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This trip was a club organised effort with
Aqua-Action divers in Canberra, through Dive Adventures travel agents. As a club, we usually organise 2 or 3 overseas trips a year within the south pacific area (usually). Previous trips have included the Cook Islands, Maldives, Kaviang (PNG), Palau, Solomon Islands,
Vanuatu as well as countless Australian trips. This trip saw 14 of us heading off to PNG on a very early (7 am) Saturday morning flight.
We flew to Madang from Sydney in Australia via Port Moresby. To tell you the truth, I would avoid Port Moresby as anything but a transit point. The ex-pats who live there exist in armed compounds for security reasons and it seems to be far from the ideal holiday location!
Madang – on the other hand- is quite different. The airport is essentially a single shed with baggage being piled onto benches as it comes out of the Air New Guinea jet. Divers are a common site in Madang and the gear didn’t faze anyone. Madang is on the northern side of the peninsula that protrudes from the eastern coast of PNG. It was an important point in the Second World War, and the coast watchers memorial is still a major landmark in the area.
Jais Aben Resort
Our resort was “Jais Aben” which is located about 20 minutes from the airport, and the resort bus was there to pick us up. Accommodation was rather basic but adequate and it is apparent that all bungalows are progressively undergoing upgrades. They still refer to them as either “old” or “new” depending on how they are appointed. We had a group booking so essentially we were all in the “Old” style. Twin beds (one double, one single), ceiling fan, mosquito screens on the windows, television and refrigerator, LOTS of power points (photographers take note) and - in general - a recently renovated bathroom/shower/toilet. The rooms were serviced daily, fresh towels etc provided. Tea and coffee facilities are provided in the room. I gather that some of the “New” rooms also had air-conditioning.
There is a decent chlorinated pool which is nice to relax in (no shade) and a large communal dining area. It seemed that a lot of guests had meal packages and that was a good idea given the lack of alternative eating places. There is also a bar/restaurant down at the jetty with the dive shop that catered for lunch.
Meals in general were good with reasonable quantities and a decent selection. Interestingly almost every fish dish was apparently barramundi…..Please note that the prices shown on the menus are in the PNG Kina - not dollars.
The meals were good if a little slow in arriving on busy nights, general service was excellent and the check in / out procedures were pretty painless for PNG - which is to say that every docket had to be checked and reallocated to the correct person in the room
Despite all concerns raised prior to going, I don’t think I actually saw a mosquito (!) but malaria prophylaxis is still strongly recommended and many of the local ex-pats have had attacks of malaria whilst living in Madang.
Aqua-Ventures - The Dive Shop
Aquaventures is the dive company associated with the resort. It is a PADI gold palm instructor
development centre. Tim Rowland and Lesley Schoon operate it and really couldn’t have been more helpful.
They have a good facility for storing your equipment overnight (locked in a secure shed) and are both experienced divers/instructors with extensive local knowledge and experience.
Courses are available on site. Tim and Leslie ran a very good dive operation and very quickly attended to any concerns or requests we may have had. The dive guides; John, Stannis and Nosaki were very good and quickly learned that we could be trusted to be independent of them and still survive - a skill not all resort dive guides have!!
They run several boats (including a new live-a-board that’s just starting up) and have a good team of locally recruited dive masters who obviously know the area well. All dives were two tank dives leaving around 8:45 am with a decent surface interval (tea/coffee biscuits supplied) followed by a second dive and back for lunch. A second single or double tank dive was available in the afternoon for those wanting to go out. Night dives available on request. Most of our dives were in fitted out aluminium type tinnies with tank storage racks and shade cloth; carrying around 8 divers. Travel times rarely exceeded 30 minutes and there were no real comfort problems.
There is also a local “House reef” type dive at the jetty that is the major shore dive and the team provide the air fills for it free of charge. – More on this later.
At the end of each trip, we were usually greeted back on terra firma by Lesley and the wash tub (large) was waiting filled with fresh water. Dive bins with freshwater were also available for cameras.
A selection of courses is also available for those wanting to extend their training. The shop it self has the usual selection of T-shirts and fish books but not a great deal of equipment for sale. I am sure that you would be able to get most common spares/replacements (even if on loan) should you have any equipment failure though.
What can I say?
Water temp 28 – 30 C. Lycra or equivalent recommended for protection. Visibility on boat dives regularly 50 meters plus although on occasion down to 20 meters. Soft corals are fantastic. NOT a lot of large pelagics whilst we were there although we kept hearing about the $%#$ hammerheads that were seen at planet rock “just before you came”.
Or as we affectionately came to call it – the ditch!
The more I dived this spot, the better it got! (And it’s a free dive!)
Just out the front of the dive jetty, in around 6-8 meters of water is a Cessna aeroplane. It is in reasonably good condition and easily accessible. It is covered in some of the smaller soft corals and home to a host of fish. Leading of from it is a small local reef that has a multitude of coral and fish life including a resident lion fish. And I do mean resident – always in a similar place day in and out. Great for budding photographers who are after a non-camera shy subject! Also seen on almost every dive were banded pipefish, spine cheek anemone fish, pyjama fish etc etc. The visibility often came down to 3 or 4 meters here but on occasion up to 10 – 15 meters. Easy site to navigate, usually have a 60-75 minute bottom time as it is so shallow and something new on every dive! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
There is a selection of boat dives easily accessible from the resort. Some
are wreck dives, others drift dives and there is also the opportunity for some muck diving if you are interested.
One of the favourite dives was the Henry Leith. A wrecked ?tug? that was purpose sunk quite some time ago...
(Ok so I’m not too good on the back ground :-/ ).
It is really a magnificent dive. Easy to navigate with spectacular soft coral growth and the obligatory schools of fish found with many wrecks. There is the opportunity for some penetration to the engine room if you wish but really, for me all the action is on the outside. Sitting in around 20 meters of water in a perfect position it also made a great site for a night dive. Lion fish everywhere and BIG coral fans fluffy and feeding.
Other wrecks included a B25 Bomber that crash landed during WWII. It is essentially intact with gun turrets still present and – again – a host of corals and fish life. Lots of cleaner shrimp inside if you want a quick manicure too!
Eel gardens would have to be one of our favourite spots. A drift through a passage over the gardens into a sheltered cove where there is a wreck of a catamaran. At least two resident Leaf Scorpion fish, lots of fish life and invertebrates as well. You could spend many many dives going over this site, and we went back on at least two occasions.
A lot of our other dives were drift dives – usually rather sedate but just enough to keep you moving. I doubt that there is any easier diving than a drift dive in 30 degree water with visibility that goes on for ever……..
From a photographers perspective this is a great place to practice your skills and hopefully take one of THOSE pictures . The visibility - in general- is excellent which keeps many of the back-scatter ghosts away. At the same time, the limited visibility when diving the ditch quickly focuses you on getting the strobe positioned correctly. It also nice to have some reasonably static subjects to give you a chance to try out all those different settings! Both Wide angle and macro can be of value here; and if you have changeable “wet” lenses the options multiply enormously. I love the soft corals and giant sponges and found that they really made great subjects.
The multiple power points in the rooms are great for charging, and all the rooms had a TV that we could hook our cameras up to for instant playback. There is NO chance of getting any photographic spares locally, so bring the extra batteries, CF cards and lens cloths with you. The dive boat crews are
definitely camera friendly.
I guess the main question is always – would you go back? Hmmmmm…let me think
(one mille-second pause) – O.K. When we going??