Milne Bay Province (MBP) covers 14,000 square kilometers of the eastern tip of the main island and hundreds of adjacent islands. The mainland includes the eastern end of the Owen Stanley Range and a coral limestone coast. Forty-five languages are spoken. The population rose from 127,975 in 1980 to 157,288 in 1990. The Constitution, adopted in 1977, provides for an elected Assembly of 21 members. There are six districts and the headquarters is at Alotau. MBP produces copra, coffee, rubber, and logs. In 1993 gold was being mined on Misima Island. Transport is mainly by air and sea.
The kula ring is one of the best known exchange networks in PNG. People from some coastal and island villages had had contact with white whalers, traders or missionaries before the establishment of the British Protectorate in 1884. Some men had been indentured laborers on Queensland sugar plantations; these were repatriated when the Protectorate was established. London Missionary Society and Anglican missionaries arrived in the late 19th century.
Much of MBP was involved in heavy fighting during World War II. A Japanese fleet, despatched from Rabaul to capture Port Moresby, was turned back in the Coral Sea battle in May 1942. In July, the Japanese landed troops on the north coast of Papua; these were turned back in September after they had nearly reached Port Moresby along the Kokoda Trail. Late in August the Japanese landed troops on the shores of Milne Bay. In two weeks of heavy fighting, the Japanese were defeated by Australian infantry, supported by RAAF aircraft. It was the first decisive Allied defeat of Japanese troops in a land battle. There was considerable loss of life and damage to food gardens and plantations.
Things to see
Around Alotau: The town and its busy harbour are spectacularly sited on the edge of Milne Bay. For good views climb the hill behind the town. Handcrafts, mostly from the Trobriand Islands, are available at the Masurina Business Centre and Lodge.
Samarai & the China Strait: The 24ha Samarai Island was the provincial headquarters until 1968. There are guesthouses here or you can stay on other nearby islands. All have good beaches and reefs and some have walking trails.
D’Entrecasteaux Islands: The largest in the group is Fergusson Island which has thermal areas with hot springs and bubbling mud pools. Salamo has guesthouses and there are plenty of good walks. The district headquarters is at Esa’ala on Normanby Island, at the entrance to the spectacular Dobu Passage. Reefs close to town are good for snorkelling.
Trobriands: The low-lying ‘Trobes’ are famous for their huge yam gardens and tribal rituals. Beautifully carved bowls, walking sticks and fish are another hallmark of these islands. Losuia, on the biggest island Kiriwina, has village stays and visits to freshwater holes and burial caves.
Things to do
Diving: Places to dive are innumerable in Milne Bay and around the islands and are best enjoyed from a live-aboard dive boat. Snorkelling and diving at East Cape with fantastic beaches and scenery en route to the cape are beautiful.
Cruising: Local based live-aboard dive boats offer charters to the Milne Bay Islands.
Island Hopping: Airlines PNG does a regular ‘milk run’ around the islands and is a good way to see some remote places in a short time. Starships boat does weekly runs to various islands from Alotau.
Walking/trekking: The Wedau area on the north coast offers walks and the Cape Vogel area has bush trails and waterfalls to explore from the Bogaboga Guesthouse.
Birdwatching: Milne Bay is good for birding. Over 700 species of birds found in Papua New Guinea of which 269 are found in Milne Bay. Contact the Milne Bay Visitors Bureau Ph: +675 641 1503, or email [email protected] or organise a tour through your hotel.