Paradise Found, Milne Bay, PNG


The danger of diving in Papua New Guinea is coming to expect the amazing on every dive and around every bend of the reef. In 25yrs of diving we have never been exposed to so many species in such vast quantities. Milne Bay kept us in awe with everything from hammerheads to pygmy seahorses. Our 10 days spent with the Mike Ball crew on the Paradise Sport easily ranks as our favorite dive vacation to date.

Getting There
Frankly, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere getting to Alatou is a long, boring and sweaty exercise in discomfort. Our path was Seattle-Los Angeles-Sydney-Cairns-Port Morseby-Alotau-then a 5min bus ride to the boat and bliss. When setting up your itinerary, those 1.5hr layovers look great, but given you really want your BCs and regs to make the trip, give yourself at least two hours between flights. Confirm, confirm and re-confirm your flights. We started with “you’re not booked on this flight”; “you can make the flight but you bags won’t” in LA; in Sydney “sorry your bag (regs&BCs) missed the flight and will not make it in time to Alotau”. With camera gear, we were well over the 77lbs/person limit for Air New Guinea\, maybe by luck we did not get fined on any of the domestic flights. We did take two carry-ons each, but the second has to be a laptop or camera bag. We did have a layover at the Coral Tree Inn in Cairns. It is a simple and very basic motel. The room was clean, staff friendly but we would not stay there again due to its very Spartan set-up.

The Paradise Sport
The crew met us at the airport, nametags were distributed, bags were loaded up and Lawrence, the trip videographer was already at work. The Paradise Sport is a very comfortable and well laid out boat for divers. We did step up to a Premium room and it was well worth it, Our room had a king sized bed, a twin bed that became the camera table, desk, TV, DVD player, plenty of storage, good-sized bath and big windows that provided incredible views throughout the trip.
As usual you move into your room, set up your tank, then upstairs for Champagne, crew intros, procedures and dinner. Then the overnight journey to our first dive site. The Paradise Sport has plenty of room inside and out for lounging and relaxing. The boat was well maintained and rooms cleaned daily. Peter the chef did a great job! The quality and variety of meals was excellent and we have never eaten so much lobster. Hot showers on the dive deck, with warm towels and attentive crew members made 4-6 dives a day a pleasure. The crew was so attentive if you got out with your fins on, they would run down and take them off for you! This was over the top, so I began taking fins off in the 


The Diving
 Milne Bay is a Muck diving destination but we found it offered so much more. Dive briefs are short and to the point. Peter the “Trip Director” and the entire Mike Ball crew, treat you like adults. There are dive guides on every dive or they will let you and your buddy alone to dive your own profile. The majority of dives are from the rear of the Paradise Sport with maybe 6-7 from the zodiac tenders. Once the dive deck is open, about 7am, you can get in as many dives as your computer allows. Mike Ball does have a solo diver program which I took advantage of.
 You would typically stay at a site for ½ day then the boat would move on to the next site during lunch or before you woke the next day. At many sites they would put in several dive guides to help locate some of the incredibly small and rare creatures. Without the crew there is no way we would have found many of them. A special thanks to Manny who really went above and beyond in finding these incredibly well-camouflaged animals, then tracking you down so you could see it.

Bommie profiles would typically start at 70-80ft, enjoying the wall and looking into the blue for pelagics. Then you would work you way to the top 15-30ft of water to enjoy the bright and colorful schools of fish and mix of hard and soft corals. These were sites rich in a diversity of angels, butterflies and more varieties of anthias then we knew existed. We were astounded by how pristine and healthy the corals were. There had been a fair amount of rain prior to our arrival. Visibility was well over 60-80ft but there was a fair amount of particles in the water.

Milne Bay is not a big animal destination. That being said, we had a great dive to the B17 Bomber in 150ft of water. It is a simple two-stop deco dive and for those uncomfortable with that there is a very nice reef to dive. We did see huge bump head parrot fish, massive Napoleon wrasses, and barracuda. In addition we did have fleeting encounters with 2 hammerhead sharks, devil rays, turtles, and from the deck spotted pods of dolphins and pilot whales.

Muck sites were typically shallow, ranging from 60ft to often less then 5ft. Dives no deeper than 20ft and 90 minutes were common. Like the bommies, the range of creatures was incredible. Lionfish became commonplace; nudibranch, pipefish, puffers and clown fish living in huge anemones were everywhere. We did find a few of the more rare leaf fish, crocodile fish, etc, on our own. BUT without the guides, (thanks, Pete “Chef” and Sticky!) we would have missed the ornate pipefish frogfish, pygmy seahorses and so many others. Since many of these creatures do not move much, the guides would place a 1-2ft stick in the sand to note a spot with a hard to see critter. The pygmy seahorses we sought were ¼ of an inch long on a fan 4ft wide! If Manny had not pointed Directly to it, I would have never, ever, found it.

There are quite a few stinging creatures, lionfish, scorpion fish, demon stingers, blue ring octopus, etc… Life is so abundant you have to be very careful if you put a finger down to steady yourself. Almost everyone on the trip came close to putting a finger on an unseen scorpion fish while observing a lionfish or demon stinger.

For the Photographer
The camera table was large, with air hoses for drying of gear. Plenty of storage under it for extra gear, though it is a narrow area. Enough room for a smaller Pelican carryon or camera backpack. The table is probably about 4ft up so if your short you may find you need something to stand on. There is a separate charging station with plenty of 110 outlets; I never used the power converters we brought. The crew is well versed in dealing with cameras. One note we only had about 5 photographers on the trip.


Land Excursions
 There are several opportunities to go on land an visit with the local people, observe tribal dances, see the amazing hot springs and visit the Skull Caves. Many of the indigenous people lead very simple lives with no power, phones, etc, and living in simple lodgings made of palms and bamboo. Typically in the morning you would wake up to find 7-8 canoes behind the boat, as locals would trade fresh fruit and fish with the boat for rice and other staples.


 The Sad Farewell


Beware those who frequent the Caribbean, a trip to this region is in everyway exotic, with almost overwhelming color below and above. Any dive, anywhere, is a great dive but PNG raises the bar to a stratospheric level. If you love nature’s smaller & stranger creatures, dream of palm lined white sand beaches, and want to dive, dive, dive, in comfort, then Mike Ball is your operation. We are already planning trips to Palau, Truk and Australia for ‘07; Uh-Oh, I think I just heard the credit cards explode.
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