PA­PUA NEW GUINEA

Scuba Diving - - Getaways - TEXT AND PHO­TOS BY CHRISTO­PHER BARTLETT

“Krack­afat.” If ever a dive site de­served an in­nu­endo-laden name — and there are quite a few in Pa­pua New Guinea — this is it.

You know you’re about to dive some­where spe­cial when the al­ready en­thu­si­as­tic crew are like kids on Christ­mas morn­ing. Dig­ger is buzzing like he’s had four dou­ble espres­sos, with Josie gig­gling and bounc­ing through her pre­dive brief­ing. Dig­ger had a sneak pre­view when he dropped down to tie on the moor­ing line: “Looks amazin’ down there!” he says, grin­ning.

Brief­ing done, we stride off the wa­ter­level plat­form into balmy 87 de­gree F seas and fin into a gen­tle cur­rent. Fe­b­rina is hang­ing off the back of an un­der­wa­ter seamount, moored to the top through a per­ma­nent pin some 45 feet down. As I look for­ward, I can al­ready see why the dive guides are so ex­cited. The far side of the top of the reef is cov­ered by a sil­very-black cloud. In 1,600-odd dives, I have never seen any­thing like it. Horse-eye jacks in the thou­sands, a gi­ant swarm sway­ing gen­tly back and forth, face into the cur­rent. The top and sides of the mount — cre­ated by the vol­cano whose crater forms nearby Witu Is­land — are an ex­plo­sion of color. Count­less crinoids, mul­ti­ple mag­nif­i­cent anemones, de­light­ful den­droneph­thya, and clumps of red whip co­ral adorn the reef. Sev­eral species of school­ing fusiliers dart to and fro, yel­low and white pyra­mid but­ter­fly­fish flut­ter by in the hun­dreds, and swarms of an­thias loi­ter around the bar­rel sponges

and black co­ral trees as a cou­ple of gray reef sharks pa­trol in the dis­tance. The viz is even bet­ter than the 90- to 100foot con­di­tions we’d had the day be­fore in Kimbe Bay, prob­a­bly 140-plus feet. It’s hard to judge with all the fish in the way.

It’s also hard to know what to take a pic­ture of. The school of jacks is so big, I can barely get a fifth of it in and lighted. The closer I get, the larger the school. As I come to the cur­rent side of the reef, I de­scend deeper to try to get un­der the cloud, and three dog­tooth tuna cruise be­low me. Hang­ing at 90 feet, I let the cam­era dan­gle, and I gape in won­der.

Sixty min­utes later, back on the boat, I ask skip­per Alan Raabe what the name means. He asks in his Aus­tralian brogue if I found the dive ex­cit­ing — in a gen­der-spe­cific sort of way. I must look non­plussed. “‘Krack­afat,’ to get a hard-on, good old Aussie slang.”

Krack­afat is one of a num­ber of reefs around the Witu Is­lands, about eight hours’ north of Kimbe Bay, off the north coast of New Bri­tain Is­land, in the Bis­marck Sea. There is no com­mer­cial fish­ing in the area, and the lo­cals fish from dugout ca­noes. The bot­tom of the ocean is sev­eral thou­sand feet deep, cre­at­ing per­fect con­di­tions for a su­perb reef in a coun­try full of them. I’d es­ti­mate that there are over 300 known dive sites in the coun­try. I’ve dived around 100 of them and not found more than a half­dozen that weren’t a great dive; most I would rate be­tween “ex­cel­lent” and “Can I live down here please?” Krack­afat is prob­a­bly my fa­vorite of them all.

The Wi­tus are dived as part of Fe­b­rina’s 10-night “Sig­na­ture” itin­er­ary from April to June and Septem­ber to mid-novem­ber, along with Kimbe Bay and Fa­thers Reefs, to­gether form­ing a tri­an­gu­lar tour with an overnight steam be­tween each area.

Kimbe Bay has 40 dive sites on its own, the Wi­tus close to a dozen, and Fa­thers around the same. Kimbe Bay’s outer seamounts are pelagic fish mag­nets, and Fa­thers Reefs have yet more bar­racuda, tuna, bat­fish, sharks and pos­si­bly the world’s friendli­est tur­tles at Jayne’s Gully, a few of whom seem to have formed a bond with Dig­ger. Shaggy Ridge and its sil­ver­tip sharks are also at Fa­thers, and mul­ti­ple sites are great for gray and whitetip reef shark ac­tion.

From Jan­uary to March, rains fall on the north coast of New Bri­tain, but the moun­tain range along the spine of the is­land keeps the south coast dry.

op­er­ates out of Rabaul for three months, steam­ing round to the south coast on nine-night trips. The south coast itin­er­ary takes you div­ing in the Solomon Sea, just off the 29,988-foot New Bri­tain Trench. Nu­tri­ents from the über-deep cre­ate a won­der­land of rare and un­usual crit­ters as well as pelag­ics.

In March, the 12-night Rabaul to Milne Bay, and the sub­se­quent Milne Bay to Rabaul, itin­er­ary in­cludes div­ing in the Milne Bay area, Tufi, the d’en­tre­casteaux Is­lands of Nor­manby and Good­e­nough, and along the south­ern coast­line of New Bri­tain at Lin­den­haven.

While the boat isn’t the most lux­u­ri­ous ves­sel by 21st-cen­tury stan­dards, the in­di­vid­u­ally air-con­di­tioned cab­ins do the job, and Fe­b­rina makes a great dive plat­form with am­ple room for cam­era equip­ment and bat­tery charg­ing. I’ve done four trips on it now and am itch­ing to go back as Fe­b­rina vis­its what I con­sider to be the most beau­ti­ful, un­spoiled dive sites on the planet.

Off New Bri­tain Is­land, gray and whitetip reef sharks reign over their do­main on Fa­thers Reefs.

IN­SANE VIZ AND AN ABUN­DANCE OF EV­ERY­THING, SAMPLED FROM M/V FE­B­RINA

Clock­wise: A squadron of pick­han­dle bar­racuda; Mit­subishi A6M Zero in Kimbe Bay; em­peror shrimp.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.