Alotau and the northeastern peninsula
Milne Bay Province
19 September - 2 October 2006

Map showing the routes and collection localities in Milne Bay Province, PNG.
click to enlarge map

In 1871 Somerset-born Captain John Moresby (1830-1922), took command of HMS Basilisk, a hydrological survey vessel heading for Australia. In 1873 HMS Basilisk was tasked with mapping the southeastern coast of Papua. Moresby had already named a settlement further to the west after his own father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby, little knowing it would one day become the capital of the country we now call Papua New Guinea. When Captain Moresby reached the two-pronged southeastern tip of mainland Papua he called the enclosed natural bay Milne Bay, in honour of Admiral Alexander Milne, the Lord of the Admiralty.

The name Milne Bay was extended to include the entire southeastern District (now Province) of the mainland, and also the extensive d’Entrecasteaux, Louisiade and Trobriand archipelagos that extend some 500km further northeast and east into the Solomon and Coral Seas. The administrative headquarters were established on Samarai Island, just off the southeastern tip, which became the most important European settlement in Papua, until overtaken by Port Moresby in 1914. The district headquarters remained on Samarai until transferred to Alotau (“Peaceful Bay” in the local dialect or tok ples) on the northern peninsular of Milne Bay in 1967.

During World War Two the Japanese Imperial Navy landed Marines in a concerted attempt to seize the three Australian military airstrips as stepping-stones in their planned advance on Port Moresby, and subsequently Australia. The Battle of Milne Bay (August-September 1942), one of the five most critical and bloody Pacific War battles in PNG resulting in approximately 170 Australian and 14 American dead, and between 300-600 Japanese fatalities, with the Japanese were defeated. Following so soon after their naval defeat in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Milne Bay, the first defeat suffered by Japanese land forces, was a major turning point in the Pacific War.

Memorials to the Allied Forces killed or wounded in the Battle of Milne Bay, 1942.
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Five of us, David Williams, Wolfgang Wüster, Cathy Pook, Jasper Gabugabu and I, flew from Jackson's Airport, Port Moresby, to Gurney Aiport, Alotau, on 19 September 2006. Jackson's is named in honour of John Jackson while Gurney honours Bob Gurney, both RAAF pilots killed in April and May 1942 respectively.

Gurney Airport with anti-aircraft gun.

We based ourselves at the Alotau International Hotel and hired a Toyota pick-up or ute for getting around. Before we could begin any serious fieldwork we required provincial collection permits and once those were obtained and supplies purchased we could begin work in earnest.

Shopping for supplies in Alotau.

From Alotau we planned to head north over the mountains to herp on the northern coast and south, a longer journey but again over mountains, to search the southern coast for venomous snakes. We took a night drive out along the peninsula to the east of Alotau along the road leading to East Cape, finding only a mangled DOR treesnake (Dendrelaphis calligastra or D.papuensis) and three species of frogs: Papuan wood frog (Hylarana daemali), Milne Bay frog (H.milneana), and White-lipped treefrogs (Litoria infrafrenata), including a curious speckled specimen.

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Papuan wood frog, Hylarana daemali
Milne Bay frog, Hylarana milneana
Comparison of both Hylarana
White-lipped treefrog, Litoria infrafrenata spotted and unicolour phases

Our destinations over the 13days were as listed below:

19 Sept - East Cape
20 Sept - South coast
21 Sept - North coast & East Cape
22 Sept - North coast
23 Sept - South coast
24 Sept - East Cape
25 Sept - South coast
26 Sept - South coast
27 Sept - South coast
28 Sept - South coast
29 Sept - South coast
30 Sept - South & North coasts
01 Oct - South coast

We ventured along the East Cape road on two further occasions on 21 September, and 24 September when we visited the Tawali dive resort where Wolfgang and Cathy were to spend a week. On these journeys we found more frogs and also a McDowell's ground boa (Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli) and a Brown treesnake (Boiga irregularis).

McDowell's ground boa,
Candoia paulsoni mcdowelli
Brown treesnake, Boiga irregularis

There is no direct road to Tawali, to reach the resort requires a drive over the peninsula from Alotau and a boat journey back west along the northern coast. The forest behind the resort is therefore pristine but in our short stay we only saw skinks and a Mangrove monitor lizard (Varanus indicus), although the resort did have a juvenile Saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) which they asked us to take and release back in crocodile country.

Arrival at Tawali Dive Resort.
Coastline at Tawali.


Juvenile Saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus