Mythical Magic - Papua New Guinea
The country of Papua New Guinea sprawls across the eastern half of the 1,400-mile-long island of New Guinea (the western half belongs to Indonesia). It is a near-mythical land steeped in a Stone Age tradition with a headhunting heritage and 800 languages. Here, 16,000-foot-tall mountains covered in unbroken jungles hide gold, oil, tree kangaroos, birds of paradise and isolated tribes. This island nation is also an extraordinary underwater Eden cradled by the Bismarck, Solomon and Coral seas. The islands are a coral paradise where populations of large pelagic fish still patrol pristine reefs framed by clear water.
The Coral and Solomon seas mingle at the easternmost tip of New Guinea, near Milne Bay, creating a habitat-rich universe. The water near Milne offers world-class muck diving at Dinah's Beach and Observation Point. Dinah's Beach is a volcanic sand slope dotted with blue ribbon eels, mating octopuses, huge carpet anemones filled with saddleback anemonefish, and giant fire urchins housing pairs of Coleman shrimp. Deacons Reef lies 100 yards to the east. Giant sea fans bloom in the shadow of a jungle canopy, and plate corals stair-step into a blue abyss. In the islands just off Milne Bay, crinoid-covered reefs shelter the most-spectacular scorpionfish and Rhinopias Aphanes (or lacy scorpionfish) camouflaged by its unusually frilly fins.
Kimbe Bay is the gateway to diving New Britain Island and its clear water, perfect reefs and big pelagics, including an occasional pod of killer whales. At the tip of New Ireland Island near Kavieng, there are large geometric schools of barracuda, steep walls and even a perfectly preserved Japanese midget submarine.
For three years, a vicious Pacific War rolled over PNG, leaving fearsome memories and a wealth of wartime wreckage. A trail of shipwrecks litters the bottom from Port Moresby to Medang. The islands are virtually an underwater World War II aviation museum. About a dozen perfect aircraft wrecks still exist in the world, and most of them are here: an intact B-17 bomber, two perfect Japanese Zeros, a Japanese Mitsubishi "Pete" floatplane and a P-38 fighter are just a few that still sit upright and proud.
Mike Ball's Spoilsport, a 110-foot twin-hull, accommodates 28 passengers and 11 crew members. Nitrox is available (sportdiver.com/mikeballexpe ditions). Peter Hughes' Star Dancer (sport diver.com/peterhughes), is a 120-foot-long monohull limited to 16 passengers and serviced by a crew of eight.