Milne Bay Province: more than just a tourism hub for Papua New Guinea


The province of Milne Bay is developing as a tourism hub for Papua New Guinea but also hosts agricultural and gold projects. Business Advantage PNG explores its business and investment prospects.

Tawali Dive and Leisure Resort

Tawali Dive and Leisure Resort

Milne Bay’s provincial capital, Alotau, is the friendly, welcoming place that many parts of Papua New Guinea used to be 30 years ago, says David Conn, Executive Director of the Port Moresby Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who has a home in the province.

‘It is all that is good in PNG and its people. The capital Alotau is like a walk back in time and a magnificent stress buster and the islands are a just a slice of Paradise,’ he says.

Trobriand Island village. via Flckr

Trobriand Island village. via Flckr


Alotau and the coastal strip on either side played a pivotal role in the WWII Battle of Milne Bay, as a huge naval base through which hundreds of thousands of servicemen passed. Many Kokoda Trail tours include a visit to Alotau and the Bomana War Cemetery, which is the largest war burial ground in the Pacific, where more than 3700 servicemen are buried.

Cruise liners are now a regular feature of the growing tourism industry of Milne Bay province, with thousands visiting annually.

‘It is now firmly on the map as a cruise destination and the people need to be educated in what these tourists want to see and do so there are decent economic spinoffs from each visit. Tourists want to see this too,’ says Conn.

The province is home to well-known islands like the low-lying Trobriand Islands (famous for yam), Woodlark (home to the Kula Gold mine), Samaria (prior to the Second World War a major shipping centre for expeditions between Australia and Southeast Asia), the privately-owned Conflict Group and the D’Entrecasteaux Islands (which still have volcanic activity).

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David Conn with local artist, Jeffrey Feeger

David Conn with local artist, Jeffrey Feeger

There are 10 large islands and about 150 islands and atolls scattered over 250,000 square kilometres of ocean. In many areas, the reefs are characterised by dramatic drop-offs and overhangs.

‘There are about 276,000 peace-loving people who speak English as their second language living in the province,’ says Didimus Epo, Principal Advisor at the provincial government’s Division Of Commerce & Mines.

‘The main mode of transport around the islands for 95 per cent of the population is by sea,’ he says.


Earlier this year, Australian-based Kula Gold was granted a mining lease to develop its Woodlark Island Gold Project about 250 kilometres east of Alotau.

One estimate is that the province contains more than 60 million ounces of gold.

Eight projects currently have prospecting status, says Edo, and feasibility studies are underway on two geothermal projects on D’Entrecasteaux Islands.

One is located near the north end of Normanby Island; the other is a well known dive site known as the Bubble Bath, located offshore near the mid-north coast of Dobu Island, an extinct volcano.

Agriculture & forestry

Geothermal springs. Credit Jonas Tonboe

Geothermal springs. Credit Jonas Tonboe

New Britain Palm Oil has a large palm oil plantation, Milne Bay Estates, and there are many small-scale village projects in cocoa and copra production. Other small agriculture includes vanilla, rice and livestock.


Three main forestry companies, Masurina Timbers, Saban Enterprises and South Pacific Timber, operate in the province. There is also a small 1465 hectare afforestation plantation at Ulabo.

Fisheries & aquaculture

Milne Bay has recorded a third of the world’s species of marine fish and is listed as an ‘ecological hotspot’ with one of the greatest marine species biodiversities in the world.

Its seas are packed with the tiny ghost pipe fish, huge manta rays and killer whales, giant marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dogtooth tuna, mackerel, barramundi and the famous Papuan black bass. There is one local fish market, owned and operated by the Huhu local government.

Milne Bay is also the location for an established pearl farm, while Didimus Epo reports overseas investor THC Ltd is currently examining the possibility of a joint venture onshore fisheries investment in the province.

Milne Bay Province: key statistics

Population: 276,000

Land area 98,048 km2

Provincial capital Alotau (pop. 15,939)

Major Industries: Tourism, mining, agriculture

Governor: Titus Philemon

Main languages: Tawala, English, Suau, Tok Pisin


  1. Karry Frank says

    The kundu and kenu festival, I am led to believe, is a national event and therefore should be funded by the national government. Correct me if I am wrong.
    If not then the Milne Bay tourism board should venture a partnership with a private donar.

  2. Andrew Omeke says

    I Will love to be part of this event

  3. Wesley Momen says

    Milne Bay is also rich in biodiversity. Two of the 38 birds of paradise species found in Papua New Guinea are found only in Milne Bay Province. the curl crested manucode and the goldies bird of paradise. Goodenough Island in Milne Bay Province is also home to the endangered black dorcopsis wallaby and many more. Nature Experiences is one tourism product the Province can tap into.

  4. Lin stanton says

    Can i see the cultural show at milne bay without booking and how much does it cost

  5. Fred Albert says

    P& O Cruises ships have brought in lots of tourists on to the show of Alotau town and almost every tourist have enjoyed their 8hrs visit in the lodges, hotels. stores and many memorial sites. we have welcome them with big smiles and only few minor problems that our authorities should consider for the security of our guests. Also, I would like inform the Milne Bay Tourism Bouquet that our people are not benefiting from their artefacts. the tourists can’t buy their artefacts due to no fumigation area for them to fumigate their artefacts before leaving the shows of Alotau, this leaves our people not selling their artefacts and it’s a wast of time for them sitting around in those sites. think about these and do something about it. thank you

  6. Jeff Evennett says

    The National Kenu and Kundu Festival has become the centerpiece in the Milne Bay Tourism Bouquet.
    P& O Cruises fill their cruise ships largely on the back of the “Canoe Festival” and even after the festival is over, disappointed cruise tourists often say, “Oh we expected to see a Canoe festival reenactment”.. The canoe festival is organized by a handful of Milne Bayans on a voluntary basis. It is probably one of the Best FREE Cultural shows in the region. The Festival has in the last ten odd years NOT made a revenue for itself. The past committees have kept the performances and activities of the festival on a fairly strict traditional path. The “FREE” festival cost a lot of money to stage, so it is not free. Canoes paddlers and crews, dancers, artisans are called from the antipodes of the province to come and take part. These participants are paid, fed, housed and returned home with an appreciative pat on the pocket. The attention to the customary obligations of the Canoe Builders, Paddlers, the Dancers and the Clans in general is also a hidden cost. The costs to set up the village and Central Hut and dance arenas and other venues is also a strain on the Committeemen and Women. The Festival will typically cost between K700,000 and K1m to stage… EACH YEAR… So who bears the cost and who shares the money? The money comes from the National Government through the Gaming Board (35% aprox). The Provincial Government and Member for Alotau, the hosting electorate ((20%). Sponsorship from others (45%). P&O is a PARTNER who bring the people with the money, so they can be justified in saying “we cannot be expected to sponsor such an event” it’s up to the Festival Committee to figure bout how to bring together two vastly different cultures, take money from one lot and put it the hands of the other lot and they all go home with a smile on their face.. Voluntarily.
    See you all there.

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