights

  1. Maximum of 20 guests
  2. Spacious rooms within a lush setting
  3. Outdoor deck overlooking the sea
  4. Hand crafted resort built with no power tools!
  5. Shore muck diving available
  6. On site dive operation

Beach

There is no beach at Tawali. We spend all day every day diving so that was not an issue but it would be if there were non divers. You could say there was some sand along the water at the back of the resort but truly there is nothing to be called a beach.

Snorkeling

You can snorkel and dive from the dock at Tawali. Don’t expect to find beautiful corals here or high visibility off the dock. But you can find interesting creatures and cool juveniles! There is also a resident pod of dolphin and sometimes manta rays. When it rains, the runoff can muddy up the water right off the resort but unlike many places, it clears up pretty quickly.

Muck Diving

PNG is really the pioneering place for muck diving. And I mean true muck diving….going out in the volcanic muck and sand and coming across creatures that belong in a Dr. Seuss book. You can TRULY find this type of diving off Tawali, and it’s exceptional, especially at night. Now, many resorts are using the term for any dive site that basically sucks, Oh, that’s our muck diving aread.

Bars and Restaurants

Since Tawali is a very small resort in a remote location, there is just one bar and an outside deck for hanging out after diving. It’s not a place to cruise an extensive wine list, grab a SP beer (South Pacific Brewery) and enjoy the sunset! The dining room serves three meals a day in buffet style with made to order eggs in the morning. It’s not fancy but it’s good with lots of local flavors cooked by the ladies of the nearby village.

Spa

Nope.

Accommodations

There are 10 rooms at Tawai and are situated along a wooden walkway in the trees up on a bluff. There are five buildings with two rooms each so they share an interior wall but are completely private. There are lots of windows and a deck for each spacious room. There is air conditioning which is nice because if it rains it can be quite humid and I appreciate the opportunity to get the water out of the air.

The rooms don’t overlook the ocean but are tucked behind the main building in the rainforest. Since the resort is so small, it is just a short walk to the main building which houses the dining room and bar and sitting area and below the gift shop. The whole area is very small but considering it was basically hacked out of jungle on the hill, they’ve done a good job!

*NOTE* The hotel is up on the hill so do expect to climb up and down the hill to get to and from the dive boats.

Overall

Tawali (which means reef in the local language) is unique in its location and its remoteness. It sits alone on the bluff overlooking the reefs tucked into the forest. Do not expect resort amenities here but do expect wonderful friendly staff, food made with love by the local village women and great diving.

Tawali Dive Operation

Tawali does pretty well with their dive operation given what they have to work with and the difficulty in getting things in and out of the area. I personally would not go on their liveaboard, the MV Chertan as it is in need of serious overhaul and is extremely slow and dumpy, but the big dive boat they have gets us where we want to go for day diving.

Facility

The dive shop is located behind the resort and down the hill. It is really not more than a compressor and there is no need to go there. Once the dive staff has the gear, they set it up each morning and bring the boats around to the dock at the resort.

We take care of our own wetsuits, masks and fins. When we did, at first, store them with the dive crew, some of the items went missing. It was just easier to throw them in the shower at the end of each day and hang the wetsuits over the rail on the deck of the room.

Tawali has one large catamaran dive boat which we take on the three tank all day dives out to the outer reefs. It works fine for our dive groups and while it can take up to 20 divers that would be rather crowded.

They also have two small 23 foot boats that can take six divers to the local diving off the resort within about 15 minutes of the hotel. This is good for mucking about but if you want to see the more beautiful diving and reefs you will want to get further afield. I would probably only spend one day diving in the local area unless you want to comb the muck.

The Diving Operation

The divemasters are very helpful finding many of the unusual critters that PNG is famous for and one of our divers helped them out one time by sending them a few fish books once he got home.

If you want to dive the outer reefs, it’s generally done as a three tank all day dive with lunch included on the boat. Two tank dives are done in the local area and back for lunch.

You can jump in off the dock whenever you want and night diving is available both from the dock and by boat.

The dive operation is very simple and straight forward.