Rich biodiversity and an as-yet-discovered atmosphere characterize Papua New Guinea. Mountainous on land, PNG is equally as rugged below the waves. Dive site variety is one of the attractions here. Divers can choose barrier reefs, walls and inshore coral gardens or patch reefs. PNG comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and the islands of New Britain, Bougainville and the Bismark Archipelago, totaling an estimated 600 islands. The number of reef fishes is voluminous. For instance, there are at least 10 different types of anemonefish in PNG. And that's just a symptom of the incredible number of species in this pristine underwater wilderness. For more information about diving PNG by live-aboard, click onto the Peter Hughes home page below.
PNG North: The Bismarck Sea
Duke of York Islands
Reached by live-aboards out of the port city of Rabaul on New Britain, this idyllic cluster of beaches, palm trees and tiny villages is surrounded by fringing reef with calm, shallow conditions. Two Tanks is the famous pair of intact World War II Japanese battle tanks, apparently dumped off a barge by mistake. They sit upright in just 15 feet of water off the southern tip of the largest island. Valley of the Fans is a pinnacle dive with, you guessed it, an abundance of big colorful sea fans. Mild depths and currents make this a good place to practice spotting hard-to-see fish such as leaf scorpionfish.
This string of volcanic seamounts off New Britain's Gazelle Peninsula rises from great depths to within a few feet of the surface. The shallow tops are crowded with coral growth and reef fish, while steep sloping sides are home to anemones and clownfish, prodigious sponges and sea fans. Expect currents, and with them, lots of big fish, sharks and rays. You may also witness passing whales, dolphins and orcas, so bring a snorkel. Halfway Reef is a classic traffic-cone-shaped seamount while Kilibob's Knob is a trio of plateaus that stair-steps into the deep realm of silvertip and blacktip sharks. Alice's Magnificent Mound is another crowd pleaser with a sloping plateau from 40 to 60 feet, a deep overhang at 130 for the adventurous and lots of table coral formations.
A chain of dormant volcanoes shields Kimbe Bay from open-ocean conditions, creating a pocket of calm water on the north coast of West New Britain. Safe from storms, currents and damaging swells, the underwater pinnacles support an astounding variety of life. The calm bay is a refuge for mammals as well: orcas, sperm, pilot, minke, false killer, humpback and melon head whales are occasionally sighted. Spinner and bottlenosed dolphins can usually be counted on to escort the boat between dives.
Land-based operators in Kimbe Bay offer day trips to a wealth of dives inside the bay, while live-aboards use the bay as a jumping-off point for cruises to Father's Reef and the Witu Islands. Inside the bay, South Ema has it all — fish-filled swim-throughs, giant schools of jacks, barracudas and snappers, a wide variety of fish and stunning coral-covered walls. Just a splash of current brings oval-shaped Joelle's Pinnacle to life. Find the current and that's where the fish will be: sharks, jacks, barracuda, surgeonfish, snappers and oceanic triggerfish are all found schooling in the deep blue breeze. Restorf Island is a renowned critter dive with blue ribbon eels, devil scorpionfish, twin spot gobies, pipefish, crocodilefish, garden eels, seahorses and harlequin ghost pipefish among the star performers. Topside, Restorf is an idyllic island paradise where day boats stop for lunch and live-aboards spend the night.
Located on the northern tip of New Ireland, Kavieng offers access to a thrilling blend of current dives and shark encounters unrivaled anywhere in PNG. Just outside the harbor, the wreck of the Taiwanese fishing vessel Der Yang is a photogenic site. Scuttled as an artificial reef in 1988, the intact ship rests on her starboard side atop a coral-covered pinnacle. Silvertip is a shallow pinnacle swept by currents and crowded with sharks and rays that aren't afraid to get close. Planet Channel is drift diving at its most extreme. Currents flowing through the straits that connect the Bismarck Sea to the Pacific Ocean also fuel prodigious growth among filter-feeders like sea fans, sponges, sea whips and soft corals.
The shoreline of this coastal village on New Guinea Island has everything from fringing reefs and mini-walls to World War II wrecks. Most famous is the intact B-25 Mitchell bomber, ditched under fire during battle. The wreck is in 40 feet of water inside the bay and covered in sea fans and soft corals. Nearby is the tug Henry Leith, sunk as an artificial reef. Outside the bay, divers thrill to Planet Rock, a pinnacle dive where hammerheads are frequently spotted.
PNG South: Solomon Sea
Milne Bay/Tufi/D'Entrecasteaux Islands
From the port city of Alotau, live-aboards exploring the Coral Sea have a variety of options — inside the bay, north along the coast toward the village of Tufi or out among scattered island groups like the Trobriand and D'Entrecasteaux Islands.
Suzy's Shoal is a quiet dive near Sanaroa in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands, with huge sea fans and gray reef sharks patrolling the drop-off. The most famous dive in the Solomon Sea is the BlackJack Wreck, an intact B-17 "Flying Fortress" lying on the sand bottom of the village of Boga-Boga at 150 feet. Deep wreck fans will also appreciate the S'Jacob off Musa Point. This World War II shipwreck at 115 to 180 feet has never been stripped and it explodes with colorful marine growth.
Port Moresby/Bootless Bay
The Gulf of Papua off the island of New Guinea is an offshoot of the Coral Sea. From the capital city of Port Moresby, and nearby Bootless Bay, divers can reach a barrier reef, where gray reef sharks and even hammerheads are spotted, and there are a number of exciting wreck dives, though runoff can occasionally cut visibility to about 50 feet.
When conditions are clear, Suzie's Bommie is one of PNG's top dives. The coral dome tops out at 50 feet and is covered with massive schools of sweetlips, fusiliers, batfish and snapper. Wreck divers will enjoy the trawlers New Marine and Kukipi, and the 200-foot transport ship Pacific Gas — all sunk as artificial reefs. Live-aboard cruises from Port Moresby also hit the remote barrier reef system known as the Eastern Fields, where soft corals, sharks and reef fish are all abundant.