Aqua Tutus 2018 Dive Trip to Papua New Guinea
By: Arnie Warshawsky
(Editors Note: Arnie is part of the Aqua Tutus contingent that now lives in Hawaii, but he often dives with the club… and sometimes visits us at our meetings.)
The trip to Papua New Guineau was going to check off one of the things on my bucket list.
Dennis Hocker arranged the trip in his inimitable style. First, we would fly to the thriving metopolis of Rabaul to board a liveaboard; the MV Febrina. The liveaboard would take a leisurely said from Raboul to Walindi arriving some eleven days later. Second, we would spend a few days at the Walindi Plantation Resort diving off of day boats. Third, for those needing more adventure, there would be an excursion into the Papua New Guinea interior. Since I live in Hawaii, my flights for these trips are usually very different than for the California group, but eventually I get to where I’m supposed to be at the right time. Not this time.
My itinerary was from Honolulu to Japan, change planes and then direct to Port Moresby, PNG, and from there transfer to a domestic flight for the short hop down to Rabaul where we would meet the boat. Given bad weather in Japan and since the airline would not check my luggage through to my final destination, I missed my connecting flight. I was stranded in Japan. The connecting airline only flew the route I needed twice a week. So my options were to try to find an alternate way to get to the boat, wait three days in Japan for the next flight but give up on meeting the boat and fly directly to the resort, or simply write the entire trip off and fly home. I drew two lessons from this situation: Make sure your airline(s) will check your baggage through to your destination and buy travel insurance. With the superb assistance from Donna Lattin and her team at South Pacific Travel plus great cooperation by the MV Febrina crew and the Walindi Resort office, I made it to the boat only losing 24 hours of dive time plus a large chunk of change to buy a flight to Singapore to meet a different flight to PNG.
In addition to the Aqua Tutus contingent (Dennis and Patti Hocker, Jono Dove, Jeff Tindall, Kat Smith, Doug Wilson (from Los Alamos), and myself), there was a frequent MV Febrina client, Pam McKenney, from I believe South Carolina and two professional underwater photographers: Bernard Radvaner from France and Wolfgang (and Barbara) from Austria. Febrina Captain, Alan Raabe, is a very interesting character. Alan is quite the salty sailor; a strongly opinionated Aussie with a charm of his own. He told many interesting stories. Josie Waiwai, the boat’s second in command, is a most engaging young lady. Josie, a native Papua New Guinean lady, is the lead divemaster and handles virtually all the interactions with the captain. The rest of the crew are also native Papua New Guineans. Great divers, great people, helpful, and very knowledgeable about the dive sites and the marine creatures who live there.
The Febrina is an older liveaboard. Each cabin has an ensuite bathroom and shower. Spacious it is not, but you don’t spend much awake time in there anyway. The dive deck and the lounge are functional but a bit tired. However, the attitude of the crew more than offset those minor shortcomings. And the food!!! This vessel consistently had the best food I have ever had on a liveaboard, and I’ve been on many.
After setting up cylinders, they were positioned at the stern for the duration. Crew refilled cylinders in place after each dive. Each diver was also assigned a storage cubby and bin to store the other dive essentials (mask, fins, probes, etc.) The top of the storage areas served as camera work tables. There was also a power station on several shelves on the bulkhead to recharge lights, strobes, and so on. Getting set to dive was a simple matter of taking what you wanted to bring on the dive, slipping into your dive rig and then walking into the water from the swim platform.
Josie briefed each dive describing how we were to proceed, what we would likely see, and depth profiles. The latter was pretty important, because many of the sites dropped off to way beyond recreational depth limits. The unwary diver could easily get into a problem. The complement of divemasters effectively used indirect supervision so that none of us felt constrained yet assistance was always close by if needed. These divemasters knew the dive sites like the back of their hand. They demonstrated the knack of most liveaboard divemasters of knowing where to find and point out all the very neat marine life that the typical diver might miss.
I anticipated pristine dive conditions. Alas, that was not to be. Weather conspired, as it often does, to reduce water clarity quite a lot. This made for a very challenging photographic environment. Bernard, one of the two professional photographers on the trip, helped me quite a lot generously answering questions and offering suggestions and advice. While the water clarity was disappointing, we all know full well that diving is subject to what Mother Nature decides to give us. With one exception, we had very calm seas and manageable currents.
My logbook shows I dove on thirty different sites during the trip. Most of the dive sites were pinnacles that we simply circumnavigated. While I might have wished for better water clarity, the fish didn’t seem to care. And there were a lot of them. Sharks cruising just within visibility limits, schools of barracuda and jacks, and an almost everpresent array of nudibranches. On July 4th we celebrated with a shark dive at Norman’s Knob. It became more exciting for me that for everyone else. Because the crew was chumming to keep the sharks interested, the bits of fish dropping through the water column also piqued the interest of a green moray eel, who darted out and up from the coral head near me, bit me on my upper right arm, and then after posing for a post-bite photo, went back under the coral head. My wetsuit has a perfect impression of its mouth with a slit from each tooth.
After arriving at the Walindi Resort, in Kimbe Bay, we debarked from the Febriina and moved into our spacious digs at the Plantation. Very nice accomodations. Even nicer if you remembered to bring a voltage converter and a plug adapter. PNG uses Australian standard electrical systems. Yet another thing to check about your destination before you pack for your trip—especially if you will be bringing rechargeable things like underwater lights, and camera and strobe batteries. Buffet line meals were served in a spacious covered lanai. I must say that although the meals at Walindi Plantation Resort were quite tasty, we had been spoiled on board the Febrina. Since the daily boat dive trips all took the entire day, the resort staff loaded lunch onto the boats.
The Walindi Plantation Resort dive operation was a welll-oiled operation indeed. Each night the dive staff told us where the next day’s dives would be and each diver signed up for the dives or not. Requests for nitrox were handled at that time. Taking the place of the assigned gear cubbies on the Febrina, there was a container identified by room number for storing dive gear. After each day’s diving, you rinsed your gear and returned it to your container, which was then stored inside the dive shack. Wetsuits were hung outside to dry on a convenient cable adjacent to the dock. In the morning, the gear containers and your cylinders for the day were outside at dockside waiting for you to assemble and bring aboard. If you requested nitrox, the cylinders were analyzed then.
The boat rides out to our dive sites were long, generally taking about an hour and a half. We would do two dives, break for lunch, then do one more dive after lunch and motor back to the resort. Dive sites and conditions were much the same as from the MV Febrina. I logged 12 dives over four days from the resort and then it was time to pack up gear for the trip home. The resort dive staff washed and dried everyone’s dive gear the night before departure, so we were saved the usual draping everything over chairs and hoping for lots of sunshine.
Fortunately, my return flights went without any hitches. Long, but uneventful. I really enjoyed this trip, despite my travel woes. I always enjoy the trips that Dennis arranges. I hope that everyone in the club truly appreciates the jewel it has in Dennis. I would encourage you take the plunge and go on a trip with us. You’ll be glad you did.