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
The first in a series of blogs about Scotland Underwater from Ross Mclaren…
Here in Scotland our driech and dreary weather is world famous. But actually, the copious amount of rain that we often moan about, is responsible for a cacophony of colours across our beautiful country.
The one place that might not always be as renowned for being vibrant and colourful is our seas and lochs.
As always there’s exceptions. Our beaches on the north west coast are covered in golden white sand and with turquoise water that might be mistaken for the Maldives… albeit a wee bit nippier… and we’ve even got a few wee lochs (called Lochans) with some pretty green shades to them, but for a good percentage of our coast and lochs, it’s a steely grey mass that greet us.
So, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Scotland’s underwater world mirrors the water it lies beneath. Now, I’m not going to pretend you’re going to be met with a rainbow of colours found somewhere like the Great Barrier Reef, but actually the vibrancy found under the waves definitely took me by surprise.
Disclaimer! I’m no expert in marine biology or underwater photography! I’m pretty much a guy with “all the gear and no idea!” I started out with a wee GoPro and built my camera “rig” up to something that’s now resembling an octopus. But, I’ll be completely honest, I have no real clue what I’m doing in terms of settings, etc. It gets put on “Auto”, I turn the lights on, try not to disturb the marine life and press the button hoping for the best. Quite simply, I’ve fallen in love with our underwater world and do my best to try do it some justice through my photos.
One of the most beautiful marine species I find photographing, and to be honest probably one of the easiest, is the anemones. We have such an abundance of these from deadmens fingers, to firework anemones, and the colours that can be found are just breathtaking. The patterns and shapes they make as they glint in the light of the torches and with the movement of the water is magical.
They might not be the most exciting sea creatures but the humble crab is also a fantastic specimen to capture, and again we have a wide variety. I’m not quite sure what it is but you can almost see/feel the attitude oozing out of them when you catch them in the beam of the lights.
I say this to almost anyone who’ll listen, but I always said I would absolutely love to get sweeping wide angle photo of a wreck. Those are by far my favourite photos to look at. Seeing these hulking feats of human engineering being reclaimed by nature and appreciating the scale of them in one scene is awe-inspiring. Sadly in Scotland with our visibility (well certainly in the areas I frequently dive) it’s not really possible and when it is, it really doesn’t do it justice. However on the flip side Macro photography here is definitely rewarding!
Last summer I had one “photographic goal”… get a nudi! I was desperate to capture a wee sea slug, but no matter how hard I looked I could only find one all year and when I did my GoPro just didn’t do it justice. This year though, well it seems to be a completely different story! Every dive we seem to come across at least one… it also helps when you’ve an eagle eyed dive buddy! With the new camera and macro lens the quality in photos has improved as well. It’s not just the number we’ve seen but the variety we’ve spotted as well! There are so many different kinds, different colours and shapes. It can be a wee bit frustrating trying to hold myself still in the water and getting the camera to focus in on this tiny wee creature, but it’s so worth it!
The dogfish/catshark isn’t particularly uncommon in the UK and it’s no different up here in Scotland, if you know where and when to look. They are absolutely stunning to photograph and, although not overly colourful, the texture of their “skin” and their eyes is absolutely incredible.
Now cucumbers are most definitely not my favourite vegetable… but sea cucumbers… those I do love! I genuinely can’t get over how cool they look. They remind me of wee trees and I’m totally mesmerised watching them bring the food to their mouths with their tentacles.
Jellyfish! The scourge of beach goers everywhere! The dread of someone shouting “JELLYFISH” and hoping beyond hope you aren’t caught in a tentacle brings back childhood memories. So until I started diving the “evil” jellyfish was much feared. However, since I started exploring the underwater world and seeing them in all their glory, I have come to appreciate jellyfish for they unbelievable beauty and grace. I love watching them float past (from a distance!) and seeing the shapes they take in the water. They are so full of grace!
Even the most dived sites can throw up a wee surprise every now and again. We’d headed to one our usual haunts with the main goal of logging a couple of deeper dives just to build up to Scapa later in the year. We descended down to around 38m where we planned to swim along for a wee bit before ascending again. There were a few rocks, but generally not much life but I took the camera anyway, you know, just in case.
Now these guys aren’t completely uncommon here on the west coast, but they’re mainly found at night and until now I’d never spied one, let alone photographed one! Bobtail Squid/Little Cuttlefish! I’m not going to lie, I was so excited! I actually thought I was slightly narked as it appeared out of the sand. This wee fella was so cool! The colours were absolutely breathtaking and getting the opportunity to photograph them was just amazing.
Scotland isn’t the diving capital of the world; we’re not going to suddenly become a top dive destination on many diver’s bucket lists. BUT we do have some incredible marine life, with such unbelievable colours! Although it’s not the easiest diving you’ll ever do, when you do get that moment it makes it feel all the more special.
A Red Sea Scuba Scene (Part 2 of 2)
The first two days of diving were amazing – I think you’ll agree after reading Part 1 of the blog HERE. We left the Brothers Islands setting sail for Daedalus – the southernmost point of our itinerary around 275km southeast of Hurghada. Conditions were perfect for our crossing and continued throughout our day at Daedalus for three dives. I was so excited for this site as it was the highlight on my previous trip and I’d also had word it was the hot spot for oceanic whitetips the last couple of months.
We moored up by the lighthouse at the southern point of the island and was thankful to see there weren’t as many boats as at the Brothers. Our first dive was a rib dive to the North Point to drift out in the blue at around 25 metres+ in the hope of seeing scalloped hammerheads. I wasn’t expecting the same action as my previous trip with schools of around 20 hammerheads due to difference in the time of year and sure enough the action didn’t hit as big. We spotted a couple of lone hammerheads between the group deeper than 40 metres. After spending half the dive in the blue we came back to the stunning East wall with its amazing soft coral and small fish life. Towards the end of the dive we had an incredible encounter with a feeding hawksbill turtle that was completely comfortable with our presence as it fed on the soft coral. It’s always a pleasure seeing turtles.
Although we were on the rib once the dive was finished, the action wasn’t over. As we neared Scuba Scene we saw some commotion with other ribs in front stopping and looking in the water. Initially the rib skipper said it was a whale shark but as we neared we saw the unmistakeable dorsal fin of an oceanic whitetip shark break the surface. In fact, there were two of them and they were really excited. I lent over the side with my camera and got my best photos of them as one came to investigate bumping into the camera. This is what I love; this is what gets me excited and sure enough for the next two dives I decided to stay under our boat at around 5 metres for most of the dives. There were three in total around Daedalus and I had some incredible close-up encounters with them. This is what I was here for and I was so happy after our day at Daedalus with the oceanics.
Although the conditions at Daedalus were like glass, the weather forecast wasn’t looking great for the next two days and the decision was made to journey back north to Elphinstone instead of staying for another day at Daedalus. I was a little disappointed as it would mean missing out on some more great shark action. However, I missed out on Elphinstone on my last trip due to bad weather and was happy to get the chance to dive there finally.
Sure enough the winds picked up during the night and it was a lot more choppy when moored up at Elphinstone. With Scuba Scene’s size, it was very capable of dealing with rougher seas and we planned for a full day there. We had two morning dives before deciding to head inland as conditions worsened. My dive buddy and I stuck with the South Plateau for the two dives and both were stunning. The life on the plateau was amazing as lionfish were in abundance and while photographing them I got surprised by my very first torpedo ray. It was only a juvenile and what a cutie it was as it swam over my dome and turned just before it hit me and swam away. Two friendly hawksbills were again a highlight as they didn’t care for the divers exploring the plateau. While ANOTHER oceanic whitetip really made our trip to Elphinstone in bad weather worthwhile. FIVE different oceanics on the trip; I was happy to just get one but buzzing with the action at three different sites.
It wasn’t all bad leaving Elphinstone early as we managed to get an extra dive in with a night dive at Abu Dabab 3 after an afternoon dive there also. The afternoon dive was a highlight of the trip for me as I got to experience something different with a “cave” dive of sorts. My dive buddy sat the dive out but guide Adma Rashed was eager to get in as he loved exploring the caves. I was soon following him exploring a shallow cave system through the reef. As it happens, this was his first time exploring the whole way through the system and he was so happy after the dive. I’m no cave diver and have no interest in deep cave exploration but this was really fun and different to everything else on the trip. I’d certainly like to do more of this relaxed type of cave diving.
The rest of the trip for the Thursday and half a day on the Friday was Red Sea reef heaven again. A night dive at Mangrove Bay provided a couple of cuttlefish (I love cuttlefish) and also my first time seeing a Spanish Dancer underwater. Although we tried the seagrass at Marsa Shona and saw a green sea turtle from the surface, we couldn’t find any underwater and soon left to explore the reef – an amazing reef full of blue spotted ribbontail rays to enjoy. We finished with two dives at the Police Station dive site around Small Giftun Island. The gorgonian fan corals were a beautiful sight but the highlight of diving here were the huge moray eels and, in particular, one huge free swimming moray that swam next to me for a brief period right at the end of my last dive.
WHAT A WEEK OF DIVING!!!! Thank you Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving.
Sean Chinn travelled as a guest of Scuba Scene Liveaboard and Oyster Diving. Scuba Scene is available to book exclusively through Oyster Diving. Please contact email@example.com or call 0808 253 3370 to find out more or reserve your space!
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