The scuba diving in Tufi, Papua New Guinea is some of the world’s best, with stunning offshore reefs and vibrant inshore critter sites. The area takes its name from the small village of Tufi, which functioned as the local settlement for the Australian colonial administration when PNG was under its control.
Located on the northeast coast of the main island of New Guinea, Tufi is visually stunning. Imagine the fjords of Norway, but set in a tropical location with a dense covering of rainforest cascading to the water’s edge.
Three things make Tufi so special: first is the immediate and obvious attraction of the area’s tropical fiords, both above and below the water.
Second, starting about five nautical miles offshore, are a string of rarely visited reefs and seamounts. These sit right in the path of the Equatorial Currents that nourish the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea.
Finally, there are the local people and their customs, who have set up homestays and conduct regular cultural demonstrations.
The ancient eruption of three large volcanoes on Cape Nelson are responsible for the area’s unique topography. The resulting lava flow created the long and narrow coastal inlets as it poured into the Solomon Sea. Geologists refer to such coastal inlets as “rias,” because a true fjord is created by glaciers – in short supply in Papua New Guinea.
Tufi Dive Resort sits the site of the original pub and hotel that served the small expatriate community when Tufi was a colonial settlement.
How to get to Tufi
Tufi is completely isolated from the nation’s capital, Port Moresby, and the south coast of New Guinea island by the formidable and densely forested Owen Stanley Range that runs down the spine of the island.
Reaching altitudes of over 13,000 feet (4,000 m), there are simply no roads through the mountains and so the only real option to get to Tufi is via air from Port Moresby. There is also a ferry service if you have plenty of time and like your adventure on the strong side.
Because of its grass landing strip, Tufi used to be limited to small planes. A few years ago, however, the resort’s owners went to the significant expense of extending the runway so that larger planes could land. PNG Air serves Tufi regularly from Port Moresby.
Where to stay
The only truly viable accommodation option if you are scuba diving here is Tufi Dive Resort. Homestay accommodation is available in several local villages, but you will have to get to the resort by 8:00 a.m. every morning to go diving, which would require a bit of a trek and a canoe ride. If you’re interested in a homestay, it’s far better to keep that part of your trip separate from the diving.
Accommodation at Tufi consists of several self-contained bungalows scattered around the main lodge. A terrace and barbecue area overlooks Tufi fjord and offers superb views all the way to the extinct volcanoes in the distance.
Logistics in Tufi
PNG currency is the Kina, and $1 USD will buy you about three of them. Most visitors to PNG get whatever Kina they think they will need at the ATM or currency exchange after arrival at the international airport in Port Moresby. There are no banks or ATMs available in Tufi, so you must bring whatever cash you need with you.
If you are staying at the resort, cash is not an issue as they accept credit cards. But you will need some local currency to buy souvenirs in the villages and for staff tips.
Scuba diving in Tufi
Scuba diving in Tufi offers a unique combination of options. You can go critter hunting in the accumulated flotsam and jetsam around the main wharf or dive on pristine offshore reefs, rarely visited by anybody other than the resort’s guests.
A typical dive day at Tufi begins with breakfast at 7 a.m. in the main lodge. Afterward you’ll stroll down “the hill” to the dive shop and jetty, located next to Tufi’s public wharf. The dive crew will have all your gear ready and loaded for departure at about 8:30 a.m.
Offshore dive sites vary in distance from five to 15 nautical miles and it takes between 30 to 50 minutes to get them. Two reef dives are typical, but if everybody agrees and there are not too many divers — and the weather conditions allow it — the crew will bring extra cylinders for a third dive.
Afternoon and night dives take place directly in front of the dive shop jetty in the fjord, where you’ll find all the critters.
Without doubt, the main draw for divers visiting this part of PNG are Tufi’s superb offshore reefs.
Located between five and 15 nautical miles from Cape Nelson, the reefs and seamounts rise from the sea bed some 656 feet (200 m) below. Few divers but the guests at Tufi resort ever visit.
Only about 25 of the seamounts are close enough to dive and have been surveyed, while the rest remain largely unexplored. Overall, they offer some exceptional and adventurous diving with a great selection of walls, swim-throughs, hard and soft corals and schooling fish. Divers also have the chance to see passing pelagics and the occasional great hammerhead shark.
The resort visits the inner reefs regularly. But the best time to dive the outer remote reefs is in October and November. During this doldrums period, between the trade wind seasons, the dive conditions are at their very best, with calm seas and great visibility. Most of the reefs are completely submerged, which means they provide very little, if any, shelter. Diving them safely really does require good weather.
Diving Tufi fjord
At the other end of the spectrum is the diving in the main Tufi fjord, centered around the dive jetty and the adjacent public wharf.
Underneath those jetties and on the slope down to the bottom of the fjord some 164 feet (50 m) below, is the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of everyday life in Tufi since it was a colonial settlement under the Australian administration. Although it’s not a pretty sight, all the rubbish makes perfect homes for all the critters that have settled here.
Afternoon and night dives here feature entry from the dive shop jetty. With camera in hand, you’ll either turn left or right and follow the fjord wall. You could spend hours exploring here, spotting a plethora of macro critters such as ornate and robust ghost pipefish, dumpling squid, crocodilefish, gobies, nudibranchs and more.
The remains of two WWII-era American Navy motor torpedo (PT) boats sit out from the jetty and down at 147 feet (45 m). The boats were sunk during a refueling accident in 1942 and feature anti-aircraft guns, live ammunition and torpedoes. Interested divers can visit these sites on a decompression dive.
The presence of a resort like Tufi in such a remote location, where the local people live a subsistence lifestyle growing or catching what they need to eat, could easily create a two-tier effect: us and them. On my visits to Tufi, however, I found that the resort has made genuine efforts to engage the local villages in tourism. They’ve helped villagers set up home-stay type accommodation and taught them how to cook and serve meals to western standards.
The villages conduct regular cultural demonstrations where large groups dress up in traditional costumes and conduct sing-sings and dances for tourists from the resort.
I found the presentations well done, colorful and photogenic, and they present a great opportunity to get a bit closer to the villagers. If you really want to peel the onion a bit more with the local people, then consider a homestay before or after your dive trip.
Australian Don Silcock is based in Bali. He has dived many of the Indo-Pacific’s best locations. His website offers plentiful articles and location guides. Learn more about Tufi and Papua New Guinea in his complete guides.