Milne Bay lies at the most south-eastern tip of PNG. As a maritime Province with many spectacular reef, island structures and cultures, most of her people are seafarers who depend largely on a livelihood from the sea. Ceremonial gift exchanges like the Kula, and trade between the islands are among the richest cultural heritages in the Pacific.
Air Niugini runs 8 flights a week from Port Moresby to Gurney Airport. A 15 minute drive due east on a sealed road leads to Alotau, the administrative capital and the main business centre of the Milne Bay Province. Rural Alotau is serviced by Airlines PNG which runs twice weekly services from Gurney to Misima, Kiriwina; and weekly services north to Rabaraba, and the islands for Salamo and Vivigani.
Administratively, there are four Districts (also called Open Electorates):
Most residents of Milne Bay are Christians although they do retain some of their traditional beliefs and behaviours.
In 1848 Catholic Marist Brothers landed on Woodlark Island. In 1891 Methodist landed on Dobu Island and adopted Dobu as the language to spread the gospel, The Dobu Island Church was built in 1929.
In the same year the Anglicans landed in Dogura, built a chapel and adopted the Wedau language. The Anglican Cathedral of St Peter & St Paul in Dogura was built in. The local community is currently fundraising to restore this cathedral. Milne Bay's first anglican matyr is buried at Taupwota.
The London Missionary Society arrived at Kwato and adopted Suau as the language of instruction for home economics, boat building skills and spreading of the gospel. Seventh Day Adventist and Pentecostal churches have a presence.
Attending a church service in Milne Bay is an uplifting experience, ask around to find out which church has the best choir. The United Church has Pacific style choirs at its Sunday services.
Dobu Island Church Building, Built 1929. Commissioned by Liuetenant Governor of Papua, Sir Hubert Murray, June 12 1929
Whilst there are about 48 local languages, English is widely spoken throughout the Province as a language of commerce and instruction. Since 1990 the "Eastern Star" has provided Milne Bay with its own twice-a-month tabloid. Apart from Cable TV and Radio Milne Bay(FM/AM), check out Napatana Lodge and Milne Bay Magic Tours for their Internet Cafés. A telephone system operated on solar powered batteries have been installed on major islands to also assist medical and emergency situations.
The economy of the Province is largely dependent on primary produce and the population mostly depend on subsistence farming and fishing. Less than 10% of the total population enjoy formal employment but remittances to family for customary obligations ensures a wider cash distribution.
Now exports include palm oil, forest products, cocoa, coffee, minerals, fish and other marine products, earning in 1998 a total well over K150 million in exports. A village-based nature-sensitive Tourism industry is being pursued and encouraged as one of the potential sources of revenue, yet to be fully developed for the domestic market and international niche markets.
The weather can be unpredictable at times with sudden and heavy torrential rainstorms. Expect variations in weather patterns between the mainland and the islands. October to December generally enjoy the best and most consistent weather while January to March usually experience strong south-easterly winds; this is also the cyclone season when areas lying between 15 to 30 degrees south of the equator may experience strong winds and rough seas. The aftermath can be quite devastating. July to August is the harvest/planting season as it is the rainy part of the year. Usually Alotau and the Bay areas record the highest annual rainfalls for Milne Bay Province.
June to September is the wet season on the south coast and January to July is the wet season on the north coast of Milne bay mainland.
Alotau town (Provincial headquarters) is nestled on the edge of the bay (Milne Bay); named by Captain Moresby in 1873 after Lord Milne of the British Navy. Alotau means "Bay" in the Suau language. Stretching 36km long and 16km wide, the Bay caters for ships weighing more than 5000 tons that may venture as near as 40ft off-shore. In 1968 Headquarters was moved from Samarai (a 54-acre island, 46km to the East of China Strait and less than 1 hour away by speedboat) due to limited space for expansion and the island's lack of adequate water supply. The Alotau site was selected for its added advantage of a WW2 airfield (Gurney), then known as the No.1 Strip.
Entertainment and services:
Alotau International Hotel - Meals each day and dancing at the jetty on Friday and Saturday nights, barbeque by the Bay on Wednesdays. Napatana Lodge - nightly buffet specialising in local cuisine, Friday nights fish and chips with Joker Draw, also Sausage Sizzle in the afternoons, feature nights on Saturdays and Sunday roast Milne Bay style (bookings required 6410588). Bayviews have mumu (food cooked underground in banana leaves and coconut milk) each Thursday night (courtesy bus provided, contact Bayviews 6410401). Masurina Lodge offers special buffet local cuisine for Friday family nights (courtesy bus provided, contact Masurina 6411212). Hair salon services at Elena Inn Resort (6410255). Studio B-37 is the latest tech recording studio located at Toptown.
Seven main supermarkets and other smaller outlets sell general merchandise ranging from groceries, frozen foods, hardware, drapery, liquor, etc. Souvenir shops sell a range of local carvings, handcrafts, teeshirts, laplaps, herbal products, jewelry, PNG books and greeting cards. Find them at the Masurina Business Centre, Alotau Pharmacy, Masurina Lodge, Napatana Lodge, or Dive Milne Bay and Pomins outlets at the SPT complex opposite the Mobil fuel depot near the marine wharf. Check out Alotau town market for a variety of woven souvenir items.
For corporate game fishing tours and organised group tours, contact the Cameron Club (P.O Box 28, Alotau). Reef, deep sea, and estuary fishing as viable tourism activities are yet to be fully established but can be organised through local boat operators: Walters 6411174, Bay Cabs 6411093, Island Trading 6411421 and Milne Bay Charters 6411167, Masurina Lodge (6411212) and Milne Bay Magic Tours (6410711).
During September each year Marlin migrate along the North side of Eastcape.
Island hopping can be organised from Alotau to neighboring islands of Samarai and the Engineer Group or to Goodenough, Ferguson and Normanby. There are regular small boats servicing these islands from Alotau and carry passengers. Melanesian Discoverer regularly has cruises to the Trobriand and D'Entrecasteaux Islands. Check with Airlines PNG on 6411591 for regular flights to outer Milne Bay airstrips.
Alotau has branches of the Bank of South Pacific and Westpac Bank, bank hours are Monday - Thursday 9am-3pm & Friday 9am - 4pm. The Westpac branch has a counter dedicated to Foreign exchange which operates on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
Malaria is present in the area so prospective visitors should check with their doctor for anti malarial drugs and strategies for avoiding Malaria. There is a Provincial hospital that has been voted one of the best provincial hospitals in the country. There are a number of good doctors available, but like all Government hospitals in PNG, is often short of drugs and equipment.