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Terrific Tufi

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Christopher and his partner Imi visit Tufi Dive Resort in Papua New Guinea, and get straight into the diving

Flying over the Coral Sea from Brisbane I couldn’t stop looking out of the window and searching for the remote reefs of the Eastern Fields, testing the zoom on my new camera on an unknown ray-shaped island. Imi and I were itching to get in the water and hoped we would get to Tufi Dive Resort before sunset for a welcome dip. Alas the vagaries of tropical weather were against us and our connecting flight from Port Moresby was postponed until the following morning. Airlines PNG put us and other travellers up in Moresby overnight and had us back at the airport at 6 o’clock the following morning.

Sitting at the back of the De Havilland Twin Otter with my partner Imi and an American Mom, Dad, and teenage son combo in front, I peered through the misty clouds at the swath of trees below, occasionally cut by the hairline crack of a path or the meandering swirls of a river. The jagged peaks of the Owen-Stanley range that run down the spine of the island weren’t that far away as we headed east from Port Moresby to Tufi. The landscape was rugged to say the least, and it was easy to understand why both Australian and Japanese troops had struggled during the Second World War battles there.

As we approached the east coast of Oro province the spectacular fjords of Cape Nelson came into view, a strange mix of glacial action now topped by lush tropical forest, with aqua coral reefs surrounding the headlands clearly visible in the cobalt blue of the Solomon Sea. Banking steeply, we lined up with the gravel airstrip and touched down. Two 4WD vehicles were waiting for us to take us on the one-minute drive to the resort.

With a fruit juice in hand, we whizzed through the usual paperwork and were asked to leave our dive gear outside our rooms in 20 minutes and meet in reception from where we were taken down to the dive centre. Less than 90 minutes after landing the five of us, plus instructor Glen and DM Alex, were in a boat and heading off across the flat sea to Bev’s reef, part of the mid-distance reef system. Using a well-drawn dive site map, Glen laid out the plan for a drift dive, and off we went.

Imi hadn’t dived for four months and I had the new camera so we were planning on just chilling and getting comfortable again, and a wall dive seemed ideal. Rolling in we both burst into grins. Not just from the simple pleasure of being in the water again, but because of the clear blue water filled with corals, reef fish, and colourful purple, yellow, and white sea squirts. There were nudis and schools of fusiliers and snappers, whitetip reef sharks and three of the nine species of anemonefish found in PNG.

Wending our way slowly at the back of the group, coming over the top of a coral outcrop to have a gander for big stuff that might be hanging out in the current, I had to do a double take. Sitting there next to a crinoid was one of PNG’s underwater grails, a black Merlet’s (or lacy) scorpionfish, Rhinopias aphanes, that has the peculiar habit off shedding its skin every three months or so. Photographers search for these for days and days, and here I was pointing an unfamiliar camera at one after barely 30 minutes in the water. It turned out to be the only one I saw, but it was the start of a long list of new sightings for me.

One of Tufi’s signature sites is Veale’s reef, often dived on the same trip as Bev’s. Veale’s is often frequented by an albino hammerhead, but not on this occasion. Still, it was hard to grumble with of schools of baitfish, barracuda, black and white snapper, batfish, some Spanish mackerel, , as well as a swift-moving green turtle and a couple more whitetips around. We certainly had enough to talk about over a late but delicious lunch on the veranda.

Some reefs are just a short trip away, such as Blue Ribbon reef just round the runway headland that we dived during a tropical storm. The sea turned an atmospheric deep blue as we searched for, you guessed it, ribbon eels. Not all ribbon eels are blue, far from it in fact. They are all born black with a yellow dorsal stripe; adult females are yellow with a black anal fin with white margins on the fins, and only adult males are blue with a yellow dorsal fin.

The outer reefs are a 30-minute boat ride away and Cyclone reef is one of them. The story goes that it appeared from nowhere after a severe storm in 1972, brought up from the depths by the elements. It’s very top breaks the surface of the sea and is a haven for mating seabirds. Over the edge it drops away into a wall dive, once again buzzing with reef life, and out in the blue we spied two hammerheads cruising past. Minor reef is nearby and often dived in tandem with Cyclone. The reef top sits a few metres below the surface and its plate and staghorn corals bask in the sunlight illuminating the damselfish that adorn them, making it a great spot for no-flash photography. It is named after the large bright yellow and black Notodoris minor nudibranch that is often found there.

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Back at the resort, looking at the maps on the walnut-panelled walls gives one a better sense of the remoteness and the size of the area. Whole swathes of the Solomon Sea, starting where Cyclone and Minor reefs are, are marked as uncharted. There are basically reefs everywhere out there. Jack Daniels and Nuggets are two recently discovered ones, and Glen and his brother Archie were keen to get us out to them. Armed with a small plastic bottle with a little water in it, Archie began crunching and rolling it between his hands as soon as we were down JD’s slope and onto the wall. Within a couple of minutes he had attracted the attention of four grey reef sharks. They didn’t seem very used to human interaction and kept their distance, as did a couple of turtles, the sharks occasionally darting a bit closer to recce these odd, large bubble-blowing creatures, and a couple of whitetip reef sharks came by for a look too.

With our appetites for diving well and truly whetted, we went for an afternoon dive off the public wharf. It is talked up as a photographer’s delight and one of the best spots in the world for so-called muck-diving. Muck-diving gets its name from apparently uninteresting sites that can be either silty, sandy, muddy, or just rather barren-looking, but that are actually home to a large number of small, weird, and wonderful creatures.

Tufi’s wharf dive site is more of a junk dive than a muck dive, the sloping wall of the fjord being littered with debris from the harbour’s previous life as a torpedo patrol boat base during WW2, and the dumping of old bits of machinery, the odd fuel drum, and some girders that were no doubt formerly part of the jetty. There are also the remains of PT boat and its torpedoes down at 45 metres, but there was more than enough along the fjord slope and wall to keep us occupied with ornate and robust ghostpipefish, frogfish, ringed pipefish, common seahorse, loads of nudis, crab eye gobies, anemonefish, mantis shrimp, cleaner shrimp, lionfish, and 50 metres past the remains of the torpedo boat wharf, walls, little caves, and tons of sponges on the corner of the harbour. If you fancy a fourth dive in a day, dusk dives are available, and Alex and Archie the eagle-eyed guides are experts at finding nocturnal action right by the wharf, including brightly-patterned mandarinfish.

If three or four dives a day is a bit too much, there is plenty to do to fill your time actively. On the Sunday we were paddled up McLaren Sound in an outrigger. We advanced into the forest until it became too shallow to make further progress. After a short walk we were given an insight into village life, traditions, the uses of various plants and trees, and demonstrations of tattooing and sago-making before being paddled back to the dive boat that whisked us to a white sand beach on the headland opposite the resort for a barbecue lunch and afternoon swim.

One afternoon we went for a walk through a village and I ended up down by the schoolhouse chatting to the local teenage girls. There were very interested in Imi’s long straight hair until my attempts at using the local language had them in stitches. When I went up to the blackboard and started teaching them some French (my mother tongue) they were howling so much that the schoolmaster wandered over and ended up joining in whilst one of the two local policemen watched on with amusement. Ambling down to the dock, we watched the locals from the surrounding area come in on their outriggers for a trip to the store by the wharf or to trade in the village. There is a steady trickle of comings and goings if people watching is your thing, but the main event is the Saturday evening wharf market that springs up when the weekly ferry comes in from Popandetta.

On our final afternoon we took a two-seater canoe and paddled up the fjord, hearing the sounds of the forest as we went. At many of the small beaches we’d see an outrigger parked up and hear voices in the distance, mainly children whooping with laughter, frolicking unseen in the trees. It is certainly a place that should inspire happiness. We canoed the deep blue in the centre of the fjord, apparently bottoming out around 200 metres below, and would pop over to the shallow reef tops for a dip and a snorkel.

The resort has been around in various configurations since the 70’s but now comprises a mixture of air-conditioned standard and deluxe rooms, the latter of which are beautiful, with polished timber floors and traditional linings, and much attention to detail. In the lush grounds, amongst the trees and the orchids, there is a pool that we never had time to use, and resident animals for light entertainment; three cuscus, Lucky the parrot, and Stew the wallaby, as well as a library and flat screen TV with a selection of films if you are that way inclined. We preferred enjoying the superb service, relaxed atmosphere, and the company of fellow guests and Matt the manager in the evening after yet more lovely food.

Our time flew by and we had to leave far too soon. There are outrigger safaris sleeping in local villages to go on, trekking up Mount Trafalgar, and more dive sites to visit. There were not enough – takers for a trip to the Black-Jack WW2 B-17 bomber, and other virgin reefs just waiting to be explored, as well as another twenty-odd established sites that we didn’t see. That will have to be for another time, as we have promised to return. Tufi is terrific.

Papua New Guinea travel: PNG is three hour’s flight time north of Australia, six hours from Singapore, and has weekly and twice weekly direct flights from a range of destinations like Manila, Cebu, Bali, Sydney, Cairns, Hong Kong and Tokyo. Within PNG, the best way (and often only) way to get around is by air either with Air Niugini or Airlines of PNG. Best of PNG put together tailor-made dive trips that can also take in the best Sing-Sings (cultural festivals) on the PNG calendar, trekking up Mt Wilhelm or the Kokoda Trail, and Sepik River expeditions.  www.bestofpng.com

An experienced professional photojournalist, Christopher started taking underwater photos with a second-hand 2 megapixel Canon in 2005. Since then his work has been published across the globe in publications such as Scuba Diving, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, X-Ray, Diver Divestyle, FHM, and many more. He is the water correspondent for www.ecology.com. He has also shot pictures for brochures and promotional material for clients in the Red Sea, the Caribbean, Eastern and Southern Africa, Australasia, and the Galapagos and has had exhibitions of his work in the UK and France. Several times a year he leads photographic safaris to Africa, and runs underwater workshops in Zanzibar, Egypt, and Papua New Guinea. www.bartlettimages.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Scuba Diving Pen Llŷn, Wales 2020 (Watch Video)

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The Welsh coast is home to a biodiverse range of species and habitats which are found within the shallows along the coast out into the open seas. Much of the coastline is accessible and can be explored with basic snorkelling gear or you can adventure deeper using scuba gear.

The coast around Pen Llŷn is no exception and provides exciting encounters with a range of marine life. Take a journey around the Pen Llŷn coast to explore the range of species which can be found on the shallow sandy shores of south Pen Llŷn to the more rugged rocky shores of the North Pen Llŷn. As darkness falls taking a dive below the waves at night to reveal more species that are often hiding away in the day and always some surprises.

Now we are into the New Year, it’s time to start planning the year ahead which involves exploring new sites and locations which hopefully brings new exciting encounters with species not seen before.


You can find out more about Dan Dŵr Cymru (Under Water Wales) and their new series that we will be showcasing in 2021 at https://dandwrcymru.wordpress.com.

Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Scuba diving Pen Llŷn, Wales – Amongst Algae by Night (Watch Video)

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Fourth in a series of short video clips highlighting the many treasures of the Welsh coast…

Entering the bays on the North Llŷn Peninsula are always exciting, but at night it’s even more so knowing that many of the species which are found during the day tend to be more active. One species which leaves their home and goes out hunting is the European Lobster, often found scurrying through the algae. Catsharks are also on the hunt where they weave through the kelp canopies hunting some unsuspected prey.  But one species, in particular, which is always a treat to see and spend time with is the Curled Octopus. Shy at the start, but after time they become curious and come closer to find out more before swimming off into the darkness.


You can find out more about Dan Dŵr Cymru (Under Water Wales) and their new series that we will be showcasing in 2021 at https://dandwrcymru.wordpress.com.

Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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Competitions

This is the perfect start to your 2021 diving season… and at an incredible lead-in price of just £885 per person.

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. This itinerary takes in the wonderful South & St Johns from 26 February – 05 March 2021.  

Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price so don't delay!

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk to book your spot!

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