Explore: Papua New Guinea


Papua New Guinea: The Last Frontier

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a unique land, steeped in culture and mystery.  The natural beauty and intricate history of this country beckon to be explored.

Situated directly north of Australia, in the center of the Asia-Pacific region, PNG is nestled in the Great Indo-Pacific Coral Triangle. Recognized internationally as a premier tropical dive destination, this area has twice as many marine species as the Red Sea, and up to ten times the Caribbean. The Bismarck, Solomon, and Coral Seas’ sweeping currents feed and enrich the marine environment. 

 Join the Terra EXPLORE Team aboard a research vessel on expedition to the Eastern Lobe of the Coral Triangle, the apex of marine biodiversity. We will circumnavigate the rarely visited, pristine, and biologically rich waters around the remote islands of Buka, Bougainville, and Carteret, which form the largest atoll of the North Solomon’s Province of Papua New Guinea. With 17,000 km of coastline, and seas containing 45,000 sq km of reef systems, crowds in the water column won’t be an issue. The immense diversity of sites include barrier reefs, coral walls, coral gardens, patch reef, fringing reefs, seagrass beds, coral atolls and wrecks.

This region is the least visited province of PNG and in many ways the most elusive, last frontier. Participate in the scientific exploration, documentation, and reporting of this unique environment with the prospect of new discoveries.

Trip Highlights

Our expedition begins off the culturally rich Buka island, one of the hallmarks of the undiscovered Papua New Guinea experience. These ancient coral reefs were formed by the seismic tectonic forces dominating this region of PNG. Buka is separated from Bougainville by Buka Passage, a tidal channel only 200-300m wide and a kilometer long that produces swift currents running in excess of 6 knots. Flat and covered in copra and cocoa plantations, Buka has much to offer both land and sea explorers alike. There is evidence of human occupation found in caves along the southwest coast that date back 30,000 years as well as more recent pottery remains from the Lapita culture dating back 3,000 years.

Bougainville is a rugged, volcanic island that has seen little development. This island has lush tropical forests, towering volcanoes, rushing rivers, azure lagoons, plunging waterfalls, and giant caves. At just over 200km long, the central spine made of the Crown Prince, Emperor, and Deuro ranges is an awe-inspiring sight. Mount Balbi, a dormant volcano, is the islands’ highest peak (2685m), and Mount Bagana, an active volcano (1730m) is most often seen spewing great plumes of steam and ash. The island is even home to the largest cave in the southern hemisphere, Benua Cave, which could quite possibly be the largest in the world , with a single cavernous chamber measuring an astounding 4.5 million cubic meters, enough space to accommodate 15 football fields.

Buka and Bougainville islands contain some of the last great, unexplored reefs and wrecks within the Greater Tropical Southwest Pacific Basin. The diversity of marine life is unmatched anywhere else on the planet.

Carteret, an atoll situated some 50 nautical miles northeast of Buka, consists of a small low-lying islands arrayed in a 30km horseshoe along its north-south axis with a maximum elevation 1.5m above sea level. This atoll lies on the western edge of the Ontong Java Plateau (OJP), the largest single topographic feature yet discovered covering a contiguous 1% of the earth’s surface and a volume of 80,000,000 cubic kilometers.



Day 1 – Expedition members should plan to arrive at Buka airport (BUA) PNG in the afternoon of Day 1. Here you will be picked up and transferred to the expedition’s research vessel. Once on board, the ship will get under way while the expedition team holds team introductions and provides the scientific and diving guidelines for the expedition. 

Day 2 – After breakfast the expedition team will assemble for a pre-dive briefing prior to our familiarization dive to orient everyone to the conditions of this extraordinary ecosystem that is the Eastern Lobe of the Coral Triangle. Later that afternoon, there will be more opportunities to dive as well as an on-land trip to explore the terrain. That evening everyone can relax while the expedition team provides research guidance so everyone can log all information recorded. 

Days 3-10 – Over 7 days, the research vessel will circumnavigate the islands of Buka and Bougainville allowing passengers the chance to dive on environmentally, ecologically, or geologically significant locations for study and data collection. It is during this time that we will also head to the Cartaret Island for a two-day visit. This atoll is one of the most remote locations on the planet, and the location where the world’s first environmental refugees were forced to evacuate in 2007 due to global warming when sea levels rose enough to swallow much of the land, rendering the remainder almost uninhabitable. 

Day 11 – On the expedition’s final day, we will spend time in the towns of Buka and Kokopau, Bougainville, giving everyone the opportunity to relax ahead of your departure the next morning.


Meet the Expedition Team

John Holder – Expedition Leader

Naturalist, Historian, and Photographer John has, over the past four decades, actively engaged in: cruising on, diving under, flying over, and lecturing about our planet’s great oceans.Founder of EXPLORE, he is a true explorer. A Fellow of The Explorers Club and Chairman Emeritus of its Texas Chapter, John has conceived, and led, numerous expeditions to the planet’s most remote regions to unlock the secrets within. John has participated in expeditions as a: historian, naturalist, photographer, and leader; while working with noted scientists and fellow explorers. John’s interests and passions have taken him to over 110 countries. He is a pilot, divemaster, and USCG Captain. 

Amanda Cotton- Expedition Photographer/ Diarist 

Amanda Cotton, Professional Photographer specializes in underwater imagery. As an avid scuba diver and ocean enthusiast, Amanda’s goal is to help the general public embrace the beauty below the waves, in hopes that with awareness comes concern. The conservation and preservation of this ecosystem is of the highest priority to Amanda.

Amanda is honored to be a Member National of The Explorers Club and the OAS (Ocean Artists Society). Amanda was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2015 and was named Scuba Diving Magazine’s July 2017 SEA HERO. Amanda’s imagery has been published in major publications and news sources worldwide including National Geographic, BBC, Discovery, Smithsonian Magazine, Times Publishing, CNN, Scuba Diving Magazine, Sport Diver Magazine, Natural History Magazine, Earthweek, and Science Daily; as well as many international dive industry advertising campaigns. Working with organizations such as Scholastic Books, The Conservation Fund, Consortium For Ocean Leadership, Women Diver’s Hall of Fame, Marine Life Protection Act, and Rourke Publishing has allowed her imagery to have a positive impact on the oceans through education and outreach programs designed to improve awareness toward the plight the oceans now face.