Diving the Bismarck Sea

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By Quentin Bennett, lead image by Marcelo Krause.

“Hi Alan, I’m back for more!” were my words to Alan Raabe, skipper and renowned figure in the dive world, as he was welcoming me back aboard his FeBrina, one of my favourite dive boats. Alan has operated FeBrina in the Bismarck Sea, to the north-east of Papua New Guinea, for many years. A true Aussie character, he is fun, an extremely knowledgeable man and he runs a well-crewed ship that has been constantly updated.

Every skipper and diver has a slightly different philosophy of how a boat, its cruise and diving, should be arranged. Alan has about 90 moorings hidden below the surface and didn’t utilise the anchor once during our two weeks of diving.

Baracuda. Photo by Marcelo Krause.

Baracuda. Photo by Marcelo Krause.

Whilst many divers believe that liveaboards are an expensive way to dive, I believe that per dive a liveaboard offers better value for money. My trips may be a little more expensive than a week or two at a resort, but I normally return with 40 or more offshore dives under my belt. My camera gear takes less of a hammering, and I do not have to carry anything further than a few metres.

Every morning on FeBrina my first dive was at 6.30am, a fantastic time for fish photography. Fish, like us, are bus waking, and one can often get closer to them as they are so busy going about ‘their thing’. With shore-based diving I would miss all that.

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FeBrina sunset. Photo by Peter Lange.

We picked up FeBrina at Walindi Plantation. This is a beautiful dive resort, an easy drive from Oskins airstrip, at the western end of New Britain’s Kimbe Bay. Some of the divers had enjoyed some time here before joining FeBrina.

We dived our way out of Kimbe Bay and out to the Witu, or Vitu, Islands, a small volcanic group of islands rising out of very deep water, north-west of Kimbe Bay. The largest, Garove, is actually a sunken caldera, and U-shaped, opening to the south.

Barney’s Reef is a favourite dive spot for me and it was great to return. The waters in this part of the ocean are incredibly nutrient rich. This means that the reefs are in beautiful condition, with many attracting large schools of pelagic fish.

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Hawksbill turtle. Photo by Quentin Bennett.

So many of the reefs dived are steep-sided pinnacles rising out of deep water. They are virtually untouched, and, apart from the moorings, on none of the dives did I see evidence of divers having been here previously. (Actually, not many people find these offshore reefs, which are only dived three or four times a year, and are, therefore, virtually untouched.)

After a few days in the Witus, we headed off on a 16-hour cruise to
the Kavieng area at the north of New Ireland. I always think that a break such as that afforded by a longish passage is a good safety factor because it allows your tissue nitrogen to drop a bit.

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Fire dartfish. Photo by Quentin Bennett.

After the Kavieng area we did another long passage, this time to the Fathers, locally known as the Lolobau Islands, and another group of volcanic islands at the eastern extremity of Kimbe Bay before returning to Walindi. Kimbe Bay is ringed by volcanoes, a number of them active, and when we were there at both the beginning and the end of the trip the sunrises and sunsets were exquisite due to volcanic dust.

All the dives are simply astounding, and yet all the passes and offshore reefs are different. Some are great for hard corals, others for soft corals, some for pelagics, as well as the odd muck dive offering all sorts of intriguing, odd and beautiful creatures.

And Alan? I’ll be back for more again soon, onboard the FeBrina, diving the beautiful Bismarck Sea.

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Whips. Photo by Marcelo Krause.

For more information:
Walindi Plantation Resort
Email Walindi: resort@walindifebrina.com
Email FeBrina: febrina@walindifebrina.com
+675 7234 8460
www.walindifebrina.com

Flights to Papua New Guinea, via Australia, are surprisingly affordable, but as they all fly into Port Moresby’s Jackson Airport, you’ll need to connect to Hoskin’s Airport in Kimbe to go the last leg. You won’t have a lot of options by way of airlines – only Niugini and Airlines PNG head that way.

 

 

 

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Bungalow at Walindi Resort. Photo by Juergen Freund.

 

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