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Milne Bay Dive Sites

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Milne Bay is where diving started in PNG! Actually, that's not entirely true, because Bob Halstead, Kevin Baldwin and other members of the Port Moresby Diving Club all started diving in and around Port Moresby. But it was strictly for fun and personal pleasure, and not for the outside world. It was not until Bob designed and built Telita in the 80s and took her to Milne Bay that people around the world realised that PNG was somewhere rather special when it came to diving.

Milne Bay Province starts at Collingwood Bay on the North coast of the PNG mainland and takes in the legendary Trobriand Islands, D'Entrecasteaux & Louisiade Archipelagos to the East and ends on the South coast at Orangerie Bay. The provincial capital, Alotau, is a pretty little town in a wonderful setting, looking South and East from Milne Bay proper towards the Engineer Islands. Lush tropical mountains are the ever present back drop, flat coastal plains making way for oil palm plantations and market gardens. The people here are Melanesian in origin, with slim, slightly oriental facial features, and big wide grins! They are happy people, blessed with an equitable climate and spectacular natural resources. Arriving at the local airport, Gurney, the 40 minute drive to Alotau takes you through palm plantations, through picturesque villages, across bubbling streams and on one side, past mangroves and golden beaches and on the other, towering rainforest clad mountains. The port bustles with fishing boats, small coastal freighters loading palm oil and fresh local produce.

Here is the base for a number of dive vessels; Chertan & Marlin1 all year round, and during the right season, Golden Dawn & Tiata. There are 3 hotels, the long established Masurina Lodge, and the recently opened Alotau International and Veawaii Melanesian Resort. Day diving is offered, but to be honest, you can't get far enough to do the best sites!

From Alotau dive vessels can strike northeast around East Cape, diving Sullivan's Patches, Banana Bommie and Cobb's Cliff and the wonderful muck dive at Observation Point before heading northwest to Cape Vogel and the legendary wreck of Blackjack, the B17 bomber. To the East the towering islands of Normanby, Furgusson & Goodenough make up the D'Entrecasteaux Islands; covered in forest and seemingly uninhabited, at night you will not see a single light on any of these islands. You're that far from home! Or they can head south east to Samarai, where the wonderful cathedral like piers of Samarai Wharf make for a wonderful dive. It was on nearby Deka Deka Island that I had a fabulous encounter with a dugong in November 2000. Near Samarai is the marvelous manta dive, "Giants at Home", the 8 knot drift dive "The Washing Machine" and the wreck of a P38 Lightning aircraft. For the adventurous of spirit you can head far to the East, to Egum Atoll or the Calvados Chain; the diving here is almost untouched. Few know what surprises might lie in store down here!

The diving in Milne Bay is exceedingly varied - muck diving at Observation Point & Dinah's Beach, one of the world's classic coral structures - Deacon's Reef - drift dives, wreck dives, wall dives, shallow patch reefs and deep oceanic reefs. If I had to dive in the same place for the rest of my life I would be hard pressed to think of a better place than Dinah's Beach to one side and Deacon's Reef to the other.

    Originally a 4-masted barque named Buckingham, and launched in 1888, Muscoota had a glorious history, breaking records on a regular basis. However, her life changed radically when she was rammed by the Norwegian steamship Yarra in Melbourne in 1922. Despite damages being awarded against the Yarra, Muscoota's days as a sailing ship were over, and she ended up as a coaler in Milne Bay, refuelling American warships, when she was pushed under the water by a warship that swung beam on to her in a strong wind. She was towed to Discovery Bay and sank. Muscoota now rests with her bow thrust out of the water and her stern at 75ft. The wreck is home to a profusion fish and coral life.

    This was the first dive I ever did in Milne Bay. My last dive trip had been to Palau, post-El Nino, and it was such a joy to dive a reef with healthy hard corals again! Sullivan's Patches is a large patch reef that rises from deep water in the middle of the opening to Milne Bay proper. With clear water all around, and a shallow reef top, this dive site has prolific coral growth. Wonderful stands of staghorn and plate corals in a multitude of shapes, colours and size cover the entire reef, where feather stars lurk for protection. Among the feather stars can be found shrimps, small crabs and fish, mimicking perfectly the colours and patterns of their home. down the gentle slopes of the reef wall can be found wonderful fan corals, soft corals and sponges. The best diving is to be had along the edge of he slopes and on the reef top. Near the mooring is a sandy and rubble area where gobies and their blind buddy shrimps can be found - the goby standing guard over the home while the shrimp busies itself all day long cleaning and tidying their joint home. The goby gets a clean house and the blind shrimp gets protection! On the edge of the rubble field is a car sized coral head that is covered in a multitude of wonderful pink stylaster corals, delicate jewel-like creatures of exquisite beauty.

    Banana Bommie is easy to describe - it's a bommie shaped like a banana, though obviously slightly larger! Again a large patch reef like Sullivan's, this reef drops into deep water on all sides. The north-eastern edge is usually where the prevailing current comes from, and you can see schools of jacks, squirrelfish, batfish and bass nosing in the current. On the top, amongst some coral and sand I found a hairy spider kind of thing, the like of which I have never seen before. Most intriguing! When we moored on this reef there was not a breath of air and the sea was as flat as a mirror; you could see deep down the reef edge through crystal clear water.

    This is another patch reef that looks somewhat like a castle. The outer reef edge is the battlements, varying from 30 - 80ft in depth and the castle grounds within are a sandy area at about 100ft. Here can often be seen sleeping white tips and rays. The outside of the battlements drop into water well over 1000ft deep. While the inside of the reef and the sandy area below are interesting it is the outer reef edge that offers the most exhilarating diving - fan corals and sponges sprout from a healthy coral substrate, and I saw turtles, grey reef sharks and great schools of fuseliers in the open water. Hard as we looked, the elusive rhinopias, often seen at Cobbs Cliff, was out shopping that day!

    If "muck diving" didn't exist, then Observation Point would be an attractive beach in a wonderful setting. And that's all. But is is a little more exciting than that! A curving beach on a headland at the mouth of a small channel, this beach is also the location of a small village. Children play in the water and fishermen tend to their dugouts. The beach is enclosed at both ends by small coral reefs. These reefs offer better diving at dusk, as mandarinfish perch on coral outcrops awaiting a mate, but there are some lovely elephant ear sponges upon which can be found gobies and other small fish. The beach itself is shallow at the shoreline, maybe 2 or 3ft deep. It then shelves quickly down to about 80ft and then off into the channel, where the deepest point is about 150ft. The slope of the beach is covered in leaf litter of all sizes, branches, logs and even human rubbish like tins and bottles. It is here, amongst all this rubbish that some of the most wonderful critters in the world can be found - flambouyant cuttlefish, star gazers, sand divers, schools of baby catfish snuffling through the leaf litter, wonderful glossy black crocodile fish, all sorts of shells, mimic octopi, seahorses, decorator crabs, boxer shrimps, anemones with clownfish, shrimps and porcelain crabs, sea cucumbers covered in imperator and commensal shrimps. Further down the slope, in the channel proper there are sea pens and soft corals. The top of the reef on the inward end of beach is flat and covered in sea grass; amongst the sea grass can be found razorfish, ghost pipefish and lots of other species that can best be described as "weedy"!!! Near a stand of mangrove trees I found a circular colony of staghorn coral filled to the brim with pretty black & white humbugs. Tomato clownfish nestled amongst bubble anemones. This is a world class muck dive, and in a wonderful setting!

    Rodney Pearce, one of the fathers of PNG diving, was searching for an aircraft wreck near Cape Vogel in 1986; visiting local villagers he asked if any new the whereabouts of a twin engined plane that may have crash landed during WWII. "No," said the villagers, "but we do have a 4-engined plane wreck just off the beach!" A B17F "Flying Fortress" bomber lying on a sandy bottom in 150ft of water near the village of Boga Boga on Cape Vogel, Blackjack is undoubtedly the world's greatest aircraft wreck. Returning from a bombing raid on Rabaul, Blackjack, piloted by 1st Lt de Loach, crash landed on 11 July 1943, succumbing to engine trouble and a clash with a violent storm. She sank upright, her nose pointing away from the reef wall, as if revving up for her final journey home. The incredible visibility allows you to see the aircraft in its entirety; as you drop down the reef face what at first look like coral formations slowly materialise into this massive plane. The entire aircraft is encrusted with delicate soft corals and other invertebrates that, when lit with a torch, show a blaze of colour. Her four props are still intact and ammunition can still be seen in the gun turrets at front, top and rear. Blackjack is an incredible dive, but because of the depths, is over too quickly! So, you'll just have to wait and do it again, won't you?! Safety stops are done along the upper reaches of the reef; best to head south, as here shallow sandy flats are home to small schools of juvenile catfish, cuttlefish and many unusual invertebrates.

    This is one of the all time classic reef dives! The shoreline along the point is rugged, and drops in a mini cliff into the sea, continuing down for 20ft to a shelf, that slowly shelves down to about 120ft. From here the reef plunges steeply into over 1000ft of water. Looking up at the surface from the 20ft ledge you can clearly see trees and bushes growing on the cliffs over head. But the lush tropical scene above is nothing compared to that below! Deacon's Reef is essentially a series of massive coral towers that thrust up from a depth of about 120ft to about 30ft from the surface. Like the magnificent columns of the Parthenon, you can swim between them, around them and over them. Between each can be found some of the most exquisite coral formations in the world. Delicate stands of staghorn coral in a multitude of colours, through which dart schools of anthias and humbugs. Great spirals of lettuce corals, like curly endive laid out in a greengrocer. Huge plate corals under which lurk sweetlips and bigeye. Lace sponges in which skulk feather stars, in which can be found coral shrimps and crabs. Fan corals of all colour, shape and description sprout from every available point. Upon them can be found transparent gobies, cowries, flatworms and other invertebrates. Anemones play host to clownfish of numerous variety; amongst the velvet tentacles of the anemones can again be found shrimps and crabs. And when you think it can't get any better, swim up into the shallows, under the cliffs. Here can be found one of the most beautiful fan corals in the world - Dinah's Fan, named after Bob Halstead's wife. A huge fan of perhaps 15ft in diameter, a delicate pinky orange in hue, black lace sponges twist through its base. It is extraordinary to find such a fan in such shallow water. The cliffs beside the fan are festooned with lace sponges, sea fans and soft corals, all home to a wealth of invertebrates. It is amazing to find such incredible marine growth in such shallow water.

    Who would have thought it? Next to Deacon's Reef, one of the most exquisite reef dives in the world, is a non-descript beach of black coral sand. Admittedly it is in a wonderful setting, but it was not until after a few years of diving Deacon's Reef that Bob & Dinah Halstead of Telita fame decided to see what the diving at Dinah's Beach was like. (Dinah's Beach is named after Dinah, but not because she & Bob "discovered "it as a dive site, but because she & her family actually own it!!!). it was here that "muck diving" was invented! Amongst the coral rubble, rotting tree trunks and the other rubbish can be found a host of weird critters - octopi, mantis shrimps, pygmy lionfish, juvenile lionfish, numerous species of nudibranch, shrimps, crabs, cockatoo waspfish (that look neither like a cockatoo nor a wasp, so who on earth named them that?!!!) clownfish & anemones, shells and heaps of other stuff. And because most of the diving is done in 10-30ft of water bottom time can be extended to the maximum! This is a world class dive of monumental proportions, despite the seemingly uninteresting look of the seascape. Look hard and you never know what you will find!

    This American WW II aircraft is located in about 90ft of water off the a mangrove fringed bay of a small island north of Basilaki Island, in southern Milne Bay. Resting on a flat sandy bottom, this twin hulled fighter bomber is perfectly intact - the propellors, which had come off when the plane crash landed, were retrieved and placed at the front of each engine. It takes only about 10 minutes to dive the entire wreck, but the engines and guns are all still in place. An amenome and resident clownfish live on the staboard engine. At the front of the plane the reef rises up into the shallows - here I saw a large cuttlefish amongst lettuce coral, a resting turtle and plenty of soft corals. Visibility suddenly turned for the worse as a huge plankton bloom washed in, but we saw no mantas or similar!

    Samarai used to be the provincial capital of Milne Bay, but with the advent of air travel and modern communications she was deemd to be too remote and so lost that title to Alotau. In her heyday Samarai was a bustling island of 5 thousand inhabitants - now she is a sleepy litle backwater full of crumbling colonial buildings. At her peak the huge wharf played host to freighters and even liners. Now slowly rotting into the sea, this wharf is a great dive! Huge wooden and steel pilons, rising from the 40ft seafloor are festooned with sponges, soft corals, cup corals and "zigzag" clams. Schools of glassfish swirl through this underwater cathedral, and I even saw a school of barracuda swim off into the blue as we approached. If you like pipefish this has to be THE place to visit! I have never seen so many in all my life; not just the odd little chap swimming jerkily along, but everywhere you turned there would be little families of 3 or 4 or 5 of them busying across the sand! Camouflaged scorpionfish lie all of the place, and there was even a large moray eel living in a collapsed section of tubular girder! But perhaps the most beautiful aspect of diving Samarai Wharf was watching the sunlight filter through the wharf pilons - it gave a wonderfully supernatural quality to the diving!

    This dive site was "discovered" by Craig de Witt, owner of Golden Dawn. In fact one of his crew owns the island off which can be found a wondeful manta cleaning station in only 25ft of water. On a relatively featureless sandy bottom a magnificent coral bommie, covered in soft corals rises about 15ft towards the surface. Schools of glassfish swoop around it like clouds round a windy mountain top. There are also a large number of cleaner wrasse on the bommie, and this is why the mantas visit - to get rid of those pesky parasites that itch and scratch all day long!!! There can be as many as 15 mantas at one time at the cleaning station, swooping in like stealth bombers, one after the other. And you can get right up close - in fact they seem to enjoy the sensation of divers' bubbles on their underside and often swim over the top of you so this can happen. One of the world's great manta dives!

    Actually, I just made that name up! This is the dive under the boat while at "Giants at Home". A flat sandy sea floor covered with what appears to be the remnants of a dead field of staghorn coral; but why a staghorn coral would want to gain a foothold in an area ripped by 4 knot currents beats me! Every bit of dead coral was home to some weird creature - decorator crabs, fat and juicy nudibranchs, pygmy scorpionfish, brittle stars, flatworms etc. In every featherstar was a crab or a shrimp and in one glossy black featherstar I found a very cute juvenile filefish. A large pincushion starfish was home to 2 stripey Coleman's crab. Dinah Halstead, the master of finding critters, is particulrly excited about this patch of reef, as she believes it holds many species unknown to science. Just take your reef hook as the current it strong and if you see a useful lump of coral to grab hold of watch out - it'll be covered in lionfish!!!!

    This is a beautiful island located just to the south of Samarai. A stunning beach and lush green interior make it the picture perfect desert island! 2 years ago clients of mine had seen a school of some 200 mobula rays on the northern tip - so we couldn't not dive here! Suffice it to say that the mobulas were not there, and most people finished the dive early as the reef is nothing spectacular. As luck would have it, myself and two others stayed in the water. While diving in 15ft along the reef top an adult dugong passed our way! What a thrill to dive with these docile creatures! Led by a little gathering of pilot fish the dugong passed us 5 or 6 times in the space of 5 minutes, so close we could almost touch it. Moments like this usually only happen to divers once in their careers. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. And the rest of the gang were spitting bullets when we got back on the boat!!!

    Located in the north coast of the mainland is a sheer wall covered with nudibranchs and sponges. The wall is visited by large schools of pelagics such as trevally and tuna. Again, hammerheads, mantas and whale sharks are seen.

    Popular for its large rock formations, with small tunnels, grottoes and swim-throughs covered in large gorgonians, this area is exceedingly photogenic.

    A wall dive with caves and sponges along the face. A large variety of invertebrates can be found amongst the profuse hard corals.

    So named because of the incredible amount of fish life. Lying only 20ft below the surface the pinnacle rests on a sandy bottom at 150ft. Large and small fish species inhabit the pinnacle. Soft corals and giant clams are plentiful. A full day is usually spent at this site because of its brilliance.

    A drift dive along a sweeping reef, there are always large fish schools in deep water; trevally, tuna, barracuda and sea bass vie for space with many sharks, turtles etc. Anything can be seen here!

    This bommie is a projection out and away from the main reef system. and is only 12ft below the surface. Covered in a variety of soft and hard corals this is a great location for macro and close-up photography. Eagle rays and mantas frequent the area.

    A World War II Hudson Bomber located by Chertan on her maiden voyage. The aircraft lies upside down and intact in 45ft of water. To date few people have dived this wreck.

    Located in the north coast of the mainland, the profile of the reef drops from 2ft to 25ft from where the bottom shelves slowly to 50ft, about 140ft from the shoreline. A shallow shelf at 50ft then leads to a sheer drop-off that plunges to over 200ft. The shallow reefs play host to a large variety of sponges and fish. The main purpose of the dive is to enjoy a guarantied encounter with very large pelagics such as hammerheads, manta rays and occasionally whale sharks.

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