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Papua New Guinea

by Lilian Hayball

Reproduced from in focus 27 (May 1988)

Papua New Guinea

When I went out to Papua New Guinea to teach Biology in 1981, I didn' t know that I was going to stay there for seven years. Fortunately I had already learned to dive on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent five years before so I took some diving equipment with me to New Guinea. This meant that I could visit out-of-the-way spots with my buddy, Mike Clarke, another teacher/diver who has the same holidays and adventurous streak that I have. The reefs around Papua New Guinea are a continuation of the Great Barrier Reef northwards. The best reef lies all around the eastern edge of this continental island, and there are large numbers of small volcanic or coral islands with fringing reefs, many of which are unexplored and therefore a draw to the keen diver.

There are few roads in PNG except for the Highlands Highway between Lae, Madang and Mendi, near the Indonesian border. Most people fly between places. For the first five years we lived at a boarding school in the windy valley called Aiyura up in the Highlands of New Guinea, about 250 kilometres from Madang, the nearest good diving. Although there is a Dive Club at Lae, the diving isn't the best by the mouth of the wide, fast-flowing Huon river. One patch reef at Salamua provides the main interest here plus a few wrecks when the visibility clears.

We bought an old Toyota Landcruiser and used to go down to Madang for the weekend, a four and a half hour journey on sealed and dirt road. We aimed to get there at 6. 30 before dark, so left as soon as school finished at 1.30 on the Friday afternoon. The second half of the journey was the worst with 8 rivers to ford (now mostly bridged) and steep mountain roads to negotiate behind Madang itself, Between 1981 and 1985 we made this journey almost monthly and the dust clouds rose to engulf us or the rivers were too high to ford - there was always something trying to delay us. However more times than not we would arrive without mishap at the Country Women's Cottage, the cheapest self-catering accommodation in town. This very nice cottage is still situated by the waterside next-door to the expensive, ethnically decorated Madang Resort Hotel and. if you don't mind self-catering, is good value for money.

At the Madang Resort Hotel there is a Dive Shop, full facilities and a qualified Instructor employed by the Hotel for residents and tourists. We met Australians, Americans, Europeans, and many others when they visited this delightful spot on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The main attractions for divers are the many and varied reefs and wrecks on which to dive, with so much unexplored territory as a bonus. Magic Passage is within a few minutes boat ride of the Madang Resort Hotel. It is a 30 metre deep cleft in the outer reef where huge shoals of barracuda, trevally. skipjacks and other ocean fish congregate above carpets of colourful coral species. The sharks are not the man-eating kind ! On the horizon small islands seem to play leapfrog along the outer reef in the heat shimmer of midday - don't forget that this is the tropics, but the breeze is beautiful.

The wrecked remains of World War II action are seen everywhere. Papua New Guineans use parts of planes and ships to decorate their gardens and there are plenty more to see at accessible depths close to shore or only a boat ride away. You can also hire boats and diving equipment from the Jals Aben Resort, 20 minutes drive up the coast. Here there Is another Dive shop and compressor, Dive Master, and even a Marine Biology Research Station for academics. It really Is a divers' paradise.

Another four hours drive northwards from Madang is Hansa Bay, one of many famous sites along the north coast of allied versus Japanese

November 1985 and found beautiful drop-offs, untouched reef life and incredibly clear water, The island is so small there are no rivers, and the microneslan inhabitants are converted Seventh Day Adventists who eat no fish, turtles or crustaceans. The turtles (and sharks) are prolific and the lobsters and crabs make good eating at the Lodge, built especially for diver-tourists. Massive coconut crabs climb down from the coconut palms every evening to wet their gills in the sea - they have to be seen to be believed, They taste pretty good too.

Apart from the New Guinea north coast, I think that Rabaul (East New Britain) offers excellent diving and on-land attractions. Some people would put Rabaul first, but it is my second choice, mainly because some of the reef itself is damaged by overzealous fishermen and is poor in parts. However, the wreck diving is great around Rabaul because the beautiful harbour was a theatre of war while the Japanese were in occupation. The locals are extremely friendly and the volcanic scenery is spectacular. The Rabaul fresh fruit and vegetable market is reputedly (and by experience) the best in the South Pacific. I really miss the place a lot ! Divers meet at the Yacht Club overlooking the harbour and the Rabaul Dive Club has a large membership. Ocean going vessels, large and small, call in and there are very good diving facilities available here.

Lastly, we moved to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea on the south coast nearest Australia. It resembles a far north Australian city and is entirely cut off from the rest of PNG except by plane. Before we left, I heard about a road being built from a footpath that is used by the intrepid locals to cross the treacherous mountain chain behind the city. This road will take a few years to finish, using Japanese Aid, and will link Fort Moresby with the Wau-Bulolo Goldfields road, on the way to Lae. Diving from Port Moresby is mainly in the hands of an experienced sailor and diver called Bob Halstead who has just had a dive vessel built for trips around Papua New Guinea to previously unexplored reefs and wrecks, for example, around the Trobriand Islands ('the islands of love'). He and his Papuan wife Dinah work with the Papua New Guinea tourist board to promote diving in PNG. They are both accomplished underwater photographers who have discovered new species to science. See their articles on diving in the inflight Air Nuigini magazine called 'Paradise'. Otherwise local diving near Port Moresby is disappointing, although there are a few wrecks and some coral reef.

Why not write off to a couple of the addresses given below and find out for yourself- Of course you need to take care in this developing country but there is so much to see and do in and out of the water - it's well worth a visit, but remember it is an expensive part of the world. 'Like every place you have never been' say the advertisements. How true - rainforests teem with birds such as the unique Birds of Paradise, and the local culture is unbelievably rich. The non-diver should also take plenty of film! Accommodation and good diving facilities are available at all the main centres throughout Papua New Guinea and I list the main ones below.

How to get there

Fly London to Port Moresby via Singapore/ Hong-Kong and Manila or Brisbane with British Airways, Qantas and Air Nuigini.

Port Moresby

Diving: Bob Halstead, Tropical Diving Adventures, P.O. Box 1644, Boroko, PNG.

www.loloata.com/

Accomodation: Travel lodge, P.O. Box 1661 Port Moresby, PNG or Civic Guest House, P.O. Box 1139, Boroko, PNG.

Madang

Diving: Melanesian Dive Centre, P.0,Box 336, Madang, PNG

Accomodation: Madang Resort Motel, P.O. Box 111, Madang, PNG

or CWA Cottage, P.O. Box 154, Madang, PNG.

New Britain

Dive with the Rabaul Dive Club, P.O. Box 106, Rabaul, PNG

Books

PNG - a travel survival kit by Tony Wheeler; Lonely Planet Press

shop.lonelyplanet.com/author detail.cfm?authorid=19andproductID=1511
'Corals of Australia and the Indo-Pacific' by J. E. N.Veron; Angus and
Robertson. (Great Barrier Reef species are also found in PNG.)


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