Papua New Guinea: A Scuba Divers Adventure
From The Highlands To The Islands -- Niugini Is The Living End
by Rob and Robin Burr
Just as religious zealots must travel to Mecca at least once in a lifetime, serious scuba divers make the pilgrimage to Papua New Guinea to celebrate the incredible diversity and adaptation of the world's most abundant marine ecosystems.
The truth is it's probably a lot cheaper and easier to get to Mecca. On the other hand, it's a lot less crowded in Niugini (note the new popular spelling).
In fact, your friends and relatives will probably need to be subdued when you mention your intention to visit one of the last places on earth to be discovered by modern man.
Conventional wisdom dictates that if the cannibals don't eat you for dinner, and the mosquitoes don't infest you with malaria, you'll probably be attacked by venomous sea snakes. In the interest of having the place to ourselves, we will not attempt to persuade your friends to the contrary.
Looking beyond this veil of disinformation you will discover a world of charming and intelligent people who endeavor to retain the unique cultural history of their lands and their people even as the world encroaches. For thousands of years, the indigenous tribes of New Guinea lived isolated on the world's second largest island. The interior highlands were especially remote featuring dramatic, nearly impenetrable mountainous terrain.
European sea captains and navigators were the first travellers to record their meetings with the people of Papua New Guinea. In 1526 the first European, Jorge de Meneses sighted the mainland and named it "Ilhas dos Papuas," the land of frizzy-haired people. In 1545 Inigo Ortiz de Retes followed the coastline and named the island of New Guinea because he thought the people resembled those of the Guinea coast in Africa.
Which Way Is The Reef?
On this photo expedition, we'll meet and go diving with these legends of Niugini and explore the best of Kimbe Bay, Bootless Bay, Milne Bay, The Witu Islands, Kavieng and more.
Before we venture beneath the sea, let's travel to the high mountain region of Tari on a Dash-8 twin prop to meet the Huli Wigmen. We'll have to lighten out load, since our combined photo and dive gear is well beyond the limits placed on baggage in the highlands. Trans Niugini Tours offers to hold our luggage until we return to Port Moresby and embark on the underwater portion of our expedition.
The Interior Highlands
The weather is decidedly cool in the mountains at 7,000 feet, a welcome change from the consistant heat and humidity one finds in the capital city of Port Moresby, the New Guinea islands and the low-lying coastal areas.
Accommodations in this part of the world are generally quite spartan. There are a number of small guest houses and the missionaries are known to put up travelers with youth hostel-like facilities, but one operation literally stands apart from the rest -- Ambua Lodge.
Overlooking Tari Valley with phenomenal views of this high valley, Ambua Lodge greets the visitor with unparalleled beauty and workmanship. The lodge is a wonder of local woodworking with all the comforts of a modern jungle resort -- satellite phones, a hot tub, a grand fireplace, electric blankets, fresh flowers and first-class service.
Guests at Ambua are in for a real treat. In addition to the nature walks through the jungle, complete with waterfalls, vine bridges and display areas where the ornate birds of paradise attract their mates, guests at Ambua enjoy the opportunity of visiting a number of local villages to meet the Huli Wigmen, perhaps including a session with the local witch doctor.
Tari Valley -- The High Frontier of the Huli Wigmen
While much of Niugini was first visited and later settled by Europeans centuries ago, the highland people remained isolated from western culture until the first white missionaries arrived in 1952. Armed with the best of intentions and basic modern medicine and farming techniques, religious activists began establishing permanent camps to cure these heathens of their primitive ways.
The results were devastating to the local culture. Highlanders like the Huli Wigmen, with their outrageous painted faces, ornate apparel and intricate accessories were encouraged to reject their traditional roles and customs for those of white Christians.
While missionaries discourage the Hulis from dressing up and performing their spirit dances, a new breed of traveler is coming to New Guinea to celebrate the beauty of these indigenous cultures. The modern traveler wants to see the colorful face paint and the costumes up close. The highlanders now realize that this new traveler could be the antidote for the elimination of tradition. Perhaps the success of highland tourism will stem the tide of cultural erosion.
It is obvious that the people understand this basic premise. As you drive down the road between the airport and the tourist lodge you will be inundated with smiling, waving people who are quite happy to see you. Like a dignitary riding a parade float, your arm will soon grow tired as you feel obliged to return each greeting in kind.
The Capital City Of Port Moresby
Descending from the high mountain valleys to the coastal city of Port Moresby, we return to the central hub of Air Niugini.
Moresby is isolated from the rest of the country, with no road linking the capital to any other major city. There is a road between Lae, Goroka and Mt Hagen in the north of the country, but other areas are served only by small jet and airplane service.
Since the first European visitors arrived, this port has been New Guinea's major link to the world, and the operations center of commerce and industry. Modern skyscrapers and highways are a recent addition to the landscape, and the new international and domestic airports are certainly a welcome addition. Don't miss a chance to visit PNG Arts for authentic artwork from around the country.
The local currency is the Kina, which was once equal to the U.S. dollar. When we visited, the exchange rate was about 2 Kina to the dollar.
Check current exchange rates here. Look for Papua new Guinea Kina (PGK)
While in Port Moresby, we recommend staying at Loloata Island Resort, only minutes from the international airport, offering a sense of security and a relaxed atmosphere not available in the city.
The basis for primitive art is religion. It renders the divine or supernatural visible thereby enabling man to live in close contact with it and be secure, virile, fertile, and a successful gardener and hunter. Hence its images are found not only on ritualistic or ceremonial objects but also on more ordinary, everyday ones such as house posts and gables, weapons, implements and even jewelry.
For men of primitive societies there is an element of the supernatural in all earthly things. Primitive art does not represent so much as embody the supernatural and its power.
A rich heritage of diverse cultures is represented in Niugini artwork, ranking them among the most prized of Melanesan artifacts.
We're Here For The Diving
After a time in the highlands and the big city, we're ready to get wet. It's time to collect all that scuba and photo gear and concentrate on our sacred mission -- capture enough images and movies to bore our friends and relatives to tears, while spending our descendent's inheritance in exotic places.
Our first stop... Loloata Island, only minutes from the airport.
Loloata Island Resort
Dik Knight came to PNG back in 1970, looking for great scuba diving. He discovered some of New Guinea's finest marine life in Bootless Bay. Then he developed a priceless treasure -- Loloata Island -- only 20 minutes from Port Moresby, yet a world away from the crowds.
In addition to it's reputation among scuba divers, Loloata is a special place for locals to visit on weekend day trips. Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city to this tranquil island is a popular activity. Snorkeling, swimming, walking down the sand bar, hiking up the hill or just relaxing under the palm trees -- everyone seems to enjoy the casual atmosphere and the generous buffet of local specialties and western favorites. The resort staff does an excellent job of seeing to your every need so you'll soon turn your attention to enjoying the diving and the accommodations.
Off To New Britain
The island of New Britain is separated from the mainland of Papua New Guinea by about one hundred kilometers. The eastern city of Rabaul is quite cosmopolitan, while the areas to the west have only been settled in the last three decades. Scuba Divers will head to western New Britain for the cities of Hoskins and Kimbe Bay.
After a day of world-class diving, you'll return to relax in this idyllic atmosphere, mingling with others and sharing dive stories while enjoying the famous buffet meals and libations.
Max Benjamin is your host at Walindi Plantation, overseeing a staff of friendly, hard working employees. The walls of this resort are blessed with outstanding images from some of the world's greatest underwater photographers. For many years this little piece of paradise has been a well kept secret among elite underwater camera junkies and marine biology enthusiasts.
M.V. FeBrina Liveaboard Dive Boat
Alan Raabe is your host and captain aboard this highly-rated liveaboard dive boat operating from Walidi Resort in Kimbe Bay.
In addition to the best diving in Kimbe Bay, FeBrina reaches well beyond the range of day trips to areas not otherwise accessible to scuba divers, such as the Witu Islands, Father's Reefs, Rabaul, Duke of York Islands and Kavieng in northern New Ireland. During certain times of the year, FeBrina offers special 10 and 14 day excursions to the outer reefs, in addition to the usual one week trips.
Chertan Liveaboard Dive Boat
A cruise on Chertan offers unlimited diving for the enthusiast as well as an introduction to the local culture. In addition to the outstanding diving, including manta rays and hammerhead sharks, these adventures include visits to towering volcanic mountains and local treasures such as skull caves and thermal springs.
Learning More About Niugini
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