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
Wining and Diving – California
The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.
**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.
California has over 1000 miles of coastline to explore and it also has over 1000 wineries so it is a perfect destination for Wining and Diving! It has always been a dream of ours to tour this rugged coast that makes for an epic road trip. Our trip, done over two separate visits, would take us from Fort Bragg in the north to San Diego in the south, along over 700 miles of one of the best coastal roads in the world. We flew into San Francisco, picked up a convertible Mustang, stuffed our diving and camera gear into every available space and headed north to start the wine tasting part of this trip.
Our first stop was to a vineyard whose wine we knew and loved already – Joseph Swan located in the Russian River Valley. They make a Zinfandel that could make you weep and so we wanted to visit the taste more of their wines that do not make it to the UK market. The drive through Russian River was worth the trip alone, with giant redwoods lining the winding road, sun shining, roof down, it was perfect. We also dropped into what must be one of the most eco-friendly vineyards in the world, Inman Family Wines. Organic and solar-powered, sustainability is key. Their Endless Crush Rose is a delight for a warm day on the terrace.
Whilst the sun was shining, the wind was also blowing and so our thoughts of diving in the north were put on hold. Instead, we visited glass beach in Fort Bragg, where over many years, glass tipped onto the beach has worn down to make smooth, multi-coloured, pebbles. A beautiful site, made from what was once rubbish dumped on the beach.
Further south, in Monterey, we reached the crossover point for our trip, as we moved away from wine tasting and into diving. We had one more vineyard we wanted to visit, again one we knew from drinking with friends in our back garden, Wrath Wines. They have tasting rooms in the delightful town of Carmel just a short drive from where we would be diving the next day. They wines are rich, full of flavour and their Pinot Noir is the best we have ever sampled.
Diving the Pacific Ocean in California has always been a dream, and so we had spent many happy hours on the internet researching the best dives and we made a list of the dives we wanted to fit in. Our first was Point Lobos in Carmel by the Sea. We were welcomed to this picturesque bay by a couple of Sea Otters floating on the surface, seemingly sunbathing. Our guide, Phil, had warned us that while the sea was flat calm, the winds had made visibility less than perfect. “You should have been here last week” he said, “when we had 20 feeding Humpback Whales by the boat at the end of the dive!” Our dive saw us swim through the giant kelp, explore anemone-covered boulders and be followed by a mischievous harbor seal. It was a pretty good start.
Heading further south we stopped in Ventura to do a day trip to Anacapa Island. A rugged volcanic island a couple of hours offshore. On the boat ride over to the island we saw whales, orcas and dolphins, as we skimmed across a flat calm ocean. On the dive we marvelled at the life covering every inch of the seabed and loved the bright orange Garibaldi fish who would face up to the camera as you approached.
We continued down to Long Beach, near Los Angeles, where we dived under a working oil rig, covered in marine life. We were joined by a playful young sea lion who zoomed around the small group of divers for over an hour. We also headed out to Catalina Island to dive the kelp forest and to look for the huge Black Sea Bass that the area is famous for. Diving in Giant Kelp is a wonderful experience akin to walking through a rain forest, the fronds towering above you and block out most of the sunlight in the denser patches, and letting dramatic cathedral light through making for a very atmospheric dive.
Our final stop was near San Diego, in the beautiful town of La Jolla. The coast here is home to a colony of sea lions that seem perfectly at ease sharing their home with locals and visitor alike. You can snorkel and dive here and we did both to enjoy these enigmatic creatures from both the surface and at depth. We also snorkeled with Leopard Sharks and turtles.
California offers the traveller so much. The coastal road is stunning, with forests lining one side and the vast ocean stretching out to the horizon on the other. The cities are vibrant with excellent nightlife; great food, drink and entertainment. The vineyards have some of the finest wines anywhere in the world and the diving offers some of the very best cold-water experiences we have had. Is there anything better than Wining and Diving in California?
- For more information about Frogfish Photography click here.
- For information about visiting California click here.
Diving holidays in The Maldives
We are delighted to welcome Ruth Franklin of Secret Paradise Maldives as a Guest Blogger. Over the coming weeks she will be sharing her personal, expert knowledge of this leading dive destination…
Life beneath the surface in the Maldives is an underwater Disneyland, perfect for dive enthusiasts. The Maldives is renowned as being one of the very best diving holiday locations in the world. There’s not only an abundance of reef life here but also spectacular coloured coral and crystal clear water.
WHY CHOOSE THE MALDIVES FOR YOUR DIVING HOLIDAY?
The Maldives ticks all of the boxes when it comes to diving holidays. This tropical location boasts visibility levels of up to 40 metres, making it a great destination for advanced divers. However diving holidays in the Maldives are not just for the experienced. The shallow lagoons and channels make it the perfect location to try SCUBA diving for the very first time. Plus what better destination in the world is there to gain your SCUBA diving certifications?
The Maldives is also home to a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The presence of currents in this island nation means that open water channels are perfect for drift diving and it’s also possible to swim with gentle ocean giants like manta rays and whale sharks. Don’t forget the Maldives has year round water temperatures of 26 – 29 degrees Celsius meaning you can leave your dry suit at home!
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR DIVING IN THE MALDIVES?
Fortunately, the diving season in the Maldives is open all year round with the calmest conditions from December through to June. As the Maldives is located in the tropics, it is susceptible to both wet and dry seasons. June to November is the south-west monsoon season, bringing with it with overcast and wet conditions, especially in June and July. During these months expect slightly less visibility and different currents, although there is still plenty of marine life on offer, as well as sunny spells. Generally reef life is more varied and visibility is better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and on the eastern side from December to April. Reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads and whale sharks are found in the Maldives year round, along with manta rays and sea turtles, you just need to know where to head at the time of year you plan to dive!
MALDIVES DIVING HOLIDAY OPTIONS
There are a number of diving holiday options when it comes to Maldives. Here at Secret Paradise, we offer value for money diving holidays and tours that you will remember for a lifetime. Enjoy an all-inclusive guesthouse stay and be transferred by boat to incredible nearby dive sites, the same sites that you would dive from a resort but at half the cost! Our diving holidays are an affordable alternative to a resort stay and also allow you the flexibility of island hopping or if your budget is larger, atoll hopping to benefit from the best dive locations during your time of travel.
Liveaboards are a popular dive holiday option, allowing you to scour the waters for the ultimate dive spot each day. These days most liveaboards operate a year round schedule offering 7 night, 10 night and 14 night cruises, not only in the central atolls but to the deep south and deep north offering opportunities to discover less dived sites and pristine coral reefs.
OUR SECRET PARADISE DIVING HOLIDAYS
Here at Secret Paradise, we offer diving holiday packages in different atolls from the deep north to the Deep South and everything in between, allowing you access to what are some of the best dive sites in the world. Our diving holiday packages include Dharavandhoo, perfect if you want to encounter 100s of manta rays in Baa Atoll, Hulhumale if you need to stay close to the capital, Fuvahmulah for tiger shark encounters, Dhigurah home of the whale shark in Ari Atoll, Rasdhoo, the ideal location to spot a hammerhead and Gan in Laamu atoll, to mention just a few of our personal favourite dive locations.
Our island hopping itineraries in Male Atoll and Ari Atoll allow you to discover a range of dive sites and marine life whilst at the same time experiencing Maldives local life, tradition and culture, with or without a private dive guide.
All our dive partners are PADI affiliated dive centres and are operated by both local and European dive professionals. A personal interest is taken in promoting scuba diving in the Maldives, through education and awareness about the underwater environment here. Their objective is to encourage underwater conservation and safe diving practices.
Dives are generally conducted from the beach within an island’s inner reef for beginners or from a local dive boat, called a ‘dhoni’, for certified divers. Dive sites are chosen daily based on both the weather and current conditions as well as diver ability.
The dive teams will take you to the best dive spots and willingly introduce you to the characteristics of the underwater world of the Maldives. All offer boat dives, NITROX, night dives and a full range of PADI courses and will always ensure you get the best out of your dive. If you are learning to dive, you can do anything from completing a try dive or just the open water dive section of your PADI Open Water certification to completing the full PADI Open Water certification and more. Whatever you choose to do you can be assured of fun and safe diving with us and our partners.
Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv
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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue. With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after.
Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life. The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.
£1475 per person based on double occupancy. Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available. Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp. Flights and transfers are included. See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.
This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place. Come Dive with Us!
Call 020 3515 9955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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