Milne Bay is a beautiful, peaceful province in the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea. This area is renowned for its beautiful coral reefs, a diving resort and for the fascinating culture of some of its islands.
- D'Entrecasteaux Islands. The three principal islands, are Goodenough, Fergusson, the largest of the three, and Normanby. In addition there are numerous smaller islands and reefs. Sanaroa and Dobu are the most significant of the smaller islands, the latter having been much studied by anthropologists. The highest peak the 2,566 meter Mount Vineuo on Goodenough Island. The islands are volcanic and there are active geothermal fields on Goodenough. The islands offer good bird watching with a rare species of Bird of Paradise and the Curl Crested Manucode.
- 1 Louisiade Archipelago. A string of around 100 fascinating, but difficult to reach, islands that attract yachties from Australia but few other tourists.
- Samarai is a 59-acre island at the entrance to Milne Bay. The island was at one time an important stop-over between Australia and East Asia and Samarai town was the second largest in Papua after Port Moresby. In 1902 it exported three times as much by value than did Port Moresby. These days little is left of the town as it was destroyed during World War II. Samarai was declared a National Historical Heritage Island by the government in 2006.
- 2 Trobriand Islands. The "Islands of Love" according to anthropologist Malinowski. Remote islands, nice beaches, and an idiosyncratic version of cricket.
- The Woodlarks. Remote island group to the north of the province. Attractive wood carvings including copulating pigs.
Milne Bay covers a sea area of 252,990 km². It has more than 600 islands, of which about 160 are inhabited. There are about 210,000 inhabitants, who speak 48 languages. Economically the province has few cash-earning resources and most of the inhabitants have a quasi-subsistence lifestyle. There is an oil palm plantation near Alotau airport and villagers grow coconuts and some cocoa. A gold mine on Misima Island has closed down.
The province has some fascinating cultural traditions.
- The Kula ring. This is a ceremonial exchange system that covers 18 islands of the archipelago and involves thousands of individuals. Participants can travel hundreds of miles by canoe in order to exchange Kula valuables. These are red shell-disc necklaces that circle the ring in a clockwise direction and white shell armbands that are traded anti-clockwise. These items are not used but are traded in order to enhance social status and prestige. Trading relations involve strong mutual obligations to provide hospitality, protection and assistance. Kula valuables must be rapidly passed on to other partners and thus constantly circle the ring. Even temporary possession brings prestige and status. Chiefs can have hundreds of trading partners while others may have less than ten.
The coral reef systems of Milne Bay are some of the most biodiverse in the world, and as such attract equal attention from dive operators and conservation groups. The D'Entrecasteaux Islands still have volcanic activity, especially around Dobu and Fergusson Islands.
Occasional cargo vessels connect the islands and it may be possible to get a ride on the deck. But, realistically, the best way to see Milne Bay is by sailing. The province attracts many yachties, particularly from Australia. The Louisiade Archipelago area is well charted but yachts tend to avoid the area around the Trobriands as charts are unreliable.
The ladies at the Milne Bay Tourism Bureau are extremely useful for organising trips around Alotau. They have many contacts for village stays, diving and snorkelling trips, and have useful local information. Customised itineraries using Alotau as a base can be organised through the Mataio family who run a guest house near Alotau. Tours can visit areas such as Suau, Savaia, Samarai, Nuakata, Goodenough island. For further details, see .
Alotau is very safe when compared to the big cities of PNG. Be comfortable in letting your guard down a little here, although it is probably a good idea to avoid wandering the streets at night.