Lindenhaven: Papua New Guinea's Latest Star-Studded Underwater Show
Star Dancer to explore remote area off South New Britain on special itineraries from January to March
Photos by Michele Westmorland
There I was, in my upstairs cabin on the FeBrina, when it happened. The door burst open (I was leaning, rather heavily, against it at the time) and out I went into the sunshine, backward over the rails, where I tucked into a double-Nelson back flip with a half-pike until bam, onto the bottom deck I landed. Right on the side of my left foot. Right in front of the crew.
Well, it wouldn't have been that bad if I'd had pants on at the time, but as they say, worse things happen out at sea. But this couldn't have happened at a worse time; I had torn ligaments and tendons. Now, I've never given birth to a child, but this pain was probably the closest a man could get. The doctor fixed me up. But now I had lie on my back all day.
Why, you may ask, could this not have happened at a worse time? Well, I was exploring a new area off the southern coast of New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea. Normally the monsoon season on the island of New Britain is in January, February and March. The unique mountain range of the island, however, is so high that at this time of year the south coast of New Britain enjoys its dry season.
I'd explored the south coast a few times before on the FeBrina; it's usually my place to kick back and relax. There I enjoy beautiful, clear rivers, some of which flow from the mountainsides; diving in crystal-blue sinkholes; and pristine, marine-life crowded that have never seen the prying eyes of a diver. It is a place that time forgot. But as I've slowly discovered, it has quickly become a place to remember.
So here I was on my back, foot slung up on my bookshelf and a radio balanced on my stomach, enjoying like through a codeine haze. The ship's captain, Nelson the Impregnator (my nickname, and another story), is in charge; the famous critter hunter and divemaster Andrew "Digger" Young is fixing regulators with what sounds like a six-pound hammer, Elsie, the other divemaster, is trying to throttle Digger because of all the noise. One big happy family, right? Well, we were looking for the best dive sites in an area we'd come across during an earlier trip called Lindenhaven, a gem of a place situated near the town of Gasmata on the south coast of New Britain. We were going to install moorings to prepare for a future itinerary.
Lindenhaven is an island-studded lagoon. It lies straight off the Solomon Trench in the Solomon Sea, which happens to be the third deepest part of the world's oceans. I already knew a couple of wide-angle dive sites there, which we found again and quickly drilled and pinned. When the drilling began, the diving started to get real interesting this is why I couldn't have injured my foot at a worse time. And remember, everything I'm going to describe happened while the crew were busy drilling dive moorings! Within site of the new mooring pins, we (well, the other guys told me about it, damn them) spotted purple leaf fish, halamina ghost pipefish, winged pipefish and flying gurnards. Everything seemed to be happening around our noisy drills. Digger returned from a dive with video footage of two nudibranchs, not found in any of the ID books, both of which resembled a purple stringy algae (incredible) that is common to the area, and footage of a chromodorous that I'd never seen before.
People who have dived all over the world were on board. Over a period of three weeks, as friends arrived to join us, I could only lie there on my backside and listen to them rave on the back deck. "Did you see this ," "Did you see that " and all the while I'm trying to give myself a dignity stealing morphine suppository to numb both the physical and emotional pain. Not only were they finding frogfish (and not just of the same species) during the day, but the night dives were unbelievable. Sightings included harlequin ghost pipefish, robust ghost pipefish and incredible nudies, some of which looked just like pieces of soft coral.
Lindenhaven was home to a Japanese floatplane base station during the war, and there is plenty of wreckage. The guys found one plane intact, which we blokes call a Zeke, upside-down and in 60 feet of water. Digger had to open the bomb-bay doors and was immediately attacked by a 6-inch-long exotic blue-ribbon eel (pity it didn't get him) that had been guarding two bombs which, unbelievably, were still in their racks.
The crew managed to put in 15 moorings in Lindenhaven. Pleased with ourselves, we headed to Waterfall Bay, which lay 75 miles back toward Rabaul. There we dived the Blue Hole, a magnificent place that is up a freshwater river and where Sport Diver editor, Ty Sawyer, along with Michele Westmorland and James Bowden, dived a while back a couple years ago (see Sport Diver's May issue) It's a crystal-blue hole 160 feet deep. The depth and clarity of the blue are almost indescribable. When you dive this secret area in the morning as the sun rises, you can look up toward the surface at about 100 feet and see the dense jungle as if it's just a few feet above you.
We put more moorings outside in Waterfall Bay proper and once again, not only did we find a couple of nice wide-angle dives, but the macro was unbelievable. We saw elegant squat lobster everywhere, along with mantis shrimp and their eggs, snow-white pipefish, wonderpus and, of course, more weird and wonderful nudies.
The best thing about this trip is that it leaves the city of Rabaul and returns to Rabaul, volcanoes and all. Although the north coast this year experienced the worst wet season since 1990, we were getting sunburned (except me) less than 30 miles away on the other side of New Britain.
Finally, one of the many highlights of our trip was when I struggled up to my window to check where Nelson the Impregnator had anchored the boat. Over the years, you develop an instinct for where good dive sites should be, and here he's gone and anchored the boat in the bloody sand, in the lagoon, halfway up the reef. He had done such a great job so far, I resisted the strongest urge to say, "You bloody, stupid git! What do you expect to find here besides garden eels?!"
Forty minutes later Digger bursts in to my cabin, video in hand, followed by Nelson the Impregnator, who is wearing the biggest shit-eating grin I've ever seen in my life.
"Have a look at this!" Well, we don't get rhinopious in the Bismarck Sea, and here he has a shot of the laciest orange scorpionfish I've ever seen. It sat six inches from the anchor.
So, if you're looking for a destination in the South Pacific that is warm and dry, while the Northern Hemisphere is choking on snow, I have arranged January, February and March 10-night trips from Rabaul aboard the Peter Hughes Star Dancer. If you like diversity and you're looking for someplace new, give Lindenhaven a go, I'm sure you won't be disappointed.