Scuba diving inAlotau, Milne Bay and Tufi
- Remote, peaceful, and incredibly diverse diving destinations
- Visit Dinah’s Beach in Milne Bay, the birthplace of muck diving
- Dive within a stunning fjord system, carved from volcanic lava
- Fascinating cultural, historical, and natural discoveries on offer
Milne Bay and Tufi can be thought of as the heart of Papua New Guinea’s scuba diving. Situated in the country’s far southeast, several of the sites here played a pivotal role in positioning Papua New Guinea as one of the world’s great dive destinations, while others went even further, leaving a lasting imprint on the psyche of divers the world over. From WWII wrecks and pelagic-packed offshore reefs, to deep volcanic fjords and the very first muck dives to be discovered, Milne Bay and Tufi are dream destinations for adventurous underwater explorers.
Diving Milne Bay and Tufi
Manta RaysYear round
Schooling FishYear round
Macro CreaturesYear round
Cryptic ScorpionfishYear round
Healthy coralsYear round
Plentiful reef lifeYear round
At the border of the Coral Sea and Solomon Sea, Milne Bay and Tufi both benefit from large tidal movements that draw deep, plankton-rich ocean waters into coastal lagoons – creating the perfect recipe for an explosion of life. And, due to the impressive size and seclusion of this region, you may well have the dive sites all to yourself.
South Milne Bay
Milne Bay’s southern sites centre around the southern headland and neighbouring islands that extend out into the Solomon Sea. The China Strait, which separates Sariba Island from the mainland, lies in the path of ripping currents that provide short, exhilarating drift dives at sites such as Washing Machine. Nearby, the island of Samarai is known for macro marine life, with its dilapidated jetty providing shelter for all kinds of critters. What’s more, the island of Gona Bara Bara, in the south of the China Strait, offers some of Papua New Guinea’s most reliable manta ray interactions at a site known as Giants@Home.
North Milne Bay
Milne Bay’s northern sites are largely located on the side of the peninsula facing the Solomon Sea. This shoreline is home to around a dozen of the region’s most renowned sites, including Dinah’s Beach – the birthplace of muck diving. The black sands of this coastal site are strewn with rotting tree trunks, broken coral fragments, and empty shells, creating a haven for critters of all kinds, including octopuses, shrimp, crabs, nudibranchs, and more.
But it’s not just macro marine life on offer here, with wide-angle wonderlands such as Deacon’s Reef and Wahoo Point lying just a stone’s throw away. These stunning reefs are only metres from the rainforest in places and are swept by the nutrient-rich waters that pass along the coast. The currents have given birth to beautiful gardens of hard corals, sponges and sea fans, while manta rays, whale sharks, and hammerheads can sometimes pass by in the blue. Several other sites, including Cob’s Cliff, lie near East Cape at the tip of the peninsula, while a scattering of seamounts can be found around Nuakata Island.
Some of Milne Bay’s most northerly sites are located around the D’entrecasteaux Islands of Normanby and Fergusson – the most famous of which is Observation Point. Situated off the northwest tip of Normanby Island, this site comprises a mixture of mangrove, seagrass, and rubble, promising plenty of unusual marine life. Mandarinfish, gobies, juvenile batfish, and Ambon ‘Bugs Bunny’ scorpionfish can all be found, along with seahorses, mimic octopus, Spanish dancers, Coleman’s shrimp, and stargazers.
Tufi is a truly unique diving destination, situated amongst the volcano-forged fjords of Cape Nelson. Like Milne Bay’s northern sites, Tufi enjoy tremendous marine biodiversity sustained by the nutrient-rich currents running up and down the coastline. There are at least 15 local sites, ranging from muck diving in the fjords to offshore reefs that act as magnets for sizable marine life.
The most extensively explored fjords of Cape Nelson are Tufi fjord and Maclaren Harbour - the rest are rarely visited. Within Tufi Fjord, the town’s wharf conveniently offers some of the best local scuba diving. Amongst the debris, divers can find gobies, mandarinfish, crocodile fish and various species of pipefish, along with nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses, bobtail squid, and more.
From Tufi, a boat ride of 30 to 50-minutes brings divers to a string of offshore reefs which rise up from the depths – many of which are yet to be fully surveyed. These seamounts and reef plateaus are almost entirely submerged, meaning there is little in the way of shelter and conditions must be favourable in order to visit. Located on the outer rim of this system of shoals, the reefs of Cyclone and Mulloway feature phenomenal wall diving accompanied by schools of barracuda, trevally, and tuna, as well as eagle rays, manta rays, grey reef sharks, and the possibility of hammerheads. Other noteworthy sites in the area include Minor’s, Ellie’s, Veale’s, Bev’s, and Clancey’s reefs.
Wreck diving in Milne Bay and Tufi
Southwest of Tufi, in Collingwood Bay, divers can also find the remains of a B25 Mitchel Bomber, complete with two heavy calibre machine guns. Known as the Pistoff Wreck, this plane is one of the more accessible wrecks in the region, lying at a depth of just 17-meres, though a nearby river limits visibility. Suitably certified divers can also explore the remains of two PT Boats and a small Australian freighter near Tufi Wharf. Having sunk in 1943, the vessels now lie at a depth of almost 50-metres, along with a Land Rover and several 50-calibre anti-aircraft machine guns.
The Blackjack Wreck lies off the coast of Cape Vogel, roughly halfway between Tufi and Milne Bay, at a depth of around 40-metres. This B17 Bomber was ditched above the reef so skillfully, it appears in almost perfect working order. In the cockpit, divers will find the seats still in place and various switch gears, gauges, cables and controls intact, while the four engines and rear gun turret can still be seen underneath. In the far south of the region, off the shores of Basilaki Island, divers can also find the wreck of a P38 Lightning bomber sitting at a depth of 27-metres.
Muck, reef, seamount, wreck, pelagic
Advanced - technical
Milne Bay January to April, Tufi October to November
5 - 40+
15 - 30m
24 - 29°C
- While not to everyone’s taste, Milne Bay’s skull caves provide a fascinating – albeit rather eerie – land visit to compliment your dive trip.
- Many of the region’s wrecks lie on the cusp of, or just beyond, recreational limits. Ensure you are suitably certified and experienced for the sites you wish to explore.
About Alotau, Milne Bay and Tufi
Confusingly, Milne Bay is used to refer to two distinct areas. First, there is the large bay at the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea, named after the British Admiral Sir Alexander Milne. Then, there is the larger province of Milne Bay, which covers an area roughly the size of the UK. This province incorporates a large part of the mainland, including its namesake bay, as well as hundreds of islands and cays that are spread over four small archipelagos – D’Entrecasteaux, Trobriand, Woodlark, and Louisiade. Alotau is the capital of Milne Bay province and is located within the bay itself.
Tufi lies just north of the Milne Bay province, at the tip of Cape Nelson, a remote and pristine part of Papua New Guinea. This area is sometimes referred to as the “Scandinavia of the tropics'', due to the cape’s iconic volcano-forged fjords. Towering almost vertically above the water, these stunning geological structures rise over a hundred metres in places, providing opportunities for both adventurous activities and appreciation of the surroundings between dives.
Despite receiving significant attention during WWII, Milne Bay and Tufi remain wonderfully secluded. Together, they are renowned for providing authentic Papuan experiences and unparalleled insights into local culture, alongside fascinating snapshots of military history. What’s more, the flora and fauna of the area is fascinating, with many species of orchids, hundreds of tropical birds, and the largest butterfly in the world.
This region is isolated from the west coast and the closest roads from Port Moresby stop hundreds of kilometres short of both destinations. As a result, the only way to reach Milne Bay is by plane. Air Nuigini operates daily direct flights, flying from Port Moresby to Alotau’s Gurney Airport each morning. Alotau is the provincial capital and acts as the departure point for liveaboards. The town of Tufi has its own small airstrip, serviced by charter flights from Port Moresby on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons. These flights are particularly scenic, passing over the Owen Stanley mountain range which reaches elevations of 4,000-metres.
Where to stay
There is little tourist infrastructure in this remote region, but that only adds to the allure. Understandably though, many visitors who make the effort to get here want to see as much of it as possible, making liveaboards a popular way to explore. Vessels typically depart from the town of Alotau, which also offers the best choice of lodges and guesthouses – though this still amounts to less than half a dozen options. If you’d prefer not to join a liveaboard trip, several secluded resorts can be found scattered along the coastline, including Tufi Resort, Tawali Leisure and Dive Resort, and one or two options amongst Milne Bay’s southern islands.
As Milne Bay covers quite a large area, it’s possible to enjoy top quality scuba diving no matter when you visit. As always though, there are some seasonal variations worth taking into consideration. Unlike most of Papua New Guinea, the dry season in Milne Bay runs from roughly November through April, with occasional downpours throughout. January to April are often considered the best months for diving in Milne Bay, as the skies are mostly clear, the water warm, and visibility on the muck sites is at its best. Visibility on the reefs is more consistent throughout the year. During the wet season, wind can sometimes cause uncomfortable surface chop and heavy rainstorms can occur spontaneously.
The climate around Tufi is more consistent with that of the rest of Papua New Guinea, with a wet season from December through March. Conditions are often calm during this period, meaning the offshore reefs can be explored, though significant river run-off limits visibility close to shore. Warmer temperatures of up to 29°C in the fjords can also drive critters deeper in search of cooler waters.
Tufi’s dry season runs from around May through September and offers good visibility, but stronger winds can limit access to the outer reefs. For this reason, the doldrum months of October and November are often considered the best time to scuba dive around Tufi. At this time, conditions are optimal at both the onshore and offshore sites, with calm seas, great visibility, and slightly cooler waters of around 26°C which attract plenty of marine life.