The shark action had been great as we slowly drifted along the colourful reef wall. Out in the blue we could see grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and one lone blacktip reef shark, however they were all very camera shy, keeping their distance. It didn’t look like we were going to get one shark photo, until Peni, our local guide, tapped his tank and pointed under a ledge. Expecting to see another nudibranch or crocodilefish, we were very excited to see a baby shark, a small 60cm long whitetip reef shark resting on the bottom. It was a wonderful surprise and a great subject for our cameras. However, it wasn’t the only surprise we saw during a brilliant week of diving around Kavieng, Papua New Guinea.
Kavieng is the provincial capital of New Ireland Province and is located on the western tip of New Ireland, only two degrees south of the equator. The area is famous for its wonderful reefs, schools of pelagic fish and World War II plane wrecks, and is a part of Papua New Guinea we have wanted to visit for many years. Knowing that many other divers also wanted to visit this area, we organised a special photography group trip, booking a week at Lissenung Island Resort with Diveplanit Travel.
Lissenung Island Resort is located on a small coral cay about 20 minutes boat ride from Kavieng Harbour. The resort has a dive operation and only caters for 16 divers, staying in eight twin/double share bungalows spread around the island. Our group booked out the island for one week in August.
Getting to Kavieng should be straight forward, an international flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby, then a domestic flight via Hoskins. But things don’t always go to plan in PNG, and our Air Niugini flight out of Brisbane was delayed, meaning we missed our domestic flight and had to stay in Port Moresby for the night, courtesy of Air Niugini. We finally made it to Kavieng the next morning, after a few more hassles with the airline, and arrived at the resort very keen to do some dives.
The resort operate several dive boats, so our group was split over three boats. North of the resort, the Pacific Ocean side, are reefs, muck sites and plane wrecks, while south of the resort, the Bismarck Sea side, are reefs, pinnacles and passages through the reef. This great mix of sites means there are over forty dive sites to explore. For our first dives we headed south to explore Matrix.
IMAGE BELOW - A NORMALLY RARE BARRED ANGELFISH
This inner reef drops from the surface to 35m plus and is covered in pretty corals and overloaded with reef fishes. We first dived South Matrix, and as soon as we hit the bottom a group of mobula rays cruised by. Our cameras got quite a workout on the fabulous variety of fishes – butterflyfish, soapfish, sweetlips, snappers, basslets, pufferfish and rock cods. We also saw a few nudibranchs, flatworms and sea stars. Several reef sharks were spotted, but the big surprise was the sheer number of rare angelfish, with rarely seen blue-girdled and yellow-masked angelfish all over the place. We also spotted over a dozen barred angelfish, which are normally very rare and secretive, hiding in ledges and caves.
After snacks tied up next to the mangroves, where we watched the antics of a school of banded archerfish, we next dived North Matrix. The gentle drift along this wall was very relaxing, with us seeing reef sharks, spotted eagle rays and schools of coral snappers. With only 12m visibility, as Matrix is an inner reef, we concentrated on the smaller subjects with our cameras, photographing crocodilefish, flatworms, anemonefish, commensal shrimps and tobies.
The next morning, we headed south again to explore one of Kavieng’s most famous dive sites – Albatross Passage. This passage from the ocean to the lagoon is famous for its pelagic action. Unfortunately, a wild storm a few days before we arrived had stirred up the seas, so we were confronted with very green water and only 6m visibility. Even in the gloom we saw reef sharks, barracuda, trevally, sweetlips and walls covered in beautiful corals and masses of reef fish.
The visibility was not much better at nearby Danny’s Bommie, a giant coral pinnacle outside the passage. However, we still had an interesting dive seeing schooling fish, garden eels, nudibranchs, morays and bluespotted lagoon rays.
After lunch (and we must say the food at Lissenung Island Resort was one of the highlights of the trip with a great assortment of fresh seafood and chicken dishes that left us very satisfied) we headed north for a muck dive at Bottleshop.
IMAGE BELOW - REEFTOP PIPEFISH
This jetty is in Kavieng Harbour, and while the bottom is scattered with bottles and other junk, it is an interesting muck site and the visibility was a nice 10m. This was one of our favourite dives, going no deeper than 12m we saw nudibranchs, tobies, soles, scorpionfish, lionfish, crabs, commensal shrimps, shrimpgobies and many juvenile fish on the sandy bottom. A highlight was a banded snake eel out in the open, but we also found the jetty structure was covered in corals and fishes, including angelfish, butterflyfish, hawkfish, damsels and numerous reeftop pipefish.
With the visibility obviously much clearer in the north, the next day we explored three World War II planes in this area. The first was the remains of an RAAF Catalina that exploded in January 1942, killing all the crew. Resting in 19m, we were very pleased to have 20m visibility as we explored the engines, wings and undercarriage of this plane wreck. The wreck also had some great marine life, including batfish, sweetlips, nudibranchs and a leaf scorpionfish.
We next dived in the harbour on a Japanese Pete float plane. This was an interesting wreck, but with only 3m visibility the photographic opportunities were limited. We had much more fun exploring a Japanese Jake reconnaissance sea plane, which is buried in the coral in 13m. With a pleasant 10m visibility we had a lot of fun exploring this plane and even had a pod of bottlenose dolphins hanging around the area after the dive. Unfortunately, they were too shy to snorkel with.
In the afternoon we tried another muck dive at Ral Island. There wasn’t much to see on the sand, apart from a few cuttlefish, nudibranchs and razorfish, but the coral gardens at this site are stunning and overloaded with reef fish. Anemonefish were especially common, with about six different species on display, including western clown anemonefish. However, these western clown anemonefish were very different to ones we had seen before, with much bolder black lines, and some even had black saddle-like patterns.
Enjoying the good visibility in the north, the next day we explored Echuca Patch, a giant coral ridge that rises to 14m. There is a small wreck at this site, but a strong current meant we couldn’t reach it. Instead, we drifted around the ridge, admiring the healthy hard coral gardens and the colourful soft corals, sea whips and gorgonians. This reef is also covered in fish life, including schools of barracuda, coral snappers, batfish and sweetlips.
IMAGE BELOW - EXPLORING NUSA BLOWHOLES
We had an even better dive at nearby Nusa Blowholes. This wonderful dive site is a series of walls, ledges and caves that fringe Nusa Island. A coverage of lovely orange soft corals were the perfect backdrop to photograph the schools of coral snapper and soldierfish that swarm in these caves. We also encountered several sleeping whitetip reef sharks, crayfish, morays, pufferfish, sweetlips and angelfish.
With many of the group deciding to have the afternoon off (there is plenty to do on and around the island including snorkelling, wildlife spotting, canoeing or simply relaxing), the rest of us ventured south again to see if the visibility had improved, heading offshore to dive Nautilus Reef. The water was still green on top, but once below 6m the visibility was at least 20m, perfect to explore this giant ridge of coral. This was another site with beautiful corals and a wonderful variety of reef fish.
Doing three or four dives a day, we hadn’t had time to explore the House Reef. So we corrected this with a late afternoon twilight to night dive. The House Reef is a good mix of muck and coral, but with only 6m visibility, much worse than is normal, we stayed in the shallows on the coral section. This proved to be a good choice as the coral gardens are overloaded with life. We saw crabs, nudibranchs, morays, shrimps, crayfish, gobies, butterflyfish and angelfish. A big surprise was seeing an angelfish species we have never seen before – the greytail angelfish. There were about a dozen on the House Reef, but we didn’t see them at any other site off Kavieng.
IMAGE BELOW - BABY WHITETIP REEF SHARK
The next morning we returned to Albatross Passage for another look. It was once again greenish on top, but below 10m the visibility opened up to 30m plus. With the great viz we could see so much more – including grey reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and one lone blacktip reef shark. There was also a school of barracuda, mackerel, trevally, batfish, pelagic pufferfish, sweetlips and snapper. The good viz also allowed us to admire the pretty corals that decorate every outcrop on the wall. This was where we saw the baby whitetip reef shark, and also some photogenic nudibranchs and flatworms.
The visibility was not quite as good at Frank’s Reef, with this series of large bommies covered in wonderful corals. We saw a giant moray and also a yellow-lipped sea krait, with the highlight being all the elegant dartfish and groups of bluehead tilefish, a species we hadn’t seen before.
Our final day of diving arrived far too quickly, but we had saved something special - the Deep Pete. This Japanese float plane rests in 39m, and even thought it is upside-down, it is covered in fish life and a sensational dive. With limited bottom time we snapped quick photos of the plane and the schools of snapper, sweetlips, batfish and baitfish.
IMAGE BELOW - DEEP PETE
For our final reef dives we explored Helmet Reef and returned to South Matrix. Both were lovely dives, overloaded with pretty corals and a wealth of reef fish and invertebrates. A very special find right at the end of our last dive was a rarely seen ridgenose pipefish, that blended perfectly with the bottom substrate.
For our final dry day we did a local tour, visiting the markets at Kavieng and exploring Nusa Island. We also had time to snorkel the house reef, seeing a great collection of reef fish and a sea horse.
We had a wonderful week at Lissenung Island Resort. We may not have had the best visibility, and also unseasonal heavy rain, but we didn’t miss a dive and explored some wonderful reefs and some very fascinating planes. And having only explored half of the dive sites in the area I can see us doing a return trip to Kavieng in the future.