Sunday, November 21, 2010

Papua New Guinea with Dive Addicts

Papua New Guinea November 3rd-17th, 2010

Traveling from Draper, Utah to Papua New Guinea is one of the more horrendous travel experiences I have personally had.  2 ½ days of full on travel with overnights in Brisbane, Australia and Port Moresby, PNG (the murder capital of the world!), somewhat lively discussions with Air Nuigini personnel over weight restrictions, very tired travelers, and stiff muscles, but all was forgotten about by the time we finally rolled into Walindi Resort in Kimbe PNG.  With friends and loved ones asking us if we needed our head examined, we were determined to make it to one of the premier dive destinations on the planet!  We actually were returning to the site of a pervious Dive Addicts trip aboard the Star Dancer, a luxury liveaboard that calls Kimbe PNG home.  Our trip in 2007 was an amazing experience, and this trip lived up to our expectations! 

After a nice lunch at the Walindi Resort, we boarded the Star Dancer to find that she had undergone a retrofit since our last trip in 2007.  New ownership and a new captain were a welcome relief and the crew commanded by Christopher Guglielmo a native Floridian by way of several years in the Turks and Caicos, assisted by Yuki Kawamura, a young Japanese girl who served as Trip Director and Dive Master, as well as several PNG locals, the boat was in tip top shape and ran extremely efficiently and comfortably.  The food was top notch and plentiful.  Captain Christopher is a world-class underwater photographer and was very helpful at assisting and giving helpful hints to guests when requested. 

Our Dive Addicts group consisted of 10 people including Randy & Gwen Thornton, Doug & Carrie Larson, Alex Miller & Andrea Kelly, Doug  & Amy Smith, and Mike & Nikki Robinson.   Our itinerary included Kimbe Bay, Witu Islands and Fathers Islands.  PNG offers a wide variety of animal encounters with the widest variety of bio-diversity found on earth.  One of the most exciting adventures for new divers coming to PNG is the small critters found on the “muck dives”.  Muck dives in PNG consist of diving in usually dark sand from the many local volcanoes.  Found amongst the rumble, palm fronds, coconuts, and various and assorted trash on the bottom, you can find some of the coolest small unusual creatures found anywhere.  Pipe Fish, Leafy Ghost Fish, Leafy Scorpion Fish, Mandarin Fish, Mantis Shrimp, Decorator Crabs, Twin Spotted Gobies, Blue Ring Octopus, Unidentified Ringed Octopus, Enormous Sea Cucumbers, numerous Nudibranchs of all types shapes, sizes and colors, Hermit Crabs, Upside Down Jelly Fish, Boxer Crabs, Moray Eels of several variety, Twin Spotted Lion Fish, Ornate Ghost Pipe Fish, Blue Ribbon Eel, Rock Moving Wrasse, Juvenile Spotted Sweet Lips, Flamed Colored Dart Fish, Bi-Colored Dart Fish,

Our diving on the bommies included lots of sitings of Bump Head Parrot, Napoleon Wrasse, Silver Tip Shark, White Tip Shark, Grey Reef Shark, Squid, Cuttle Fish,  Spiny Devil Fish, Lion Fish, as well as all of the usual suspects. 

We participated in a couple of different shark feeds and got up close and personal with a gaggle of White Tips and Grey Reef Sharks who were not shy about getting right up in your face. 

Papua New Guinea is a photographer’s and videographer’s paradise.  There is something virtually on every dive to grab your attention and challenge your skills! The water temperature during our 8 days was a balmy 87 degrees Fahrenheit!  Many of the guests went without wetsuits or skins and simply dove with a rash guard.  The water conditions ranged from raging current to virtually no current in bathtub type conditions.  We dove on mostly bomies (sea pinnacles) in the mornings and in the afternoon and nights mostly in more protected sites.  The dive masters were top-notch young PNG local boys who were able to pick out even the smallest creatures who us mere mortals were oblivious to! 

While in the Walindi Islands, we had the chance to visit a local village.  A guy named Dicki, who has lived on the island for 45 years running a Copra plantation, took us through the local village and introduced us to the folks there.  Most of the adults were up the hill at their garden spot while the kids were home mowing the lawns with bush-whackers, a large machete type knife.  The kids were unbelievably sweet and followed us around posing for pictures and smiling from ear to ear.  They were thrilled to practice their English.  Each island has its own unique language that is unintelligible to the people on the islands next door.  In PNG there are over 867 unique languages with Pidgin the common language spoken throughout PNG as well as a fare amount of English.  There are over 50 political parties and no one prime minister has lasted their entire 5-year term.  Indigenous counting systems are more than 50.  One counting system is based on the joints of the body and nose! 

The people of PNG are generally quite pleasant and friendly, with the notable exception being the hoodlums who run around Port Moresby.  Once out of Port Moresby, the people were always excited to see us.   There are still quite a bit of territorial village/tribal protectionism.  Apparently, the week before we arrived, a group of 6 men were hacked to death when their boat ran out of gas and they washed up on the shore of a non-friendly competing village.  The villagers didn’t appreciate the intrusion and hacked them with bush-whackers! 

On several of the dives, upon surfacing, we would find young kids in dugout canoes with outriggers, wanting to trade flowers, fruit and vegetables for soap, rice, or other staples.  They would float for several hours behind the boat until the cook would come out and do a little “business” with them!  They also love to get their pictures taken and grin from ear to ear! 

While diving the pinnacles in Fathers Islands, we were hosted by a resident 5 foot long Great Barracuda by the name of George, who is very photogenic!  In fact, so close that you get an up close and personal view of his nasty dental work! 
One evening after completing a night dive, we were greeted at the hang bar by several large Silver Tip Sharks that were quite interested in checking us out.  Made for a few anxious moments during the safety stop!

Interestingly enough, PNG has experienced a bit of an El NiƱo year, and so there has been a small amount of coral bleaching, but they seem to be recovering nicely.  One cool photography opportunity of the warm water is that occasionally you will see an ultra white bleached sea anemone that makes for a striking photographic opportunity.  According to Captain Christopher over 60% of all species of the world’s coral is found in PNG with an incredible amount of endemic fish. 

The Star Dancer holds 16 guests, and Dive Addicts had 10 of the spots.  This was our 2nd time onboard for this itinerary, and this particular crew was a huge improvement over the previous experience!  The diving, accommodations, food, service and sites were certainly worth the effort to get here and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something a little off the beaten path!  The travel home was a little tedious and included 3 flight cancelations and lots of sitting around in the Hoskins airport which certainly gives a whole new meaning to airport services!  I now refer to the Hoskins airport as Hoskins Prisoner of War Camp!  One small hint - don’t even think about opening the door to the restrooms!  It was a near death experience!  Air Niugini is not Delta by any means, but we made it safely and I would gladly return to PNG again!  

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