The seas surrounding Papua New Guinea are home to some of the best scuba diving locations in the world. These tropical waters are teeming with colourful coral and marine life from the tiniest sea critters to the largest ocean mammals: everything from nudibranchs to whales can be spotted here. Don’t miss the chance to explore these top dive sites on a trip to PNG.
Imagine what the underwater world looked like before humans came along, and Papua New Guinea is the closest thing to this idyllic image in real life. The South Pacific nation is located in the marine area known as the ‘coral triangle’, where more than 2,000 species of reef fish and 600 species of coral thrive. In PNG’s waters, giant gorgonian fans compete for space with huge barrel sponges in fabulously colourful coral gardens. A rainbow-range of fish and larger creatures, including sharks, dolphins and the occasional whale, also wind their way around PNG’s 45,000km (28,000mi) of reef systems. The waters are also dotted with World War II wrecks for divers to explore, making any scuba diving experience truly unforgettable.
A remote group of islands in the heart of the Bismark Sea, the Witus are only accessible on a liveaboard tour. But the extra effort is worth it to reach these incredible volcanic islands. Witu’s main island, Garove, was formed as recently as 300 years ago when the peak of a volcano was blown off in a major eruption. Phil North, Manager of Dive Worldwide, says, “These islands feature a blend of seamounts and volcanic, black sand bays, giving rise to a wonderfully diverse array of marine life. Highlights include the wonderful corals and fish life of the Goru Arches, the excitement of Krakafat, and the extraordinary critters to be found at The Crater. Rest assured, the dive site names are just the beginning of the adventure.” Walindi Plantation Resort in Kimbe Bay offers tours to the Witu Islands on their liveaboards, MV FeBrina and MV Oceania.
The passages around Kavieng on the northern tip of PNG’s New Ireland province come into their own during an incoming tide. Currents shifting between the passages from the Bismark Sea to the Pacific Ocean bring in a whole host of marine life. Eagle rays can be spotted swimming past shoals of barracudas, yellowtail snappers and trevallies, while whitetip and silvertip reef sharks lurk in the background. Hammerheads are also known to occasionally visit Albatross Passage. The sheer passage wall is also overgrown with coral fans and sponges, which hide nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses and leaf scorpionfish in their shadows. Lissenung Island Resort, which organises dive trips around Kavieng, says it is arguably the best dive site in the area.
This famous wreck lies 30 metres (98ft) down on the seafloor outside Kavieng harbour in New Ireland, the northeasternmost province of PNG. The largely intact, coral-covered scuttled fishing boat wreck now attracts a diverse range of marine life. “The Der Yang wreck was originally a Taiwanese fishing vessel before being seized by local maritime authorities,” explains Phil. “She has rested on the seafloor since 1988, lying almost perfectly on her starboard side. Sitting between two islands, the Der Yang is swept by the rich currents from the Pacific Ocean. Over the years, those currents have turned it into a beacon for all manner of marine life, making for a perfect dive.”
It might be surprising to have such a high-quality dive site only 15km (9mi) away from PNG’s capital city and bustling international port. But Suzie’s Bommie in the Gulf of Papua remains a world-class dive site. A ‘bommie’ is the term given to a submerged offshore reef, and Suzie’s seamount rises up 30 metres (98ft) from the ocean floor, falling short of the surface by 13 metres (43ft). The large mound is home to tiny creatures like pygmy seahorses, as well as large pelagics such as schools of barracuda. There are several dive schools in Port Moresby that can arrange trips to this spectacular site.
Exceptional seamounts are one of the many reasons Kimbe Bay, off the northern coast of PNG’s New Britain province, has become a byword for excellent scuba diving. A result of the volcanic activity bubbling below the surface of the region, seamounts are underwater mountains that are perfect for scuba divers. They can swim uninterrupted along the edges of these peaks and examine the corals that cling to the edge and the larger fish attracted to the bommie. Phil says, “The Kimbe Bay area is famed for its exceptional diving, and there are few more exciting dive sites than the Bradford Shoals. An isolated seamount that rises from the depths to within 20 metres (66ft) of the surface, the dive site is a magnet for big marine life. Barracuda, pinjaro, big eye trevally, unicorn fish and grey reef sharks are all regularly in attendance, while hammerheads can be seen here, too.”
Kimbe Bay has more than 800 species of fish and about 400 species of hard corals. The Emma South dive site encapsulates this diversity, and the site is a bountiful example of what PNG’s waters have to offer. The deep swim through is covered in impressive, intricate hard corals from barrel sponges to red whip gorgonians, with an abundance of colourful soft corals nestled at their base. “Possibly, many people’s idea of the perfect dive site, Emma South offers wonderful variety,” says Phil. “Exiting the swim-through allows one to fully appreciate the wonderful array of colourful corals that bless this site.” A dive on Emma South typically finishes at a bommie where keen critter hunters can search for the brightly coloured but elusive leaf scorpionfish.
Tufi, on the northern shore of PNG’s southern peninsula, is as beautiful offshore as it is on land. Divers here are spoilt for choice and can sink below the surface to see the Second World War’s wrecks or explore the deep fjord. “Offshore from the magical landscape of Tufi are also a series of offshore reefs offering spectacular diving,” says Phil. “Possibly the ace in the pack is Mulloway Reef. Strong currents and dizzying depths ensure this reef almost explodes with life.” Mulloway Reef is famous for pelagic fish such as tuna and mackerel, which also attracts bigger fish higher up the food chain. “Pelagics of all kinds are seen on almost every dive, while reef fish dance in the current, jostling for the best position,” adds Phil. “Grey reef and hammerhead sharks are also regularly seen along with large rays.”
PNG’s shores are littered with World War II wrecks, from planes to shipwrecks, and the B17 Bomber Black Jack is one of the most famous. The well-preserved plane lies 45 metres (148ft) down on the sandy seabed near Cape Vogel. “One for experienced and suitably trained divers only, this is a simply outstanding wreck dive,” says North. This US bomber, nicknamed Black Jack because its serial number ended in 21, came down in 1943 during a storm. It was on its way back to the base in Port Moresby following a mission to bomb the Japanese airfields in Rabaul, in New Britain province. “She was rediscovered in 1986 and remains in excellent condition, with most weapons and equipment intact,” adds Phil. “Batfish and sharks add to the scene, making this dive a short, but hugely rewarding experience.” The dive school at Tufi Resort offers specialised dives to visit Black Jack and other wrecks.
While the underwater scenery at Dinah’s Beach might not initially compare to some of the other spectacular dive sites around PNG, Dinah’s reef holds a special place in the heart of the diving world. “This is the original ‘muck dive’ site,” says Phil of this Milne Bay spot, located in southeastern PNG. Muck diving is the term given to sites that are typically covered in sand or sediment instead of coral. But these sites are where some of the most impressive small and colourful creatures can be found.“The term muck diving may not sound appealing, but its name is misleading,” adds Phil. “The dive site may look plain in comparison to a wonderfully adorned coral reef, but it plays host to masters of camouflage. Watch in awe as your eagle-eyed dive guide reveals ribbon eels, cuttlefish, mandarin fish, seahorses and more all hiding in plain sight.”