I’ve been on the road for 36 hours now, and I’m pretty much on the other side of the world from where I started back in rain drenched England. At last, I’m approaching the final legs of the journey—just a short one-hour flight to go.
Things have gone smoothly so far, I’m thinking, as I wander up to the check-in desk for the last leg of my trip. “The flights full,” the attendant tells me, “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
Following a mixture of smooth talking and plain old pleading, I managed to “unoffload” myself, and I’m soon in the air heading for New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. I should be out for the count, but I’m too excited to sleep. Ever since I first learned of this country, from the pages of David Doubilet’s, Light in the Sea, I’ve wanted to come here. I guess I’m a slow starter, for I read that book nearly 20 years ago!
“Make sure you get a window seat!” was the message from everyone who I knew who’d been here. The view really is staggering. Papua New Guinea is as raw and untamed land as you’ll find. The landscape ranges from mountainous highlands to rich rainforest; its ecosystem attracts scientists from the world over, and upwards of 850 languages are spoken here. With such extraordinary variety, how apt that the country’s motto is, “Unity in Diversity”.
In no time, we touch down at Hoskins airport, and from here, it’s just a one-hour drive, through endless neatly ordered rows of oil palm, to my destination—Walindi Plantation Resort on the shores of Kimbe Bay. Characterised by a friendly atmosphere nurtured by the owners, Max and Cecilie Benjamin, this has long been the secret haunt of some of the world’s best underwater photographers .
The next morning, I’m heading out to South Emma Reef. Descending into the crystal clear water, the first thing that strikes me is the sheer size of the corals and sponges here. Encircled by tall volcanic mountains, Kimbe Bay’s reefs are protected from the fiercest storms, while the mooring buoys in turn keep the reefs protected from anchors. This has enabled corals to grow undamaged to gargantuan sizes. My descent is checked only by a school of barracuda. Over the next days, it becomes apparent that just about every reef seems to have their own school!
Following Max over the drop off, we soon find a swim through filled with life; the walls are a mass of colour. Emerging through the other side to the upstream side of the reef, the scene is stunning—a wall of fusiliers are being hunted by tuna and huge barrel sponges protrude from the reef wall. The myriad of corals provide shelter for longnose hawkfish, scribbled leatherjacket and fire dartfish—just a few examples of the 900 plus species of fish that have been recorded in the bay. This reef already ranks amongst the best I’ve ever seen—and it’s only the first dive!
The beautiful underwater formations can be attributed to the large numbers of reef building corals; there are at least 440 species present. Whilst we are moored on the picturesque Restorf Island, we are, however, reminded of the bird life that has made Papua New Guinea as important for ornithologists as it is for marine biologists. The screech of sea eagles orbiting overhead emphasises the prehistoric feel of this place, whilst underwater, we find a reef adorned with giant elephant’s ear sponges.
Reefs like this in places such as the Red Sea or the Maldives would be crowded with dive boats, yet here we are totally alone. I feel like I am discovering a place that has been untouched and unexplored— a sensation that I rarely experience anymore. As I dive these waters, I am filled with the same enthusiasm and excitement that I used to experience in my youth. I am once again discovering the unsurpassable beauty that the underwater world holds.
Max operates three day boats from Walindi and just a few safari boats dive these waters—that’s it! There are dozens of reefs to dive, and yet, not another boat in sight.
The Witu Islands
Venturing beyond the shelter of the bay requires one of these safari ...
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Papua New Guinea: Kimbe Bay, Witu, Milne Bay, Tufi, New Ireland; The Greenland Shark; The Arrow, Nova Scotia; Timor-Leste's Tasi Tolu; Sheck Exley on Mix; Diving with Humboldt Squid; Safety Culture in Diving; Dive Fitness: Are You Scuba Fit? Point-and-Shoot Underwater Photography; Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel. Plus news and discoveries, equipment and training news, books and media, underwater photo and video equipment, turtle news, shark tales, whale tales and much more...