View Comments
Taking a dive
Rob Dunlop Taking a dive

Tawali in Papua New Guinea is one of the most remote resorts on earth. And that's just the way territorial divers and snorkellers like it. Tawali is their little secret.

It's accessible only by boat so the journey to the dedicated divers' resort requires a one-hour flight from Port Moresby, a two-hour drive along bumpy and mostly unsealed roads and a 30- minute speedboat ride.

Bordered by lush vegetation, Tawali is spectacularly positioned - straddling rainforest and a volcanic bluff which overlooks a coral reef in Milne Bay. The resort is the heart of Milne Bay Province, which is the extreme south eastern peninsula of the Papua New Guinea mainland. Dotted along 16,000sqkm of mountainous coastal terrain, Milne Bay is also home to some of the most remote communities on earth.

And if your senses aren't already overloaded, the area is a gateway to hundreds of small islands and atolls.

The resort and elevated cabins along boardwalks were hand-built by villagers in the mid-1990s using local timber and is still considered one of PNG's premier resorts.

Although it was developed by diving enthusiasts to take advantage of some of the best diving opportunities in the world, the remoteness of the resort lends itself to an idyllic South Pacific escape-away.

The underwater delights of Milne Bay can be accessed directly from the resort's white sandy beach and wharves. The "house reef" offers a teaser for the underwater walls, caves and caverns, which can be swum through. Marine life includes sea horses, bat fish, and ghost pipe fish.

The intersection of three bodies of water, the Coral Sea, the Bismark Sea and the Solomon Sea - known as the Coral Triangle - creates a unique marine environment.

For decades, divers and snorkellers have been exploring the enormous concentration of fish and coral species. Add World War II wrecks to the mix and you have a divers' paradise.

While divers chance it with whale sharks, hammerheads and mantas, snorkellers can paddle across shallow reefs.

Corals are on show for both divers and snorkellers at the Coral Garden site, which has a wonderful collection of hard corals in shallow waters.

Near the village of Waga Waga, a rusty shipwreck props out of the water and underneath it a reef has formed. Another nearby dive site, Sponge Heaven, plunges to a depth of 100m and its walls are honeycombed with small caves.

Days on the water are rounded off with sunset drinks on the observation deck at Tawali and the trading of tales of underwater encounters. When the sun goes down, the glowworms and the bioluminescence light up the reef. While there's much talk of underwater caving, other caves nearby offer even more interest - skull caves.

From Tawali, two caves can be visited that contain more than 200 skulls. The skulls are from the victims of inter-village warring between nearby Hiliwau and Wagohuhu.

It was common practice to keep the skulls in homes as a symbol of strength. But when this was outlawed, the skulls were hidden in caves and forgotten about until they were discovered recently.

Today, other caves too dangerous to enter are said to contain skeletal remains from other body parts.

Myth suggests that the body parts formed part of the cannibalism ritual.

The next day, beautiful scenes unfold as we speed across Milne Bay in a boat to East Cape, the most easterly point of mainland Papua New Guinea.

As we near the shore, villages are shrouded by enormous frangipani trees - blossoming in yellow, pink and white - along with palms and shady mango trees. Gardens burst with fruit, vegetables and flowers, such as red hibiscus and orchids.

On the water, firewood is being transported by dug-out canoes. And, on the shore, children stop to wave and giggle at the passing "dim dims" - white folk.

Just offshore is the idyllic, uninhabited island of Boia Boia Waga, a perfect swimming and picnicking spot.

Below the horizon of the turquoise and emerald waters, a flotilla of canoes appear - fishermen paddling through their scenic workplace.

Our destination is Nuakata Island - a paradise billed as the jewel of Milne Bay.

The island forms part of an adventure experience created by two Australian mates from the hills of Perth, Shaun Lovelock and Daryl Byrne.

Lovelock and Byrne are the larrikins who kayaked from Australia to Papua New Guinea in 2003.

So gobsmacked by the beauty and hospitality they experienced, the boys set up their own adventure company, Explore PNG.

When we step on to the sands at Nuakata Island, we are indeed met by promised quintessential scenes. Local women greet us with song, dressed in costume and colourful head-gear made from flowers. Village elder, Ambrose, welcomes us to a setting of two thatched cottages set under dappled trees on the edge of a sandy beach. Divine.

In keeping with the adventurous nature of the boys, Nuakata Island doesn't boast usual holiday accommodation, only an eco-bush camp, perfect for a South Pacific escape-away.

It doesn't take long to unwind. As I sit on a cane chair on the balcony, water laps at the bamboo structure, lulling me towards a simple life. Inside is a double bed draped with mosquito nets, and a table for towels.

Electric lights may be a real treat here but, for me, it's the hammocks strung up between trees. I chill out in a way I haven't for a long time.

On site is a communal dining area with a fireplace and kitchen (feasts are part of the stay), and a simple shower (water hangs from a bag) and toilet (with a decomposting hole in the ground) in a separate shack.

I casually walk around the village, chat to curious locals, and am entertained by swarms of children.

Later, their parents entertain us again with dance, costume and song. Tradition is alive and kicking in Milne Bay. Bird life is abundant too.

While Ambrose's wife runs the kitchen - baking gorgeous breads and preparing meals - local guides are on hand offering bush walks, dugout canoe trips and local craft workshops.

Seats around the island offer sunset viewing.

For such a chilled-out place, there are lots of activities.

World class diving, fishing and snorkelling are all within easy reach - the island is surrounded by top sites.

The sandgroper boys boast that their "tours are all about getting out there and experiencing the real beauty and wonder of PNG".

PNG is arguably one of the last frontiers on earth. Get in quick - before it changes - to experience true, untamed wild adventures.

And say hello to the boys for me (please).

  • fact file *

  • GETTING THERE *

·Virgin Pacific Blue flies from Perth to Port Moresby via Brisbane. See flypacificblue.com. Jetstar/Qantas also fly from Perth to Port Moresby via Cairns - visit qantas.com.au. Air Niugini flies from Port Moresby to Gurney Airport (Milne Bay). Go to airniugini.com.pg. Airlines PNG also fly from Port Moresby to Milne Bay. Visit apng.com. *STAYING THERE * ·Tawali Resort has a dozen spacious timber cabins located in bushland with water views, and operates two 'live aboard' diving vessels. ·Dive packages range from 6-14 nights. The six night package costs $1650 per person, twin-share, and includes 15 dives, accommodation and meals. A six night non-dive package costs $1050 per person, twin-share, and includes accommodation and meals. Alternatively, the nightly rate for double occupancy is $200 per person, which includes accommodation and meals. Round-trip transfer is $60. The Skull Cave tour costs $30 per person. ·Nuakata Island eco-bush camp has two simple beachside cottages with shared facilities in a friendly village setting. Explore PNG uses Nuakata Island as a base camp for many of its tours, including three-night getaways exploring Milne Bay. Visit explorepng.com.