PAPUA NEW GUINEA & SOLOMONS
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: NEW BRITAIN
Volcanoes and reefs – the edge of discovery
Season: Year-round diving
Water Temperature: 28-30°C/82-86°F
Diving: House reef, walls, coral gardens, critter diving, wrecks, Manta Rays, sharks, shore diving, boat diving
Re-breathers supported (Walindi Plantation Resort and Febrina)
Willing to share option on liveaboards
Can be combined with Milne Bay or New Ireland
Non-diving activities available include the hot river, thermal pools tour, Mount Gabuna Volcano , World War II aeroplane wrecks, bird watching, oil palm plantation tour, Mosa Golf Club, Heli Nuigini Kimbe, kayaking
Mysterious Papua New Guinea lies south of the equator and some 450 miles north of Australia. This far-off land of lofty volcanoes, snow-covered peaks, magnificent cloud forests, dense rainforests, dry savanna, mangrove swamps, coastal lagoons and palm-fringed beaches attracts the adventurous traveller. Majestic mountains and volcanoes are nature’s legacy from an unusual and violent geological history. The diverse range of habitats on these stunning islands supports over 700 species of birds including the wonderfully colourful and iridescent birds of paradise whose feathers are still worn by the warriors of the stone-age tribes that inhabit the central highlands. Papua New Guinea stands totally apart from the usual travel destination. Those divers with a spirit of adventure and a yearning for discovery should look no farther than Papua New Guinea and in particular the island of New Britain.
The Bismarck Sea and the Solomon Sea surround New Guinea’s largest satellite island, New Britain. Here you will find that there are thrilling new dive sites with more species of fish than anywhere else in the world and occasional sightings of Killer Whales (orcas) and Sperm Whales! The rich life of the rainforests is mirrored by the vibrant coral ‘jungles’ under the sea. Fringing reefs have formed off the islands, with coral growths also developing on the deep underwater pinnacles of once-active volcanoes. These underwater mountains rise from the bed of the ocean floor at depths of 4,000 metres to peak just below the surface of the water and well within range of the sport diver. Fortunately for us, pollution, over-fishing and deforestation have not yet spoiled these wonderful waters, which are still teeming with life. The vibrant soft corals in every shade of pink, red, purple and gold are home to a medley of small tropical fish. Hard corals in weird and wonderful formations support an incredible and rich diversity of invertebrates ranging from jewel-like anemones to the intelligent and ever-changing octopus. Conservation is held to be of great importance in New Britain and so the reefs and wrecks of this area are in pristine condition, free of diver damage and pollution’s dreadful degradation.
Almost 200 reefs and dive sites are sprinkled throughout Kimbe Bay. All are pristine and undamaged. More than two-thirds of all Indo-Pacific fish species are found in the waters of Kimbe Bay and it has been said that no other dive area in the world can match this incredible diversity! As yet, comparatively few divers have explored these reefs and there is a rigid policy of conservation to preserve this unpolluted underwater paradise. To research and monitor the ecology of Kimbe Bay and west New Britain, the European Union supports a Nature and Marine Research Centre adjacent to the Walindi Plantation Resort.
Some immense seafans can be found at Valerie’s Reef, a deepish dive with the mooring in 18 metres, but worth a visit simply to witness the size of these soft corals. This is surely a place where many photographs have been shot, for here the seafans can dwarf the diver, some being 3 or 4 metres in diameter!
At Susan’s Reef a descent to 28 metres may reward the diver with wonderful views of Crab-eyed (or Signal) Gobies. Two of these charming creatures live here and they frequently perform for divers. They appear from their burrow and move slowly over the sand like miniature hovercraft. Amazingly their twin spots appear like the eyes of a crab and in conjunction with the movement of their fins they look just like a crab sitting gobbling a tasty morsel. This is certainly an excellent strategy for keeping predators away! Keep looking out for nudibranchs in every colour and size, for this is the place to find them. The end of the dive on the reef top is often a veritable treat for, as well as clouds of anthias, you may encounter a small group of Shrimpfish (or Razorfish) hovering upright in the staghorn coral. Heads firmly down and tails up, these fish seem to move in parallel, hovering up and down between the ‘horns’ of the coral.
Everyone has a favourite dive site and ours at Kimbe Bay is Ann-Sophie’s Reef, in the channel between Taora Island and the tip of the Williamez Peninsular. This is one of the most distant dive sites in Kimbe Bay, but the people at Walindi will usually lay it on if you are keen enough to put up with the longer-than-usual boat journey (about an hour and a half each way): this fabulous place is usually well worth the effort! The top of the reef is in about 4 metres, but falls away down a wall to 25 metres. It is possible to circumnavigate the reef in one dive, but there is so much to see that few divers will make it all the way round. Descending the reef, one encounters a living wall of barracudas and Big-eye Trevallys, shimmering in the strong sunlight. This is ‘action-painting’ with a difference as one causes the school to move and alter direction with a simple movement of the hand or body. This is a real chance to be a part of the living reef! At the base of the wall is a sandy ‘garden’ full of Garden Eels of the less usual Black or Many-toothed variety. Watch the blind Shrimp Gobies and their shrimpy shovelling friends, or turn to see a Coachwhip Trevally with its beautiful trailing dorsal fin stretching behind. Crunching their way along the reef can be seen and heard the truly extra-terrestrial looking Bumphead Parrotfish with their huge teeth agape. Watch out behind as the ‘fall-out’ from these huge fish can be quite significant!
About 40 minutes boat ride from Walindi lies Inglis Shoal, a seamount which rises to about 12 metres from the surface. The reef top is covered with plate and other hard corals along with some interesting varieties of soft coral. Several species of triggerfish occur here along with Clarke’s and Spine-cheeked anemonefish and, of course, their anemone hosts. The amazing crocodile fish with its beautiful but weird eyes and huge ‘grinning’ mouth can be found resting amongst the coral. The reef top soon changes to a vertical reef wall. A deeper dive here, perhaps to 35 or 40 metres can reward the diver with a view of a Scalloped Hammerhead! Schools of Chevron and Blue-lined Barracudas contain the occasional ‘rogue’ Great Barracuda, while Grey Reef Sharks, Dogtooth Tuna and Wahoo regularly pass-by.
It is impossible to describe or to name all the species that can be found on these reefs; colourful little fairly basslets, smart triggerfish and bright snappers are simply just a few of the estimated 3,500 species found in these waters. Even new species of fish are being identified – the latest being the Walindi Wrasse! Large predators come in search of the smaller fish, so tuna, barracudas and sharks can be seen in good numbers. Some of the most thrilling sights for the diver are the occasional dolphins, dugongs and even whales that are seen from time to time cruising the reefs. Even a lunch stop snorkel at one of the tiny islands in Walindi Bay holds more treats. Amazing nudibranchs, including the gorgeous Flabellina exoptata with its red ‘horns’ and the string-like Pteraeolidia ianthina, can be seen adorning the walls of the swim-throughs. The entire area is simply brimming with wonderful creatures and wonderful sights, making Walindi a destination not to be missed.
FATHER’S REEF, LOLOBAU ISLAND & THE DUKE OF YORK ISLANDS
Surrounded by towering, still-active volcanoes, the town of Rabaul at the tip of the Gazelle Peninsula saw some fierce fighting in the Second World War and even now is slowly recovering from the damaging ash-falls from the 1994 volcanic eruption. Febrina explores remote Father’s Reef and the reefs off Lolobau island with their superb series of offshore seamounts (the tips of ancient volcanoes) which attract big marine animals as well as smaller fish. From there she make her way east to the Duke of York Islands, with their primitive local culture and beautiful beaches.
Fish life is rich and varied, ranging from sharks, including hammerheads, rays and tuna through massive schools of barracudas and jacks to tiny anthias. The reef walls in this area are often spectacular and coral and sponge growth is incredibly diverse. Strange reef creatures, ranging from nudibranchs to frogfish and Crocodilefish, attract the underwater photographer. The volcanic origins of much of the area are reflected by the presence of caves and lava tubes. Turtles and dolphins are regularly sighted and, as elsewhere in New Britain, there is always the chance of a dugong or a whale.
Leslie’s Knob, on Father’s Reef is a wonderful table-topped seamount which comes to about 7 metres from the surface. As one sinks down to the seamount, large schools of fusiliers surround the diver, but there just a few metres away can be seen schooling Big-eye Trevallys and huge Dogtooth Tuna. Dropping down to 30 metres, Grey Reef Sharks roam in the more gloomy depths. Watch your gauges here for you are likely to be distracted by the shear quantity of things to see. Tightly packed schools of Chevron Barracudas face into the oncoming current, their eyes constantly watching out for danger from the sharks below! Ending your dive on the flat top of the seamount offers the chance to search for Scorpion Leafish and other small creatures.
For lovers of large fish, Norman’s Knob, another seamount, is a great dive. Wahoo, up to two metres in length, can sometimes be seen here in ‘families’ of three or more. These smart, streamlined mackerel-like fish cruise like Great Barracudas. Lionfish with their veil-like, but venomous spines are common, as are Rainbow Runners and bannerfish. For lovers of nudibranchs there are several species to be found here. Large schools of friendly and inquisitive Teira Batfish cruise very close to divers. These large black, silver-grey and yellow fish make superb subjects for the photographer as they follow divers close to the surface and can pose against the sunlight!
Swim along a ridge that drops to about 25 metres from the main reef and you will soon arrive at the arch on Father’s Arch. The arch itself is covered in soft corals and seafans with schooling fish. If, however, you stay on the main reef a trip to 30 metres or more and a careful search of the seafans might be rewarded by the sight of a miniscule Pygmy Seahorse. Bring your magnifying glass for a good look at these tiny perfect seahorses with their tails usually wrapped tightly around a seafan. On the top of the reef there is much opportunity to watch beautiful Fire Gobies and perhaps shrimp gobies with their shrimpy partners endlessly undertaking earthworks!
Killybob’s Knob on Fairway Reef is a double-headed seamount. The boat anchors on the smaller pinnacle, which is adjacent to a longer ridge, the walls of which are adorned with huge seafans. These are well worth checking out, for this is just the type of location where Pygmy Seahorses may be found! Drop down to 35 metres to witness elegant and powerful Silvertip Sharks cruising by. At shallower depths, when the huge schools of Rainbow Runners meet and meld with the huge schools of Big-eye Trevallys, one can wriggle right inside the wall of fish to take an honoured place within the vortex as they circle. Watch as a small legion of Rainbow Runners peel from the ‘herd’ and tackle a visiting Grey Reef Shark. Thirty to forty small individuals head off the invader by encapsulating him from the main school and buffet the agitated shark until, failing to dislodge its ‘armour’, it retreats, still hungry (this time!).
In the wide Makada Harbour at the Duke of York Islands lie the Two Tanks, jettisoned from their Japanese transporter and positioned one in front of the other just as if they were ‘frozen’ as they proceeded along the ocean floor. This shallow dive (about 4 metres) offers great diving for the underwater photographer and the fish watcher. The two Japanese tanks are complete with turrets and can make a superb subject for the underwater photographer with a wide-angle lens. On the coral rubble around the tanks many species of corallimorph can be found (watch out for this seemingly harmless ‘anemone’ as it can cause a severe and painful rash if it comes into contact with skin, even through a lycra suit!) and also small and fascinating pipefish with their long, snaky bodies, pretty eyes and beautiful little snouts.
COMBINATIONS: Why not extend your visit to PNG and visit New Ireland? The Kavieng area offers a superb range of dive sites with a remarkable variety of ‘macro life’ as well as good numbers of big fish. Alternatively, why not take a liveaboard cruise out of Milne Bay, or we could arrange for you to stay at a very comfortable but remote lodge in the interior of New Guinea where the tribal people still lead lives not that far removed from their Stone Age forbears. Talk to us about the many possibilities.