In September of 1999, diving buddies Curt Harpold, Blake Ortner, Pat and Nancy Duley, and I hooked up with sixteen others on Mike Ball's (then) one-year-old diving vessel Paradise Sport on the crystal blue waters surrounding Papua New Guinea (PNG). The trip was my most spectacular diving expedition to date: the Papuans were warm and friendly, the accomodations were luxurious and the underwater scenery was breathtaking.
In case you're wondering where in the world PNG is, here's an idea. The first leg of our trip was a fifteen-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sidney, Australia and another three hours from there to Cairns. We spent the night in Cairns recuperating and then took a small jet to Port Moresby, our entry point into PNG. After another overnight stay, this time on Loloata Island, it was a three-stop puddle-jumping excursion on Air Niugini to Kavieng on the northern tip of New Ireland island. Our ten-day cruise took us all around the islands surrounding New Hanover, meeting some of the locals at our frequent stops and, of course, taking in as much of the aquatic life as we could.
After arriving at Kavieng, we boarded the Paradise Sport, got settled into our cabins, and took off for our first night dive at Capra Corner. On our return, our chef, Michael, had prepared a sumptuous meal of lobster, steak, fresh vegetables and fruit and plenty of good wine. At left is a picture of the upper lounge where we spent most of our time between dives and where we had our meals and daily dive briefings. The lounge was stocked with all the comforts of home like a couple of TVs and VCRs to watch videos at night and a few comforts not at home like a large light table for all of the photographers we had with us. We had a pretty diverse group of guests, with the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa all represented. Fortunately, all were good experienced divers and we had no trouble with hotshots.
One of the reasons we ate so well, aside from Michael's skill, was that we bartered with the Papuans every day for fresh food as it's illegal for anyone to fish PNG waters except the Papuans. They brought lobster, crab, fish, and local fruits and vegetables when they saw us motor up in the morning. We'd trade canned meat, sugar, rice, and some currency. They would hang out at the back of the boat all day long and the kids would often come in the water and go swimming with us. We'd usually visit one dive site in the morning and cruise off to another after lunch, ready to greet the next group of outriggers.
One day, we visited the little village of Baungung Baungung after a dive in their small inlet. The Papuans greeted us enthusiastically and we brought along clothing, supplies for their school, and candy for the kids. One of the big hits was my digital camera, which none of them had seen before. The villagers took us on a tour of Baungung Baungung and showed us their homes and their school, which they were very proud of. Little wonder: these kids are bilingual and literate in English and bivo, their own village language, by the second grade.
Figuring it would be a long time before I got another chance to see scenery like this again, I took the opportunity to take a class in underwater photography while over there. I actually had a couple of good beginner's luck pictures, which you can see on the slideshow at the left.
We did several wreck dives, including one on the Der Yang, a sunken merchant ship. We also toured some World War II-era Japanese wrecks like the Taisho Maru and a Nakajima "Kate" dive bomber. PNG and surrounding countries were hotly contested pieces of real estate during the war and wreckages are all over the islands.
All in all, I made thirty-six dives including five night dives, a shark dive, and my deepest dive to date. I filled my tank with EANx32 nitrox for most dives except for the first (deep) one of the day and the Paradise Sport was very well equipped to accomodate us, even with the strange mixes that Curt and Blake required for their rebreathers.
The wildlife has to be seen to be believed, so I hope you'll take a look at the slideshow!