Northern Papua New Guinea

Northern PNG
Once again the South Pacific beckoned.  The draw of Papua New Guinea overpowered our “no repeating destinations” rule.  A comprise was struck, as much as we loved Milne Bay we would head north, going out on the Peter Hughes Star Dancer.  This turned out to be an excellent choice.


Getting There
Once again from the US West Coast our journey took us from Seattle-Los Angeles-Brisbane, Australia-Sorong, Indonesia.  Be careful with the layovers, make sure your bags have time to catch up.  We did have one issue with our flight out being canceled which put us a day behind.  But the Peter Hughes and Walandi staff did a fantastic job at getting things straightened away and making new airline and hotel arrangements for all. 
Peter Hughes Star Dancer

The Star Dancer departs from the Walandi Resort, ( a nice spot and an excellent resort in its own right.  Due to changes in Air Pacific schedule, not an uncommon problem, we missed the first day of diving.  We had been faced with taking a water taxi out to the boat but in the end the boat met us at the resort.  We have found the Peter Hughes boats willing to be flexible


Of course Peter Hughes has a very informative site and this applies to the Star Dancer The boat is in excellent condition and the interior was recently updated.  The crew was right on the spot helping us with gear and getting settled in.  Our routine is the same.  Julie gets us moved into our cabin and I get the dive gear set up followed buy sorting our still and video equipment.  Yes we admit even the “check-out” dive is done camera in hand. 

The dive deck had plenty of room and all the diving is done from stern of the boat.  The dive benches could get a little tight if everyone decided to gear up at once but no more than any other boat we have been on.  Nitrox fills were consistent and there were plenty of meters.  The main salon was quite spacious and comfortable with plenty of power outlets for laptops. 


We had cabin 2 which was in the bow, starboard side.  It was good sized with a plenty of drawers and good storage under our queen bed.  My wife is happy to report there was plenty of hot water between dives.  Not that it was that needed as we had perfect weather, clear, calm and hot. 


Food was fair to very good.  Breakfast was mainly Western in nature with lunch being a mix of Western and more local Asian dishes served buffet.  Dinner was sit down and was often good but with some “experiments” by the new cook that we liked but others found not to their taste.


Dive Routine
Dives went in at 6:30am, 9am, 11:30am, 3:30pm and 6:30pm:   Dive briefings where direct and to the point and took place on the deck behind the saloon.  Typically there was one guide in the water for those who like to take the tour.  After a couple of dives there was freedom for those who like to go their own way.  Of course you had to be able to navigate back at the boat. 


Flora and Fauna
Like most of this region there is a great mix of small and large.  We chose this destination in the hopes of seeing larger creatures like sharks and mantas.  While we did see sharks I would say we saw more in Palau.  For sharks the highlight was two “shark feeds” that brought in two or three 6ft silver tips, one of our favorite species.  These are not your typical Caribbean style feeds.   One 5gallon bucket is brought down to form a slick and in the end a few pcs are released.  At one site 4-5 grey reefs came in along with several small white tips.  So over all we had three dives were sharks in small numbers were present.  We did not really run into any rays during our journey.


On the other end of the spectrum there were plenty of the colorful reef inhabitants that we seek.  Large specimens of blue face, yellow masked, and regal angles are to be found.  There is plenty to keep macro lovers happy, blue ribbon eels, wide variety of shrimp, pipe fish, gobies and xeno shrimp and crabs on many whip coral.  Several dive spots had a fair amount of current and this brought in large schools of jacks and barracuda.  Many sites had large groups of batfish which follow you around like puppies. 


The reefs are healthy with a great variety of hard and soft corals.  There are some spots that support massive fans but the current was such you had little time to capture them in pixels.  Of course one of the best things is you have each dive site all to yourself. 


For the Photographer
One unique thing about the Star Dancer is it’s Capitan, Christopher is an award winning photographer and knows what photogs are looking for.  He is also an excellent instructor for those looking to improve their skills via his course.  Plus he has Nikon D90/Aquatica set-ups for rent.

The camera table is good sized with the second shelf large enough to fit our large Stormcase.  There are towels provided along with an air-hose for drying equipment.  The charging station is on a bulkhead wall behind the camera table is adequate but a little on the small size.  In addition it is exposed enough that things could get wet in rains or while traveling in heavy water.  Your own power strip would be a good idea. 


The shark dives are better suited to the bigger zooms like the 17-17 or the 17-55.  Since you will get 2-3 shark dives in you can switch to your wider fish-eye lenses for the more creative shots.  My favorite WA site was Krakfat.  Big schools of barracuda, trevally, massive anemones and plenty of octopus but be prepared for a little current.


In the End
For the last two years all of our trips have been to this “region”.  The reason is simple, places like PNG supply a great variety of creatures in pristine settings.  The time lost getting to and from this region is well worth it, in part because when you finally make it in the water you will have the reef to yourself. 


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