Marine-life Diversity and Topside Adventure Touring
by Tina Robinette-Miller, Island Dreams Travel
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an exotic far off land with much to offer scuba divers and nature enthusiasts. As I learned on my recent visit, the unique birds of PNG are colorful and abundant, the land is rugged and beautiful and the diving is varied and prolific! I hope you will enjoy my report. Tina - Island Dreams
|Table of Contents|
GETTING THERE -- Air Niugini and Virgin Australia both offer service between points in Australia (Brisbane being the most direct route at present) and Port Moresby the capital city of Papua New Guinea. I flew both airlines and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort, cleanliness and service of both. Of the two carriers, Air Nuigini is more full service with in-flight entertainment system and meal service.
Airways Hotel is a good Port Moresby overnight lodging option for those seeking an upscale resort. It's a modern airy resort with 200 rooms, all with free wi-fi, swimming pool, spa, fitness center, boutique shopping, multiple restaurants (one with views of the airport runway, sans noise) and a coffee bar. Rooms are spacious with coffee/tea making facilities, mini-fridge with bottled water, hair dryers, iron and ironing board as well as toiletries. Transfers to and from the airport are only five minutes by car with the hotel's complimentary transfer service.
PNG "in country" flights are offered on Airlines PNG (the smaller solely domestic airline) and the domestic arm of Air Niugini. At present the planes for the latter are newer but an Airlines PNG sales manager advised me that new planes, routes and uniforms will be implemented soon to upgrade everything with Airlines PNG. The domestic flights to the diving areas are about an hour in duration, and limited in amenities.
TUFI RESORT -- Tufi Resort, located at Cape Nelson in the Oro Provence, is easily accessed by Airlines PNG from Port Moresby on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (times vary by day of the week) with a flying time of about 60 minutes, with one stop en route. Upon arrival at the gravel air strip it's a short three-minute Land Cruiser ride (equipped with snorkel for full adventure effect) to the resort. Upon arrival at this 23-room resort you feel as if you've arrived in a tropical oasis of indigenous art, trade winds and of course spectacular views of the ocean and fjords. Each of the bungalows is air-conditioned with private bath, toiletries, coffee/tea making facilities and mini fridge with water so that you can have a drink 24/7 from within the comfort of your bungalow.
Guests have a wide variety of optional activities to stay busy during their stay beyond diving including snorkeling, kayaking, bird watching, cultural tours, nature walks, outrigger safaris, or lounging poolside. Continental breakfast, with an option to upgrade for a made to order breakfast; lunch and dinner (3 courses) are offered al fresco or in the dining hall. Food is basic, primarily chicken or fish, vegetables and rice or potatoes but healthy and special meal requests are easily accommodated. There is a coffee/tea and filtered water station within the main dining area and a bar area adjacent with beer, wine and some alcohol for purchase.
As Tufi Resort is built into the hillside, and looks on to the fjords and ocean, there is a bit of a downhill walk to their dive shop. Small dip barrels are provided for gear and camera rinsing but the staff handles everything... from loading your gear onto the boat to rinsing and hanging it out to dry post dive. They do it all with a smile and a wave encouraging you to leave it all in their hands!
Local fjord diving is within a 15-minute boat ride and is sheltered enough that it can be done year-round even during the windy season. The abundance of small fish and nudibranchs along the walls at these sites will have you believing that the local dives are a great "Plan B" should the winds make the other sites difficult. Open ocean diving is more challenging to access as you are heading south, into the wind depending on the season, and can take about an hour; these trips are not encouraged for those with seasickness issues. The diving in this area further from the resort includes sharks, mantas, and barracuda with smaller fish, in quantity, hovering atop the reef, to add to the wow factor.
TAWALI RESORT -- My next visit was Tawali Leisure and Dive Resort at Milne Bay. Access to the resort is via an hour long flight; both domestic airlines offer at least two flights daily, from Port Moresby to Alotau followed by a two-hour combination car/boat ride to the resort. Nestled amongst the lush greenery the resort has a tree house like ambiance. Most of the rooms are duplex units that are spacious enough for two full sized beds, coffee/tea making facilities and mini fridge with bottled water, TV, drawers, hanging space, desk with chair and a sitting area but still feel spacious and open. A back deck allows you to sit and take full advantage of the scenic views while enjoying the sounds of the indigenous exotic birds.
Meals are served buffet-style. Breakfast is fruit, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and juices. Lunch and dinner have a variety of dishes including beef, shrimp, fish and chicken, vegetables, rice and salads. The mixture of cuisines from Asian dishes to Italian pastas provides options for many different palates. A coffee/tea and water station is within the main dining area which opens at 6 AM each morning. They offer a selection of wine, beer, and some spirits for purchase.
Their on-site dive shop is located on the back side of the resort which is a healthy walk to and from the main resort area. It's not necessary for divers to make the trek there as each room is supplied a dive gear basket. Your dive gear goes from your front porch to the dive boat miraculously and without effort. The dive shop manager will meet with you to explain procedures; you need to go to the dive shop only if you plan to do the shore dive. A small camera rinse tank is provided on each of the dive boats. Local dive sites are 10 minutes from the resort but ocean dives are more than an hour. Current and visibility varies by site and season but most of the open ocean dives require a safety sausage and are for the more advanced diver.
Beyond diving they offer activities such as skull caves tour, local village excursion, boat rides to a secluded beach with snorkeling and a picnic, hot spring tours, early morning Bird of Paradise tour, swimming in the resort pool or riding their oversized water bike on the ocean.
SEASONALITY, WEATHER and WATER CONDITIONS -- Water temperatures in Papua New Guinea range from 78 - 87 F., based on the season. The diving can range from very easy to challenging, again based on the season but also on current and the specific dive site. Traditionally, the windiest months with the coolest water temperatures are July and August. September starts the warming trend with less wind each month and warmer water temperatures until they reach December. January starts with the water starting to cool and occasional northern winds that impact the dive sites chosen each day.
THE DIVING -- As it's within the coral triangle, this trip to Papua New Guinea offered great marine-life diversity... including hammerhead sharks, white tip and black tip reef sharks, turtles, mackerel, pygmy seahorses, banded long nose pipefish, coral cardinal fish, yellowtail wrasse, clown triggerfish, schooling square spotted anthias, clams of all sizes, nudibranchs in abundance (one pair eight-inches in length laying eggs was a highlight), big-nose unicornfish, inquisitive schools of bat fish, regal angelfish, queen angelfish, elegant firefish, painted triggerfish, blue triggerfish, red-spotted hawkfish, harlequin sweetlips, Bennet's butterfly fish, spotted drum, arrow crabs, decorator crabs, fringed blenny, pastel jawfish, signal goby, coral grouper, skunk anemonefish, soft corals, lettuce corals, brain coral and so much more! In addition to the variety, I was amazed at the sheer volume of fish. My mind, while diving, was fixated on the thought that PNG is very FISHY! Between the superb soft-adventure options and the excellent scuba diving, Papua New Guinea really delivers for those seeking truly "off the beaten path" excitement. Tina Robinette-Miller - Island Dreams Travel