As a first-time visitor to Papua New Guinea, I wanted to see and explore as much of the country’s famous tribal culture, hiking trails and dive sites as possible — and at Tufi Dive Resort I did just that.
Located off the Solomon Sea in northeastern Papua New Guinea, Tufi Dive Resort is set right at the tip of Cape Nelson, a pristine region studded with deep volcanic fjords known as rias, thick virgin rainforests, clusters of villages and some of the best dive sites in the world. Far-flung and remote, Tufi is set deep in the heart of coastal PNG, where there are no tarmac roads, no electricity, and no public transportation.
To retrace its history, Tufi was first used as an anchorage for British capital ships in the 18th century and then later it became a government station occupied by the British. Tufi Dive Resort occupies the site that was formally the District Manager’s residence during PNG’s colonial era. It was initially known as the Laki Hotel in the 1970s but the current owners bought it over in 1999 and transformed it into what it is today: a resort well known throughout Papua New Guinea, not just for diving but also its cultural offerings.
Location, Location, Location
Landing on the airstrip after a 45-minute flight on Airlines PNG, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t an airport or anything to speak of: just a village surrounding us and Tufi Resort steps away. I waved and smiled at the locals and was whisked off to the resort within minutes.
Warm and friendly staff served up fresh fruit punch right on the outdoor deck, where a stunning panorama of the Tufi Fjord awaited us: forest-clad ridges rising from the shimmering jade green water, with the Owen Stanley mountains looming in the far distance, shrouded by misty clouds. Created by ancient volcanic eruptions rather than glacial processes, this natural geography was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was as though someone had placed lofty mountains and fjords onto a sizzling tropical island.
The resort’s traditional-style wooden bungalows sit high above a crescent-shaped bay surrounding the swimming pool and open-concept main building that houses the restaurant, bar, reception, gift shop and TV lounge. Surrounded by lush vegetation, the lodge blends in perfectly with its surroundings featuring traditional huts made of sago palm bark, trunk and leaves that resemble those in the village. Once inside though, I soon realized how different they clearly are from the village homes.
My bungalow is a spacious, thatch-roofed hut standing next to the outdoor deck, with equally impressive views of the fjord. Decor wise, it is simple and luxurious both at once: a large four-poster rattan bed with a white linen canopy takes center stage, with matching rattan tables and a daybed to accompany it. All of the walls are also decked out in woven rattan, and so are the lamps and wardrobe. The whole bungalow has a jungle feel to it — seemingly to remind us that this is after all in the midst of Papua New Guinea’s wilderness.
Out on the verandah, I sat and spent my first – and every – evening swinging on the hammock, watching the colors of the fjord change with the sunlight. By night, I unwound at the resort bar and chatted with fellow guests over beers and margaritas before feasting on fresh-from-the-sea fish and a mélange of Asian-influenced cuisine (the Filipino chef sure serves up some outrageously good chicken adobo!).
The resort’s resident animals also occasionally came out to say hello. Coco, a ridiculously smart and gentle Blyth’s hornbill, was definitely the star of the show. At breakfast, she often appeared out of the blue, nibbling at our toasts when we weren’t looking. The eclectus parrot never failed to let out an ear-splitting screech each time I passed her enclosure. And my favorite of all — the shy and timid spotted cuscus (a marsupial with a creamy spotted coat and striking orange eyes) who hardly moved each time I saw him. But his huge sparkling orange eyes were enough to melt anyone’s heart.
Exploring Tufi on Land and Underwater
Over the following days, I spent my time exploring as much of Tufi as I could. Wandering outside the resort into the village, I made many new friends – most of whom were adorable kids – and bargained up a storm at the local market. Diving off the fjords of Tufi, I found patchworks of techni-colored coral fans, and swam amidst schools of barracudas, parrot fish and big spotted triggerfish. Stacks of coral fans and plump barrel sponges jostled for space, moray eels slithered amidst clusters of silver and black feather stars, while black-tipped sharks patrolled the blue.
To meet the local tribesmen, I hopped on an outrigger canoe with a group of fellow travelers, navigating the McLaren Fjord and weaving our way deep into the jungle. The welcoming K0rafe tribe showed us traditional techniques of making facial tattoos (that they were famous for) and sago, and even put up a beautiful display of their culture through a spectacular sing-sing (festival or dance where tribes put on elaborate headdresses and body decorations).
Curious to get a taste of trekking in Tufi, I went on the short Lelioa Trek that not only brought me through the backcountry but also gave me the chance to visit rural villages in the area, and even stay at one of them for the night. (I will be writing about each of these experiences shortly.)
Details on Tufi Resort:
Tufi is only accessible by air from Port Moresby via Airlines PNG. The flight time to Tufi is approximately 50-55minutes. The airstrip is a three-minute walk from the resort or a one-minute drive.
Airlines of PNG flies from Port Moresby to Tufi and vice versa three times a week. The price of a one-way flight starts from 399 Kinas (US$150) per person. For bookings go to www.apng.com.
Room rates at Tufi Dive Resort start from US$210 for a single room and US$140 per person for a double room. This includes all meals. Dives and activities come with an additional cost. Book your stay along with flights and tours through US travel company Fly and Sea Dive Adventures.
Disclosure: This experience was made possible by PNG Tourism Promotion Authority but all opinions expressed above are my own.