Alotau—capital of the Milne Bay Province
We had slow cruised here from Cairns via the Louisiade archipelago and were excited about the prospect of diving and exploring Milne Bay. But first, we needed to finish customs formalities, refuel, a little shopping and then go hunting for essentials — like a restaurant and Wi-Fi. Alotau was a busy, bustling town of shops, markets, and 16,000 phone toting locals. Large trading and fishing boats lined the harbour, and a cruise liner called in regularly. It was possible to anchor here, but being on a lee shore combined with an unknown level of security made us a little wary, so we opted to depart late afternoon and cross the bay six nautical Miles to the protected waters of Discovery Bay.
The port at Alotau is crowded.
Wagawaga— a sleepy village of 800
Unfortunately, both of us arrived at our new paradise suffering from severe skin infections, perhaps caused by coral cuts, so we decided this was a good place to relax until our antibiotics kicked in. Here, we were back in our Louisiades comfort zone: friendly people, beautiful wispy mountains, five churches, and fishermen in canoes dropping by our stern for a chat and a little trading.
Soon we made friends and were thrilled to be honoured guests at a two-day festival celebrating the 65th anniversary of the local school. Much traditional dancing, singing, all sorts of ceremonies, speeches and feasting on tender Hog with delicious fresh food.
Several Banana boats (16ft power boats) provided a taxi service to and from Alotau for just a couple of dollars, so we never had to leave our anchorage to explore.
On the down-side fishermen had warned us about several light-fingered local juveniles, we took their advice and left almost nothing laying on our deck. But after a week they snuck out to our boat in the early morning and stole our ships remote controls, shoes and even worse Sylvie’s favourite bikini! News of the theft quickly spread throughout the village, and our friends were full of apologies, their concern and embarrassment were quite heart rendering. Two days later councillor (chief) Dago returned all the goods to us. The young men had been named, blamed and shamed. He suggested that we inform any boats contemplating anchoring in Discovery Bay to contact him when they arrive so he can make sure of their security. He runs one of the Wagawaga Taxi boats and is easy to find. Another helpful contact we enjoyed meeting was Bernard the school headmaster who hails from the Trobriand Islands, you will find him around the school.
There are police at Alotau, but minor problems are best dealt with by Village elders.
Another downside of coastal PNG in November- December was the steamy heat. Mornings were are a mill pond, early afternoon a light breeze, then back to still nights with tropical rain. Even some the locals have trouble sleeping.
There is nothing like a mysterious shipwreck to bring out the Huckleberry Fin in us. After eight days waiting for our football shaped feet to normalise we were ready to find out what that large rusty hunk of metal protruding from the water was. Some said it was a Japanese cargo ship sunk by Australian bombers (romantic version) Others said it was an Australian cargo ship scuttled at the end of the war (more likely version). We still don’t know, but by all accounts, it sank around WW2 and was called something like the Mascoota. We had a couple of easy dives with no current. The bow lay in 10m, the stern in 24m, and it was about 50-60m long. Despite the modest visibility, we enjoyed finding plenty of macro life amongst the corals.
Kana Kopi–SE entrance to Milne Bay
We left Wagawaga and glided across a perfectly flat blue sea accompanied by 20 leaping dolphins; majestic mountains peered at us from the shoreline, it felt surreal. It was surreal!
Sixteen nautical miles on we parked inside the well-protected bay of Kana Kopi. Levi Gorto ( ph +675 71680084) owns the island of Saraoni which lies at the entrance; he spoke perfect English. He sells Zoom (two stroke fuel) to passing banana boats and offers a range of services at modest prices to yachts that may pass his way: guided walks, diving and fishing trips, and a security service for those who may want to leave their vessels here and take his water taxi service to Alotau. A most likeable entrepreneur.
At the end of the bay were the remnants of a small WW2 US base and a couple of small boat wrecks. We snorkelled the clear water around mangrove roots, over seagrass and looked for critters among black pebbles.
A pleasant stopover. Next day, we departed Milne Bay proper and headed north to the world-famous dive resort of Tawali. More on the spectacular diving experiences we had there next post.
To see a five-minute video of our time at Wagawaga click here
To see more pictures of around Milne Bay click here
Lest we forget.
Between 25 August — 7 September 1942 well over 1000 Australian and Japanese soldiers were killed in the Battle of Milne Bay. It was a turning point in the Battle of the Pacific WW2.
For the full story of the Battle of Milne Bay click here