Few people would expect to find fjords in Papua New Guinea; in fact the Tufi area on the south east coast of Oro Province is one of Papua New Guinea’s best kept secrets. Situated on Cape Nelson, Tufi is a spectacular place to visit.
Cape Nelson, jutting out into the Solomon Sea, was formed by the eruption of three volcanoes, whose fast flowing lava created the rias, or fjords. Unlike the fjords of Scandinavia, the water is always warm and the sheltered bays are home to stunning coral formations and tropical marine life.
Papua New Guinea’s fjords are over 90 metres deep and rise vertically out of the water to over 150 metres. Wide entrances are protected by reefs, which funnel into the mountainside where mangroves form a canopy over narrow waterways. The vertical faces of the gorge are covered with moss and orchids and stunning waterfalls cascade directly into the sea.
Although the main attraction is diving, there are plenty of options at Tufi, including bushwalking, deep sea fishing, windsurfing, swimming, canoeing or just lazing on the white sandy beaches. There are a number of village guest houses which offer comfortable accommodation and will arrange fishing, diving and coral viewing excursions. The Tufi Dive Resort, perched on the side of a fjord has mountain views up and out to sea. The resort is constructed of bush materials and decorated with carvings and artefacts from around the country.
Oro Province has a history of drama, from the early gold rush days, to the devastating Pacific campaign of World War II. The northern end of the Kokoda Trail terminates at the village of Kokoda and from here to the coast, and around the beaches of Buna and Gona, some of the most violent and bitter fighting of World War II took place. It is estimated that over 15,000 Japanese soldiers died on the Kokoda Track. The area is still littered with war relics and at Jiropa Plantation on the Buna Road, there is a Japanese plaque commemorating their dead.
Not long after the war Mt Lamington erupted, wiping out the district headquarters at Higaturu and killing nearly 3,000 people. Today the provincial capital is located a safe distance from the volcano, at Popondetta. Mt Lamington is a favourite climb for bushwalkers.
There are road links between Popondetta, Tufi, Ioma, Kira, Kokoda and Afore with PMV buses travelling regularly between the districts. Oro Province is served by Air Niugini, MBA and other third level airlines, with flights to Popondetta and Tufi.
Things to See
Butterflies: The Northern Province is home to the largest butterfly in the world, the Queen Alexandra Birdwing, which as a wingspan of 30cm. With the diminishing rainforest, this species is unfortunately fast becoming extinct. You can see the birdwing, and three similar species, at Ondahari Village, about 40 minutes north of Popondetta. Make bookings for the village guesthouse at the Oro Guesthouse in Popondetta.
Arts & crafts: Wander among the villages or go to the open market and see the handcrafted pottery, jewellery and tapa cloth that are typical of the region. Tapa cloth is made from the beaten bark of the paper mulberry tree and decorated with exotic designs in natural earth colours. In October every year there is a Tapa Cloth Festival. You can buy Tapa cloth at Popondetta, St Christopher’s Diocesan Office, the Oro Guesthouse and the Vocational Centre.
War relics and sites: Most war sites and war relics are scattered around Popondetta, and Buna and Gona on the coast and it is recommended that visitors take a guide. For more information Oro Guesthouse or the Kokoda Trail tour operators.
Things to Do
Diving & snorkelling: Tufi at Cape Nelson has exceptionally clear waters, abundant fish and beautiful corals in the fiord-like rias formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. There are easily accessible wrecks and reefs with drop-offs, hammerhead sharks and moray eels. Wanigela, on Collingwood Bay, has great places for snorkelling and can be reached by boat from Tufi. Airlines PNG flies direct into Tufi and Wanigela from Port Moresby on a weekly basis.
Canoeing: Outrigger canoes are available from many of the guesthouses around Tufi and are an ideal way to explore. For a close-up of river life you can canoe down the Embogo River. Check at Oro Guesthouse for accommodation and information on how to read the river.
Trekking & walking: Kokoda and its guesthouses are about a two-hour drive from Popondetta. Here you will find guides and information on the Kokoda Trail. Mount Lamington volcano (1585 metres) can be climbed from Sasembatta Mission, a short way off the Kokoda Road. It’s a hot two-day walk to read the peak, but the views are superb. Be sure to get permission and guides from one of the local villages.
The Tufi area has many walks around the rias and operators allow for visitors to be picked up or dropped off by boat. Mount Trafalgar (1644 metres) is an overnight hike, with guides. The high plateau around the tiny town of Afore has good walks, including a spectacular trek to a very deep, steep cave with bats.