Papua New Guinea By Sea

“I’m gonna freefall, out into nothin’; gonna leave this world for awhile.”

-Tom Petty

After more than a week discovering the villages and regions of mainland Papua New Guinea, it was time to get back to what I really love—the ocean.  I’d enjoyed all my land excursions, but save 2 days in Nusa Lembongan when my parents visited, it had been well over a month since I’d been diving, which was really what this whole trip was about.  The sea was calling my name.

I hopped on a plane in Port Morseby bound for Hoskins airport in Kimbe, on the island of New Britain.  As we flew over the teal blue waters I could already tell the diving here was going to be incredible.  From the plane I could see the varying shades of blue leading my imagination toward the promise of good visibility and healthy reefs below.  The plane descended onto a small airstrip similar to the others I’d visited in PNG.  Once again, my massive luggage miraculously all made the journey with me and I was collected for the transfer to the Walindi resort where the Febrina liveaboard was docked.

As I exited the airport, I was surrounded by wails and cries from the local people in a crowd nearby.  On closer look, I saw that they were gathered around a casket that was being brought out of the airport.

One of our guides on the land tour had told us about witnessing a gathering like this—a “cry cry.”  I had never seen anything like it.  Women wailed and threw themselves on the casket.  The sounds of sheer pain filled the air.  It brought tears to my eyes to see their grief.  So I sheepishly got into the van, a bit embarrassed at stopping to watch such a personal moment among these people.

As we headed to the resort, we passed through field upon field of palm oil trees.  They seemed to be endless, and the industry employs the vast majority of the people in the region.  Eventually the trees parted and we approached a small, simple, but comfortable dive resort.  I spent the afternoon lounging around, enjoying lunch, and meeting a few of the people who would be on the boat.

Later that afternoon we embarked the ship, and I was shown to my cozy one-person cabin.  And I mean cozy. There was room only for the twin bed, bathroom, and enough space for the door to swing open.  But it was quite comfortable and just what I needed—my own little space to relax, work on photos, and snooze between dives.

The Febrina itself was likewise just what any diver needs from a liveaboard.  It’s not the largest ship and certainly isn’t very fancy, but it gets the job done, with a nice and spacious dive deck with plenty of room to fiddle with cameras.  The crew was fantastic, and the first night we were treated to a delicious beef stroganoff that was fairly indicative of the fabulous quality of the local chef on board.  (And I’m usually disappointed by stroganoff since it’s one of the 5 dishes I actually cook really well.)  The only thing missing from the ship was a sundeck, although my German/English/Polish skin was ultimately grateful for the shade.

We began with a few dives in Kimbe bay before steaming a bit farther out toward the fairway reef and father’s reef areas.  These are caldera—old sunken volcanos—out at the middle of the sea.  Being in that remote of an area meant we saw no other divers the whole time.  Plus the visibility was great, and the conditions outstanding, with little current to speak of.  We dove on sheer walls and pinnacles that rose to near the surface of the water, while plunging into the deep blue hundreds or often thousands of meters below.

The diversity of diving in PNG was truly the highlight.  I had a tough choice every dive between macro and wide angle, with lots of little critters hidden away on every reef, yet plenty of barracudas and other big stuff joining us on nearly every dive.  For the first few dives, we saw so many barracuda that it became a running joke to surface and say to Josie, the (exceptional) instructor who leads the dive crew on the boat, “no barracuda.  When are we going to see some barracuda?”

There really isn’t much more to write about my 8 nights on the trip, as it was pretty much eat, sleep, dive.  We did 4-5 days a day, although worn out from all the travel, I did skip two in the first couple days (something I don’t think I’ve ever done on a dive trip with a package of scheduled diving).  But there were plenty of highlights.  On many dives we were joined by some friendly turtles who actually seemed too friendly at times, giving a few divers nibbles on their fingers, mistaking them for the sponges they had been munching on.  We had some of the best night diving I’ve had, full of octopus, huge lobsters, crabs, and tons of other critters.  I was thrilled to see a baby octopus swimming around on one of those dives, which reminded me of the little octopus from Finding Nemo who inks himself.  I also finally got my first good photos of an octopus (not the little one, sadly) who changed colors repeatedly as he tried to blend into the surroundings.

I did experience my first ever equipment failure while diving on this trip—a burst O-ring.  We were headed down to hunt for a pygmy seahorse known to be on this dive site, and at about 86 feet, I heard a huge explosion and gush of bubbles.  When I turned I could see that my tank was freeflowing.  As I swam over to the divemaster (who was the nearest diver and wasn’t far away), someone came behind and shoved her octopus into my face, and I turned to see Josie who I didn’t even know was there.  They shut off my freeflowing tank and we did the alternate air source ascent I’ve practiced so many times but have never actually had to do.  The whole thing was not a big deal—I stayed calm, got an alternate air source well before my tank ran out, and made a safe ascent to the surface—but it was a good reminder of the importance of diving near your buddy/group, something I’m not always so great at, especially when I have my camera.  In the end, we switched out the tank, and hopped back in the water, and I still got my pygmy seahorse photos.

After 8 nights and 27 dives, we headed back to the Walindi, where I would spend one final night.  We had some options for excursions, but I decided to be lazy and just hung out at the resort.  We did go after dinner one evening to witness some synchronizing fireflies, which were very similar to the ones I had seen in Borneo.  It was a nice night out, and a good way to end my time in PNG.

After that it was back to Port Moresby en route to the Solomon Islands.  As we took off in the small plane, I could see the caldera where we had been diving the last few days.  The round teal circles in the deep blue waters were almost as beautiful above as from below—but not quite.

NOTE:  Thanks to internet issues, there are a number of photos that won’t upload to this blog.  You can see the full set of PNG photos here, with the underwater photos starting at page 31.

Dive Summary

Location:  Kimbe Bay & Father’s Reef, Papua New Guinea

Dates:  August 29-September 4, 2017

#Dives: 27

Max Depth: 112

Total Bottom Time:  1520 minutes

Dive Sites:  Vanessa’s Reef, Bradford Shoal, Belinda’s Reef, Alice’s Reef, Midway Reef, Meil’s Reef, Killibob’s Knob, Jackie’s Knob, The Arch, Norman’s Knob, Leslie’s Knob, Jayne’s Gulley, Lilua’s Reef, , Gorgonian Reef, Otto’s Reef, Inglis Shoal, Joelle’s Reef, Susan’s Reef

 

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