Don’t wait until you die to go to coral Valhalla...Go to Papua New Guinea first!
Sure you can go to Raja Ampat ….. But it hasn’t been part of Papua New Guinea since, well.....all that shit happened during the 60's.
Papua New Guinea is home to some of the worlds best coral reefs, and unlike its neighbors to the west, there is only one international airport in the country. This makes the ridiculous coral reefs of PNG, even the most popular ones, practically void of divers compared to the big locations of Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia.
It’s a shame for local tourism, but for the savvy divers who make the journey, the lack of crowds is only going to enhance your experience diving the reefs of PNG.
One of the best places to start is Kimbe Bay in West New Britain. It is said that 60% of the species from the entire Indo Pacific region live here. Consequently that means that the diving is absolutely fantastic. What a bummer, right! It’s not known for big megafauna species, but the size of its coral are truly world class and in some cases World Record Setting.
That's at 25 meters deep!....Look how clear you can see the liveaboard!
What is the largest sea fan you have ever seen? Take a guess. Well there is one at Restorf Island that from its base to its tallest point is 2.8 meters - 9 feet 2 ¼ inches…… TALL… It is easily 2 and half times wide, making it approximately 6.5 meters – 21 feet 4 inches WIDE….. The width is only speculation, but every time I brought guests to see this world class, and possibly World Record setting sea fan, I always took my dive computer off my wrist, placed it at the base so they could read it, then lifted it up to the top so they could see the difference.
I've seen Oceanic Mantas that were way smaller than this fan!
No fisherman's bull shit tricks here! I didn't want to cheat this one to look bigger! I got Faustine in between me and the fan to not cheat the optics, thus making it look bigger then it is. The next photo her head is level with the top of the fan!
How often have you gone diving somewhere, and a specific coral is mentioned individually in the briefing? Not too often. Here’s another example of a coral …. or should I say a pair I used to point out during briefings. These corals live out in the Fathers Reefs, a chain of reefs only accessible by liveaboard just outside of Kimbe Bay.
The red coloring the right one, mesmerized me every time I saw it. It’s companion to the left reminded me a bit of the Gherkin building in London. An underwater metropolis that I was always sure to brief.
Have you ever seen 100% coral cover? I mean real 100% coral cover. Unfortunately even in Papua New Guinea it is becoming an increasingly rare find, yet there still are patches of reef like this. Thispatch of corals @ Otto's Reef will always be one of my happy places, very similar to the patch on the south side of Batu Bolong in Komodo. The only difference is the total area covered, my gusts weren’t always sure why I planned on spending 30 minutes at 5 meters to finish the dive, usually once they saw this, and how excited I was to return, they could easily see vindication in their decision to dive PNG. Sometimes 30mins turned into 60 mins, why not if you got the air, no one lives forever!
It's not just the big daddy and sugar mama corals that make PNG a stand out coral reef destination. Like I said earlier, it's the variety. There are over 500 species of coral that come in all sorts of colors, shapes, textures and sizes. Sure other parts of the world have their share of species, PNG just has loads more.
Up in Rabaul you can find loads of WW2 ship, plane and tank wrecks that are covered in coral growth. More recently, 22 years ago at Pigeon Island there was a purposely sunk old vessel that sits at of depth of 22 meters max. You can see how fast the corals colonize their environment, look at the size of the hard coral on here after only 22 years !
Atun Wreck, Pigeon Island, Rabaul, PNG
Moving towards the south of the country, a bit closer to the countries capital of Port Moresby, Milne bay is arguably the hands down best region to dive in the country.
So here's your first 30 seconds of your dive, can you imagine what's around the corner?
The corals in the region of Milne Bay are absolutely ridiculous in terms of their tapestry and variety. Pair all of this with cyclones of schooling small fish, add a splash of current and now we are talking bucket list dive sites. Tania's reef, Cherie's, Linda's, Little China and more, these reefs are small dive sites that pack a punch to your retinas when it comes to their cascading corals.
Yes there are plenty of great locations in neighboring countries, but keep this in mind, there are less operational liveaboards in PNG then I have fingers on one hand. Milne Bay has 1 serious dive resort, Kimbe Bay as well and there are only a few others sprinkled about the entire country. You don’t even need to go out on a liveaboard to get to dive unspoiled dive sites void of the masses. If peace and tranquility plus corals, corals, corals is what you wan’t for your next diving holiday, look no further, PNG is the place for you.
Just be careful before choosing PNG as your location for your next dive trip.
Not due to safety, but people misconceptions about diving there....
A lot of people refer to PNG as the final frontier dive location. And even though that may be true due to its accessibility and lack of infrastructure in the scuba diving industry, after living and working on a liveaboard there, I whole heartily disagree with any such rubbish.
If you love coral reefs, and more specifically corals, coral, corals… Then yes, “Final Frontier” might be appropriate, but if your vision of final frontier includes loads of big animals, I wouldn't save it for last….. you should still go at some point in your life, but get it out of your head that it is the final frontier. I still don't know who started this final frontier stuff....
Lots of divers go to PNG after they’ve been to the Galapagos, Cocos, Maldives, Socoros, Komodo, Raja Ampat, Fiji, Fakarava and so on, and have seen loads of big animals underwater at those locations. Consequently a lot of divers somewhat expect to see the same amount of big animals in PNG since they have labeled it in their heads as the “final frontier.”
If seeing large megafauna is part of your version for the "final frontier", then PNG is not the place to call the final frontier. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen dolphins, mantas, hammerheads, silver tips and more…. Just not regularly! If you absolutely love coral reefs and reef fish, then of course it becomes part of the "final frontier" philosophy.
That said, the country is home of some of the least visited, most diverse, pristine reef systems in the world. Diveable year round with water rarely going below 28 degrees, it's truly a wide angle photographers landscape paradise. PNG is an absolute gem of a coral and is certainly up at the top in the conversation of must visit scuba diving in the entire world.