By Nigel Marsh and Helen Rose
The reefs and wrecks of Madang in the north of Papua New Guinea are home to a diverse variety of marine life but far and away the most interesting animal found there is a little shark that walks on its fins, the hooded epaulette shark.
Madang is often overlooked by divers travelling to this exotic and wild country but it’s located on the shores of a huge lagoon dotted with reefs and palm tree covered islands where there is a wealth of wonderful dive sites. We stayed at the lovely Madang Resort where Niugini Dive Adventures are based and each day for a week we ventured out to explore sites inside and outside the Madang Lagoon.
Inside the lagoon we dived a World War II wreck of a B25 Bomber shot down in 1943. This American plane rests in 15m to 22m, one of the best-preserved plane wrecks in PNG. At Langsom we explored a limestone reef covered in gorgonians, soft corals, whip corals, sea whips and sponges and inhabited by reef sharks, stingrays and a tawny nurse shark. Wonderful corals also colour the wreck of the Henry Leith, a small cargo ship scuttled in 20m for divers to enjoy.
There’s also muck diving in the lagoon. One of the best spots actually, is the Madang Resort Jetty. Each afternoon we jumped in to find seahorses, pipefish, cockatoo waspfish, emperor shrimps, mantis shrimps, nudibranchs, demon stingers and juvenile batfish.
Three channels drain the lagoon with the best two being the Magic Passage and Sek Passage. Both have walls covered in beautiful corals and masses of fish including barracuda, trevally, reef sharks, fusiliers, sweetlips and snappers. We missed seeing the hammerhead our guide spotted though they are often in the area.
Madang’s most famous dive is on a sea mount three km offshore, the amazing Planet Rock. Rising from 600m to 5m, this huge mound is covered in hard corals buzzing with schools of barracuda, trevally, mackerel, tuna, rainbow runners, gropers, batfish and a grey reef shark.
Our favourite dive site outside the lagoon turned out to be Barracuda Point, an incredible place that lived up to its name. At this colourful wall we again encountered schools of trevally, barracuda, batfish, bumphead parrotfish, fusiliers, snappers and sweetlips as well as seeing crocodilefish, banded sea kraits, moray eels and reef sharks.
But our most memorable dives were at night looking for a unique little shark. We headed to Leper Island to a place called The Hood in the hope of finding the hooded epaulette shark which are only found in this part of PNG, where they hide in the coral by day and emerge at night to feed. But they are very shy, and nervous creatures.
We were lucky. We actually encountered a dozen of them. But most hid under a ledge or quickly disappeared into a hole when we came close. Fortunately, a few were brave enough to go about their business. We watched and photographed them as they ‘walked’ over the coral on their fins – they are also known as walking sharks because of this. Besides these wonderful little animals, at night we also encountered cuttlefish, octopus, moray eels, crabs, shrimps, basket stars and a conger eel.
We had a brilliant time in Madang, enjoying 12m to 30m visibility and very pleasant 29°C water and cannot understand why more divers haven’t discovered this overlooked gem.