A Deep History Lesson
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the world’s most exotic diving destinations. It’s far off the beaten path—hard to reach and even harder to get around. In fact, this tropical island nation in the Pacific Ocean is often referred to as “the land of the unexpected.” Its mountainous interior blanketed in rainforest wasn’t penetrated by Westerners until the 1930s, and today hundreds of different indigenous cultures and languages still exist within the country’s borders.
For scuba divers, the best part of PNG lies in its surrounding waters, home to an abundance of rare marine life and significant relics from World War II. The many navy ships and various aircraft that remain beneath the sea are a somber reminder of hard-fought battles between the Allied troops and Japanese forces that took place here during the early 1940s. In the years since then, coral reefs have grown over these historic remnants, creating vibrant dive sights that merge old stories with new beginnings.
Depending on the strength of your sea legs, you can base yourself at a lodge in PNG and take day trips to dive, or embark on a “live-aboard” expedition, where you stay on a boat and dive from it as you travel around different islands. Barring any serious tendencies toward severe seasickness, the latter is the obvious choice for adrenaline junkies.
A good place to start diving is Tufi, just a short flight or boat ride from Port Moresby. This secluded jungle area with tropical plants, coconut trees, and damp earth near Mount Trafalgar offers a great dive resort and plenty of underwater adventures around large wrecks, majestic fjords, spectacular reefs, and countless fish. If you’re lucky, you might even see a pygmy seahorse.
When you’re ready for more adventures at sea, climb aboard the Barbarian II (www.niuginidiving.com). Its skipper, Rod Pearce, is credited with discovering the famous B17 bomber Blackjack, still intact beneath 50m (164 ft.) of water off Milne Bay, between the Solomon Sea and the Coral Sea. It’s well worth a look.
Another special wreck awaits nearby. The P38 Lightning, a single-seat fighter ditched during World War II, resides 27m (90 ft.) underwater, with the guns in its nose pointing at a reef in front of the wreck. With many other wrecks to explore in the area, the serious diver will certainly not be bored. And while the wrecks themselves are the focus of this adventure, the added bonus is the unavoidable beauty of the area’s fertile reefs swarming with fish and other sea creatures.
If you want to explore even more remote parts of PNG, head north to the waters off Kimbe, Kavieng, and Rabaul on the MV Telita (www.telitacruises.com). Diving highlights include Der Yang, deliberately sunken at 30m (100 ft.) to act as an artificial reef; an intact freighter; and a Japanese mini-submarine at 22m (72 ft.). Kavieng, in particular, is also known for pelagic fish action, when the change of tides produces strong currents and the number of fish is overwhelming.
Wreck diving is enough of a reason to visit PNG, but save time for a few worthwhile experiences on land while you’re in the region. Visit a tribal village to learn about an indigenous culture. Stay at a local guesthouse and enjoy a traditional “sing-sing” performance. While in the jungle, you may even catch a glimpse of the Alexandra Birdwing, the world’s largest butterfly.
Traveling anywhere in PNG, on land or under the sea, takes an intrepid spirit and a relaxed attitude. The infrastructure is poor, and things often take longer than expected. That’s all part of the beauty. Just dive in and you’ll be amazed by what you find.
Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority ( 675/320-0211; www.pngtourism.org.pg).
Tours: Trans Niugini Tours, Mount Hagen ( 675/542-1438; www.pngtours.com). Telita Dive Adventures, Port Mortesby ( 675/321-1860; www.telitacruises.com).
When to Go: Apr–Dec.
Jackson’s International Airport.
$$ Tufi Dive Resort, Mount Trafalgar, 250km (155 miles) northeast of Port Moresby (675/323-3462; www.tufidive.com). $$ Walindi Plantation Resort, Kimbe Bay ( 675/983-5441; www.walindi.com).