PNG Madang – Adrenaline Rush
by Tony Karacsonyi
Madang offers a myriad of dive sites on its outer barrier reef and inner coral lagoon, while the seas north of Madang, offer adrenaline pumping dives, at sites like Encounter Reefs, Kar Kar and Bagabag Islands. Then there is Hansa Bay with 34 World War II, ship and aircraft wrecks, including an Air Cobra.
We drift down the steep coral walls of Magic Passage. There are fish everywhere – fusiliers, barracuda and big-eye trevally. A school of sweetlips line the sandy bottom, all facing the same direction. I hug the bottom to catch this magical shot. We glide along with the incoming current. Huge barrel sponges loom from the 30 metre depths, as do impressive sea fans and green coral trees.
A chunky grey whaler shark gives us a close look, and darts off in search of lunch. Magic Passage comes alive on an incoming tide, when currents flow in from the open sea.
Each day brought new adventures such as swimming with immense schools of barracuda and trevally at Barracuda Point, exploring a B25 Mitchell Bomber, and shipwreck diving on the Henry Leith, USS Boston and Coral Queen. There are superb dives up the coast, some which can be dived from shore.
One of our best dives was the USS Boston, which sank during mine clearing operations just after WW2. The ship is 70 metres long by 25 metres wide and lies upright, but sloping, with the deck at 30 to 40 metres. Its hold is filled with crates of typewriters, wine bottles, and crockery.
Day trips can be made up the North Coast Road, to Cape Croissilles, for shore dives. The best shore dives are the Waterhole, Blowhole and Quarry. Watch out for the sharp rocks on your exits, and strong currents running along the shore.
The shallower reefs in Madang lagoon, offer fascinating marine life, while the outer barrier reef has islands with spectacular reef passes. Most of the diving is carried out on these reef passes. The best dives are Mililiat Passage, Rasch Passage, Magic Passage, and Barracuda Point. Whale sharks have been seen at Planet Rock and Barracuda Point, in June and August.
Mililiat Passage is shallower than Magic Passage. There is a lot of schooling fish life, white-tip reef sharks, and nudibranchs. Even diving off the dock at Jais Aben Resort, is rewarding, as you can see mandarin fish, ghost pipefish, mantis shrimp, and a little Cessna aircraft wreck.
Madang’s lagoon has many fascinating dive sites: the Coral Queen, Henry Leith -especially good at night, and the B25 Mitchell Bomber. Descending onto the B25 Mitchell, it spread it’s wings like a wandering albatross. Intact with the exception of the port engine, which broke off when the plane crashed into the sea, it lies on a clean sandy bottom. She did battle with the Japanese in 1943, but was shot down. Rounds of 50 calibre ammunition lie near her machine guns and the bombs are still wired inside. It’s a shallow dive at 12 metres, with excellent underwater photography.
Madang was a stronghold for the Japanese during WW2. Many allied aircraft were shot down, like the B25 Mitchell, which lost the port engine to gunfire. The crew swam to Wongat Island, where they were captured and executed by the Japanese. The pilot swam to the mainland, where he was hidden for several days by natives, before being captured and sent to a POW camp. He lived to survive the war.
On the shipwreck’s bow at 15 metres, tropical fish hovered over the ships winch gear. Blue-finned trevally greeted us. There were dozens of fairy basslets, batfish, long-finned bannerfish and three-spot dascyllus. Vibrant soft corals hung off the ships metal hull. On the stern, we examined the propeller shaft, where there were more soft corals. A scribbled toadfish lurked among its fronds. Rising over the stern, we saw six butterfly cods on the deck. There were moon wrasse, purple anthias, six-banded angelfish, and chaetadons galore.
The Henry Leith was an iron sailing ship, converted for WW2 use. Last used as a flag ship of the Pimpco Shipping Company for coastal freight services, she was sunk at Wongat Island, to be used as a wreck dive. The B25 Mitchell bomber was discovered nearby later.
Possibly Madang’s most famous dive is Planet Rock, a sea mount rising from the depths to four metres. Located between Lighthouse Point and Bilbil Island, the seamount is a magnet for pelagics like dogtooth tuna, barracuda and hammerhead sharks. You can finish your dive in the shallows, where there are anemones, clownfish and commensal shrimp – great for macro photography. There is no finer dive, than a dawn dive at 30 metres surrounded by jumbo dogtooth tuna.
Hansa Bay, an eight and a half hour boat trip from Madang, has an active volcano on Manum Island – 15 kms off the coast. This is the first in several years, that this volcano has behaved itself. Trips to Manum have been banned, due to volcanic instability.
At Hansa Bay, Japanese freighters were caught and bombed by American forces during WW2. With 34 ship and aircraft wrecks, including an Air Cobra at 27 metres, this bay is a wreck diver’s paradise. Visibility can vary in Hansa Bay, due to rainfall and seasonal currents. The best time to dive Hansa Bay is from May to November.
The 60 metre long, Shishi Maru is commonly dived in Hansa Bay. It lies 500 metres off the beach. A large freighter, the Shishi Maru weighs over 5000 tons and has fire engines, trucks, and thousands of saki bottles in its hold. Anti-aircraft guns still point sky-ward and brass shell casings lie on her deck. The marine life growing on it is outstanding, with the depth of six to 24 metres.
Laing Island, in the middle of Hansa Bay, has excellent diving around the island’s fringing reefs, especially on the eastern side, where the reef drops into deep water. The island is home to the King Leopold 3rd Biological Research Station.
The Encounter Reefs off Laing Island, offer spectacular reef dives, on a series of sea mounts. The closest one, is four kilometres north-east of Hansa Point. On the north-east side, the reef goes from five metres, to beyond sport diving limits. It’s home to supersized pelagics, and healthy tiger sharks.
Other best dive sites are Kar Kar, Bagabag and Crown Islands. The reefs at Crown Island, eight hours from Madang, are untouched, with giant dogtooth tuna, sharks, sea whip and sea fans gardens. Hanikow Reef, a volcanic seamount, is big fish country, between Bagabag and Crown Islands. The diving at Kar Kar and Bagabag Islands is stunning, with endless walls of sea fans, undamaged corals, pelagic fish and spinner dolphins.